Arizona teachers’ union seeks $1.7 billion in funding for new schools

Gloria Gomez

Don Bolles Fellow, University of Arizona

With lawmakers still unsure how to spend the record $5.3 billion budget surplus, the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, is demanding massive funding increases for the education.

Heather Ayers, president of the Isaac District Association and teacher at Joseph Zito Elementary School in Phoenix, said lawmakers’ reluctance to mobilize the surplus to support classrooms is frustrating for teachers, who feel left out. for account.

“(Schools) are not valued. Our students are not valued. Our families are not valued, our teachers are not valued,” she said.

The AEA this week released its “educator’s budget” to address those concerns, which includes $1.2 billion in ongoing new funding for public schools and an additional $450 million in one-time spending. In addition to a $505 million increase in the basic education funding formula, the plan calls for the creation of new sources of funding for schools through Tribal Student Weight, Opportunity Weight and Junior High Weight, each allocating additional dollars to schools based on their student population. .

The plan also includes more money for career and technical education programs, special education and pre-K. And full-day kindergarten – which was cut in 2010, due to the Great Recession – would be reinstated.

These demands don’t come out of nowhere, said AEA Vice President Marisol Garcia. Schools and parents know that programs like full-day kindergarten work, and they’re sorely needed in communities across the state. In previous years, the legislature has wronged schools, she said, citing a lack of funding — but that’s no longer an excuse.

The state has an unprecedented budget surplus of $5.27 billion, which equates to about 40% of the current year’s budget.

Of this unplanned money, $1.57 billion is permanent revenue, meaning it can be spent on permanent or multi-year programs without worrying about whether the funding will exist in the future. Another $3.7 billion is considered a one-time sum, which lawmakers typically use to pay for temporary programs because there’s no guarantee the tax revenue will exist after this year.

Teachers showed up for students through a pandemic and an increasingly hostile legislative session, Garcia said, and now the ball is in the lawmakers’ court.

“(There) was a national movement to denigrate and disrespect educators, and those days are over. Now is the time to rectify these conversations by investing in our students, educators and schools,” she said.

AEA’s budget proposal includes a one-time funding increase of more than $447 million aimed at alleviating some of the most pressing issues in the state’s education system. About half of that would be used to repair and maintain school facilities across the state and implement broadband access in rural areas. The other half would be divided into bonuses of $2,000 for each teacher.

In a state that ranks near the bottom in teacher salaries and working conditions, retention is urgently needed. The Isaac School District alone is expected to lose 15% of its staff this year, Ayers said. She warned that high turnover rates mean a lack of consistency for students.

“We lose a lot of people in education and teachers just because we don’t pay enough,” she said.

Up to 78% of teaching positions in Arizona are vacant or occupied by staff who do not meet standard teacher requirements, according to a January analysis. Part of the ongoing portion of the budget proposal is a $505 million increase in base funding, which would help increase teacher compensation.

To critics who might balk at the proposal’s high price, Garcia said it was a necessary step to address Arizona’s abysmal performance in education funding. The state ranks 47th in the nation in funding per student. Ultimately, she says, supporting schools creates a positive ripple effect in the communities they serve.

“Strong schools equal strong communities… so (that) should be at the very heart of everything we invest in,” she said.

Gloria Gomez is a senior at the University of Arizona and a 2022 UA School of Journalism Don Bolles Fellow. The UA School of Journalism started the fellowship in 1977 to honor Don Bolles, a journalist from the Republic of Arizona killed in a car bombing in 1976.

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