16 March 1998 Lisa Keegan Students FIRST
Monday, Mrch 16, W8 The Arlom Republic B5 when it or if it been the Lisa Graham Keegan Equal treatment of schoolchildren at heart of issue By Lisa Graham Keegan As the Legislature debates the Students FIRST plan nut forth hv Gov Jane Hull, House Speaker Jeff Gros- cost, Senate President Brenda Burns and myself, it is important for ail Arizonans, particularly parents, to understand what is at stake. And what is at stake is the notion that all children be treated equally and fairly. Can anyone explain why one family who lives in a $100,000 home should pay annual school taxes of $1,200 and have their child supported by $3,600 annually; while another family, in a similar $100,000 home the same level of "wealth" pays $600 in annual school taxes and has their child supported by $5,600 annually? All the rationalizing, distorting. and misrepresenting in the world cannot hide this fact. Our current method of taxing and paying for K-12 students is a gross injustice. The Arizona Supreme Court, in its Dec. 23, 1997, opinion con firmed this fact even for the guardians of inequity. It should come as no surprise that the guardians of inequity have pulled out all the stops to defeat Students FIRST. They benefit from the current system and would like to continue their advantage. What is shocking is how some people who previously acknowledged and fought against the inequity of the current system are now de fending the very part of the system general obligation bonding that created the inequity. It s always easy to stand up for the truth when it looks like nothing will change, or if it did change, the change would be a Band-Aid and not a cure. It has always been the great heritage of our country to uproot injustices where they have taken root. It has never been an easy or risk-free battle, but it is one guided by principle and truth. The Students FIRST plan makes fundamental changes to the way we construct schools in this state. No change, especially fundamental change, is ever easy. But it is the right thing to do. Students FIRST eliminates general obligation bonding. What does that mean for parents and property owners? For parents it means a guarantee that all chil It's always easy to stand up for the truth looks like nothing will change, did change, the change would be a Band-Aid and not a cure. It has alwavs great heritage of our country to uproot injustices. dren are treated equally in the eyes of the state regardless of the property wealth in their school district. For the parents in south Phoenix, it means their children have an opportunity to learn in a physical structure that is safe and secure. For the parents in Scotts-dale, it means they can continue to build good schools and, if they so desire, can enhance those facilities by asking their voters to pay for it. For property owners, the elimi nation of general obligation bond ing means the gradual elimination of their secondary property taxes. This amounts to the largest state-wide tax cut in Arizona's history, because property owners residential and commercial are currently paying $480 million annually in debt service through their secondary property taxes. That $480 million payment doesn't fix one existing deficiency, doesn't renovate one building, doesn't build one new school, and doesn't buy one textbook or computer. It's straight debt and, under the current system, it's rising at 13 percent per year. Does that sound like it's good for your kids? Students FIRST is a commitment by the governor and the Legislature to repair all existing deficiencies in K-12 school buildings and bring them up to a reasonable adequacy standard. It's a commitment to renovate existing school buildings to ensure they continue to meet adequacy standards. It's a commitment to build new schools, with a reasonable design standard, to accommodate our growing population. It's a commitment to provide more money per student for textbooks, computers and instructional aids. It's a commitment to ensure that charter schools are treated fairly and remain a growing and vibrant alternative for parents and students. Finally, it's a commitment, to a student-centered education system in which money funds students, not districts. I urge all parents to look at the facts in Students FIRST with your own eyes and on behalf of your own children not through a filter manufactured by those interests who clearly benefit in a system that crushes equal opportunity. Lisa Graham Keegan is Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction.