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Opinion: Offering scraps to community colleges - and only for the trades - sends an insulting message to the minority students enrolled there.

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Call it destiny or circumstances that my father ended up working the fields of northern California his entire working life.

With only primary education under his belt, he became an expert on grapevines, knew the mechanics of winemaking and could fix any machinery in the winery.

To this day, he’s grateful and proud of the work he did. But he never wanted that life for us – the life of a worker whose bosses could never see anything else other than a laborer.

That’s why I’m incensed over one part of Sen. Sylvia Allen’s sales taxes proposal, Senate Bill 1080, which promises to raise about $1.1 billion for education.

The Snowflake Republican wants voters to increase the education tax rate to a penny from its current sixth-tenths of a cent. In other words, Allen wants the Legislature to ask voters in 2020 to replace Proposition 301.

Community college money is an insult

Allen’s proposal, which changes the funding distribution into three categories, is worth considering.

She wants 73 percent of the $1.1 billion estimated annual revenue to go toward K-12 education, 22 percent to the public universities to maintain in-state tuition costs and finally 5 percent for the state’s community colleges for trade and workforce development programs.

It’s the 5 percent, or roughly $50 million annually, that has me riled up. This is such a slap on the face on so many levels.

First, the 20 community colleges in Arizona – which have been left out to dry with no state funding – would get the crumbs under this proposal.

Second, does anyone else find it insulting that the Republican-backed proposal ties up the $50 million to trade and workforce development?

I’m fuming over this one, folks.

Colleges are more than trade schools

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Education funding has been a hot-button topic in Arizona since the Great Recession. Here is what you should know before the 2018 midterm election. William Flannigan, azcentral

Why are Republicans thinking of minorities merely as laborers? Yes, this proposal comes down to that.

Most students who attend community colleges are predominantly minorities. Some do want to pursue technical training, but for others a community college is the best and economical option to begin their higher education.

In Maricopa County, home to the 10-college Maricopa system, most of the roughly 200,000 students are non-white. About 40 percent transfer to a university, according to the college system website.

State government began defunding the colleges when the recession hit. It went from $68.7 million in 2008 to $45.3 million in 2011, to $6.9 million in 2012 to $0.

And now, are the colleges supposed to be thrilled by getting merely $50 million to be split, and only for trades and workforce development because that’s what rich Arizonans need?

Give us more money - and for tuition

Hell no. This Latina isn’t going to be grateful for the crumbs. I’m not going to say this is better than nothing. And neither should you.

It’s insulting to see Arizona’s top business leaders hailing Allen’s proposal because it’d give them their needed workforce, such as construction workers, plumbers and electricians.

Don’t get me wrong. These are good paying jobs. Arizona is facing a work shortage. And the community colleges are the place to prepare them.

But it is insulting and infuriating for anyone – in this case, the Republicans and business leaders backing this measure – to think of Latinos and minorities as just good enough for manual labor.

Allen would be wise to reconsider her distribution formula to provide a more substantial amount to the colleges for tuition purposes – and not just for trade. Business leaders would be wise to invest in the colleges themselves instead of relying on taxpayers to deal with the workforce shortage.

The senator deserves a shout-out for putting the proposal forward for serious debate. That's more than most Republicans in power have done. And I get that education desperately needs a new revenue stream. 

But don’t humiliate the likes of my father – the farmworker who dreamed of something else for his children. Don't humiliate Latinos and otherwise poor students by restricting the money to trades and workforce development. 

Elvia Díaz is an editorial columnist for The Republic and azcentral. Reach her at 602-444-8606 or elvia.diaz@arizonarepublic.com. Follow her on Twitter, @elviadiaz1.

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