There’s no doubt about the polarizing nature of our current politics and the lack of bipartisan efforts to tackle complex policy issues. But difficult issues are rarely fixed in a vacuum, and indeed, in Arizona, we have several examples of major policy achievements that were solved because both sides of the aisle worked together.
Last week, the Arizona Legislature, under the direction of Gov. Doug Ducey, convened a special session to find solutions to our opioid crisis. We commend the governor and legislative leadership in the majority and minority parties for understanding the importance of this work and the need to approach it in a bipartisan manner. Our lawmakers were able to reach unanimous consent on a proposal because they put their differences aside to solve a public health crisis.
We are asking our leaders to do the same for public education funding.
Since 2008, our K-12 public schools have been suffering from drastic cuts – more than 1.5 billion dollars – made during the recession. Ten years removed and our classrooms are still missing more than a billion dollars, and we have no plan to get us back to pre-recessionary investments much less a level that nears the national average.
The result of this underfunding is a teacher shortage that has left thousands of Arizona students without the most basic classroom necessity: a full-time teacher. An entire generation of our kids has had to “make do” with overcrowded classrooms, outdated textbooks and technology, and a loss of critical support staff such as reading specialists and counselors. This is simply unacceptable.
Our schools need substantial and dedicated revenues to solve this crisis, and they need those revenues now. We cannot continue to punt on our responsibility to uphold our state Constitution’s directive for equitable and sustainable funding for our public schools.
We cannot fool ourselves into believing that we can continue to slash state revenues and rely on economic growth to deliver hundreds of millions of dollars in missing classroom funding. That is not a plan but rather an unrealistic dream that fails to recognize the reason we ended up in this crisis in the first place.
Our coalition — which represents parents, teachers, school board members, faith-based leaders, and children’s advocates — is calling on Governor Ducey and the majority and minority leaders of the state Legislature to immediately convene a working group to tackle our public education funding crisis.
Governor Ducey recently called on Congress to “talk to each other,” to “stop playing games,” and to “get it done” when referring to the government shutdown. We echo that sentiment. Our classrooms are in crisis. We need our leaders to talk to each other, and get it done.
—Julie Erfle is spokeswoman for AZ Schools Now.