Letter: Financial fix for Arizona school system long overdue

Editor:

I am a rural, conservative teacher who has been teaching in the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District for 26 years. I became a teacher because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others. I wanted to give back to a community that has given me so much: a beautiful place to call home and a nurturing environment in which to raise my children.

During my tenure at COCSD, I have watched as education funding has slowly drained from our schools, leaving us lacking the resources we so desperately need to support our student populations.

I have served on budget committees that made tough decisions to forgo the cost of living increases for our staff, in order to fund programs for students … and I was proud to make that choice.

I have seen deep cuts to support services for our students with the loss of deans, counselors, nurses, and paraprofessionals. These are the people who make teaching possible.

Without proper support services for our students, teachers end up spending their time handling severe discipline concerns, students with social-emotional concerns, and needy students who lack proper care and nutrition. All of this takes away from what teachers are trained to do and want to do ... teach.

We desperately need our support staff so we can help our students get to a place where they are ready to learn. Without them, we are selling our students short.

For me, the Red For Ed movement is not about raises, it’s about resources and giving our teachers the tools they so desperately need to give our students the education they so desperately deserve. However, we also need to be able to attract and retain quality teachers because the single most important factor in a child’s education is the quality of their classroom teacher. Our students deserve the best teachers, but they are leaving Arizona at an alarming rate.

Why can’t the state of Arizona do better?

Did you know that Arizona offers more tax credits than any other state? While I agree that it’s great to be able to direct some of your tax dollars to your preferred organization, it is funneling money away from the general fund, which is needed to support the state’s infrastructure.

Are we doing more harm than good with our current tax credit system? Did you know that taxpayers can donate up to $2,177/married couple (or $1085/single) to private school tax credit programs and receive a dollar for dollar credit on AZ income tax? Taxpayers may only donate up to $400/married (or $200/single) to public schools.

Why are we using public tax dollars to fund private school education? Private schools can refuse admission based on gender, religion, etc. Financial need is not a requirement for receiving a private school, tax credit scholarship. In 2015, 60 percent of Student Tuition Organization Scholarships from individuals private school tax credits went to families making more than $42,000 per year.

Of these, half of the families made more than $80,000 per year. Public schools were designed as the great equalizer of our society, the place where all children have access to educational opportunities to make something of themselves in adulthood. Our state is finding more ways to funnel money out of public schools; this is leaving our most needy students without the resources they need to be successful.

Another example of the state taking money from public schools is Prop 301. The Arizona voters passed this initiative in 2006, to increase funding in the classroom. By 2008 the legislature was funneling this money in other directions contrary to the taxpayer’s decision.

In 2010 a judge found this to be illegal and ordered the state of Arizona to pay this money back to schools. It took six years and the passage of Prop 123, which unfortunately sold state trust land, to pay back only 70 percent of what was owed to the school.

By doing business this way, the Arizona legislature has broken a contract with not only schools, but the Arizona taxpayers as well.

Our community has shown overwhelming support for our schools though passed overrides and bonds. For that we are so thankful! Without the monetary support of our community, COCSD would not be able to provide our students with many programs such as P.E., music, or all-day kindergarten. But we shouldn’t have to keep going back to our communities to ask for more money because of continual cuts at the state level.

Currently COCSD receives less per pupil funding than the other districts in the Verde Valley. This means fewer student support services and less funding in the classroom than our surrounding schools.

It is my sincere hope that the great state of Arizona can figure out a way to stop putting the squeeze on public education. It is also my hope that our community will continue to support the teachers of the Verde Valley and COCSD as we stand up to fight for better, for the students of our community.

Shelly Zale

Cornville

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