House Speaker J.D. Mesnard

Arizona’s three universities no longer form a pipeline of teachers to the state’s public schools. Half the freshmen in the state’s university system come from only 11 percent of Arizona’s high schools. And Arizona’s expanded school voucher system did not include expanded oversight.

Those disclosures came in remarks by three educators to the Chandler Chamber of Commerce Public Policy Committee and area business owners and executives recently.

The presentations by Kyrene School Superintendent Jan Vesely, state Board of Regents President Eileen Klein and state school Superintendent Diane Douglas on April 28, came on the eve of a big week for the state Legislature and education in Arizona.

Legislators last week passed a $9.8 billion state budget that includes a $1 billion bond issue for research and infrastructure for the three state universities and 2 percent pay raises over the next two years for K-12 teachers.

That will pencil out to a $1,000 over two years for many teachers, something House Speaker J.D. Mesnard called a significant step. The raises will cost $34 million in 2018.At the presentation to the Chandler Chamber, all three officials sounded various alarms about the state of education in Arizona.

Vesely briefly discussed some of the changes she and the board are implementing to make the Kyrene School District more competitive as school districts scramble for new students from outside their boundaries.

But she then disclosed that Arizona’s three state universities no longer feed new teachers into the state’s public school systems.

“The universities are telling us, ‘We do not have a pipeline of teachers for you anymore,” she said. “You don’t know how scary that is for we educators to hear.”

While education students from other states still flock to Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University for the weather as well as the academics, they return home after graduation because of the dismal salaries for teachers, she said.
But Kyrene’s problems go deeper, Vesely said, noting that the district is now projected to suffer a continuing enrollment decline for the next five or six years.
District enrollment has declined by 600 in the past decade, she said.

That represents a loss of millions in state funding, which is based on the number of pupils enrolled in a district.

Vesely said the expansion of Arizona’s school voucher program “may be very impactful for a district like Kyrene because it threatens to siphon more students.

Klein discussed how the Board of Regents is working with K-12 school systems to improve students’ readiness for college.

She stated that while there has been a slight increase in the number of high school students from Arizona who are going to college, “fewer than half can do work at a college level.”

But Klein also pointed to an equally significant problem that the board is trying to address – the number of Arizonans who obtain no skill training or higher education after graduating from high school.

She said 35 to 40 percent of adults in Arizona have only a high school diploma, meaning that more than a million residents “need meaningful credentials” for today’s jobs.

Klein outlined the board’s Achieve60AZ program, which is trying to ensure that 60 percent of all Arizona adults have a college degree or a professional certificate by 2030.

She also insisted that teacher pay had to be improved in order to improve college- and work-readiness among K-12 students.

“We have to address what happens in the classroom and compensation for teachers,” she said.

Douglas sounded the same refrain in her presentation, noting that she has proposed a voter referendum next year for a full-cent sales tax devoted exclusively to education. Currently, a half-cent tax is due to expire next year.

A full cent would generate $400 million in new revenue – and could fund a $5,000-a-year, across-the-board pay increase for K-12 teachers.

“If we pay them, they will teach,” Douglas said, adding that in her frequent “listening tours” around the state, “overwhelmingly I hear from people that they want our teachers to be paid better.”

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