While we are pleased that, as a result of the Prop. 123 election, teachers and students across Arizona will see an increase in public school funds, there is a reason that Governor Ducey and Prop 123 supporters described the ballot measure as a “good first step.” Prop. 123 settles a lawsuit over inflation funding and provides only 18 percent of the funding that has been cut from Arizona public education since 2008. Most Arizona voters clearly understand this. Based on exit polling conducted during the special election, a large majority of both YES and NO voters believe that Arizona public schools need more funding to fill in the gaps.
It is up to voters and elected leaders to join together to make sure that there are meaningful next steps. Arizona parents, teachers, school board members and citizens have formed a coalition called AZ Schools Now with specific public education goals for lawmakers as we move forward to take next steps to securing a long-term funding solution for public schools.
Legislators need to live up to their campaign promises to strengthen public schools and make steady progress to increase funding each year for public education to fill in the gaps created by previous budget cuts. Lawmakers must commit to stop expanding tax cuts, tax credits and school vouchers. These revenue-draining practices undermine the confidence of the public and have made it virtually impossible to sufficiently invest in our schools.
Additional investment is needed in three key areas to fuel student success.
First, lawmakers must appropriate additional funding for teacher compensation and professional support. The most important thing we can do to achieve better academic results is to ensure there is a quality teacher in every classroom. Arizona has a teacher shortage crisis. Lack of mentoring and insufficient support are top reasons teachers leave the profession, and with 25 percent of our state’s teachers scheduled to retire within the next three years, recruiting and retaining teachers will be crucial.
Second, teachers need up-to-date tools to excel, including classroom supplies and updated textbooks and technology. Students can’t learn up to their potential in overcrowded classrooms without enough books or desks.
Third, Arizona schools have not received the funding they need to keep-up with building maintenance and repair in over a decade. Our schools are crumbling around us. Learning is disrupted when school AC units break down on a hot day or classrooms are flooded when pipes break. These types of incidents will continue to happen in Arizona schools unless we reinvest in school facilities.
We can no longer continue to cut taxes each year without finding long-term funding for public education. Voters expect stronger support of public schools, which is why the legislative elections this August and November are so important. We need legislators who will make public education funding a top priority.
Christine Marsh of Chaparral High School is 2016 Arizona Teacher of the Year. Beth Simek is president-elect of the Arizona PTA. Dr. Jennifer Johnson is executive director of Support Our Schools Az. All are members of AZ Schools Now.