Education remains key concern in Arizona

Valley voters, leaders call for more funding, better schools

Posted 2/9/20

More local leaders are calling for better schools, a view consistent with most Arizona voters, according to a recent poll.

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Education remains key concern in Arizona

Valley voters, leaders call for more funding, better schools


More local leaders are calling for better schools, a view consistent with most Arizona voters, according to a recent poll.

Earlier this week, officials in Surprise reaffirmed their support for the Arizona Education Progress Meter and Mayor Skip Hall praised the effort, according to the city’s published release.

“Our city is always looking for ways to improve education,” Mr. Hall stated. “The progress meter provides a valuable structure and direction for doing that, from our youngest students to adult attainment.”

The progress meter — developed by the advocacy groups Expect More Arizona and the Center for the Future of Arizona — tracks a raft of relevant metrics, which reveal the status of educational attainment across Arizona communities, while promoting a set of specific quantifiable goals.

City leaders and officials across the Valley have also signaled their support the effort, including those representing Buckeye, Chandler, Glendale, Mesa, Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe.

In total, more than 350 municipalities, chambers of commerce, businesses, educational institutions, school districts and other nonprofit groups have also pledged their support so far.

City of Glendale leaders issued a proclamation in 2017 to announce their support for the partnership.

“Whereas, the city of Glendale recognizes that we have to make education a top priority in our community to ensure a strong economic future and a higher quality of life for everyone … City Council hereby affirms that we are committed to achieving the statewide attainment goal of 60% by 2030,” the proclamation stated.

Report card

Among the metrics tracked by Expect More Arizona are benchmarks for students in grade school, high school, college and beyond. The current data reveal those in Maricopa County are doing slightly better than the statewide average in some areas.

The goal for reading proficiency among 3rd graders, based on results of the AzMerit English language arts assessment, is for 72% of test-takers to reach the “proficient” or “highly proficient” mark.

In Maricopa County, 48% have attained that level; statewide, 46% reached the goal.

For mathematics, the goal is to have 69% of 8th graders prepared to succeed as they enter high school math courses in 9th grade.

In Maricopa County, 45% of students have met the goal; only 41% have met the goal statewide.

For high school attainment, the goal is for 90% of students to graduate.

In the county, the graduation rate is now 84%; statewide, the rate is only 78%.

The county and state average portion of graduates who enroll in post-secondary education the semester after leaving high school is tied at 55%; the goal is 70%.

And the portion of those aged 25-64 who have received a 2- or 4-year degree or post-secondary certificate was higher statewide at 46% than in the county at 42%, while the stated goal is 60%.

Pay & retention

The partnership also tracks teacher pay, advocating for a greater investment in school funding across Arizona.

Even when adjusted for cost of living, the state ranks near the bottom nationally – 49th for elementary school teacher pay, which lags $12,877 behind the national average and trails average pay in neighboring states, like New Mexico, Utah and Colorado.

The pay for Arizona’s high school teachers is $11,627 less than the national average, ranking the state 48th.

A report from Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy released in May 2017 analyzed data provided by the Arizona Department of Education before concluding that teacher pay and retention are a “crisis level” problem for the state.

“Arizona teacher recruitment, retention and pay are at crisis levels with more teachers leaving the profession annually than bachelor of education degrees produced by the three universities, compounded by an exodus of instructors for reasons ranging from retirement to poor salaries,” the researchers concluded.

Among key findings reported were:

  • Among teachers hired between 2013 and 2015, 22% were no longer teaching just one year later.
  • Of those hired in 2013, 42% of teachers had left the profession within 3 years.
  • And 52% of charter school teachers hired in 2013 had quit the profession within 3 years.

According to the report, 74% of school administrators said their campuses were suffering from a shortage of teachers.

Voters’ views

While teachers pay and the state’s ranking are trending upward thanks to recent funding increases, Arizona voters continue to call on lawmakers to make education a higher priority.

Expect More Arizona recently released results of its survey of 600 likely voters, which was conducted over four days in November 2019.

For the fifth year in a row, results of the Annual Arizona Education Survey indicate education is the single greatest concern among voters, with their top three being: education (42%); border issues and illegal immigration (25%); and health care (10%).

A significant majority of respondents (85%) said K-12 teachers are not paid enough, an opinion shared across a bi-partisan majority, including Democrats (92%), Republicans (72%), Independents (94%) and those otherwise unaffiliated (92%).

Nearly three-quarters of respondents (73%) said K-12 schools need better funding, while citing their top concerns as increasing teacher pay (23%) and increasing general school funding (20%).

The top five voter priorities revealed by the data include: raising teacher pay to the national median; improving achievement among lower-performing schools; support for reading proficiency by 3rd grade; maintaining funding for career and technical education programs; and making Arizona public colleges and universities more affordable.

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