About 40% of Arizona 4th graders test below basic proficiency for their grade level. Among African American and Latino children, that number hovers around 50%. Those numbers don't change much by the 8th grade.(1) These figures are not any better for mathematics.
If a child is unable to read at proficiency by the 4th or 8th grade, they are less likely to complete any type of higher degree, which our future work force demands.
This is an unsustainable situation for our future. In order to compete in the global market, or even attract new companies to come to Arizona, we need students who are on the right track from an early age to be career-ready by the time they graduate.
However the average student graduating from the Arizona system labors under a debt load of about $22,000. This number has climbed while the Legislature's investment in higher education has been cut in half since 2008.(2)
These students have less money to contribute to our local economy, reducing the stimulating impact of education investment, and they are more likely to leave Arizona for better jobs elsewhere.
Further, these higher student debt load figures don't tell the story of the increased debt and costs born by parents of all students. As the Legislature has cut spending for education, it has actually caused a further drag on our economy and threatens our economic future.
The Arizona Legislature cut funding for the management of our state parks and natural wonders over the past five years, despite the fact that tourism is one of our top economic drivers.
By 2035, Arizona is currently expected to see a permanent 20% annual shortfall between the amount of water that enters the state and what we use.(3)
Preserving the environment, conserving water and cleaning the air for future generations can be a profitable field for Arizona. Renewable energy creates twice as many jobs per megawatt of installed capacity than coal or natural gas, while preventing C02, sulfur and dioxide emissions.
Yet too many legislators continue to deny the reality of climate change and have a mis-informed, visceral reaction to renewable energy and energy efficiency. They are so out of touch with the science of energy, water and conservation that the state is unable to address these pressing issues in a realistic way.
In June 2009, the Legislature and the Governor cut $15.3 million in state funding for hospital residencies for medical school graduates, triggering the loss of an additional $29.6 million in federal funding. Arizona currently ranks 44th in the nation for the number of primary care providers per population.(4)
From 2009-11, the Governor and the Legislature gutted the state’s AHCCCS and KidsCare programs, leaving over 300,000 kids without adequate health insurance. In 2012, the Legislature reinstated a portion of the KidsCare funding, but not sufficiently to add new children to the program. Children without access to healthcare are less likely to do well in school (which brings us back to the education issue, above).
Some in our legislature are so driven by ideology, they fail to see the pragmatism behind insuring that our children are prepared properly for a healthy, educated and engaged life. For short term political gain they are increasing the likelihood that the next generation will not have the tools to build a strong economy --or even take care of this generation of leaders when they are in their advanced years.
The Big Picture
There are so many issues to add to this list. The corrupting influence of money in politics has been made worse by this legislature's loose approach to campaign finance and transparency. The legislature has removed the basic rights of state employees to meet and confer with their employers in an effort to undermine the rights of workers, generally. The legislature continues to attack women's rights to reproductive health care.
These issues affect District 24, as they do the entire state. This district needs the type of leadership that only comes with experience, character and hard-won battles.
See the policy briefings under "The Issues" pull-down menu to see how Ken Clark will work to improve the big picture in Arizona.
(1) Arizona Department of Education State Report Card, 2011-2012
(2) Arizona Board of Regents
(3) Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study
(4) The Arizona We Want Report 2.0