Teachers disappear

Public education suffers loss of funding with defeat in court of proposition 208


Classrooms in Arizona are missing qualified teachers

Elizabeth Bennett, guest writer

Public education is facing challenges nationally, and Arizona is especially hit hard. With a teacher shortage and salaries among the lowest in the country, schools are struggling to fill classrooms with qualified teachers. Adding to the problem, Proposition 208, which voters approved in 2020, was struck down by the Maricopa County Superior Court on March 8. According to the Arizona Republic, the tax could have raised between $827 million to $1 billion a year specifically targeted for teacher salaries.
With teachers exiting the profession at increased rates each year, these funds would have potentially provided an incentive for them to stay – or enter – the profession. Rebecca Gau, CEO of Stand for Children, an Arizona nonprofit that advocates for education, said that the three biggest challenges facing Arizona public schools are “low teacher pay, which is fueling a teacher shortage, high class sizes and the worst counselor-to-student ratio in the nation.”
Prop 208 would have increased the income-tax rate for high income earners by 3.5 percent, with the money going directly to increase the salaries of teachers and school support staff.
In his ruling against Prop 208, Judge John Hannah wrote, “(T)he Court is obligated to strike down Proposition 208.” Hannah found that the money raised by Prop 208 would exceed the constitutional spending limit for education. While he did leave the option open for Invest in Arizona, the organization that brought the measure to the ballot, to appeal his finding to the state Supreme Court, there is a general sentiment that the fight is over.
In an article for the Atlantic Monthly, Grown Ups Are Losing It, George Packer outlines the challenges facing public education. “Teachers, whose relative pay and status have been in decline for decades, are fleeing the field. In 2021, buckling under the stresses of the pandemic, nearly 1 million people quit jobs in public education, a 40 percent increase over the previous year. The shortage is so dire that New Mexico has resorted to encouraging members of the National Guard to volunteer as substitute teachers.”
Voters approved Prop 208 with 51.7 percent of the vote. It would have put a 3.5 percent surcharge on taxable incomes over $250,000 for single filers and $500,000 for joint filers. Revenues would have been collected this month, when people and businesses file their 2021 taxes.
Gau suggested that the state could step in to help schools.
“We still have an opportunity,” she said. “We have a $1 billion budget surplus, even with the tax cut they (lawmakers) want to get through.”
With Prop 208 going away, CCUSD will not receive the approximately $2 million it would have. If it had received these revenues, they could have been used for teacher salaries and other services that directly affect students in the classroom.
Currently, it is unclear how this affects next year’s budget, and whether or not there will be needs for further cuts.
“It’s really hard to say what else we could cut. We already cut funding for language and the arts program,” said Mathew Hebert, senior.
In addition to the lack of resources available because of Prop 208 not passing, the district is facing a teacher shortage that will make it difficult to fill positions vacated by retiring or not returning teachers.
An Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association’s survey of 43 school districts and charter schools revealed that 6,347 positions needed to be filled for the 2021-22 year. As of January, nearly 2,000 teacher positions remained vacant, and 944 teachers resigned since the start of the school year.
“It’s really nerve racking thinking about the future because there are never subs capable of teaching when the teachers are out, and you just end up doing nothing,” said Mia Dibvig-Pawelko, junior.
This is of particular concern, because study after study has found that teacher quality is the number one predictor of student success. The Economic Policy Institution found that teacher quality is the most important school-related factor influencing student achievement. They conclude from their analysis of 400,000 students in 3,000 schools that, while school quality is an important determinant of student achievement, the most important predictor is teacher quality.
In a post on Twitter, state Schools Superintendent Kathy Hoffman expressed frustration at the ruling on Prop 208.
“How will we ensure our students have high-quality educators at the front of the classroom?” Hoffman said. “How will we remain competitive when our neighboring states have increased teacher pay?”