A lesson in opportunity - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

A lesson in opportunity

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Posted: Saturday, January 26, 2008 10:34 pm | Updated: 10:34 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Madam Governor laid out her State of the State earlier this month, with her annual fodder for antagonists. We do love the democratic process, don’t we?

One particular proposal on her list offers remarkable opportunity, if frontline bureaucrats are not afraid of being great.

Janet Napolitano wants to waive college tuition for Arizona high school students who graduate with at least a “B” average and who “stay out of trouble” along the way. Of course, the first outburst from said adversaries was: How so? Where‘re ya gonna get the funding?

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne flinched right off, saying the idea would be too difficult to implement. And here I thought his job is to make Arizona the best education system in the nation.

In a Jan. 15 Tribune story by reporters Mary K. Reinhart and Dennis Welch, Horne is quoted as saying, “It will put unbearable pressure on teachers to give Bs to everybody so they can get free college.” We’ll, I’m not certain what the required grade-point average is for athletes, but isn’t “pressure” what teachers are required to endure to keep jocks qualified for school teams? This is old stuff, practiced and perfected.

Nothing worthwhile is easy, Mr. Horne. Isn’t that what you teach Arizona’s students? One would think keeping a high price on education because anything less is difficult to administer is an embarrassing admission. You wanted your job, Mr. Horne; “hard” is what you’re supposed to do.

Why reject the opportunity to go down in history as a team member in a cutting-edge program? As for the nitty-gritty details, they’re easily solved when everyone gets on the same page. As for the cost to implement — isn’t it the truth that when we want something — oh, say, like a new sports stadium or a light rail system — we always find the way and the money? But first, we must sell the plan to ourselves. Yeah, it’s a cliché, and it’s true: There’s no better way to improve our world than investing in children.

Dan Anderson, assistant executive director for institutional analysis at the Arizona Board of Regents, says a board report shows nearly 50 percent of Arizona high school graduates will qualify this May for acceptance in state universities; close to 30,000 students. It’s a given that many will need financial aid.

A full 52 percent of 2007 university graduates, who acquired loans through the school system, claim $18,000 in debt along with their diplomas. Anderson points out those numbers don’t reflect additional loan sources.

American Student Assistance (www.amsa.com) reports the continued escalation of tuition (as seen in Arizona), not to mention actual living expenses, contributes to the huge demand for loans. The ASA quotes The College Board: “In 2004-2005 … private loans increased 734 percent from a decade earlier” — just a fraction of the federal loan tally.

When it’s well known that education is the key to elevating a life and a country, why allow the assault of future promise, especially at a time of economic downturn, when promise is desperately needed.

The governor’s plan lends comparison to the G.I. Bill signed into law by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944 in an effort to jump-start the country after World War II. By 1947, 49 pecent of college students were veterans (www.gibill.va.gov).

Note: Those vets became the parents of today’s majority baby boomers — offspring still thriving from a program which was highly controversial at the time. The Veteran’s Administration points out, “By the time the original GI Bill ended in 1956, 7.8 million veterans had participated in an education or training program.” And, America blossomed into my world and yours.

It’s true, besides funding and administration, there are admittedly multiple issues to iron out: The first major hurdle is to prevail against student loan industries. Their lobbyists will make Horne sound like a pacifist. Then, a few of the qualifying details: setting stringent grade and attendance markers to deal with students who can’t keep up the college pace; address the extreme liberal curriculum, which some would wish to save young minds from; and the issue of applicants who are not legal residents of Arizona or the U.S.

But, again, we’re capable, we’re bold and we can do it. We darn sure can’t if we say we can’t. Are you listening, Mr. Horne?

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