Arizona has a teacher retention crisis. Here are 5 ways to start fixing it.
A woman holds up a poster asking lawmakers to better fund schools on March 22, 2023. The state’s largest teacher’s union, the Arizona Education Association, convened a press conference to unveil a proposed budget to invest $2.2 billion in education. Photo by Gloria Rebecca Gomez | Arizona Mirror
Every year, thousands of Arizona teachers leave the state, or the profession, due to low pay, underfunded schools and a lack of respect. Each and every departure makes things harder for those of us who remain.
Where I teach, in Tucson, I keep hearing about teachers asked to switch grade levels in the middle of the school year because of unexpected vacancies. Imagine being completely prepared to teach first grade, with your lesson plans created and your classroom set up, and then suddenly finding yourself in front of fifth graders instead.
Other teachers are asked to teach during their rare breaks or find themselves forced to teach 40 students in a classroom built for half as many.
Unsurprisingly, many educators find themselves burning out, leading to resignations and even more vacancies.
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We can’t go on like this. It’s not sustainable and it’s not right.
Arizona has to stop losing teachers to other states where salaries are higher by $5,000 or even $10,000 a year. We have to stop losing teachers to other professions that offer reliable health insurance and more respect. We have to stop losing education support professionals like paraprofessionals to jobs that pay more — which, right now, includes basically every job.
Ultimately, the only people who can solve this crisis are our elected officials, who control school funding at the state level. We’ve come together as a union of teachers and education support professionals to lay out an Educators’ Budget that explains what they need to do:
- Give us a raise. Deliver on those promises of $10,000 raises for teachers, and make sure they’re accompanied by meaningful raises for education support professionals, too. Ensure the funding is there to keep raises in place, even if a downturn hits.
- Bring down the cost of health insurance for educators and their families. Some of my colleagues spend nearly an entire paycheck each month on health care premiums — and then find that they still have to pay thousands out of pocket when they need care. Others are forced to go without health insurance entirely.
- Fund the programs that school districts already run, but never seem to get enough funding to cover. For instance, most school districts in Arizona offer full-day kindergarten, but the state hasn’t provided funding for it in more than a decade. That means that most districts are scrimping and scrounging to find money to pay full-time kindergarten teachers, leaving them with less funding to cover salaries and expenses for other grade levels.
- Repair school buildings. It’s just not acceptable for an Arizona classroom to have an AC system that doesn’t work or water coming out of the light fixtures in the ceiling.
- Set aside stable, permanent funding for schools. Allocating money from this year’s budget surplus to schools is a good start, but it won’t solve our retention crisis. If the money isn’t there next year, districts will cut salaries or lay people off, and we’ll see another exodus of educators then. Years of quick fixes have gotten us nowhere. We need to start thinking long-term.
As educators, we’ve been pushing for these changes for a long time now. But this year, things might finally be different. That’s because we have a governor who has made public education a priority — and Republicans in the state legislature who won’t stop talking about how much they want to give teachers a raise.
We’re ready to work with anyone who is willing to take this crisis seriously. Let’s stop with the dueling headlines and the political games and get the job done.
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