Time for Ducey to sup­port our Ariz. schools

The Arizona Republic - - VALLEY & STATE - Lau­rie Roberts Colum­nist Ari­zona Repub­lic

On Monday af­ter­noon, Gov. Doug Ducey will de­liver his State of the State ad­dress, ex­plain­ing once again how he’s a big, big sup­porter of pub­lic education. Big.

Just not big enough, sadly, to stop cut­ting taxes and in­stead make the needed investment in the schools at­tended by 95 per­cent of Ari­zona’s chil­dren.

I hope I’m wrong about that.

I hope this gover­nor will lis­ten to the busi­ness lead­ers he tapped in 2015 to sit on his Class­rooms First Ini­tia­tive Coun­cil, ask­ing them to pro­pose changes to the school fund­ing for­mula to get more money into the class­room.

Af­ter more than a year of study, the coun­cil’s chair­man, Kitchell Corp. CEO Jim Swanson, con­cluded that there’s no way to grow out of the fi­nan­cial hole in which our schools cur­rently re­side.

Twenty-five years of bud­get cuts — cuts that to­tal $4 bil­lion in lost rev­enue, ac­cord­ing to ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Busi­ness — have left the state sim­ply un­able to prop­erly fund the schools. Swanson pro­posed ask­ing vot­ers in Novem­ber to ex­tend the 0.6 per­cent education sales tax that ex­pires in 2021 and in­crease it to 1.5 per­cent to raise an ex­tra $1 bil­lion.

“From a busi­ness per­spec­tive, prop­erly fund­ing education is prob­a­bly the great­est eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment thing we can do in our state,” Swanson said in Septem­ber.

I hope this gover­nor will lis­ten to Phil Fran­cis, for­mer chair­man and CEO of PetS­mart, Reg Bal­lan­tyne, past pres­i­dent of the state Board of Education, and other busi­ness lead­ers who laud Ducey’s ideas but note that we can’t af­ford to im­ple­ment any of them be­cause we rank in the bottom 10 per­cent of states when it comes to per-stu­dent spend­ing.

“We sup­port his com­mit­ments to in­creas­ing teacher pay, full-day kinder­garten, restoring cap­i­tal fund­ing, pre­par­ing teach­ers, and in­vest­ing in con­struc­tion trade work­force de­vel­op­ment,” they wrote in a De­cem­ber op-ed. “In or­der to fully fund these goals we need to iden­tify new rev­enue, 100 per­cent ded­i­cated to education.”

They, too, have pro­posed a sales-tax in­crease, though cu­ri­ously they want to de­lay tak­ing it to vot­ers un­til 2020.

I hope this gover­nor will lis­ten to Ari­zona vot­ers. Pub­lic opin­ion polls have shown time and again that education is their high­est pri­or­ity — that teacher salaries are too low and that the state is not spend­ing enough on pub­lic education.

I hope this gover­nor will lis­ten to … me. OK, so that’s a pipe dream.

But I’ve talked to plenty of teach­ers who have given ev­ery­thing they’ve got to their stu­dents and now are los­ing hope that they can hang on, as classes get big­ger, de­mands grow heav­ier and bills pile up on the kitchen table.

Teach­ers like, Dei­dre, who has a master’s de­gree and 20 years in the class­room.

“I teach my heart out all day and need a sec­ond job,” she told me.

Teach­ers like John, who re­sponded to my re­cent col­umn about the 866 teach­ers who al­ready have quit this year — the one not­ing that more than six out of ev­ery 10 va­can­cies ei­ther re­main un­filled or were filled with peo­ple who couldn’t qual­ify for a stan­dard teach­ing cer­tifi­cate.

“867 if you count me,” John replied. “I’m done in May. I’ll still teach ESS/ Spe­cial Education just not in Ari­zona.” Teach­ers like Sue. “Af­ter 11 years teach­ing in AZ, this will be my last year. I’m ex­hausted,” she wrote. “It’s ter­ri­bly sad. I be­lieve in pub­lic education. But be­ing a pub­lic school teacher in this state is an ex­er­cise in self-flag­el­la­tion.”

Mostly, I hope Ducey will lis­ten to him­self.

To all of the right things he will say on Monday. About the value of teach­ers and the need to raise their pay, about the im­por­tance of full-day kinder­garten and the ab­so­lute im­per­a­tive that ev­ery child have ac­cess to a qual­ity education, no mat­ter the size of his or her par­ents’ pock­et­book.

Here is Ducey dur­ing last year’s State of the State ad­dress: “I want the teach­ers of our state to know: You make the dif­fer­ence. …. I value your work, and it’s time we re­turn the fa­vor.”

It is time — to do the hard thing fi­nally and fix

it.

The in­escapable fact — the one you can’t bury be­neath a speech full of pretty prom­ises — is this: the state is now spend­ing $749 less to ed­u­cate an Ari­zona child than it did a decade ago, when ad­justed for in­fla­tion.

The cuts to our schools, we were told at the time of the Great Re­ces­sion, were re­gret­table but un­avoid­able.

Well, the econ­omy came back. Our lead­ers’ com­mit­ment to pub­lic education didn’t.

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