Gov. Jan Brewer on Friday promised to seek more funding for public schools for the coming budget year.
In a speech Friday, Brewer pointed out that Arizona has more revenues coming in than are needed to fund current state programs. She said one priority has to be funding education which has been shorted in prior budgets as she and lawmakers looked for ways to balance the books.
And the governor sought to put that in a way that would resonate with her audience of business executives and officials at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
"You and I agree an educated workforce is central to attracting and retaining jobs in Arizona,'' Brewer said. But she said this isn't simply a question of sending more dollars to schools and hoping for the best. Instead, she said Arizona is changing how it teaches students and how it measures their achievements.
"We're implementing Common Core Standards that are benchmarked to the toughest standards worldwide,'' she said. "We will not only improve what students learn, but how they learn.''
But Brewer told those listening -- including legislative leaders who were in attendance -- that can't be done on the cheap.
"We can't just implement a new curriculum, raise standards and hope for the best,'' she said. Brewer said her budget plan, to be released next week will include "the resources necessary to make this transition a success.''
GOP leaders say they are interested in the plan. But incoming Senate President Andy Biggs is reserving final judgment.
"You notice she didn't say how much it was,'' he told Capitol Media Services after the speech, saying there are estimates floating around anywhere from $15 million to hundreds of millions of dollars.
"I'm anxious to see the budget that the governor comes out with because it would help me understand how she's interpreting the (financial) need for K-12,'' he said.
Brewer, talking with reporters after the meeting, declined to provide specifics.
"That will all be spelled out when my budget is released,'' she said. "And you will know that answer come Friday.''
House Speaker Andy Tobin said lawmakers have been responsive to education needs. For example, he said the Legislature agreed last year to the governor's request for more money to finance a program that requires students to read at the third-grade level before being promoted to fourth grade.
That, however, was not before the GOP cut $10 million from her $50 million request. And Brewer's bid for $100 million for "soft capital,'' including computers and books, was ignored entirely.
Tobin said one thing he'd be willing to fund is more money to improve teacher training.
"That's not just throwing money at education,'' he said.
"That's saying, 'OK, we need you to be better, we need you to train more,'' Tobin continued. "And guess what? We're willing to make those investments.''
Arizona is one of 47 states that have adopted Common Core Standards. The idea is to align what Arizona requires students to learn in English and math with what is being taught across the country.
At the very least, that will mean the achievement levels of Arizona students can be directly compared with other states. Now, the main test used here is AIMS -- Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards -- which is based solely on goals prepared for students here.
Each grade has its own standards.
For example, third graders are expected to be able to determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing between literal and non-literal uses.
They also need to be able to understand parts of stories, dramas and poems, using terms like chapter, scene and stanza, and be able to describe how each part builds on earlier sections. And they have to be taught how to distinguish their own point of view from that of the narrator or characters.
Education officials said these new standards also mean in some circumstances changing how teachers now teach subjects. And that is part of where the need for up-front money comes in.
But that's only part of it.
The system is set up so that all the students take the tests on computers at the same time. Many schools lack sufficient computers, to say nothing of the necessary bandwidth to deal with that many simultaneous test-takers.
House Minority Leader Chad Campbell said it will cost tens of millions of dollars to train teachers to implement the new standards.
"That's an investment we need to make,'' he said. "If we don't do that, we're setting our schools up and we're setting our teachers up, and, most importantly, setting our students up to fail.''
State School Superintendent John Huppenthal said he will not be part of the governor's push for more dollars for Common Core. Instead his priority is to try to get lawmakers to give him $35 million to update his agency's data system which keeps track of where children are enrolled and their scores on standardized tests.
"The one thing that most important for improving the quality of education in Arizona is getting that data system fixed because it's an enormous burden on the whole system,'' he explained. "Schools don't know how much money they have, they don't know how much money they're going to have to operate with, they don't know how much money they're going to have to pay teachers.''
Biggs said he wants to be sure that any additional funds provided to public education will make a difference. He said there's no direct correlation between the amount of money spent and education achievement.