Fixing Education in Arizona

By James Dail (CMC ’20)

As it stands, Arizona has one of the worst education systems in the United States: it consistently ranks as one of the lowest performing states in the country. For its performance to improve, an increase in teacher pay and per pupil funding is needed. The solution to this issue may be a proposition on the ballot next year, courtesy of local businessman Robert Donahue, that seeks to increase education funding.

Arizona has both the lowest teacher pay and the lowest per pupil spending in the entire country. In fact, Puerto Rico, a small US territory,  spends more per pupil than Arizona does. Recent actions by Governor Doug Ducey have only made things worse. In order to prevent a tax hike at all costs, Governor Ducey has continued to cut per pupil spending. He did manage to raise teacher salaries, but by only by a meager 1%. Due to the miserable pay, teachers have been quitting in droves: 42% of Arizona teachers who were hired in 2013 have since quit teaching, and entering the 2017-2018 school year, more than 1,300 teaching positions were unfilled. To address this teacher shortage, Governor Ducey signed a bill into law that would allow teachers to not have to acquire a basic teaching certificate in order to teach in a classroom. The Governor and other state officials have faced backlash over their incompetence and seeming unwillingness to fix the problem.

The proposed plan’s main focal point is a surprisingly simple idea: raise teacher salaries and turn teaching into a competitive profession. Teaching does not pay nearly as well as other vocations that require a four-year degree, such as engineering or accounting. As a result, many of the best and brightest shy away from teaching. The plan would mandate that teacher salaries slowly be raised from a mean of $42,000 a year currently to $56,000 a year by 2023. Most of the plan’s other significant measures are equally common sensical. The proposition would increase per pupil spending by 36% by eliminating deductions on the state sales tax, such as with automobiles or certain property transaction, and using all of the new revenue to expand the education budget. It also mandates that all teachers to have teaching certificates, or be on track to completing the teaching certificate within two years of the proposition’s passage. With the bar set as low as it is, there is no question that increasing funding and improving teacher quality will improve student outcomes. The new inflow of money would also mean that physical education and the arts would be funded for all grade levels for the first time in years. Additionally, there would be $500 million approved specifically for the construction and maintenance of school campuses, many of which are falling into disrepair.

Despite all of its upsides, there is one provision in the proposition that is causing a lot of controversy: it would put an end to budget overrides. A budget override is when residents of a particular school district do not like how funding is being appropriated in the district, and they call for a proposition-like vote in order to reappropriate funding. The reason for the criticism is that eliminating budget overhauls limits local control over school districts by not allowing residents of a district to reappropriate funding. All of the funding would be set by the state government. However, this could ultimately be a good thing, since having the state determine funding could ensure funding parity between wealthy and poor districts. Budget overhauls are effective in districts where residents have the time and resources needed to reappropriate a district’s funds. As a result, poorer districts tend to be the lowest funded. If this proposition passes, then budget overrides will no longer be needed because the state would increase funding levels for all school districts, regardless of how wealthy they are.

If the Arizona educational system is going to compete with those across the country, then an overhaul the system is needed. The plan proposed by Mr. Donahue satisfies many of the needed reforms by turning teaching into a competitive profession and providing plentiful funding for all of the state’s schools. If the state government is unwilling to do what is needed, then a proposition will be the only way to fix the problem.

 

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