Pearl Chang Esau
While we are thankful that Proposition 123 passed in the statewide special election, it is clear that the need to solve education funding remains. Ensuring the stage is set for quality education serves our students and keeps teachers teaching. Now, more than ever, Arizona leaders and community members must come together to quickly address the ongoing lack of funds before we lose even more teachers to other states or other professions.
Tucson Values Teachers advocates on behalf of local teachers, and recently held the inaugural Let’s Talk Ed, a K-12 Teacher Workforce Summit, to start the conversation on identifying and solving educational issues in the state.
The summit was in response to a statewide teacher survey conducted by TVT, which contacted more than 55,000 Arizona public and charter school teachers. Findings from the survey identified lack of respect and low pay as the primary barriers for selecting teaching as a profession and for making the decision to leave teaching for alternative careers.
Last year, salaries for Tucson elementary, middle and secondary teachers fell below state and national levels. In fact, Tucson secondary school teachers were ranked last out of 12 Western metropolitan statistical areas. The need to increase teacher salaries in Arizona — specifically in Tucson — is necessary to attract and retain high-quality teachers.
Prop. 123 is a compromise, and we should recognize that. But it is also an important first step. Its passage will quickly release needed funds to our schools. Over the next few months, more than $500 million will flow into classrooms, providing raises for thousands of teachers across the state and additional resources to schools to improve student achievement.
Teachers are the most powerful voting bloc by profession — not just in Arizona, but across our nation. When teachers let their voice and vote be counted, the impact is measureable. Over the last six months, we heard from hundreds of people around the state on both sides of the Prop. 123 debate.
The slim margin to pass Prop. 123 signals a difference in opinion about how to get schools more money, not about whether they need and deserve it.
The vote is truly a mandate for all of us to find better ways to support and fund education. Because compromise is about both give and take, the process has not been easy, but there are some things we should all celebrate beyond the $3.5 billion schools will receive over the next 10 years.
We need to use this as an example of how to keep the best interests of our teachers and students in mind and finish the work to build a solid education system. It’s in the best interests of our state’s economic future, and our residents will benefit greatly. When teachers win, we all win.
We must elect leaders who support education and the funding of education. Creating a bipartisan coalition of parents, educators, elected officials and community and business leaders to fight for increased funding for education in Arizona is vital to keeping the momentum going.
While we should celebrate this win for education today, we know that our work is just beginning. Proposition 123 is an important first step toward increased K-12 funding, but we’ve always known we need to do more.
Now that the election is behind us, we need to come back together and forge a long-term solution to increase education funding that focuses on equity and excellence in student achievement.
It is up to all of us to work together and hold our elected leaders accountable to make sure we have the necessary funding to recruit and retain great teachers, support our universities and community colleges, and educate and graduate students who are prepared for a bright future.