It has been said that no other investment yields as great a return as the investment in education. An educated workforce is the foundation of every community and the future of every economy. Yet, when it comes to investing in education in the state of Arizona, we often fall short. The National Center for Educational Statistics listed Arizona only ahead of the state of Idaho in Total Current Expenditures per Pupil. Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy recently released its findings that Arizona’s elementary school teacher salaries rank the lowest in the nation when adjusted for cost of living and high school teacher salaries rank 48th.
I have had the opportunity to meet with my own community through four different Community Conversations with the Superintendent during this school year. Our parents and community members have identified the teacher shortage, capital funding, and early childhood education as the top three educational issues in the state of Arizona. Each local school district continues to struggle to find enough high quality teachers to fill all of our classrooms, our capital funding (now called district additional assistance) was reduced by 87% from the state approved per pupil formula this past year, and the 2016 Quality Counts reports lists Arizona as 48th in preschool enrollment. Yet, during this legislative session, our state leaders have focused on empowerment scholarship expansion and the reduction of teacher certification requirements.
Neither of these actions do anything to address the real issues in the state of Arizona. Nobody is against school choice; Arizona has had school choice for over twenty years, but we need meaningful, sustainable funding rather than simply moving shells around. Additionally, reducing teacher certification requirements does not address the actual reason that teachers are leaving. The Morrison Institute study states that 22% of teachers hired between 2013 and 2015 were not teaching in Arizona after one year, 42% of Arizona teachers hired in 2013 left the profession within three years, and 50% of Arizona charter school teachers left during that same time period. This has never been a certification issue. Finally, we still have not seen a meaningful conversation around an investment in early childhood education advance.
The question begs, where does this leave the Humboldt Unified School District going forward? We are steadfast in our commitment to providing a comprehensive, world-class education for all students. Our staff has been working diligently planning for the future. Despite the economic concerns related to the new minimum wage requirements and the lack of meaningful investment from the state, we are committed to moving forward with our Google partnership to transform instruction in all of classrooms, we are in the process of increasing the number of online and flexible learning opportunities by 400% by next fall, and we are in the planning stages of doubling the enrollment of our preschool in an effort to better serve our community. We remain dedicated to ensuring that our students receive the same educational opportunities as any other student across the country.
Dan Streeter is superintendent of Humboldt Unified School District.