Hooray for our pubic schools! Election Day 2017 saw 84% of bond and override questions approved on the ballot statewide. Voters obviously have a high level of trust in their neighborhood school districts and locally-elected governing boards.
Maricopa County ballot measures were especially well-received, with voters approving all 22. Unfortunately, seven statewide, including two in LD 11, were rejected. In Marana, voters rejected (by a margin of 38% to 62%) an additional $2 million, while in Stanfield, voters rejected (by 4 votes) the $356,000 sought. Each of these measures would have added an average cost to homeowners of around $55 per year primarily funding both teacher salary increases and technology upgrades.
These districts must now continue to do more with even less, which is nothing new for Arizona’s public schools. The AZ Legislature has cut $4.56 billion from district budgets since 2009 and our teacher shortage has reached a crisis level. Our Governor’s answer, is to rotate untrained “teachers” through classrooms where districts can’t find certified professionals willing to work for too little. Our lawmakers tout fiscal responsibility while shortchanging our kids with higher class sizes, substitute teachers, sub-par facilities, and out-of-date technology. The 45 override and bond issues on the ballot this week were a clear sign of the Legislature’s failure to fulfill one of its primary responsibilities under the state constitution, “to provide for the establishment and *maintenance* of a general and uniform public school system….”
To those who say additional funding for our schools is not the answer, I say that it’s a large part of it, especially after the deep cuts of the last eight years. After all, what does a business do when they are serious about hiring quality employees? Do they hold down salaries, increase hours, add more responsibilities to the job description, and offer poor working conditions? No. They offer competitive salaries and benefits, a good work environment, and other appealing incentives.
Arizonans have repeatedly shown we support public education and want more of our money dedicated to support our children. Our lawmakers however, aren’t listening. They continue to funnel our tax dollars into corporate tax breaks and other sweetheart deals. In fact, despite an annual state budget of only $9 billion, our Legislature approves some $13 billion each year in the form of corporate giveaways without expiration dates or periodic review to determine return on investment.
It is way past time for real fiscal responsibility that is focused on investing in the future. We have the money to do right by the future’s leaders, our children. We have the professional educators who could be recruited back to our classrooms if only they were paid enough to provide for their families. We know what quality companies want when they look to relocate to our great state—a well-educated workforce and modern infrastructure. We can do better by our children and thereby our state, but first, we must elect lawmakers with the will to get it done!