Arizona Can Boost Math Despite Budget Cuts, Says Gov.

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Some Arizona education groups have recently criticized Gov. Bruce E. Babbitt for proposing improvement plans in mathematics and science education at the same time that he is planning to reduce the amount of state aid to public schools by an estimated $30.5 million in 1983-84.

But a spokesman for the Governor said the proposals, which should cost about $500,000 in the first year, do "not call for massive funding increases, but for redirection" of existing resources.

The idea, the Governor asserts, is to shift emphasis, and funds, to mathematics and science education in the high schools at the cost, if necessary, of less-important areas of study.

He believes that higher standards in mathematics and science are crucial if the state is to attract and keep high-technology industries.

And he argues that education is actually suffering less than most state programs as Arizona grapples with its most severe recession in many years.

Arizona legislators are currently looking at a variety of proposals to help ease a projected 1982-83 deficit of $200 million, and to avoid further deficits in 1983-84.

The state's copper and building industries are depressed, and revenues from sales taxes and income taxes have fallen. Legislation limiting property taxes passed in 1980 has also contributed to the problem.

The Governor has already asked state agencies to return 10 percent of their 1982-83 budgets to the state's general fund.

This move affected only adult- and vocational-education programs, according to the state department of education, and did not affect basic aid programs.

Now Governor Babbitt is propos-ing that the normal 7 percent allowed-growth rate of school-district budgets (the figure set by the legislature for the past several years), be cut to 4 percent for 1983-84.

At the same time, he wants to continue pushing his proposals for improvements in mathematics and science education.

The House education committee has passed a bill allowing use of the 4-percent rate in 1983-84, and a rate based on the Gross National Product "price deflator" thereafter, said James L. Cooper, chairman of the House education committee. Mr. Cooper at one time wanted "no growth," he said, but now supports the 4-percent figure.

Depending on their point of view, parties to the debate see the 4-percent rate as either a huge cut to education and an affront to logic, or--given the difficult economic times--a victory for education and a reasonable policy course.

'Schools Cannot Function'

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the Arizona Education Association, said it is the former: "Schools cannot function and maintain current program levels if the growth rate goes down to 4 percent," he asserted.

Anne E. Lindeman, chairman of the Senate education committee, noted that there was originally some support for a zero-percent growth rate next year and said the districts will simply have to make do.

"We're cutting education's growth rate," she said. "We've already cut some agencies 20 percent in actual dollars, not in growth."

Elizabeth L. Toth, legislative liaison for the Arizona School Boards Association, said her group supports the mathematics- and science-improvement plans, but finds the Governor's timing impolitic.

"We have a problem with pro-grams being mandated without adequate funding for that purpose, with the idea that we take existing funds and shuffle them around," she said.

Carolyn Warner, state superintendent of public instruction, said, "Looking at the three proposals--continuing at 7 percent, reducing to zero percent, and the Governor's proposal--and recognizing that we are running $200 million short, I'm not pleased, but we can accept the reality."

'Cumulative Effect'

The major problem, Ms. Warner said, is the "cumulative effect" on the schools of absorbing several years of inflation that was greater than the 7-percent rate the state has usually allowed for budget growth in education.

"We are now running our schools on about 15 percent fewer dollars per student than we were six years ago" because of this "cumulative effect," she said.

The budget crisis notwithstanding, the Governor has said his reforms in mathematics and science education cannot wait. His program includes:

Raising mathematics and science requirements for admission to state universities. The Governor has asked the state board of regents to consider requiring three years of mathematics and two years of science for admission. Currently, none of the three universities in the state system--the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, and Northern Arizona University--now has such stringent academic requirements.

Providing summer mathematics and science institutes, conducted at universities, for outstanding high-school students.

Providing summer institutes to upgrade the standards of existing mathematics and science teachers, and establishing programs to "re-gear" teachers for mathematics and science teaching.

(Arizona has a shortage in this teaching area, as do many states. Two years ago, for example, the three state universities produced a total of two students with a degree in mathematics education and none with a degree in physics education, according to a spokesman for the Governor.)

Offering a "loan forgiveness" pro-gram for university students going into mathematics and science education. The state would pay for four years of schooling, and for every year a student teaches in the state after graduation, one-fifth of the loan would be forgiven.

Requiring "computer literacy"--as yet undefined--for prospective teachers seeking state certification. The Governor has already sent this proposal to the state board of education for consideration.

Vol. 02, Issue 19

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