Arizona lawmakers, struggling like so many of their counterparts across the nation to make ends meet, got some sobering words this week from executives, who said the state is not producing the caliber of high school and college graduates we need to turn the economy around. But it didn’t stop legislators from endorsing a budget proposal that savages state aid to public schools, cuts contributions to community colleges by more than half and forces universities to dig even deeper in the face of record enrollment.
Budget knives may be sharp, but so are businessmen’s tongues. Craig Barrett, former CEO of Intel, was among a group of lawmakers and business leaders addressing a meeting of the Arizona Commerce Authority on Tuesday. “The educational system in the United States and in Arizona in particular is not particularly attractive,” Barrett said.
He went on to say the situation is so bad that if Intel were looking for a site to build a new operation, Arizona wouldn’t even make the list of Top 10 locations.
Ouch. Ask anyone who lives in Chandler what it would be like without a technology giant like Intel in the neighborhood. Ask the teachers and the students who foster innovation with the company’s help and sponsorship in community science fairs.
We don’t want to watch that version of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“Intel is obviously our largest employer in Chandler. They have got almost 10,000 employees here,” Chandler City Councilman Jack Sellers said Wednesday at a gathering of Chandler business leaders. “A lot of their people live in Chandler and not only do they then have a significant financial impact on the city, but they are very good citizens.”
To imagine a Chandler, or indeed an East Valley or an Arizona, without Intel is a bleak prospect. We were flush with pride earlier this year as the company announced a $5 billion expansion here. The company says that for every job it adds at the new facility, three or four will be generated in the larger community. To learn just how tenuous the threads are that hold that reality together is troubling.
Arizona is a bastion of conservative values, a place where, we keep getting told, the free market should flourish. Supposedly our pro-business lawmakers should be more open to the advice of the captains of industry. Instead, we have a stubborn and all-too-familiar line in the sand against common sense.
Gov. Jan Brewer, who created the public-private Commerce Authority and chairs the body that heard from business leaders Tuesday, calls herself a crusader for education, a label she sought to reaffirm after the meeting. In many ways she’s right — that’s why the Tribune editorial board endorsed her for a full term as governor despite several prominent gaffes, political maneuvering around SB 1070 and an appalling slowness to react to the state’s economic woes.
Brewer stood up to vocal segments of her own party to defend public schools by getting a tax increase passed while we were still picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off from the recession. She was supposed to be able to work with the GOP-dominated Legislature to pull us out of this mess. But now that legislative Republicans have rejected her more moderate vision for an education system that is plainly vital to our future prosperity, it has to be asked — what was it all for?