Better Days Coming for Scottsdale Teachers According to Task Force. Are They Substantive or Empty Promises?

Photo Credit: Sivan Veazie

Education has long been a hot-button issue in Arizona. While Democrats have long spoken about it as the minority party, it hit a critical mass in 2018 with the massive Red for Ed protests. Then-Governor Ducey’s political hand was forced, leading to significant increases in pay for teachers in the state. Once right near the bottom nationally in average teacher pay, Arizona has risen to 36th in the country as per recent statistics.

However, as anyone who lives in the Phoenix metro area can attest, an average salary of under $55,000 per year doesn’t go very far in the state these days. As a result, teacher attrition is a major problem, and the focus of a task force assembled by Governor Katie Hobbs. They believe that they may have cracked the code on how to keep teachers in the classrooms. But have they? Or is it just more empty promises from politicians?

As is always the case in politics, it’s easy to shout across the aisle but to actually bridge it in order to get things done is a different matter. As the last legislative session showed, while education is a general priority, both parties have very different approaches in prioritizing it. While Democrats have stuck solely to public school funding, Republicans have been focused on school choice. They successfully pushed through expansion of the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program, designed to make private education more affordable for all students by diverting funding that would have been spent on public schools into a voucher for parents to use however they wish.

The increased voucher-ization of education in Arizona has long been a bogeyman in Democratic politics, one that has come to near complete fruition recently. There clearly seems to be the feeling of bad faith operation as a result.

That said, as head of the Senate Education Committee, Ken Bennett’s positive comments on the findings of the task force are unquestionably a good sign. Widely known as an even-keeled, non-bombastic person who also was formerly the president of the state Board of Education, he could become the perfect person to heal the divide and push through some of these recommendations. With a legislature that has set its sights on not allowing Governor Hobbs any significant wins, a strong advocate on the GOP side will be crucial.

One thing that is difficult to deny is that the success of Democrat politicians in Arizona has forced the hand of Republicans to take the issue of teacher retention seriously instead of simply giving it lip service. And for those of us who think that the job of educating our children is an important one, that’s a good outcome. But another thing that is difficult to deny is that with mere one vote majorities in both the state House and Senate, the GOP will be doing its damndest to maintain those majorities, including denying Democrats policy victories. It’s hard not to see that dynamic bleeding into this issue.