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10:51 PM Wed, Dec. 12th

Education advocates say state lawmakers are not doing enough to fund and sustain all schools

Even with a state budget increase for K-12 of some $167 million, with a 2 percent pay increase incentive intended for returning teachers over the next two years, as well as $318 million from Proposition 123, advocates and area educational professionals say more needs to be done. AZ Schools Now, a leading public education advocacy organization, released its legislative report card that condemns those voting in favor of bills its leaders suggest do not bolster educational efforts, including the vote for the current budget that increased teacher pay but not enough to reduce shortages and the expansion of vouchers that enable parents to use tax dollars to afford private schools. For a full report, visit the link: https://azschoolsnow.org/2017-voting-records/

A leading, state-wide education advocacy organization, AZ Schools Now, laments that state lawmakers, including the Prescott region’s delegation, voted for bills that they suggest do not adequately support public education.

“Though Arizona voters are united in their strong support for reinvestments in public schools, our state Legislature has been slow to respond,” said the AZ Schools Now report card related to legislative votes this past session “Additional educational funding for fiscal year 2018, combined with the voter-approved inflationary funding from Proposition 123, still leaves public schools with $1.1 billion less in funding than a decade ago.

“I think people are aware schools are substantially underfunded,” said Yavapai County Schools Superintendent Tim Carter, president of the State board of Education. “And it’s pretty easy to point fingers.”

The truth is that the state Legislature, as well as district and charter public schools, must work within tight budgetary constraints, and without additional revenue streams the challenges for financing public education in all its forms are considerable, Carter said.

“It’s really frustrating where you are not adequately funded, and you’re having to deal with the situation the very best you can ... even though education did receive an increase this year it didn’t move the needle in any significant manner.”

Local legislators say they hold education as a high, or even their highest, priority. Still, unlike single-issue lobbyists, they must weigh all priorities.

“Education is one of my top areas of interest,” declared freshman state Rep. David Stringer, a member of the House Education Committee.

But he’s not so sure the old model of community schools is the answer. Nor does he think just paying higher teacher salaries, or funneling more dollars into the districts, solves the issue. He favors school choice that promotes more parent involvement.

He said he knows he will get “dinged” by education advocates because he favors such things as vouchers. Still, he and his fellow elected leaders suggest more choice is as important as more dollars.

“Education is about education,” Stringer said. “It’s not about teacher pay, it’s not about sports programs, it’s not about special education, or about social justice. It’s about educating our children so that they can meet the needs of our economy and become self-supporting members of society.”

State Sen. Karen Fann said she has long been an advocate of public education, and will continue to be. The AZ Schools Now voting report card tends to be a partisan issue, and does not reflect all of the efforts being made to improve this state’s educational options. School choice is important because it requires parents to be more involved in their children’s academic life, she said.

“We have more problems that just funding,” Fann said.

State Rep. Noel Campbell concurs.

No matter how much money is invested, the sophomore legislator said education advocates “cry poverty” when there is more to a child’s education than dollars, citing choice as one of those keys.

“At some point, Arizonans have to get tired of how education is last every single year, and get angry about it,” said Prescott Unified School District Superintendent Joe Howard.

Every area school board argued against expansion of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, or vouchers, and sees the intention behind the Legislature’s intended expansion of that program as a “party line playbook to hurt education,” Howard said.

The voucher program is touted as a way for parents to have more choice, be it a district or charter school, or even a parochial school. Opponents say it is unfair to allow use of public dollars for private schools that have no accountability to the state’s taxpayers.

At this time, the ESA proposals are tied up in legalities, with a petition pending that would require an expansion of that program to be voted on in a referendum.

Chino Valley Schools Superintendent John Scholl said he has a simple desire: “I just want what’s best for kids.”