Governor's Weekly Address - Jan 31 - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Governor's Weekly Address - Jan 31

GovGuam finances, test scores unacceptable

by Governor Eddie Calvo

Hafa Adai my fellow Guamanians,

Government finances are unacceptable and so are test scores. Today the government of Guam owes you $287 million in tax refunds. And, quite coincidentally, DOE is asking for a $287 million budget. The government cannot afford to pay this all at once. That is over half-a-billion dollars.

I have a theory about how we got to this point. It has to do with the cruel cycle of poverty in Guam. It's become endemic. At some point in our government, education funding took a back seat to other priorities. Strategic plans like GOALS 2000 and School-to-Work never received funding support from leaders. Public schools were only given enough to get by. Even that is an exaggeration. We've seen over the past few years how DOE had to beg GovGuam for money to pay teachers and to keep the power on.

Test scores started slipping. Graduation rates took a turn for the worst. Luckily, thanks to education leaders today, the graduation rate has gone up. But, the problem is still there. Over half the high school graduates over the past 20 years could read below basic aptitude. It's no coincidence that welfare rolls have risen, along with homelessness and unemployment. Income levels are well below poverty rates throughout the nation.

Government shortchanged itself and the entire economy when it shortchanged education. Indeed, fewer people qualified to work meant fewer tax revenues. It also meant higher costs for welfare programs. At the end of the day, you can see how government finances deteriorated to the point where we owe our people $287 million. There is a clear connection between education and poverty.

Government can't shortchange the future. If we want to break the cruel cycle of poverty, we've got to provide public schools proper resources. There's no way around this. And we can't just throw money at the schools. We can't prepare budgets the same way every year and expect things to change. This has to be strategic.

We will be working with Superintendent Nerissa Underwood and other education leaders on a strategic blueprint for economic development. New industries and a higher standard of life for all Guamanians will be the goal of this blueprint. The education of students in today's classrooms is how we will reach these goals. The bridge between education and economic development will be the creation of a strong and educated workforce.

The public schools' budget should be tailored around this blueprint. A consortium of economists and private sector leaders will develop workforce and industry projections of our future. They will hand this off to educators, who will present their resource needs to prepare students for this future.

The education budget, among all else, should never be viewed as a year-to-year appropriation. It should be dynamic and strategic. It should be centered around goals to educate your children in to the careers of tomorrow. It should provide for evolving classrooms, curricula second-to-none in the world, and a strong foundation for families.

Prioritizing education funding opens so many opportunities for Guam. In a few short years, we can break the cruel cycle of poverty. We'll have a strong and educated workforce ready to lead a new economy. The next generation will contribute their share, and late tax refunds will be a thing of the past.

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