A World-Class, Not Third-World, Educational System

Endorsed by the Arizona Education Association

The easiest and smartest investment we can make is in our kids. We have used education as a punching bag for too long and we shortchange and shorten our future as a result of our short-sightedness. Instead of aiming for the top in education, Republican policies have focused on reaching the floor. States with smart students and able workers attract high-paying jobs, not those ranked 48, 49 or 50. Recent school assessment scores tell us that 74% of Arizona’s Fourth graders are below proficient in reading and 69% of Eighth graders are below proficient in math. If the Republicans are so good at education policy, how can they explain these grades? The simple reality is they can’t explain it, other than they don’t want your children to compete in a global economy.  We need new a new direction for education at the Capitol and I’m ready to step up and go to bat for Arizona’s kids, their parents and our state’s future.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. We should extend the one penny sales tax until such time as the regular budget can make up for the lost dollars (e.g., establish a sunset), or make it permanent if more traditional and responsible approaches aren’t possible.
  2. Stop allowing opponents of improved education investment from distorting or misusing statistics to falsely claim and justify policies or programs that harm Arizona’s educational system. The costs of diesel fuel for school buses is not a component of per-pupil education spending.
  3. Make a public pronouncement that excellence in education is one of the top priorities in Arizona and we will no longer accept near-bottom rankings in any education achievement or funding category. There used to be a time when states competed for above average. Arizona competes for the floor.
  4. Put traditional and charter schools on level playing fields when it comes to choice of finance formula, teacher and administrative staffing requirements/criteria and capital.
  5. Examine how to enhance R&D, commercialization of R&D products, intellectual property ownership and entrepreneurship at our colleges and universities.
  6. Enhance programs that help place Arizona graduates in Arizona jobs upon graduation.
  7. Ensure that funds transfers from mature “Uniform Gift To Minor” (UGTM) and similar trust or investment accounts to the state’s 529 College Savings Plan are not subject to income taxes.

Performance-based/Merit Pay for Teachers

While performance-based pay sounds good, there are studies from Education Week and the Rand Corporation that show bonuses have had little or no effect on teacher, student or school performance and, when state education budgets are tight, the program’s funding gets slashed further diminishing its effectiveness. Many states are rethinking their use of merit-pay in light of the fiscal reality that some legislators don’t apparently like paying teachers competitive wages in the first place. It is important to have the discussion, but it must be done in an open and transparent manner.

I support treating teachers like the skilled professionals they are and pay them accordingly. Just as in the private sector, the hard part is agreeing on what pay package best motivates them. If teachers and administrators don’t understand or accept the program, there is little chance it could ever be successful. But right now the jury is still out on whether merit pay is the best model, especially during tough economic times.