Arizona House hopefuls discuss tactics to increase public education funding

A view of the Arizona Legislature complex in downtown Phoenix. (Submitted photo)

A view of the Arizona Legislature complex in downtown Phoenix. (Submitted photo)

Three Paradise Valley candidates are pursuing two seats in Legislative District 28 at the Arizona Legislature in the Nov. 8 general election.

The local candidates are: Kelli Butler, a democrat; and Mary Hamway and Maria Syms, who are both republicans. Ms. Hamway and Ms. Syms have both held elected office at the Town of Paradise Valley while Ms. Butler lost a 2014 bid for the Arizona Senate.

The Arizona House of Representatives, which is the lower house of the local Legislature, elects its members to two-year terms with a term limit of four consecutive stints in office.

Today, the Republican Party holds a majority of 36 to 24 at the House while the state’s 30 legislative district — a district consists of at least 170,000 people — elects two representatives for each district.

Ms. Butler ran opposed in the August primary while Ms. Hamway and Ms. Syms emerged from a field of five candidates that included Kenneth Bowers, Matt Morales and Alberto Gutier.

Each of the candidates say they represent a steadfast dedication to restoring education funding, creating new jobs and bringing a common sense approach to lawmaking at the Arizona Legislature.

But to better understand those political points the Town of Paradise Valley Independent asked each candidate how they think they will be able to spur more funding at a governing body that consistently reduces public education funding.

This is what they had to say:

Maria Syms

•What do you think is the more reasonable approach and primary area of need to increasing education funding at the Arizona Legislature?

Maria Syms

Maria Syms

Every child deserves access to a high quality education. As a state, we need to make funding our public education system a top priority and continue to advocate for programs that support our children from early childhood through graduation. I support efforts to ensure more money goes to children, teachers and classrooms following the passage of Proposition 123.

As a mother of children who currently attend public schools in this district, I am personally vested in maximizing the quality of public education for all. We need to work with all stakeholders to prioritize better income for teachers so we can attract and retain the very best educators for our children. We should also work toward smaller class sizes and lower student-teacher ratios so children have more of an opportunity to reach their full academic potential.

In addition to making attraction and retention of quality teachers a top priority, we should continue to support early childhood development programs like First Things First and full-day kindergarten. These programs have a proven impact on third grade literacy, which is one of the best indicators of future academic success. We should also look for ways to expand our high school vocational training programs. We also need to restore funding to our state universities and foster an environment that increases the number of college degrees and job certifications.

•Why is education funding critical to the future prosperity of the state of Arizona?

Arizona’s economic future depends on our children having the chance to reach their full academic potential and make a positive contribution to our workforce. An educated and skilled workforce attracts new business to the state and allows existing businesses to maximize their output and contribution to the economy. We need to produce, develop and attract the workforce needed to compete in our global economy.

Mary Hamway

•What do you think is the more reasonable approach and primary area of need to increasing education funding at the Arizona Legislature?

Mary Hamway

Mary Hamway

School choice is part of Arizona’s educational landscape, but 80 percent of students are served by traditional public schools. Arizona is ranked 45th in the nation for average salary of public school teachers; 50th in expenditures for public K-12 student and many of our public schools fall below the national average in student achievement.

For any school, the key to success is high standards, high expectations and great teachers. I supported Proposition 123, but we must continue to find ways to pay our teachers competitive wages and put more dollars in the classroom. I support school finance reform and every aspect should be reviewed including STOs (School Tuition Organizations), ESA’s (Empowerment Scholarship Accounts), public school administration overhead, transportation, food services, building construction and maintenance, small-school weights, teacher pay and desegregation funding. Equity in funding is critical.

We must focus on what works and replicate it. We must honestly assess progress and fund efforts to improve student out-comes. And finally, we must rethink how education is delivered.

•Why is education funding critical to the future prosperity of the state of Arizona?

Today’s students are tomorrow’s work force. Within the next two years, two-thirds of all jobs will require some type of post-secondary education. Governor Ducey’s Achieve60AZ is a statewide goal to ensure that 60 percent of Arizonans 25 and older will have a certificate or college degree by 2030.

A more educated work population leads to increased productivity, which leads to less unemployment and increased tax revenue. The College Success Arizona report shows that adding 1,000 college graduates to the Arizona workforce will increase state tax revenue by more than $2.2 million every year.

Yet census shows that only about 37 percent of Arizona residents have attained post-secondary education. The Acheive60 is a great goal, but we have to be willing to put students first and make education funding a priority.

Kelli Butler

•What do you think is the more reasonable approach and primary area of need to increasing education funding at the Arizona Legislature?

Kelli Butler

Kelli Butler

Most of us have heard the facts: the Arizona legislature has cut billions from education funding since the Great Recession. We are now 49th in the nation in K-12 per pupil funding, we’ve slashed budgets at our universities and cut all state support for community colleges in Maricopa and Pima counties.

Yet we know that 74 percent of registered voters said in a recent poll that Arizona is not spending enough on education. I agree.

As a state representative, I would oppose additional special interest tax cuts, increased spending on private prisons and any expansion of tax credits or empowerment scholarship accounts as they all reduce General Fund revenues. I would look for savings in state agencies, starting with the Department of Corrections.

Since 2012, there has been no independent oversight or cost comparison between state and privately run prisons. There is legitimate concern because private prisons are in the business of creating profits for shareholders. It makes sense, too, to look at careful, proven sentencing reform measures in order to realize additional savings.

The Department of Child Safety budget should also be examined to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being effectively allocated to keep children safe. I would argue that the Legislature’s elimination of childcare subsidies and other support services that kept children in their homes and families together was foolish and short-sighted. While other states are reducing corrections budgets and seeing decreases in the numbers of children in out-of-home placements, Arizona continues to increase spending for both departments.

And finally, as the economy continues to recover from the Great Recession, it is reasonable — and essential — that any available revenues be directed towards increasing teacher salaries. Until Arizona’s teacher pay is competitive with other states, and teachers have manageable class sizes with the availability of appropriate support services, districts will continue to have difficulty recruiting and retaining quality teachers.

This past session, there was a billion dollar surplus, but few of those dollars went to Arizona classrooms. Many voters were disappointed that Proposition 123 didn’t provide more for schools, but clearly Proposition 123 is only a first step. Arizona needs to do more, and I am committed to finding sensible, bipartisan solutions to Arizona’s school funding crisis.

•Why is education funding critical to the future prosperity of the state of Arizona?

Budgets reflect priorities. Funding education is critical to a robust, healthy economy, leading to the creation of quality jobs in diverse and high-tech sectors. Investing in our children is critical to their future and to our state’s future.

Only when young people graduate from high school with the academic foundation necessary to pursue higher education or vocational training, will they be prepared for the jobs of the future — and will they become successful, contributing members of society.  Only when we provide adequate funding for our schools, will we have the educated workforce needed to attract businesses to Arizona.

There is no question, we have the responsibility to fairly and adequately fund our schools so that we educate our next generation of doctors, engineers, teachers and entrepreneurs.

Prior generations of Arizona taxpayers, including my own parents, invested in us, and now it is our turn to invest in the next generation. Our future economy depends on it.

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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