I give Governor Ducey credit for finding a little additional money for schools, but it’s a temporary fix and it’s simply not enough. Assuming his proposal passes in 2016, it will only increase per pupil funding by $300 in 2017. This increased funding will bump Arizona from 50th place to 49th. So, until the legislative leadership is willing to talk about broader educational issues, including addressing the inflation funding lawsuit in a serious manner, Arizona’s education future isn’t going to change.
A new U.S. Census Bureau study shows that Arizona spends the fewest dollars per pupil on teacher pay, classroom instruction, and school administration. That’s astounding. First of all, this completely undermines the right-wing red herring argument that too much money goes to administrative costs in our state. So, let’s finally put that one to bed.
Second, as a governing board member of the Roosevelt School District, I consistently talk with business and community leaders who consistently stress that investing in our schools is essential for Arizona’s future. Gutting classroom spending certainly doesn’t lay the foundation for that vision.
And perhaps the most troubling piece of data to come from this report is that Arizona spends less money per pupil on teacher pay than any other state in the nation. Study after study confirms how critical it is to ensure a good teacher in every classroom. It’s why I led the campaign to pass bond overrides for the Roosevelt School District in 2013, which in turn accounted for increases of 5 per cent to 30 percent in staff salaries. Investing in good people is just common sense, whether you’re a multi-national corporation or a public school. And maintaining good teachers is directly related to the success of our students, therefore the success of our future Arizona economy.
This is something where almost everyone agrees. We know the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers want higher pay. I also hear the same calls from parents, business leaders, and education advocacy groups such as Democrats for Education Reform.
So, why is there this disconnect between our elected Republican legislative leadership and the vast majority of people? Perhaps part of the problem is the anti-education extremists have successfully used silly rhetoric such as “you just can’t throw money at the problem” to cloud the real issues. They talk about teacher pay, performance, classroom funding, and administrative costs in ways that sound as if you can only achieve one at the expense of the others. In reality, teacher pay, classroom and administrative spending, and performance are all inextricably linked to one another.
Education advocates – whether Democratic or Republican – need to work together. Teacher pay and performance shouldn’t be a divisive issue framed by extreme right wing activists, it should be a unifying rallying cry for progressive education advocates throughout the state!
As a school board member, I have to consider input from parents and students, the administrators, and the teachers and staff. Sadly, right now it seems the only ones who have any input on Arizona’s educational agenda is the Republican legislative leadership. And, instead of actually working to improve our schools, they are focused on creating scapegoats. Which, more often than not, have been teachers. Over the past several years, they’ve attacked teacher pay, support services, resources and even the ability for teachers to represent themselves through collective bargaining. None of which are actually related to improving our schools. It’s simply a political game.
A quote from Charles Barone, policy director for Democrats for Education Reform, might sum it up best: “If collective bargaining were the obstacle to better public education, Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker would be presiding over the highest-performing education system in the country. The reality is quite the opposite, and we are determined to keep standing up for collective bargaining rights and not allow the Republican Party to use platitudes about education to hide their ulterior efforts to undermine unions as a whole.”
I couldn’t agree more. It’s time we all stand up for education in Arizona. Let’s tell Governor Ducey that his funding plan is fine, but it’s only a small step in a very long march. Let’s make it loud and clear to Senate President Andy Biggs and House Speaker David Gown that we’ve had enough of their disregard for public schools and for Arizona’s children. It’s time to put education first in this state, and if they’re unwilling to make that happen then we’ll all come together and get the job done ourselves.
– Lawrence Robinson is a Roosevelt School District Governing Board member and Maricopa County director of the Arizona School Boards Association.