Arizona education leader predicts grim budget for schools

September 22, 2009

By hammersmith

Alexis Bechman, Payson Roundup, September 22, 2009

The state’s school report card looks something like this: The new, structured English immersion programs are working by reclassifying students faster, we need more money, longer school days, higher standards and better pay for teachers.

At least 15 educators and administrators turned up at Payson’s new district offices in the Julia Randall Elementary rock building Thursday afternoon to hear State Superintendent Tom Horne’s thoughts about the state of education. Horne said he would answer any questions, and topics ranged from bilingual education to recruiting teachers. Rim Country Middle School teacher Kristi Kisler asked the million dollar question — what about next year’s budget?

Horne said the state survived this year in part because of $1.5 billion in federal stimulus funds, however, “Next year we won’t have that, so unless something happens, next year it will be grim.” One teacher from the back of the room shouted out, “Can you elaborate on grim?” Horne said he could not because he did not know what would happen, especially with the budget still sitting in the legislature. However, he did say it would be impossible not to have cuts.

Beyond the monster of the budget, Horne said he has three top priorities for the state.

The first is increasing academic rigor in the classroom. He said the level of what students learn now should be increased so students can compete on an international level with countries with higher standards. He said attracting highly qualified science and math teachers is necessary if they want to compete. “Right now we have a shortage of qualified teachers,” he said. Tying into this,

Horne’s second priority is increasing teacher salaries. Right now, salaries are too low to attract and keep qualified teachers in the state. Without the right teachers, the state cannot increase test scores or lower dropout rates.

The third priority is reducing class sizes.

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