When I take a step back from my classroom, or my position as an Alhambra School Board Member, and look at the state of education in Arizona, I genuinely become saddened. Saddened because out of 50 states, we are ranked 45th in 4th grade reading, 35th in 4th grade math, and 33rd in 8th grade reading. Our state ranks 48th in the country in per pupil spending and more than 1,000 critical teaching positions in Arizona are being filled by substitutes.
Yet, even with these dismal numbers and the calls for increased K-12 education funding in our state's budget, some elected leaders have chosen not to hear our voices as voters, as educators, and more importantly, as parents. The situation is so bad that it's become a common practice for districts to launch continuous overrides, or bond measures, to get money in the door. They do this to be able to take care of simple things, like fixing crumbling school property. But it’s not enough to also pay teachers a wage that is reflective of the professional esteem expected of them. We have come to a point where school districts are so starved for funding that they are putting that fiscal responsibility on their local communities, on families that can’t afford it.
The case around education in our state is so dire that teachers are fleeing Arizona for higher paying jobs in California and Nevada. Where Arizona pays an average teacher wage of $40,000, places like San Diego pay $60,000. We are losing our best, our brightest, and our newest generation of educators to other states because of the pay gap. If we look at the current demographics of the population of teachers in Arizona, there is one high-level and alarming point: the average age of teachers is 55 years old and many are just a few years away from retirement. What will our answer be after we’ve done so much to make the teaching profession less esteemed and undercut the ability of people who work in the profession to be able to afford to live? How are we going to make sure that we have less of a revolving door of substitutes when we don’t have the financial support to make that wish a reality?
The answer is simple, we support Proposition 123 – that will go before Arizona voters on May 17 – and we’ll work as a unified community of educators, voters, and parents to make sure that our state's budget reflects a commitment to education. If we don’t make that commitment and follow through with it, in a few years we won’t have enough teachers to fill positions. Our state will not be the economic engine it once showed the potential to be. I guarantee that if we don’t take this exodus of teachers as a warning sign, the next exodus will be families and businesses who will find that Arizona does not have the educational infrastructure necessary for economic success. We Irish have a saying, “Perfection is something that cannot be achieved, but it is something that we strive for.” Arizona sure doesn’t have the perfect education system, and so far, we haven’t strived for it. Let’s own up to our mistakes and make the effort to strive for something meaningful. Let’s stand for children.
-Cathleen O’Neil Frantz, Former Literacy Coach and Alhambra School District Board Member