As you buy paper and markers, tissues and wipes, I invite you to pick up extras, because classrooms often don’t have an adequate supply of pencils. Let’s consider why there are never enough pencils. We know that a quality education is a key to the success of our children and our communities. A well-funded educational system provides an opportunity for every child, regardless of how well off the parents are. Public schools provide extracurricular activities, advanced learning options and a place to build community. Furthermore, law enforcement officers agree education is the key to safe, healthy communities.
I believe we need to broaden the conversation around education. Teacher pay is important, and at 49th in the country for elementary school teachers, and 48th for secondary school teachers, it is criminally low. We need to talk about the entire education ecosystem, beginning with quality affordable childcare that allows parents to work without worry and children to thrive from the beginning, through our community colleges and universities. We need more funding for all of it. Teachers deserve a raise. They also deserve to have enough desks and up-to-date materials. Arizona spends less than the national average in every category of education spending – infrastructure, transportation, instructional support – every single one. Furthermore, we have more foster children than any other state and the lowest number of school counselors in the nation. Arizona is 46th in the country for high school graduation rates and the majority of our third graders are not reading at grade level. Education in Arizona is broken and we need legislators who are serious about fixing it.
During the last legislative session, the state legislature passed the largest budget in Arizona’s history and still failed to restore education funding to 2008 levels. The budget included $386 million in tax cuts and $304 million to private schools, but failed to adequately address the $420 million needed for building repair and maintenance. The legislature continues to support expanding vouchers, despite the voters expressly telling lawmakers not to. There is a place for private and parochial schools, I myself attended each, but we shouldn’t be taking taxpayer dollars from public schools and giving them to for-profit institutions. It’s a situation ripe for abuse. Education funding is about preparing our kids for the future, not making charter school owners rich.
This is unacceptable. We all agree it’s unacceptable. The question is, do we have the political will to do something about it? We need representatives that will do more than talk about education funding and vote to prioritize just about everything else. We need representatives that will talk the talk and walk the walk. FBN
By Coral Evans