Arizona’s Quality of Life – Connecting the Dots

March 10th, 2015

Let’s connect the dots on some recent important news related to the quality of life in Arizona.

On Wednesday, March 4th, Phoenix Business Insider reported that Arizona dropped from its top 10 position to the 21st best state economy in the nation. One of the key factors cited for this was the state’s high unemployment rate.

On Thursday, March 5th, an economic modeling report stated that former students of Arizona’s community colleges added $14.5 billion in income to the Arizona economy in 2013-14, representing 5.6 percent of Arizona’s gross state products. Community colleges, like those in the innovative Maricopa County Community College District, are the single-largest provider of workforce training in the state.  MCCCD Chancellor Rufus Glasper said the report is verification that his 10-college system is the largest provider of workforce training in Arizona. “It reflects what we do in the community, the number of individuals that are able to have jobs and the sustainability of those individuals in the market and in the Valley over time, specifically a 30-year period,” he said.

Simultaneously, state legislators, ignoring the implications of these reports, and wide ranging public and student discourse, discreetly negotiated a proposed state budget that completely zeroed out funding for community colleges and slashed universities by $99 million.

What’s the likely result? Fewer trained workers means an even higher unemployment rate. We can’t afford a continual downward economic spiral and state policy that encourages employers to invest in other states rather than locate their business here. We can’t afford to rob our state of needed additional revenue.

Education is an investment, not an expense. When we devalue education investments—or pit K-12 funding against higher education, as the current state budget proposal does—it hurts more than just the struggling families forced to pay higher tuition or miss out on better jobs if they can’t. It hurts all of us.

So what happened?  The Arizona Legislature passed a budget, in an all-night session on Friday, March 6th, that:

  • Cuts approximately $99 million in funding to Arizona’s public universities.
    • ASU ― $53 million, U of A ― $28 million, NAU ― $17 million
    • House leaders think the reductions can be made up by increasing fees on sporting events, etc.
  • Cuts $15 million in funding to Maricopa and Pima County Community Colleges, essentially wiping out their support from the state.
    • $2 million in funding for Pinal County was saved to avoid a backlash from rural Arizona counties
  • K-12 schools must cut 5 percent, but gained flexibility in how to execute those cuts.
  • Retargeted $22 million to Charter, and high performing public schools, via redirected classroom funds.
  • Approved a 5 percent cut to Medicaid providers, who serve our state’s poor, reducing the amount of reimbursement they receive when they treat a Medicaid patient.  This could result in a loss of up to $588 million in federal matching funds over the next two years and may have the possibility of some providers refusing to accept Medicaid patients.
  • Reduced the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to $277/month for a family of three, with a lifetime limit of one-year of support.  The lifetime limit was reduced from five years to two, last year.  This support is now the lowest in the country.

The budget has been passed, and is heading to the Governor’s desk for signature.  Now we’ll just have to wait and see what direction the decisions made by our legislators takes us.

 

Greg Hyland is the Director of Communication and Engagement for College Success Arizona

 

 

 

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