As Arizona’s K-12 public school students round out their second month back in class, many are still not seeing improvements in classroom conditions. Lawmakers have failed to provide enough funding to replace outdated textbooks and technology, fix crumbling and unsafe buildings and ensure there are enough resources for all students to have a permanent teacher.
For the good of our state, Arizona’s public schools should able to lay the foundation for the skilled workforce Arizona will need in the future to bring quality jobs to our state and enable our communities to thrive. Yet for decades now, Arizona has forced school districts to rely on taxing local property owners to pay for needed school facilities. It has created the “haves” and “have-nots” of school districts – the schools in wealthy neighborhoods, which have the modern facilities and technology for their students to learn, and the have-nots in the low-income areas, often in communities of color and rural areas, trying to teach their students in run-down buildings with outdated textbooks and technology.
It is not just funding for school buildings. Arizona continues to be near the bottom in the nation in per pupil funding as well. While lawmakers brag that they increased funding for Arizona public schools, the data show investments in education remain well below what they were during the Great Recession. Adjusted for inflation, public school dollars are down 8.24%, at a time when districts have a difficult time attracting and retaining teachers and students have no choice but to try to learn in unsafe facilities that need major renovations. Data from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee indicates the state invests $9,331 per student, compared with $10,099 more than ten years ago.
This is unacceptable – year after year, kids have no choice but to learn without adequate materials – and often long-term with substitute teachers who are not assigned to a regular classroom. Lawmakers continue to say they support education, yet they have failed time and again to take the bold, meaningful steps to allocate permanent and sustainable funding for K-12 public schools.
For low-income families, regardless of whether they live in metro Phoenix, Tucson, Yuma, or greater Arizona, our state’s public schools should have adequate resources to properly equip children with the education and skills they will need to compete in the global marketplace and to move up the economic ladder as adults.
Arizona students deserve better.
During the last legislative session, with a large budget surplus, lawmakers missed an opportunity to invest millions of new dollars into our public schools and instead enacted more than $360 million in new tax cuts. Badly needed dollars are being diverted from public classrooms to private schools and wealthy districts. Parents, teachers, faith leaders, voters from all parties and business CEOs have called for significant new investments to meet our shared education goals, as state legislators ignore our calls for better funding for K-12 public education.
We can no longer count on lawmakers to fix this funding crisis. It’s time for the citizens of Arizona to take matters into our own hands.
David Lujan is director of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress and a former state lawmaker.