Buisness Leaders Lash Out at Quality of State Eduction

Phoenix, AZ – The comments came during the meeting of the Arizona Commerce Authority, a public-private partnership charged with the state's economic development. Former Intel CEO Craig Barrett launched the discussion by saying the education system in Arizona is so poor that if his company were looking for an entirely new site to locate one of its plants, the state would not be among the Top 10 choices. Barrett said much of that is the underfunded university system. But Judy Wood said the problem is not confined to higher education.

(In my business, I have a small call center. They need to have good grammar, good spelling, be able to write in complete sentences because we do lots of chat, live chat. And it is a big problem getting problem getting somebody that can pass basic grammar and spelling tests.)

Listening to those comments was Gov. Jan Brewer who co-chairs the authority. Brewer has proposed cutting $170 million in state funding to universities and slashing state aid to community colleges by more than half. But she brushed aside a question of whether any of that will harm economic development efforts.

(These are very complicated times, you know, that we're facing. And I'm going to work as hard as I know how with the help of many brilliant people to get us through, to get our economy turned around, get our education promise out to the people of Arizona and bring jobs.)

The Senate already has approved a budget plan with even deeper cuts in university funding and taking about $250 million out of K-12 education, an area of the budget Brewer had hoped to shield. But Senate President Russell Pearce said the issue isn't money.

(We're spending a lot of money in areas we ought not to be spending money. It's time to focus and to make sure. I don't think we have a lack of dollars. And I do disagree with him a little bit. We're not in the lower quarter. When all things are balanced we're probably running in the middle of the average. I recognize our demographics with non-English speakers and all the challenges we have. I think we probably have a very good educational system that just has challenges that many other states don't have.)

For Arizona Public Radio this is Howard Fischer.