Arizona lawmakers urged to embrace new school standards

PHOENIX - Business leaders told a joint meeting of the Arizona House committees Wednesday that they need the state to embrace new school standards designed to produce students who are ready for the workplace or college if their businesses are to thrive.

Executives from Intel, fellow chip maker SUMCO Phoenix Corp. and Raytheon Missile Systems told the joint meeting that the health of their businesses is tied to improving outcomes in education.

That's the point of the new "Common Core" school standards the state is rolling out. They will update teaching curriculum and be measured by a new test to replace the "AIMS" test in the 2014-2015 school year. Common Core standards are being adopted by 47 states and are designed to better teach math and reading, writing and analysis in language arts classes, and give students the ability to use those language skills in classes like history and science. The state Education Department adopted them in 2010.

Gov. Jan Brewer has vowed to include some funding for the new program in the budget proposal she releases Friday. Total costs are a matter of political debate and range from the millions to hundreds of millions for teacher training and implementation.

Regardless of the costs, business leader say they're critical.

Raytheon chief engineer Ron Carsten said his company recruits college graduates and other engineering professionals, but the first question they ask when they're considering moving to Tucson is "how good are the schools."

"And I say, depends on the district," Carsten said. "And I shouldn't have to say that."

Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the state's businesses need qualified workers and they aren't available now, even with high unemployment.

"The key thing here, and you're hearing this from business after business, it's still a tough economy ... yet company after company has difficulty in attracting qualified workers," Hamer said. "So if you have a system that is producing career and college-ready workers, you're going to have more people employed."

Rep. John Allen, a Republican on the House education committee, said costs remain unclear to implement the new standards, but they are important because they're focused on outcomes. But he warned that districts that have worked hard to implement the current AIMS standards will struggle with the switch.

"There's going to be chaos, money chaos and outcome chaos, and that's the nature of change," Allen said.

House speaker Andy Tobin didn't give an estimate on the implementation costs Wednesday, but he said he's committed to paying for the program, although he warned funding is not limitless.

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