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Tucson Opinion: In defense of Prop. 208
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Tucson Opinion: In defense of Prop. 208

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The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

‘The buck stops here” was a slang term favored by President Harry Truman to express responsibility for decision-making. Not all decisions are left to political leaders — voters are also tasked with considering and selecting proposed laws. Arizona voters chose to support Proposition 208, which would increase the maximum tax rate on the wealthy to boost funding for public education.

To snake their way around the will of the people, the Republican-led legislature has cooked up schemes and court cases to keep passing bucks to their wealthy friends and donors.

I teach my students many skills: reading, math concepts and computation, writing, problem-solving and personal responsibility. The pandemic year has been incredibly tough on students and teachers.

We have been forced to adapt to online schooling/learning, made do with and without adequate technology and collectively suffered through loss and trauma.

It has been an eye-opening experience for many families just how many services schools and teachers provide in addition to education: meals, counseling, health services, connection to a community, social and emotional support.

As an educator, if I can’t help, I probably know someone who can. It has been a demanding year. Most years are.

The public will not argue that teachers deserve the pay raise approved by Prop. 208. The average teacher salary in Arizona ranks 49th in the nation.

My colleagues and I chuckle at the “average” salary: $48,000. I don’t earn nearly that and I know only a few teachers who do. Many of my fellow educators take second jobs to make ends meet.

I am a national board certified teacher and I work part-time at a major retailer to pay for my child’s orthodontia.

I also do work during the summer: teaching summer school, planning lessons, tracking down resources and attending courses to improve my practice.

I put in hours during the week off contract time to grade assignments, organize learning activities and communicate with families.

Likewise, most teachers spend personal monies to buy supplemental instructional materials, classroom supplies, books and items for arts or science projects.

Teaching is a profession. Public school educators hold college degrees and certification in teaching. We sit for exams, pass state DPS checks, must renew our licenses and acquire professional development hours.

We manage 20-40 students at once, assess student work and evaluate different learning needs. We provide instruction and feedback to each student, and constantly adjust for circumstances out of our control (family dynamics, poor attendance, learning disabilities, generational illiteracy).

Teaching is not babysitting. Maybe it should be. At a rate of $5/hour per child (class of 20 students) for seven hours a day, 180 days a year, my gross pay would be $126,000 annually.

I’d even teach a kid to read and subtract three-digit numbers with regrouping for that fee. I do it anyways — for a third that sum.

When Arizona tires of being second to last in education in everything, when workers no longer know how to read and follow directions, when low wage jobs are all our state offers, it will be too late to fuss about improving public education.

It’s clear what the priorities and agenda of the current legislature is: funneling more taxpayer money to private and semi-private schools while denying an equitable education that is also generously funded to children who most need it.

As Arizona lawmakers imagine, “The buck stops here,” it’s not to declare duty or leadership, it’s to aggressively promote their fiscal and moral greed.

They will pass the buck of the responsibility of educating children to teachers while withholding necessary funds to do that work. It’s a system designed for failure and the charge lies squarely at the feet of state lawmakers.

Nina Hipps is a mom of seven kids, a teacher and a native Tucsonan.

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