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Tue, Nov. 12

School officials: State forces them to compete for few funds
Welcome to Arizona's 'Hunger Games'

Coyote Springs Elementary School second-grade teacher Yvonne Berry hands out project materials during class. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Coyote Springs Elementary School second-grade teacher Yvonne Berry hands out project materials during class. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Comparing Teacher Salaries

(Averages based on cost-of-living)

Arizona elementary teachers, $42,474

National median, $55,800

Arizona high school teachers, $47,890

National average, $58,000

The fight for equitable public education funding in Arizona has devolved into more than two decades of what leaders and advocates suggest is a bizarre rendition of “The Hunger Games.”

It is a system that forces district, charter and private schools to compete for diminishing dollars in a “winner”-take-all scenario. And the losers are this state’s children, who get divided into “haves and have nots,” they claim.

The frustration behind the education funding formula that has Arizona at almost dead last in national per pupil funding, teacher pay and investment in such things as technology, curriculum and facilities was the focus of a daylong Quad City Community Town Hall meeting Tuesday on the campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott. More than 85 students, teachers, administrators, parents, civic and business leaders and other education advocates attended the Arizona Town Hall event.

Arizona Town Hall is an independent, nonprofit membership organization that identifies critical issues in the state. A four-day statewide annual conference on this topic will be held in Mesa, Nov. 12-15.

Several speakers sparked conversation, and some debate, about the role of the state’s pre-K to 12 educational system and how existing funding formulas and other educational initiatives, including vouchers, either help or harm those objectives.

There was talk about the need for bold, new thinking related to increasing state revenues, including one linked to putting an excise tax on the electricity that Arizona now exports at no charge to neighboring states. Students suggested forming clubs to inform their peers about how funding formulas may impact their college aspirations.

Much talk revolved around the importance of paying teachers at least the median national average if the state is serious about ensuring the best and brightest are placed in all classrooms.

Salary Impacts

  • 1 in 5 teaching positions in Arizona are unfilled
  • 135 district and charter schools are reporting some 1,328 vacations out of 2,006 publicly funded schools
  • Less than 50 percent of vacancies were filled by individuals with a teaching certificate
  • 506 teachers abandoned or resigned their positions in the first four weeks of school

Arizona elementary teachers earn an average based on cost-of-living of $42,474 versus the national median of $55,800; the high school teachers median salary in Arizona is $47,890 versus national average of about $58,000, according to industry leaders.

In fiscal year 2008, total per pupil funding, including federal and local funds, was $9,574; in 2017 that figure is $9,504 with the state providing $5,660, according to official documents.

Expect More Arizona created an “Arizona Education Progress Meter” that indicates 42 percent of Arizonans have completed a two or four-year college degree; the goal is 60 percent by 2030; 41 percent of third-graders scored proficient or highly proficient on the AZ Merit English language arts assessment; the goal is 72 percent by 2030. Only 21 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds are now enrolled in early childhood education; the goal for 2030 is 45 percent.

Rural Arizona Schools Coalition leader Rosemary Agneessens, a former Prescott elementary school principal, offered a presentation titled, “20 years of Disinvestment: Arizona’s Race to the Bottom.”

In the 1960s, Arizona was ranked 19th in the nation in per pupil spending and today the state is in last place. The 2018 state budget will have a $1.1 billion deficit in education funding as compared to 2008.

One in five teaching positions in the state are unfilled; 135 district and charter schools are reporting some 1,328 vacations out of 2,006 publicly funded schools. Less than 50 percent of vacancies were filled by individuals with a teaching certificate; 506 teachers abandoned or resigned their positions in the first four weeks of school.

Agneessens and other educators agree that full-day kindergarten is a must for students to progress, yet the state pays only 2.5 hours of a kindergartener’s day. That means districts who offer that program at no cost to families must make up those dollars elsewhere.

The consensus of the majority of those in attendance was that the time is now to push state leaders to reprioritize education with funding adequate to assure Arizona children get what they deserve.

Then a final quip.

“If all else fails, we’ll hold a bake sale.”

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