Improving education and growing Arizona’s economy were topics of discussion during a June 1 Legislative Town Hall session hosted by the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce featuring State Senator Sylvia Allen and State Representatives Brenda Barton and Bob Thorpe.
Sen. Allen, a realtor by trade, said Arizona is doing what it can to fund education, but the economy is still not where it was before the Great Recession. “The money [for education] will only come as fast as our economy recovers. There’s no way to change that.”
She said the state is at a disadvantage compared to others with only 14 percent private property, which generates tax funds for education. She cited Michigan, for example, with 70 percent private property from which to derive tax revenue. She also addressed teacher pay and noted that the state does not set teacher salaries; rather, the superintendents and school boards make those decisions.
Sen. Allen also said successful education systems are not just about money. She believes children in the United States are starting school too young and are becoming stressed out. “That’s not what they do in other countries and they are very successful.”
She pointed to Finland, which is consistently one of the highest performing developed countries on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a tool that measures education systems worldwide. “In Finland, kids don’t start school until they are seven years old.”
Meanwhile, Representative Barton said the state is increasing its revenues by facilitating a business environment and getting out of the way to let business do what it does best. “We’ve added more jobs and more businesses, large and small, to our economy.”
She noted that insurance company, State Farm, is now headquartered in Tempe, adding thousands of jobs to the state of Arizona. “These are not minimum wage jobs, they are professional jobs.”
Representative Bob Thorpe added that Arizona is one of the top states for new job creation. “We’re geared for taking tax credits and reinvesting in business.”
He mentioned W. L. Gore & Associates, which continues to generate jobs in Flagstaff. “We need to make it more affordable and more advantageous for businesses to stay, especially in Northern Arizona.”
The group also discussed funding sources for rural road maintenance.
Rep. Thorpe invited the group to keep communicating with elected officials. “If you tell us what your pain points are, that’s the beginning of the conversation and we can start formulating a way to start addressing those problems.”
“Providing access for our member and non-profit business partners to our elected leaders and community decision makers is a focus of the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce,” said Chamber President and CEO Julie Pastrick. “We felt very fortunate that we could host a town hall conversation with all three of our state leaders just after the state legislative session ended. It really does make a difference for them to hear what our needs are and for us to take a moment to thank them for the leadership they provide towards boosting our rural economies.” FBN
By Bonnie Stevens, FBN
Photo caption: State Representative Bob Thorpe, State Representative Brenda Barton and State Senator Sylvia Allen spoke with business leaders at Little America on June 1.
Photo by Bonnie Stevens