In decisively approving Plan Tucson last week, voters recognized the importance of education in the life of our city over the next decade, and beyond.
Plan Tucson, though it has no binding effect on law or policy, is nonetheless an important document. Mandated by state law, it was prepared through extensive public participation. Representatives of neighborhoods, businesses, government agencies and community groups played a major role in the crafting of Plan Tucson’s guidelines concerning economic development and other important topics. Its passage by nearly a 2-to-1 margin indicates the people of Tucson are directing city leaders to take its goals as a framework for substantive decision-making.
I was heartened to see education cited throughout Plan Tucson. The plan acknowledges, as Pima Community College does, that our city needs “a well-educated, well-qualified workforce that is able to meet the dynamic needs of businesses and employers.” PCC knows that improving educational achievement, partnering with business and industry, and leveraging technology aren’t options in our competitive 21st century economy. They are imperatives.
I was also glad that Plan Tucson acknowledges the role PCC must play in economic development. The plan recommends that the City of Tucson collaborate with PCC, The University of Arizona and other organizations to give workers “skills matched to local job opportunities and employer needs.” It should be noted that PCC already has launched several initiatives to improve our occupational programs, such as Machine Tool Technology. We are partnering with Pima County OneStop and more than two dozen education and industry groups, including the Tucson Unified School District and Raytheon Missile Systems, to redesign course curriculum to meet employer needs, and to engage and recruit high school students into the manufacturing industry.
The plan should be commended for identifying a lack of education as one of the key factors that contributes to the city’s unacceptably high rate of poverty. Plan Tucson highlighted U.S. Census data showing that individuals with less than a high school diploma have the highest rate of poverty, 30 percent, and that high school graduates have the second-highest, 18.3 percent. In the past, some have argued that asserting a correlation between poverty and educational attainment is merely an attempt to excuse substandard schools. But its impact cannot be dismissed, not when, five years after the Great Recession, 1 in 6 Americans is classified as poor, according to new statistics. As former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education and respected educator Diane Ravitch noted last month, “The single biggest source of low academic achievement is poverty.” It is crucial for leaders in government, business and civic life to understand the interrelationships between education, economic development and poverty, and the price we all pay when our citizens fall behind academically.
Given the data and the fact that the people have spoken, the challenge for leaders throughout our region is to meet common goals that result in tangible, measurable improvements in our community. What will Pima Community College do? We will strengthen existing partnerships and forge new ones. In formulating our own strategic plan, we will closely examine Plan Tucson for opportunities to match like-minded efforts. PCC will enact and follow through on strategies to provide those in need with the opportunities for leading more prosperous lives. No one entity, public or private, can implement magic remedies to the challenges facing Tucson and Southern Arizona. But be assured that PCC will do its part.