House Representative Wants to Make K-12 Education Optional

An empty classroom.

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Paul Mosley is a newcomer to the Arizona House of Representatives. He’s a Republican from Lake Havasu City, and he’s ready to leave his mark on the state.

A dark and ugly mark.

While Mosley claims to support all walks of school from public to elite, he also thinks that school should be entirely optional. Optional.

“Education used to be a privilege,” he said in an interview with the Arizona Capitol Times. “People used to believe getting an education was something you had to be privileged to get, that you had to work hard to get. Now we basically force it down everybody’s throats.

“The number one thing I would like to repeal is the law on compulsory education… I believe education is still a privilege, and the kids who don’t want to be there are a larger distraction to the kids who do want to be there.”

While he criticizes schools for taking over the “personal responsibility” of parents, he does so in the same breath as he acknowledges that schools feed poor children and give them protection for half their waking hours. But he believes that all that is overstepping the responsibilities of the state.

Compulsory education in the United States is nearly four hundred years old. It began with a 1642 law in the Massachusetts Bay Colony requiring parents to raise their children with basic literacy. Two hundred years later, that had evolved to a law requiring every town to have a common school and all children to attend. In 1918, Mississippi was the last state to adopt compulsory education.

Education has never been more important. There are fewer and fewer blue collar jobs every year. The current projection is that by 2020, when this year’s freshmen graduate, 65 percent of all American jobs will require training or school beyond high school.

While Mosley has not yet introduced legislation to make school purely optional, he plans to do so. Arizona is already among the worst educational environments in America. His preferences would send it straight to the dark ages.

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Arizona: Fund Your Schools

Chalk drawing of Arizona on blackboard

A budget surplus does not mean more funding for desperate Arizona schools.
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Arizona has a $325 million budget surplus this year, and $450 million more squirreled away in the state’s emergency fund. These numbers sound like good things. Maybe now, Arizona can tackle their tuition problem.

For reference, despite a near-complete economic recovery from the 2009 recession, Arizona has done the least of any state to restore the budgets that were cut from primary and secondary education, nearly 45% of per-student state spending. Just this March, the budget they passed took away another $100 million from colleges and universities.

But Arizona lawmakers don’t see a reason to let that money out of the mattress now, and certainly not for schools.

“The narrative these folks continue to throw is that there’s a direct causation between funding of education and outcomes,” said Senate President Republican Andy Biggs about his state’s education supporters.

But teachers in Arizona, after five years of no raises and schools who can’t afford supplies and support services, are leaving. And parents and teachers say that the state is not providing what was voted on. The problem preceeds the recession. Last year, the Arizona Superior Court found that AZ legislators and the governor have ignored a voter approved mandate from 2000 to boost state aid in schools yearly to account for inflation, with a shortage by now of more than $330 million.

The governor’s plan is to tap land trust proceeds, but that would require a new course of voter approval, and no money would be generated until 2017. When the money is already visibly there to make up this shortfall today, why is the government refusing to do as its voters want and its future generation needs?

Tuition is Not Recovering

Bills, coins, and graduation cap

The American economy might the recovering, but tuition is still problematic.
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Everyone’s saying it: the American economy is recovering from the 2008 recession. But there’s a group being left behind in the efforts to restore things to where they were–students. Federal and state spending on students remains far below even pre-recession levels in all but three states, and tuition has risen an average of almost thirty percent in only seven years.

Arizona’s been the worst offender, cutting more than 45% of per-student state spending. And only this March, they passed a budget that will deprive their colleges and universities of another $99 million. And they’re not alone in that habit; six other states have proposed additional large reductions in education budgets for 2015.

What started this trend? In 2008, the new recession in full and frightening swing, tax revenues took a steep and abrupt decline, leaving state governments scrambling for income. Instead of raising taxes in a time when the public was ready to panic and stash all their money away in mattresses, they tried to close their budget gaps with spending cuts.

Which isn’t to say that spending cuts weren’t necessary, but this degree of pruning, without regard for future consequences, is still damaging us as a country, slowing the recovery of the whole.

Without state aid, mandatory education could only compensate by reducing quantity and quality. Staff was scaled back, local districts consolidated into larger, regional ones, and progams or even entire schools were eliminated.

And as if that didn’t afflict our future educated generation enough, the colleges they were preparing to enter were taking hits, too. Tuition increased sharply across the country. Arizona’s public universities got an average of 84% more expensive.

There is a little light, however, at the end of this tunnel. From 2014 to 2015, there’s been a 4% national rise in state funding, with 37 states increasing their educational budges. But that’s still 13 too many making cuts we can’t afford, and tuition continues to increase, with the student share of that cost rising every year.

It’s an unpleasant outlook for the future of education.

Arizona Guts Community College Funding

Maricopa County

Maricopa and Pima Community College Districts in Arizona will receive no funding.
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Community colleges are on the rise in the United States. Bolstered by support from the White House, such institutions are helping more and more people each year. They provide a cheaper alternative to university education, especially for getting general education courses out of the way. They offer classes at times that working students can actually attend and provide a variety of continuing education opportunities for people wishing to round out their education. They’re one of the most broadly beneficial aspects of the higher education system in this country.

Except in Arizona.

Recently, the Arizona legislature eliminated funding for the Maricopa and Pima Community College Districts. It’s not just a reduction in funding, which has been the trend in Arizona in recent years across higher education, but a complete denial of funding. Under this plan, those schools will receive no help.

Arizona, it would seem, doesn’t care about its students. Or, at least, the conservative legislators who hold the purse strings don’t. The people of Arizona most likely do, and it’s the people who will be hurt by this. Most injured will be those people who need community colleges in order to better their lives because they can’t afford to attend universities.

Community colleges reduce cost by doing away with many of the more elaborate and expensive services that universities offer, like huge sports complexes or extensive student housing. But they also do it by getting assistance from the states and local communities in which they operate, the very people they are there to help.

Investing in community colleges, which thankfully is the trend in most of the rest of the country, is good for everyone. It means more people can get an education or supplement their existing education and move into better jobs. Better jobs means higher standards of living and more taxes, which means, in a perfect world, more money for education.

But that requires thinking ahead, which the Arizona legislature seems incapable of doing.