I would like to take a few moments of your time and respond to Diego Rivera’s special in the Arizona Daily Star this past weekend. In no way to I wish to attack or belittle Mr. Rivera. It appears he misunderstands the nature of the problem with education funding in Arizona and I’d like to offer some context. These misunderstandings are worth addressing because this variety of misunderstanding is what has gotten us, as a state, into the situation we’re in right now with education.
To summarize the special, in case you didn’t read it: The claim of the article is that additional funding does not increase academic success, as demonstrated by graduation rates, so the Invest for Education Act should not be passed.
First, let’s establish what started the #REDforED movement.
The #REDforED movement started in response to a growing teacher shortage. Across the state, on average, Arizona has a teacher vacancy rate worse than the worst districts in the entire country. Approximately 7% of teaching positions were unfilled, or filled by uncertified people, in Arizona in 2017/2018. Nearly 900 teachers left the profession permanently during the school year. That’s 1.8% of teachers walked out of the classroom for good.
Why are teachers leaving? Money. This gets complicated quickly, but here’s a snapshot of the situation. Arizona’s population has grown by 14% since 2007, yet funding for education was $1.1 billion less in 2017 than in 2007. On top of that, an additional $5 million was taken from public education to subsidize private education.
Let’s put that $1.1 billion into perspective. It is such a large number that we simply cannot comprehend it. Let’s consider a billion of something we have experience with, time. For perspective, a million seconds is approximately 11 days, while one billion seconds is about 32 years! And that “point one” behind the one billion, that’s another 100 million. $1.1 billion is a massive amount of money, and that’s the amount of the shortfall Arizona’s schools experienced this past school year compared to 2007. For the record, in 2007, public education in Arizona was not stellar!
The premise of Mr. Rivera’s article is that greater funding for Arizona’s public education is not needed because there is “no definitive correlation between greater funding and student achievement.” What Mr. Rivera uses as an indicator of student achievement is graduation rate. One would be hard-pressed to find a statistic in education that is less reflective of student achievement than graduation rates. States like Arizona have removed high stakes testing from the list of graduation requirements, and to secure precious funding, schools across the nation have allowed social promotion to seep into the high school ranks over the past decade.
In short, schools across the nation have lowered the graduation requirements so they could report higher graduation numbers. Graduating high school means less than it did in the past. In fact, nearly 60% of community college students (high school graduates) need remedial courses, earning community colleges the nickname “13th grade.”
Now I certainly agree with the idea that just providing additional funding does not secure a better outcome, not in education, not in business or sports, not anywhere except in measuring how much was spent. Accompanying the additional funding needs to be meaningful education reform. But that reform, no matter how great, will be ineffective without quality teachers to implement it. The act of education is performed by teachers. A well-meaning, but unskilled “teacher” will render the best curriculum and resources ineffective. In order for Arizona to have long term, sustainable growth and a healthy society, we must have a quality public education system! That requires appropriate funding for education. If we, as a state, do not attract and then retain, the quality educators needed, we will continue to experience the problems we are witnesses currently.
The last thing I’d like to address is that Mr. Rivera mentioned teachers were pushing forward with the Invest In Education Act despite getting a 20% raise from Governor Ducey. The first thing people need to understand is that there is no 20% raise for teachers. This 20×2020 plan is nothing but a promise, the money is not secured. If Governor Ducey is not re-elected, the plan dies. If he is re-elected, that plan being fulfilled is as good as his word. He has consistently cut public education, never without court order or a strike of 75,000 people done anything to increase funding to education.
The governor has said the money is a 20% increase for teacher salary. That is a total and complete lie. The legislation has the ability to insure money gets directly to teachers. You can read about the details of this plan here, but to summarize, the new money received is a 5.7% increase in education funding. That is a significant amount of money, but is still $800,000 a year short of funding levels a decade ago.
The reality of the situation is that Arizona has grown a lot in the past decade. Yet, despite the growth, education funding has been cut. Viewed in the best possible light, the 20×2020 plan is far short of what is needed just to “stop the bleeding.”
Funding for education must be secured for us to enjoy continued growth and to continue the wonderful way of life most Arizonan’s enjoy.