Wednesday, January 14, 2004
Keynote on the State of the State overview
Thank you all for the opportunity to talk to you today about the state of our great State.
One year ago I delivered my first State of the State address, in which I characterized the condition of Arizona as grim. We had unfathomable budget deficits of $1.3 billion, a beleaguered education system, a moribund economy, and a state that wondered if Arizona - particularly Arizona's state government - could get anything right.
What a difference one year makes.
We have begun reinvesting in our schools, and they are responding positively. Our economy is moving again. And even though the state faces another budget deficit this year, it looks to be less than one third of last year's. The sense of renewed optimism is palpable in every community I visit, and it is growing.
Today, Arizona is strong and growing stronger. And it is due in large part to the people and businesses of Arizona who are pitching in to help bring our economy back to life. Now that we have put state budget emergencies behind us, it is time to work in earnest to build the new Arizona. The Arizona that we know that it can be.
To that end, I am committing my administration to fundamental educational reform, because a good education system elevates quality of life for today's families, and it serves as a catalyst for a stronger business climate in future years. By increasing literacy rates and therefore reducing dropout rates, we not only reduce the number of citizens needing public assistance, but we create a well-educated workforce that entreats businesses to start and to grow.
Throughout the past year, I have been setting the stage for long-overdue educational reform. Frankly, we had some prep work to do before it was time to announce any major reform efforts.
First, we had to ensure that the state would adequately invest in our educational institutions, instead of looking to them first for budget cuts. I did not accept any cuts to education in last year's budget, nor will I accept any this year.
Next, I needed to demonstrate to the business community and to a skeptical Legislature that the money appropriated to schools was being used as frugally as possible. To do that, I challenged all school districts to move another nickel of each operating dollar into classroom-related spending.
So far, their performance has been excellent. Statewide, districts have moved more than $100 million into classrooms. That's an average of $100 for every public school student in Arizona. And that number will increase as schools go into year two of the project.
With our schools, community colleges and universities now operating under somewhat more stable fiscal environments, it is time to lay down our markers for the kind of state we want to build.
This is a time for optimism. The education community is remarkably energized at the possibilities. And as business leaders, you know that the business community is demanding education reform, because you recognize the impact it will have on your ability to thrive.
For the past year I have heard the message loud and clear from the business community - education reform is the most potent strategy for economic development that state government can undertake. I could not agree more.
It is no longer possible in Arizona to be pro-business without also being pro-education. People who claim to embrace pro-business policies while also supporting efforts to undermine and under-fund our public education system simply have not thought through their position. Nor are they really listening to business leaders.
So together - you and I, along with a very willing education community - we are starting this year to build a quality education system for Arizona. To begin with, I want every child to begin school safe, healthy and ready to learn.
The seeds of academic success start years before a child enters the first grade, and so this is where we must begin. We must instill quality in childcare and preschool providers, where so much critical cognitive development occurs - or should occur - in our children. If we wait until the first grade to address academic underperformance, there is a mountain of data that tells us that we're simply too late.
While the state reviews childcare and preschool facilities for health and safety considerations, parents have no reliable way of gauging the quality of the experience their children may receive there. Parents in other states are way ahead of Arizona in this respect, because their state governments give them tools to ensure that their children are enrolled in quality childcare and preschool programs.
To be sure, quality childcare and preschool settings exist in Arizona, but we must insist that they exist everywhere in this state. This year my administration will begin to establish a quality rating system for childcare and preschool providers. And for those who do not meet quality ratings, we will seek new public and private sources of funds to help those centers achieve acceptable levels of quality.
Once children enter kindergarten, I want their parents to have the option to send them to a full day of school. It is becoming increasingly obvious that providing only a half-day of kindergarten constitutes a missed opportunity to help children absorb all the knowledge they can at that level. Full-day K ought to be an option for all parents in Arizona, and I am seeking funding from the Legislature to phase it in over the next five years.
Educator will tell you that it's tough to get through to kids who come to school sick or distracted by violence in the home. I have worked hard over the past year to remake Child Protective Services, and I sincerely believe that before I'm done working with CPS, it will become the national model of child protection.
For now, we have reformed its procedures and in the short term we have given it the funding to adequately investigate and process every report of child abuse or neglect. And to prevent child abuse, I will ask the Legislature to double the budget for Healthy Families, a program that has proven to prevent child abuse from occurring in the first place.
All Arizona children should be safe, healthy and ready to succeed when they show up for school. By giving parents more tools to ensure that this occurs, we will prevent more dropouts, and increase the academic performance of those who will serve as tomorrow's workforce.
And that's really what it boils down to at the end of the day - better-educated people who are better able to raise families and contribute to society because they are in better-paying jobs.
That is what our communities look like in the new Arizona.
In many respects, Tucson and southern Arizona are leading the drive to develop the new Arizona, and that centers around exciting work being done at the University of Arizona.
Innovations in optical sciences have earned the Santa Cruz Valley the nickname "Optics Valley," and for good reason.
With renewed interest in planetary exploration, the UofA's planetary scientists could find themselves at the center of much of the 21st Century exploration.
Biomedical research at the Arizona Health Sciences Center holds the potential of finding cures for diseases and effective treatments for illnesses that have no cures.
To grow these innovative industries, this community will need a highly educated workforce and tools with which to encourage tech industries to grow.
Beyond improving our education system, I want to do what I can to help encourage growth of the tech industry. The Governor's Council on Innovation and Technology recently released a blueprint for developing Arizona's tech industries, so that we can become pace setters in an increasingly competitive arena.
I plan to implement this strategy, which includes a package of legislation to establish early stage and venture capital investments in Arizona's growing innovative industry sectors. We must invest in these high-tech sectors and in our rural economies, to ensure growth in the number of high-paying jobs in Arizona. My legislation will help us to do just that, and it will not require money from the General Fund in 2005.
More than 20 states have made similar investments, and we must do the same if we are to compete for the future.
These are just a few of the building blocks of the new Arizona, but I need your help putting them into place.
We still live in a state with a Legislature reluctant to invest in anything new. There are still those at the state capitol who do not see the compelling need to commit Arizona to fundamental reform.
On Monday, the Legislature heard from me, and now it's time that they hear from you. Get involved in this issue. Help build the human infrastructure of the 21st Century, just as our predecessors committed themselves to building the dams, the bridges and waterways of the 20th Century.
Let's make education reform and all the benefits that it will produce be our Hoover Dam. Let it be our Central Arizona Project. Let it be our gift to future generations.
Rotary Club of Tucson
Date: Jan. 14, 2004
Location: Tucson, AZ