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Our Turn: Arizona GOP needs to back up education talk

Lupe Contreras, Steve Farley, Katie Hobbs and Martin Quezada, AZ We See It March 26, 2017

Democrats: Teacher retention has reached crisis levels. We need this bipartisan legislation to help solve it.

We were encouraged when, in his State of the State address, Governor Ducey promised to help recruit and retain teachers and restore lost funds to our schools.

The aggressive K-12 education agenda he laid out that day hit the right notes for Arizonans who, in poll after poll, demand the state finally make a meaningful investment in district schools that for years have suffered from neglect at the hands of our state's Republican leadership.

But when Governor Ducey released his budget the following Friday, the numbers did not match his rhetoric. His proposals amount to little more than re-election talking points and make little to no impact toward making the sustainable commitment our students deserve.

And while Republicans pay plenty of lip service on supporting education, one needs only look at their actions for the truth. Advancing with ease through the Legislature are bills that would remove $211 million from Arizona schools, divert exponentially more hard-earned tax dollars to "educational" debit cards that lack accountability, and eliminate standards that ensure our children are taught by qualified teachers.

Arizona Chamber of Commerce CEO Glenn Hamer, a former executive director of the Arizona Republican Party, last month told reporters that Arizona teachers are "crybabies" for wanting meaningful raises after working for years with none.

The way forward for Arizona is to reject these anti-education efforts and to acknowledge that we will never truly move the student achievement bar until we get serious about starting with the most in need. According to the U.S. Census 2015 American Communities Survey, there are 394,000 children in Arizona living in poverty.

We must strengthen district schools in our poorest communities by recognizing that what their families need is support for their students and teachers. Yet another plan that only rewards schools with above average statewide assessment scores, as Governor Ducey has proposed, leaves behind those who truly need the most help.

What we need: A task force

We must solve Arizona's crisis on  teacher recruitment and retention by finally valuing our classroom teachers as the dedicated professionals that they are and by providing the support and tools they need to educate the next generation of our workforce.

In doing so, we can ensure our state's education system will be a driver of economic development and not a reason for businesses to look elsewhere.

These are big challenges that deserve a statewide conversation about how to fund the essential state services that voters have repeatedly said they value. Sen. Sean Bowie’s legislation, Senate Bill 1383, would establish a task force of economists, legislators, business and community leaders to study state expenditures and revenues and propose sustainable, equitable funding solutions.

This is the sort of bipartisan discussion we should be having, and one that we haven't had during any legislative session in recent memory.

Even through years of deep political division at our state Capitol, we have been and remain committed to having this discussion. We owe the people of Arizona nothing less.