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Expect More Arizona ‘road map’ calls for more financial investment in public education

Expect More Arizona, a statewide educational advocacy organization, just released a “road map” for prioritizing the state’s investment from pre-school to college between now and 2030, one that doesn’t prescribe how many more dollars but offers a kick-off point to a debate on investment, officials said.

Yavapai County Schools Superintendent Tim Carter was one of 80 educational and business leaders who identified seven key investment areas they believe are fundamental to the long-term success for Arizona’s children between pre-school and college graduation – identified as “P-20.”

In no priority order, the leaders said the time has come for state lawmakers to finance the intervention supports needed to support reading proficiency by third grade and double funding for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) workforce instruction. They endorsed funding for kindergarten through 12th grade buildings and maintenance with a focus on rural schools and more investment in programs that support the success of every student, including funds for more school counselors, early intervention and screening services and special education. Arizona students should be offered increased incentives to attend state universities, they said.

They, too, see a need for more access to quality child care and early childhood education.

Echoing the #RedForEd movement, these leaders were adamant that teacher pay in this state must continue to grow so that they reach the national median.

Even with the infusion of cash promised through Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s package last spring, the median salary for Arizona teachers last year was slightly above $48,000 versus the nation’s median of just under $61,000.

The #RedForEd Movement pushed for a 20 percent increase for teachers; Ducey agreed to meet that over a three-year-period, beginning with a 9 percent increase last year. Some districts were able to up the ante based on local taxpayer contributions, but 9 percent was set as the standard.

In Prescott, as an example, the current year budget offered an 11 percent teacher pay hike.

On Friday afternoon, Ducey released a proposed budget package that would devote $542 million to education, public safety and other long-term priorities while still enabling the state to bank a half billion dollars based on what the governor said is the largest projected surplus in a decade.

Expect More Arizona’s leader, and some area superintendents, see Ducey’s education funding priorities as a good start toward meeting some of the “P-20 road map” goals.

Their hope is that the state Legislature backs him up, and continues to recognize that Arizona’s taxpayers have continually stated they think the state’s top priority must be education.

“Education is the key to unlocking the potential of individuals and communities in our state and Gov. Ducey’s budget proposal begins to address many important funding needs,” said Christine Thompson, Expect More Arizona’s president and chief executive officer. “His proposal invests in all levels of education – early childhood, K-12 and postsecondary – to help improve outcomes for students and strengthen Arizona communities.”

While the state is seeing growth in certain targeted areas, Expect More Arizona’s regional leader Jennifer Hernandez said the consensus from the leaders meeting since July to create this “road map” is that without more financial investment “we’re not going to get there fast enough.”

Though the leaders who participated in these conversations did not all see eye-to-eye, with some prioritizing one area over another, Carter said the one thing that no one disputed was that more money has to be allocated to recruit and retain classroom teachers. No question, he said.

“I was pleasantly surprised that everyone in the room finally agreed on the paramount issue,” Carter said.

Prescott Unified School District Superintendent Joe Howard said he sees this latest effort as part of a “solution to fix education in Arizona.”

In the last year, Howard said, state education advocates have stepped up to demand the state Legislature give more than lip service to fundamentally changing how public education is funded.

Many areas identified in the “road map” report are unfunded state mandates, Howard said. Without added dollars, Prescott and other school districts cannot afford to hire the manpower needed to provide the interventions and supports their students deserve.

Without salaries competitive with the rest of the nation, Arizona will not be able to attract the high-caliber people needed to do those jobs, Howard added.

In the last year, Expect More Arizona and other grass-roots educational advocates have shined a spotlight on what must happen to propel public education forward in Arizona, Howard said.

And lawmakers are starting to listen.

“Three years ago, I thought no one was hearing our needs at all,” Howard said. “I think it’s becoming a priority. That’s why I have hope.”

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