Arizona Schools Should be the Economic Driver to Invest in the Future
I’ve been an entrepreneur in Arizona for almost 30 years. In that time, I’ve realized that our state government does not care about the education of its children, or understand how public education drives our economic future. Instead, state leaders have gutted our public education system and Arizona schools to the point of starvation.
Arizona children deserve a competitive market and a promising future economy
The governor and majority party have built an education system based on a competitive market that ensures some schools picking and choosing their students will “thrive,” while the rest are doomed to fail. This is short-term thinking that sells out Arizona children and ruins our future economy. Instead of investing in the most important economic driver of all, they’ve gutted teacher pay and per-student spending year after year.
Will Arizona have skilled workers for jobs of the future?
What worries me most is the myopic thinking of our state leaders. We’re losing high-tech jobs every year because lawmakers have failed to invest in the opportunities that create programmers, scientists, and engineers. In a backward model, lawmakers have doubled down on replacing high-growth, high-paying jobs with low-paying sectors — the kind of occupations robots will be doing in a decade or two. Lawmakers profess that they’re worried about losing jobs to bordering states, but we’re not attracting doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs, or teachers. Instead, we’re settling for expanding low-wage, which will one day be obsolete.
“In a backward model, lawmakers have doubled down on replacing high-growth, high-paying jobs with low-paying sectors — the kind of occupations robots will be doing in a decade or two.”
Despite the governor’s brags, the reality is that company after company is leaving Arizona because our local workforce isn’t meeting its demands. The jobs of the future, such as software companies and technology service firms, are leaving Arizona in droves or using the state as a low-cost provider of the least skilled positions. Even the semiconductor industry, save for a bellwether or two, are only here for the tax breaks bestowed upon them that are almost immoral in their extravagance. It’s not skilled workers that keep them here. It’s the free tax money that should be going to our children.
Arizona entrepreneurs have concerns
Sadly, I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. In fact, having already lost a successful Chandler-based technology startup to the state of Indiana, my new software startup is now headquartered thousands of miles away. I can’t make it work here, and that gives me no joy. While leaders like to say “Arizona is a small business paradise,” that statement belies both the energetic spirit and resourcefulness of Arizona entrepreneurs. It is a reflection of our hustle. But that’s the problem. Hustle doesn’t scale. Hustle needs a steady diet of skilled workers to achieve scale and Arizona isn’t providing it.
Business partnerships in Arizona are in short supply
In Arizona, small companies stay small. I tried to scale my company in Chandler and achieved 20% revenue growth year over year for a decade. While that might sound like success, we moved to Indiana and that growth rate tripled in year one and maintained that for 4 years straight. Our firm is now a public company, with less than 10 employees in Arizona and hundreds in Indiana.
Indiana students were more skilled, more ready, and had the drive to stay in Indiana. Education and business partnerships were abundant. University fellowships were everywhere. They didn’t attract my firm with good weather, golf courses, and Super Bowls. They did it with Salesforce, Oracle, and Microsoft certifications. Arizona cannot fake a skilled, well-educated workforce. This loss of growing companies will continue as long as we starve our K-12 education system.
Will Arizona invest in the future through education spending?
We are at a breaking point, Arizona. We need to decide: are we going to keep electing leaders who refuse to invest in the future of our state? Studies show that the fastest-growing jobs in the US are in the areas of sustainability, renewable energy, information security, mathematics, and statistics. They say these jobs help us protect America’s economic future, ensure our collective security, and respond to unforeseen threats.
Are we going to continue voting for state lawmakers who view education spending as a waste of money? Are we going to continue electing greedy opportunists, corrupt politicians, and snake oil salespeople that see Arizona’s schools as an easy target for profiteering through vouchers and tax credits? Or are we going to wise up?