Newly elected state superintendent of public instruction Randy Dorn threw down the gauntlet on school funding Monday in his inaugural appearance before the state Senate education committee.
Money for schools must come first, Dorn told them:
"We've really never matched up the standards and how you fund education...I will be reminding the legislators that the number one, primary, paramount duty you have is to fund education. That doesn't mean kinda number one, close to the top, it means beyond the top and out in front of everything else that you look at. That has to be your number one priority.
"That is a hard shift because there's many many things that come to view that just strike you that we've got to do something about that. And it's hard to place education absolutely above everything else. But you don't have that choice. Your constitution says -- and you take an oath of office -- that you will follow that. So that's what has to create all the decision-making...that's where the funding has to be.
The lawmakers showed little reaction. Some shuffled papers; others gazed, showing no emotion, straight at Dorn.
Committee chairwoman Rosemary McAuliffe said the budget remains a reality, and she wants input from Dorn to help lawmakers face the challenge.
"I'm asking you if you could help us, prior to seeing budgets released, could you give some input?" she said. "Because I think that's critically important that you take this opportunity between now and a few weeks to kind of let us know, in this budget crisis, what would you do?
"I know you said it's the number one priority," she continued, "but we'll take some share, you know that. While we will protect basic education, as we should. That is the paramount duty."