By Shannon Sowby, Expect More Arizona
For the fourth year in a row, Arizona voters have named education as the most important issue facing the state, according to a January survey conducted by HighGround, Inc.In an open-ended question, education placed highest for 40% of the survey’s respondents, while another 29% mentioned border issues and 8% mentioned health care.
Survey respondents also strongly agreed that “Where a family lives, how much money they make, or their race or ethnicity should not dictate the quality of the education that a child receives.”
Despite this sentiment, the achievement gap in Arizona persists. For instance, among the state’s third graders, 59% of White students are proficient in reading, compared with 33% of Hispanic and 21% of Native American students. The gap doesn’t end there. High school graduation rates vary widely for different groups, with White youth 23% more likely to graduate than Native American youth.
Education, business, and community leaders know this is a trend that must be addressed. The gap, in part, comes from long-standing funding inequities, paired with years of funding cuts that are only now starting to be restored.
To help focus funding efforts, representatives of more than 80 education, business, and community organizations joined together to create a Roadmap for P-20 Education Funding (Roadmap).
“This guideline will help put Arizona on the right track to achieve a more equitable education,” saysOsborn School Board President and UnidosUS Arizona Education Organizer Ylenia Aguilar Velderrain. “As the state looks toward improving life for everyone who lives here, improving educational outcomes for all of our students will be vital.”
The Roadmap outlines a vision and priorities for education funding. A consensus for short-, mid-, and long-term priorities came after months of collaboration between education, business, and community groups.
“To measurably impact all Arizona students, we need major investments across the entire continuum,” says Christine Thompson, President and CEO of Expect More Arizona. “The right investments, paired with effective instruction, policy, and strategy implementation, will bring us closer to closing the achievement gap and building a stronger state.”
As a first step, participating organizations agree that these are the short-term investments needed:
- Raise teacher pay to the national median and fund professional development, mentoring, and induction that are research-informed and driven by best practices.
- Increase access to quality child care, including pre-k (including 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).
- Fund effective strategies and interventions to support reading proficiency by the end of third grade, as identified by the State Board of Education, including 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.
- Provide funding for K-12 school building construction and maintenance, beginning with a focus on rural schools.
- Begin scaling up funding for wraparound services for students where those services are based on individual needs assessment, early interventions, and a supply of school internal and external staff resources (including social workers, mental health professionals, nurses, speech and language therapists, school counselors, special education, etc.).
- Double the STEM workforce funding for all community colleges, including restoration of this funding for Pima and Maricopa Community Colleges.
- Increase funding for Arizona resident students attending a state university (e.g. 50/50 model).
The investment priorities grew out of the shared goals outlined in the Arizona Education Progress Meter, which is tracking progress on eight key education metrics. The Roadmap is intended to be paired with the Education Progress Meter and used by policymakers, business, education, and community leaders to inform and evaluate funding proposals and to focus conversations on the complete picture, even as incremental investments are made in the short term.
“Education is the key to unlocking the potential of individuals and communities in our state,” adds Thompson. “Funding alone will not enable the state to meet the goals outlined in the Education Progress Meter, however, these investments are an important tool that will aid our mission to close the achievement gap and provide all students with a high-quality education.”
About Expect More Arizona
Expect More Arizona is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization bringing communities together to create positive change in education at all levels. For more information visit ExpectMoreArizona.org.