Article was originally published in the Viewpoints section of the The Arizona Republic on February 23, 2019.
Arizonans have ranked K-12 education the top priority for the fourth year in a row, above health care and border security.
Expect More Arizona’s December poll of 600 likely Arizona voters showed that teacher pay and a general lack of funding remains the state’s most significant education issues.
And, most importantly, the overwhelming majority of those polled said that every student, regardless of race, income or ZIP code, should receive an excellent education every step of the way.
We’re making progress, but work remains
A lot has changed since Expect More Arizona and the Center for the Future of Arizona came up with a way three years ago to provide a clear picture of the state’s education system and goals to meet by 2030.
State leaders and more than 40 local governments have embraced the Education Progress Meter, incorporating its goals into the strategic plans of school districts and collective impact organizations.
For example, while eighth graders have improved their math proficiency by 5 percent over three years, we need to see an additional 28 percent increase to meet the state’s 2030 goal.
A deeper look at the data reveals startling achievement gaps because we are not doing enough to address the variety of challenges our students face every day.
Where should we invest now?
Expect More Arizona teamed up with more than 80 organizations to come up with a Roadmap for P-20 Education Funding.
The road map is designed to inform and evaluate funding proposals and to focus conversations on the complete picture, even as incremental investments are made in the short term. The road map should also be accompanied by changes to policy, effective and efficient implementation of strategies led by the experts in each sector, and excellent instruction provided by Arizona’s educators.
The short-term priorities include making investments to:
1. Raise teacher pay to the national median and fund professional development, mentoring and induction.
2. Increase access to quality child care and pre-K. That includes increasing state funding for child care, providing budget authority to spend the $56 million in additional federal Child Care and Development Block Grant funds, and increasing the reimbursement rate to a quality level.
3. Fund effective strategies and interventions to support reading proficiency by the end of third grade, as identified by the State Board of Education. That includes targeted, intentional reading supports and technical assistance in the early grades, a comprehensive assessment system, and renewing and redirecting Early Literacy Program Funding to areas of greatest need.
4. Provide funding for K-12 school building construction and maintenance, beginning with a focus on rural schools.
5. Begin scaling up programs that support the success of every student, including special education, school counselors, early interventions and screenings, and other wrap-around services.
6. Double the STEM workforce funding for all community colleges, including restoration of this funding for Pima and Maricopa Community Colleges.
7. Increase funding for Arizona resident students attending a state university.
Transformation requires an investment
Education unlocks the potential of individuals and communities. Investments in students, educators and classrooms will have an enormous return for our state.
A strong P-20 education system will create and support a talent pipeline that attracts diverse businesses to Arizona. A more educated and skilled workforce will also increase business and personal income, grow revenues for the state to invest in other critical needs and decrease the dependence on social safety nets.
The long-term prosperity of Arizona depends on greater levels of educational attainment that will lower crime rates, improve personal health and create more resiliency to changes in the economy.
As things stand today, investments in education are far from where they need to be to meet the shared goals in the Arizona Education Progress Meter and invigorate economic growth. All of education – from quality early learning to postsecondary – is in need of additional resources.
Transformational changes require transformational investments. It’s not going to be easy. But we need every Arizonan on board. If we want all students to realize their potential, so that our state can realize its potential, we need to put our money where our mouth is.