Published Thursday, May 4, 2006 in East Valley Opinions of the Arizona Republic as “Use $1B Arizona surplus to bring education up to grade.” Also appeared in June as an on line op-ed for the Tucson Citizen.
A well-known bumper stickers says “It’ll be a great day when the schools have all the money they need, and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.”
This year my wife became president of our elementary school’s PTA. The PTA functions through the efforts of a few parents who volunteer countless hours for the school. One of the chief functions of our school’s PTA and its president is fundraising for things like a canopy covering the playground and providing each teacher $200 to buy supplies. Other PTA events bring families and teachers together in community building activities like dances, skating and picnics. With limited resources the PTA has less time to coordinate with teachers on special activities like a science fair or a cultural awareness festival. It’s challenging and largely invisible work that far too many of us take for granted.
It would be a great day if our legislature funded schools properly, so PTA’s could spend more time supporting and training volunteers and creating exciting educational and community building events. That great day could start this year. The legislature has the opportunity to act in a visionary way with a $1.2 billion surplus. So for one day, let’s pretend we’re the Air Force and see what $1.2 billion spent on our schools might do.
When the Tempe Elementary Governing Board adopted the middle school task force’s recommended schedule, it included an important gain for teachers, an expansion of the planning periods from 50 to 96 minutes daily. This change assists teacher teams in coordinating instructional plans and sharing best practices in reaching students as well as providing time for developing creative instructional activities. As one social studies teacher told me, with more preparation time and teaching the same class five times daily instead of six, she’s excited for next year despite the trade-off. She currently has 176 students, and that won’t change. Her average class size will jump from 29 to 35.
Let’s eliminate this tradeoff, so teachers have the best quality environment, 96 minutes of prep time without increasing class sizes in middle schools and high schools, while assuring our elementary grades have class sizes of 22 or less. That would require increasing the total number of core teachers by about 15 percent across the state at a cost of approximately $450 million, plus $50 million to finance added classrooms.
In addition, Governor Napolitano has proposed that the state fund any school district wishing to offer full-day kindergarten, not just the poorest districts. That will cost an additional $100 million and free up resources from school districts who dip into their own resources to offer full-day Kindergarten.
The governor also wants to boost minimum teacher salaries and compensate teachers for the 1.7 percent increase in their retirement payroll deduction forthcoming next year. If we add in an equivalent increase for school districts that have to match the 1.7 percent, then the total cost is $100 million.
Although many Phoenix area school districts participate, every school district in Pinal County except Santa Cruz Union High School is locked out by the legislature from a 5.5 percent professional development plan bonus. Including every school district in funding for a teacher professional development pay plan whether it’s Career Ladder or something else would add another $100 million.
To be fiscally prudent, completely repaying the K-12 rollover, an accounting trick that transferred June’s payment to July to balance the budget, we would need to set aside $200 million. Making sure English Language Learners have the resources to succeed will likely cost another $200 million.
If I had a bit more, I’d set aside $100 million in funds ($100 per child) for field trips, after school activities, athletics and all sort of things that make school fun.
Today what I’ve proposed is fantasy, but if legislators care about children, we could end PTA bake sales tomorrow.
Dave Wells holds a doctorate in Political Economy and Public Policy and teaches at Arizona State University. Reach him at Dave@MakeDemocracyWork.org.
Sources:I’ve used the JLBC budget summary documents detailing fiscal year 2007, the General Auditor’s Office classroom spending estimates, Career Ladder coverage at 31% of students as reported at the Dept. of Education web site, last year’s English Learner’s study from the National Conference of State Legislators, and for classroom spending of $50 million, I picked a number out of the air—as it could be paid for over time through bonding or a lease buy back. But the $450 million figure is more tightly calculated from the 58.6% in classroom spending estimated, I assume 80% goes for teacher salaries and benefits and multiply it by the per student amount used in the report adjusted to 2007. All of the numbers are rounded for ease of reading, so in practice actual costs might be $25 million lower or higher for each of the categories noted.