Denial of in-state tuition shows education is not top priority
Arizona Republic
August 21, 2007

Like many states, Arizona is plagued with a shortage of nurses, doctors, teachers and other public servants who play a vital role in the community.
Our state is faced with the very real possibility that we might not have enough skilled professionals to keep our economy and state running efficiently as the population continues to grow.

Arizona's elected officials should be doing everything we can to help bright people become registered nurses, rural medical professionals and grade school educators. Instead, Arizona has denied many people access to higher education.

The Arizona Republic has recently reported the personal stories of very intelligent students who would like to achieve their potential in life and help the Arizona economy thrive, but are now prevented from doing so. The Republic told us the story of Virginia, a third-semester Arizona State University nursing student, who has excellent grades but whose ability to complete her degree remains in doubt. She is an undocumented immigrant who grew up in the United States. The Republic also has told us about an ASU junior who earned an academic scholarship but has now had to seek $16,000 in private scholarships to pay for out-of-state tuition. For the sake of Arizona's future, I hope the students in this predicament find a way to raise the thousands and thousands of dollars they need to earn their college degrees. However, we cannot deny the reality of Proposition 300. The reality is that many bright youngsters, who were brought into this country by no action of their own, are now locked out of expensive higher education. The reality is that many of these individuals, who could be saving a patient's life in an emergency room or teaching a child the wonders of science, will end up not contributing to the Arizona economy. Having thousands of unskilled people with no real means of improving their education is not beneficial to anyone.

The same elected officials who want to deny others access to higher education are the same people who oppose all-day kindergarten, who oppose improving university infrastructure, and who fight tooth and nail against increasing education funding in Arizona. The reason in-state tuition is so expensive is because these people refuse to properly fund it. We have drifted severely off course from our state constitution's requirement to make education as nearly free as possible.

State Treasurer Dean Martin recently speculated that the state would save $20 million by denying students in-state tuition. Mr. Martin said his claim was based on the hypothetical assumption that the students already were receiving full-ride scholarships. It is irresponsible for Mr. Martin, who oversees the state treasury and who works with numbers every day, to give the public such a presumptive, hypothetical figure.

The only way Arizona will move from an anti-education state to a pro-education state is if the public demands that elected officials stop paying lip service and start making public education our actual No. 1 priority. We need increased access to higher education, improvement in our dropout rates, more per-pupil spending, more equitable classroom facility spending and more emphasis on core subjects. In addition, our youngsters need to believe that they have the keys to higher education.

State Rep. David Lujan is president of the Phoenix Union High School District Governing Board and a member of the state House of Representatives.
He can be reached at