The CEO of one of Arizona’s leading business banks is calling for increased attention to long-term funding for Arizona’s public schools, saying it’s needed to improve Arizona’s business climate, and a survey of 400 other CEOs done by the bank show his view is shared.
“There’s a very direct connection between investment in education at all levels – K-12 and higher education – and a healthy economy,” said Jim Lundy, CEO of Alliance Bank of Arizona.
The results of the survey, shared in Alliance Bank of Arizona’s “Arizona 2016 CEO Outlook,” said that to improve Arizona’s business climate, state and local governments as well as leadership groups should focus on increased K-12 public education funding.
The survey was meant to probe CEOs on the current business climate and their future plans, but investment in education, workforce development and training dominated their responses. Lundy called it “eye opening” that lowering taxes and decreasing regulations were ranked much lower.
“If we ignore that and continue to go down the path of ‘let’s have the smallest government and the lowest tax rate possible,’ then we’re going to get what we paid for,” Lundy said.
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Lundy said he believes it’s no coincidence that as Arizona’s per-student spending on education at all levels has declined in the past 38 years – since 1979, so has Arizonans’ personal income from median in the nation to the bottom tenth.
Nearly 60 percent of Arizona business leaders surveyed said they are looking to hire more employees in the next year and almost half are planning to physically expand their business.
Yet many business leaders say Arizona’s workforce is weak in the math, science and communications skills, and the self-motivation and problem solving essential for their career opportunities.
“As a business bank, we pay a lot of attention to various factors that are driving the Arizona economy and to the overall business climate,” Lundy said. “One of those factors in the competitiveness of our state and the quality of our workforce (is that) both (are) adversely affected today by the underfunding of education.”
The result, he said, that Arizona is “consistently coming up short” in attracting and growing higher paying jobs compared to the rest of the country, adding that those looking for employment opportunities often don’t have the necessary skills.
While the survey did not ask CEOs about how public education should be funded, Lundy said he and Alliance Bank of Arizona support Prop. 123 and that the survey results support this kind of initiative.
“I think this is a real opportunity to put a real infusion of resources, so it’s critical that we do that wisely and don’t waste this opportunity, because if we mess this one up, I don’t think we’ll get another chance,” Lundy said.
He noted that it’s key that the governor’s office continue to work with local governments and the K-12 districts throughout the state “to spend that money wisely.”
Making higher education more affordable should be another priority to meeting workforce needs, he said.
“If the state can recognize that now, more than ever, a good education at all levels and teaching people to be problem solvers is the key to our economic future, then Arizona because of its other natural advantages can have a really wonderful future,” Lundy said.