State of Education in AZ:
Where Are We Now?
With the historic passage of Proposition 208 (the Invest in Ed Act) this November, a lot of folks are asking, “Where are we now?”
The short answer? Public education in AZ is still in a massive funding hole. Prop 208 will likely be embroiled in legal battles for most of this spring and maybe beyond, if its well-funded opponents have their way. This means that funds cannot be collected (or distributed!) for the foreseeable future. Experts predict 2022-23 may be the first year schools receive anywhere near the expected $940 Million annual Prop 208 funding — if it survives legal challenges.
Arizona is still $3.5 billion short of the national average in per-student spending. Despite new revenue from Prop 208, Arizona will still rank in the bottom five states in the nation for education funding. To make matters worse, Propositions 123 and 301 (which provide $775 million in much-needed K12 funding each year) are facing looming cliffs in the next few years. A current lawsuit accuses the State of Arizona of significantly underfunding our schools’ capital investments (such as buildings and infrastructure) for decades — but even when this lawsuit is decided, the ball will once again be in the state legislature’s court to fulfill its constitutional obligation to fund public education at an appropriate and equitable level, something it hasn’t done since the early 1990s.
So what can we do to solve the crisis once and for all? While AZ voters supported Prop 208, they failed to elect a pro-public-education state legislature that would continue the critical work of restoring decades of slashed education funding.
In the face of this reality, we must double down on engaging our communities to convince lawmakers to make real, sustainable investments in public schools. We must implore lawmakers to stop focusing on expanding private school vouchers that benefit a privileged few, and to instead work toward equitable funding for all of our neighborhood schools. It’s public schools, after all, that provide opportunities for all children, and that 95% of AZ families choose.
We have to bolster ourselves (and our neighbors) with the facts and celebrate the vital contributions public schools make to our communities and our state. Arizona’s public school teachers are doing everything they can during a pandemic to provide an amazing education for our children. While we lack resources, we are far from failing.
1547 schools (87%!) received passing scores on AZ’s School Report Cards, while only 54 (3%) were deemed “failing.” While our governor and lawmakers myopically focus on patchwork solutions like “microgrants” and vouchers, we need wide-scale solutions to ensure that all of our students succeed — and for that, we will need wide-scale investment.
What does increased public school funding actually mean for kids? It means the difference between opportunity for a few and opportunity for all. A $3.5 billion annual investment would mean increasing our teaching force and incentivizing those who have left the classroom to return. It would mean reducing class sizes, allowing teachers to give more individual attention to each child. It would mean an orchestra teacher or volleyball coach or Robotics Club or STEM class or Project Lab or fully-stocked library for every school (not just the ones with affluent PTOs).
It would mean a 21st century education with technology and interest-driven and individualized curriculum for all students. It would mean a well-compensated, professional teaching force that has the time and resources to innovate successfully. And it would mean new AC and repaired roofs and buses that reliably function. Can you imagine? I sure can… and I will continue fighting for this vision until every Arizona child has what he or she deserves.
Beth Lewis Co-Founder, Save Our Schools Arizona AZ Teacher