by Tim Carter, Yavapai County School Superintendent
Abraham Lincoln said, “Upon the subject of education … I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people may be engaged in.”
I couldn’t agree more!
Even though logical, thoughtful people know that education is the key to our collective and individual futures, and taxpayers will tell you their property tax bills reflect that schools are the recipient of a majority of their funding, many people think of education as an afterthought. One legislator said, “Oh yes, we do need to take care of that.”
For the last several years polls, and individual voters, have said education is the highest priority. That is in part because study after study has shown Arizona ranked as, or very near, the lowest state in “per pupil funding.” In 2018, for the first time in recent memory, education funding took center stage at the Legislature. That is good news!
Why? Teachers have been leaving the profession in record numbers for more lucrative jobs in the private sector. Many have left Arizona for higher salaries and benefits in neighboring states. The recruitment and retention of teachers and leaders is now our largest educational challenge.
Many states, led by teachers, have seen an educational funding revolution. Arizona is no exception. Teachers using the mantra of “Red for Ed” demanded a serious look at education funding and a commitment to do better. The governor, amid significant political pressure, created his 20×2020 plan, working with the Legislature to add 20 percent to school budgets by 2020, with the clearly implied reason to raise teacher salaries. The newly passed budget, which the governor quickly signed, contains a 10 percent increase, with legislative enactments to add 5 percent each year for the next two years. With no promise of new revenue, there are still major concerns about the source of those funds. The general sense is that the promises were much too public and much too important not to be kept.
This is certainly a good step forward, but it is relative to what other states do. Even in Arizona, some districts can pass over-ride elections and pay their teachers more, while the neighboring district may not be able to do the same.
The reality is that public education has not recovered fully from the recession of 2008. This will remain a work in progress, but clear progress was made.
School safety also remains at center stage. The governor and Legislature were not able to reach an agreement on a School Safety Plan, yet Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher partnered with the Yavapai County Education Service Agency to host Listening Sessions in Prescott and Cottonwood. Agencies (schools, law enforcement, fire departments, emergency medical, media, courts, probation, mental health providers, etc.) came together to identify significant issues that impact school safety.
At the center of the discussion was that local control should prevail, because each school is unique. By law, individual schools must have emergency management plans. Those plans should be created in partnership with local first responders, practiced in joint exercises, and then be debriefed to learn from the experience.
Many people believe that “active shooters” are the biggest concern of schools. We found that the concerns were much broader and include: mental health issues, facilities, fencing, pedestrian and traffic flow, professional development, inter-agency cooperation, communication strategies, external factors (e.g., a chemical spill), the need for school resource officers, and limited concerns about firearms.
The primary and general elections are also at center stage. This year, candidates will need to be well versed in the details of education questions. Voters are now more discriminating on this topic. To say “I support education” isn’t enough. What does that mean, specifically? Candidates should be ready to discuss funding formulas, school choice, Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, local bond and over-ride elections, consolidation and unification, accountability, school labels, special education, student assessments, curriculum versus standards, and the list goes on.
Please vote and make education a factor in how you rank candidates. Arizona is electing a U.S. senator, filling all of our congressional seats, a governor, secretary of state, treasurer, corporation commissioners, attorney general, superintendent of public instruction, 90 legislators (a senator and two representatives in each of 30 districts), and the members of community college and school district governing boards. Yes, each one of these people impact the education of our children.
Lincoln was right. Thank you for supporting our children, our most precious resource of all.
Former State Board of Education President Tim Carter, an educator of 45 years, has served as the elected Yavapai County School Superintendent since 2005. He can be reached at (928) 925-6560.