The future of our community depends on providing a great education for all our children. A great education depends on high quality teachers capable of inspiring children to learn and preparing them for the highly competitive world that awaits them. Unfortunately, too many of Arizona’s top teachers are leaving their classrooms at an alarming rate. The need to find solutions is obvious to all who care about the future of our community.

Research clearly shows that no single action improves educational outcomes more than ensuring there is a great teacher in every classroom. This fact is true for our community, our state and our nation.

This issue impacts every one of us. Study after study underscores the direct and long-term benefits quality education produces in community well-being and economic growth. Educational excellence results in higher individual earnings; more business attraction and retention (and, therefore, more community tax revenue); lower child poverty rates; reduced institutionalization; and longer, healthier lives.

So why are teachers leaving the profession in alarming numbers? According to a recent statewide study released by Tucson Values Teachers (TVT) and sponsored by the University of Arizona, College of Education and the Southern Arizona Leadership Council (SALC), many teachers don’t feel valued, respected or trusted by the general public.

When given a list of 30 occupations, teachers ranked themselves below 19 of them and only above two on the perceived value of their jobs. Arizona teachers also reported working more than 60 hours per week, of which 40 percent is spent teaching in class.

Pay is another issue for teachers, with 92 percent of survey respondents saying low pay was an important reason why teachers are leaving the profession. And, because school budgets are squeezed, nearly all of those surveyed incurred unreimbursed expenses to provide for their students.

According to the Making Action Possible (MAP) Dashboard, K-12 teachers in metro Tucson earn significantly less than their peers in the state and nation. Of the 12 metropolitan areas tracked on the MAP, Tucson ranked dead last, even when the wages are adjusted for cost of living and median occupational wage. Check out the numbers at www.mapazdashboard.arizona.edu

To help define the actions needed to address this crisis, TVT, SALC and Raytheon are sponsoring the “Let’s Talk Ed: A K-12 Teacher Workforce Summit” this Thursday, Jan. 7, at the Tucson Convention Center. Approximately 200 teachers from schools throughout Pima County will be there to hear how other communities are addressing teacher workforce issues. These nationally renowned experts will lead an exploration of possible solutions that can help us recruit and retain great teachers.

This program is a first for Tucson, TVT, SALC and Raytheon have invited a teacher from every school in metro Tucson to be their guest for this conference.

I know, though, that addressing the teacher workforce crisis will take all of us working together. Concerned citizens, parents, leaders from business, government, and education must all be part of the solution. Together we must find ways to turn around this distressing exodus of educators. Tucson’s future is at stake.

USAF Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Ron Shoopman is president & CEO of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council. He serves on the executive committee of Tucson Values Teachers and is a member of the Arizona Board of Regents. Learn more about how to make a difference for our teachers at www.TucsonValuesTeachers.org or call (520) 327-7619.