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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Education faces losses

    The House Education Committee held an unusual meeting to hear from various members of the education system in southern Arizona.

    Speakers from Tucson Unified School District, Nogales School District, Pima Community College and the UA, among others, presented their questions and possible solutions to the economic hardships facing the state education system to the committee on Friday at Flowing Wells High School, 3725 N. Flowing Wells Road.

    Rich Crandall, Republican chairman of the House of Representatives education committee, coordinated the event.

    “”Everyone here has either been former school board members, teachers, parents; and we are all very committed to education,”” Crandall said. “”We don’t have all the answers but we are certainly searching for them.””

    Arizona legislators have just finished adjusting the 2009 fiscal year budget to cover the state’s $1.6 billion shortfall, and the 2010 fiscal year budget is even worse, House members said.

    According to The Associated Press, the state’s tax collections are continuing to fall and the projected deficit for 2010 is an estimated $3 billion, which is nearly one-third of the state’s general fund.

    Democratic Representative Daniel Patterson said there is strong division along party lines about the tremendous budget cuts being discussed for the 2010 fiscal year, and how that translates for the education system.

    He said legislature members are still discussing where to put the billions of dollars that are expected to be included for Arizona’s state education system in President Barack Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus plan.

    A federal bailout helped Arizona close a big budget shortfall during a recession earlier this decade. Likewise, the stimulus money now being considered by Congress could help legislators close the projected $3 billion shortfall in the next state budget, according to the AP.

    Many Republican lawmakers do not want to rely on stimulus money to save Arizona. Richard Stavneak, executive director of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, told the AP that some parts of the pending package provide funding for programs that would stimulate the state’s economy, create jobs and provide some services. But the funding would not directly help erase the state’s budgetary red ink.

    Many minority legislators regard federal dollars as providing an alternative to painful spending cuts that would rock universities, community colleges, K-12 public schools and other programs, Patterson said.

    “”We want to make sure that education is not cut and we do not try and balance the budget on the backs of our kids,”” he said. “”I wanted to encourage my Republican colleagues to resist cutting education. Unfortunately, the legislature is very divided along party lines about supporting education.””

    UA President Robert Shelton said the university has already eliminated more than 600 positions, consolidated four colleges and merged dozens of academic units.

    The UA has shut the public out of museums by reducing hours and establishing an entry fee, and has cut three quarters of the funding for UApresents, he said.

    Shelton said class sizes would increase, and access to academic counselors and other student services would be reduced, making it more difficult for students to graduate in four years.

    Administrators have compiled a list of 25 to 30 degree programs that would be taken to the Arizona Board of Regents this spring for elimination. Shelton said depending on what happens with the 2010 fiscal year budget, things will become more severe.

    “”This is merely a warm-up act for what we will have to do if the cuts for fiscal year 2010 are the size that are currently under contemplation at the legislature,”” he said.

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