Valley teachers were out in force at the state Capitol on Wednesday rallying for more money for public schools. A number of legislators, Republicans and Democrats, voiced support for the teachers in what is expected to be another tight budget year.
One of the more conservative lawmakers who had lunch with teachers on the Capitol lawn was Sen. Marilyn Jarrett, R-Mesa. As the Tribune's CeCe Todd reported on Thursday, Jarrett listened to teachers' concerns and said they would be weighed with other pressing needs in the weeks ahead.
One thing that must be kept in mind by all is that these are tight times for a lot of people, in government and private jobs. Many deserving people are getting little or nothing in the way of raises. Until the economy gets back up to full stream, there just won't be enough money to go around.
Another thing is that public schools are in better shape fiscally that they would have been if voters hadn't approved a large tax increase for education in 2000. Although Arizona education has been playing catch-up for the past few years, and in some cases deserving teachers are not yet getting what they should, they have not suffered cuts.
What is needed as much as dollars is innovation. Gov. Janet Napolitano has recognized that as she proposes phasing in voluntary all-day kindergarten and expanded preschool. Private dollars are being sought, and district school boards should take a close look at their own budgets.
As Todd also reported on Tuesday, a state auditor general's study has found that Arizona spends less of every education dollar — 58.6 cents — in the classroom than the national average 61.5 cents. Districts not only should look for ways to get more dollars into the classroom, but consider granting more autonomy to individual principals to use funds more effectively in educating students.
It should be noted that while the relatively small Tempe Elementary School District spends only 55.8 cents of every dollar in the classroom, it has managed to provide free all-day kindergarten and even some preschool services — all while improving test scores. Neighboring districts should find out how TESD does it.
It should also be noted that while charter schools have relatively high administrative costs, many are doing a good job raising their students' academic performance. Perhaps it is because administrators also share instructional duties and are more directly involved in mentoring teachers.
Adequately funding schools is important. So is making sure those dollars are used effectively in educating every single child.