Our public schools in Arizona are in crisis. The politicians in power have created this situation and put our kids and our state’s future at risk. Too many of our elected leaders believe that education is a commodity that should be bought and sold for a profit. I believe high-quality education is a universal right that should be offered to all Arizona children.
For more than two decades, Arizona’s Superintendents of Public Instruction have failed to protect the education system they were elected to lead. Our current superintendent has gone as far as to advocate for legislation that takes money out of public schools. I will do the opposite.
Our schools, our educators, our families, and, most importantly, our children deserve better. My vision for the future of education in this state includes the following:
Advocacy for Public Education
I believe the Superintendent of Public Instruction should be an advocate for public schools. This isn’t an issue I should have to campaign on, but the last 23 years have proved that being a public education advocate is not a prerequisite for the job. Our public schools need a chief advocate to fight for smaller class sizes, facility improvements, better working conditions and paying educators what they are worth.
In order to represent the interests of Arizona public schools, the Superintendent must spend time listening to students, educators and families across Arizona. Too often, it seems that our state leaders just represent the “Great State of Maricopa.” I will visit schools in every corner of our state and bring the voices of the folks I meet back to the capitol.
Having served at the legislature for six years, fighting in the trenches for our public schools, I know how to navigate the state Capitol. As one of the few teachers serving in the legislature, I saw it as my mission to be a voice for educators and our students, but there was little backup from the Department of Education. That needs to change. As Superintendent, I will be at the Capitol to attend education committee hearings and weigh in on legislation that affects our schools, teachers and students.
The vast majority of Arizona families choose traditional, neighborhood schools for their children, but our current state leaders have prioritized for-profit and private schools over the schools most of our kids attend. As Superintendent, I will continue to fight private school vouchers that take money from public schools, and I will work to ensure that all schools receiving taxpayer dollars are held to the same standards as our traditional public schools.
Great Schools in Every Community
When I was a kid growing up in Arizona, our state leaders invested in local neighborhood schools. Just as Americans have had for generations, I had access to excellent public schools within walking distance of my house. I share the same fear that many of today’s parents do – that my kids and all Arizona children will not have access to that same opportunity. We must restore parent confidence in our public school system.
It will take serious investment from our state leaders. Our schools are trying to do the same job they did ten years ago, but with $1.1 billion less in funding. Our buildings are crumbling as schools now receive only a fraction of infrastructure funding compared to what they received ten years ago. We cannot let our neighborhood schools fall apart. As Arizonans, we must demand better from our leaders. As Superintendent, I will hold our state leaders accountable for their failure to provide necessary resources to our schools.
We are in the midst of a profound teacher shortage, and our neighborhood schools are struggling to find qualified teachers. We need to attract and retain the best educators to teach in our schools. That takes better pay, benefits and working conditions, and it also takes respect for our profession from Arizona’s elected leaders.
Professional Educators in Every Classroom
Our kids deserve a great teacher in every classroom. The teacher shortage crisis in Arizona cannot be solved by lowering the requirements to become a teacher. The legislature’s action allowing virtually anyone to teach our children is not only bad for students, it is offensive to professional educators and will do nothing to solve the problem. Arizona students deserve highly qualified teachers.
Arizona must return to its former practice of hiring well-trained educators. To attract these pedagogical professionals, we must offer a competitive wage. Arizona teachers are the worst paid in the nation, and the median teacher salary in Arizona has actually dropped over the last 15 years. We must reverse this trend. I will work to influence the legislature’s budgeting decisions to get more funding to our school districts. If that doesn’t work, I will take our case to the voters in 2020.
Once we get great teachers into classrooms we must ensure that they have the tools they need to educate our kids, including opportunities for professional development. The state Department of Education should be a resource to educators. Few teachers look to the department today for training opportunities. The department must be staffed with expert, professional educators, who can collect and convey best practices to educators across the state.
Higher Pay and Improved Working Conditions for Educators
Nowhere in the private sector would business leaders attempt to address a shortage by lowering the wages offered to potential employees, but that is exactly what our state leaders have done as the median teacher salary has been reduced over the last 15 years.
Teaching is a noble profession and most teachers are passionate and giving people, but an educator should not have to take a vow of poverty to work in an Arizona school. I will work every day as Superintendent to increase investment in professional educators.
Arizona teacher pay, the lowest in the nation, is a key contributor to our state’s teacher shortage, but benefits and working conditions have also declined over the last two decades. Our school districts can no longer afford robust health insurance plans like the one I had when I started teaching. Teachers are expected to work longer hours than ever with unacceptably large class sizes and without additional compensation, and the number of tasks educators are responsible for continues to grow year after year.
As Superintendent, I will work with our local school districts to provide an accurate picture of what it means to be an educator in Arizona today to the legislature, the media and the general public. Helping those stakeholders to understand what is actually going on in schools will hopefully lead us to work together to improve conditions in schools across the state.
Students Prepared for College, Career and Life
Everything we do in education is for the benefit of our students and is an investment in the future of our state. Unfortunately, because of failed leadership at the Capitol, our schools are pitted against each other, forced to compete for finite resources.
Because our schools are competing with one another, they operate in silos with no incentive to share innovations. The Department of Education should be working with districts to collect and share best practices of what is working for students. We have to collaborate with each other to serve all Arizona children.
Schools should be enabled to serve each student based on the individual child’s needs and interests. Every student should have an individualized education plan. We must offer high quality core academic programs, arts and athletic opportunities, as well as career and technical education. Arizona has some cutting edge practices in this area thanks to bipartisan efforts at the legislature more than 25 years ago.
We must also continue to invest in Joint Technical Education Districts that serve tens of thousands of students all over Arizona. These career and technical education umbrella districts serve public school students, providing them with skills and credentials necessary to be successful in the workforce during, after or in place of college.
Arizona students deserve to have the opportunity to live the American Dream. As Superintendent, I will dedicate all of my energy to providing that opportunity to kids across our state. Arizona educators, families and students deserve a champion. I need your help to be that champion.
Economic Development Through Education Investment
Arizona’s economic recovery has lagged behind much of the rest of the nation because our leaders have failed to invest in education. Large companies are refusing to consider Arizona in spite of our business-friendly tax code and 300 days of sunshine because business leaders can’t justify bringing their companies to a state with under-resourced schools.
On the other hand, communities like Tempe, where I have served on the council for the last few years, are thriving because of active investment in our schools. A free preschool program for low income families, top-ranked elementary schools, all A-rated high schools and one of the nation’s largest and most innovative universities prove that education is a priority in Tempe. That prioritization has attracted businesses to invest in high-wage, high-skill jobs in the city. Tempe today has more jobs than people (including kids and retirees).
If our state leaders were to prioritize public education, accessible to all children, like Tempe has, we could see that same kind of economic development across Arizona. Whether or not you have children in school, we all benefit from that kind of economic development brought on by leaders willing to invest in a strong public school system.