After relentless education budget cuts, Arizona is ranked 48th in the nation in per-student funding; 50th in average teacher pay; 46th in child poverty; 47th in public school libraries; and 49th in state-certified school librarians.
Various sources report that Arizona has more than 2,000 classrooms without teachers and 2,000 more with non-certified classroom teachers. If this were a race to the bottom, the miserly Arizona education budget has “won” and our children, families, and public education districts have “lost.”
On March 30, more than 200 concerned parents, educators, school administrators, business owners, legislators and citizens participated in the Arizona Schools Now Education Budget Hearing held at Pima Community College. I attended the hearing to speak as an advocate for school libraries.
Before I could speak on this issue about which I am most passionate, I heard inspiring stories from parents about how district public schools were supporting their children’s social-emotional and intellectual growth. I heard people from the faith community talk about their ministry through volunteerism in neighborhood schools.
I heard classroom teachers share their deep commitment to the children in their care while working in unsafe conditions. I heard them say they are willing to spend their own money on school supplies for kids, yet have no choice but to live with roommates in order to afford their rent.
Our state rankings in education are simply unacceptable. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that Arizona is 48th out of 50 states in per student funding. In February, Arizona State University released a study that reported Arizona is dead last nationally in average teacher pay. According to a 2015 report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Arizona ranks 46th in the nation in child poverty and wellness.
Too many of our children live in homes without books or technology tools. There are no bookstores in their neighborhoods. They may not live near a public library, or may lack transportation, time, or resources to access the public library’s print resources and computer workstations.
All students, particularly low socio-economic students, and all classroom teachers deserve daily access to a school library’s print and electronic resources and the expertise of a certified school librarian. However, according to a 2016 National Education Association report, “Library/Media Centers in U.S. Public Schools: Growth, Staffing, and Resources,” Arizona is 47th in the nation in the number of school libraries and 49th in the number of state-certified school librarians.
Rather than simply mandating that all students must read at grade level by the end of third grade, the Arizona Legislature must first pass an education budget that supports students’ literacy development.
Arizona Schools Now suggests that the Arizona Legislature freeze growth in corporate tax credits for private schools and pause new tax cuts for the 2018 budget.
In their budget proposal, the Legislative Democrats include rehiring laid-off Arizona Department of Revenue personnel to collect taxes that are owed. These modest measures could help give educators a portion of the raises they need — raises that can help attract and retain qualified, certified classroom teachers.
It is past time for the Arizona Legislature to do its job. Their commitment to a district public school education system where all students are taught by certified educators, including school librarians, is the only way to give our youth the foundation they need for literate, productive and engaged civic lives.
Our legislators need to know Arizona’s students deserve an equitable public education. If you agree, let our legislators know you expect them to find a sustainable source of funding for our district public education system.