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Shame on Republican leaders for not meeting needs of children, teachers

We began this legislative session with high hopes and for good reason. State revenues were returning to normal. As the year progressed, the revenue surplus climbed higher and higher. Today Arizona has a budget surplus exceeding $1 billion.
As you know, Arizona faces a number of challenges. We have the second-highest student-to-teacher ratio. We pay our teachers about $5,000 below the national average. The federal courts are demanding that we address the needs of English Language Learners. And we know that Arizona’s K-12 student population is exploding, as veteran school employees are retiring or leaving the profession because they can’t support their families on what districts pay them.
And so, in this context of high needs, we had high expectations of our state Legislature.
In reviewing what the Republican leadership has budgeted, my comment to them is the same that a teacher would say to a student who is underperforming: You have not met the standards.
The Republican leadership has not met the standards of Arizona voters. They have not met the needs of children and families. And they have not met the benchmark for building a strong future for Arizona.
When leadership fails at this level, it impacts all of us. Parents are in doubt as to whether their children can enroll in full-day kindergarten. Teachers are in great doubt about whether they can afford to remain in education. Each year it gets harder and harder to stay. Districts are left wondering how to possibly balance increased needs with insufficient funds.
It’s incomprehensible that, when Arizona could make inroads, the leadership wants to give away over $500 million in new tax cuts, tax credits, and vouchers, yet refuses to fund full-day kindergarten, a high priority among Arizonans.
Specifically AEA is concerned that the budget failed to fund full-day kindergarten, raise the minimum salary for teachers and school employees, hold school employees harmless for rising retirement and insurance costs, and provide new money for grades 4-12.
AEA also objects to an additional $500 million in tax cuts; an additional $5 million in corporate tax credits for private schools; a new $5 million private school voucher program; and pitting funding for grades K-3 against funding for grades 4-12.
Sadly this budget is a deliberate attempt to pander to the political agendas of a few while it deliberately scorns the values and needs of mainstream Arizonans.
Shame on them. But shame on us if we do not go to the polls in September and November and vote for candidates who will invest in the future of our children.
John Wright is the president of the Arizona Education Association, a group that has more than 32,000 members.

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