“The time is always right to do what is right,” said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Today is a time to reflect on the bravery of standing up against oppression, and calling for change. Strong education systems are right in line with MLK’s “Dream,” where equality reigns and everyone has an opportunity to the American Dream. As 2020 kicks in, the legislative session has begun and education is at the top of the priority list again. It has been for many years. Polls in Arizona show over and again that education is the top priority for voters in our state. But Arizona continues to be one of the lowest funded education states in the nation. While there have been changes each year, what has not changed is that Arizona is on the bottom in terms of prioritizing funding for the work that we do in classrooms.
While I appreciate that almost everyone I know, legislators and politicians included, agree that education is important, we continue to rank near the bottom in funding, teacher pay, and support staff pay. The 20 by 2020 teacher raise (remember Red for Ed?) has helped significantly, and PUSD, although still lagging behind our peers and the state in teacher pay, has truly stabilized our teacher retention problem. This is a huge victory.
We owe gratitude to our Prescott community and schools who have created a culture of appreciation for the teaching profession. It is also largely due to a bond and override from the voters from 2015. The override gave our district approximately one million dollars per year to pay our staff directly. According to the most recent Arizona Auditor General Report from 2019 (which cites 2018 statistics), Prescott teachers’ average salary is $43,726 compared to their peers (like size) $47,265 and the state average $48,951. (When the new report comes out March 1, expect all to be up proportionately around $3000 due to 20 by 2020 raises.) According to Americanprogress.com, the national teacher pay average in 2018 was $61,730.
This spring, our PUSD Governing Board will be considering going to voters for an override “continuation.” The voter approved 2015 override resulted in a 5.1% salary raise that allowed PUSD staff to weigh in just under the peer and state average. That override will be sunsetting and must have voter approval for “continuation.” Without this voter support, PUSD will need to cut one million dollars per year from existing programs and staff.
I am proud to live in a community that has stepped up to supplement an inadequate state education budget. It has made a difference in the consistency for our students. I often wonder what would have happened without the support of the 2015 bond and override. Unfortunately, we do not have to look far to find districts in Arizona who have not been able to secure community support. Our very closest colleagues in Prescott Valley and Chino have not been able to pass recent ballot measures. This is very concerning for educators in one of the lowest funded states in the country. It is also clearly an equity issue. MLK said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
There is much work to do in Arizona. While I am proud of our success and the unbelievable efficiency that Arizona school districts must demonstrate just to survive, I am concerned that our teachers must do much more with much less compared with almost every state in our nation. We are still at the bottom in per pupil funding. We are still below 2007-2008 funding levels. Please join me in asking our legislators and politicians when will they truly make education a priority, and why has it taken so long? Please ask them when will we create a vision and goals for Arizona to be in the top half of educational funding in our nation, instead of the very bottom year after year? MLK said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”