We’ve said many times before that money won’t solve everything that ails the Arizona public school system.
But when so many financial indicators place Arizona at or near the bottom of the 50 states, and when teachers are leaving at a record rate, we have to believe there’s a connection.
The challenge is getting elected officials to acknowledge the depth of the problem and commit to solutions that match the gravity of the situation.
So far, though, the response of Republican leaders has been tepid at best. At worst, it could be counterproductive – think public money for private school tuition and building loans.
How bad is it? According to a report last month from ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, citing state and federal statistics, 22 percent of teachers hired between 2013 and 2015 weren’t teaching after a year. And of just those teachers hired in 2013, 42 percent had left the profession within three years – 52 percent from charter schools alone.
Elementary school teachers in Arizona are the lowest paid in the nation, and high school teachers rank 49th. When adjusted for inflation, teachers are being paid, on average, 10 percent less than in 2001.
Down in Phoenix, Gov. Ducey settled a lawsuit over school funding at about 80 cents on the dollar, putting 8 percent more in state funding into schools over 10 years.
Then he followed up this year by proposing another 2 percent hike in teacher pay, spread out over five years.
Republican rank-and-file countered with 2 percent over two years.
Democrats are holding out for 4 percent this year alone.
For perspective, the Democrats’ plan would cost an additional $34 million out of the $4.3 billion the state already spends each year on public schools.
Some Republican lawmakers contend that no more funds for schools are justified until school boards can show that recent increases are all going into teacher pay.
In the meantime, they and the governor have a backup plan: Allow mainstream public schools to hire non-certificated professionals as teachers, just like some charters can do now. The new teachers would be eligible, based on academic background and work experience, to get a “subject matter” certificate, but without the formal course work in classroom management and teaching methods.
We suppose that, with the certificated teacher shortage in some districts approaching crisis levels, backfilling with professionals sounds logical. But such a stopgap move hardly demonstrates a commitment to either higher teacher pay or academic excellence, and it could make it harder to recruit new employers and even keep the ones we have.
As we noted at the beginning, money isn’t everything in education, but neither is the status quo in Arizona. Moving the needle significantly will likely take a new dedicated source of school revenue and comprehensive tax reform that the business community statewide can buy into.
States that have invested in successful public education systems aren’t necessarily the wealthiest or the biggest. What they have are deep and broad coalitions across party lines that are committed to first-rate schools and teachers. That can't start without leadership at the state capitol. The question is who and when.