When 60,000 students are without a full-time, certified teacher due to our state’s crushing teacher shortage, Arizona is clearly not living up to its obligation of providing a quality public education to our children. It is unfair to put our students inside crumbling buildings, with not enough desks, trying to learn with outdated textbooks and technology. A decade of politicians slashing education budgets created this crisis. That’s why AEA and a coalition of education groups sued the state to adequately fund school capital needs. Our lawsuit is about forcing the state to come up with a real, long-term, and sustainable school funding solution.
We see the solution as creating a permanent, dedicated funding mechanism that ensures new schools are built before existing schools are overcrowded, older schools receive the repairs and upgrades they require to meet the needs of our students, and teachers and students have access to the latest technologies essential to competing in a 21st century economy.
Politicians seem to see the solution as buying off the plaintiffs so the lawsuit goes away, and with it, the dark cloud hanging over their hopes for re-election. They want to offer just enough money to address some of the needs some of our schools face for some of our students – but their proposals fall far short from providing what all our teachers and students need to be successful in every district in the state.
Gov. Doug Ducey’s plan follows a pattern that teachers and voters have become familiar with – cutting funds to schools, restoring some of it later, and then taking credit for providing schools “new money.” In his first year in office, the governor cut $99 million from universities, and then gave them back $27 million in bonding last year. He cut JTED funding by $30 million, then the next year proposed restoring it in one-time money spread out over three years. Instead of exaggerating required dollars as “new money,” the governor should acknowledge he is adding back most of the District Additional Assistance cuts he made in the 2016 budget.
Our state needs additional years of increased investment in our public schools, but our leaders also need to meet the requirements of Roosevelt v. Bishop by creating permanent, dedicated revenue so that every student can ride a safe bus, attend a quality school, and learn using the latest technology.
Settling for anything less prevents our students from the education they deserve.
— Joe Thomas is president of the Arizona Education Association and a high school government teacher from Mesa.
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.