Arizona lawmakers busy with education plans, other priorities

Arizona state lawmakers wrapped up a busy day Tuesday just after the session opened. Democrats and Republicans each held caucuses to discuss their agendas, and so did the Latino Caucus.

Hispanics now making up nearly 20 percent of voters here in Arizona, and some lawmakers are working hard to make sure their voices are heard loud and clear.

Latino lawmakers say their key issues are the same as most Arizonans, from jobs and healthcare to education. But immigration is still a top concern, and lawmakers say they will push for comprehensive reform on the federal level.

"When Arizona works together, we work best," said Latino Caucus co-chair and minority leader Anna Tovar, as she summed up her hopes for the year ahead.

Recent studies show Hispanic economic influence is really growing in Arizona. Lawmakers at the caucus said they hope to seize on that momentum.

Studies show Hispanic purchasing power is up to $43 billion a year, and there are now 67,000 Hispanic-owned businesses across the state.

Latino leaders are encouraging plans that will help this momentum grow.

Lawmakers are also busy finding ways to improve our children's education after Governor Brewer said it needs to be their top priority during her state of the state address.

All eyes are on funding.

"We moved the needle last year, but it'll take a serious investment moving forward," Tovar said.

Tovar, a Democrat, plans to introduce a bill calling for more funding in hopes of helping struggling students. She says many Hispanic children are fighting a language barrier.

"We want to make sure they have the right tools and resources to be successful," she said.

Some of her friends across the aisle think education can be improved in other ways.

"We need to step back before we just start throwing more money and look where the savings could be made, or better use of the funds that are now restricted that they can't use, and see what more we can do with that," said state senator Chester Crandall, on the education committee.

Crandall, a Republican, wants school districts to have more say when it comes to how money is spent. He thinks they can use money that is already there more wisely.

These plans are still in the early stages. Lawmakers are still working on details on the new bills right now.

Some may be ready in a few weeks.

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