Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman came to the House Committee on Education to tell the story about the state of Arizona’s schools in her State of Education Address.
Superintendent Hoffman started her speech celebrating the many heroes that work to make education a rewarding experience for Arizona’s children. These included the bus drivers, the crossing guards, the sign language specialists, the classroom teachers, the principals, and the children’s families.
She then recounted the odyssey of her travels across the state visiting schools and meeting inspiring education stakeholders and seeing innovative programs that have lifted up various districts.
Ms. Hoffman invited several of these stakeholders (teachers, students, and education leaders) to today’s State of Education address before the House Education Committee and saluted them for their efforts in lifting up Arizona’s schools.
Superintendent Hoffman says there is a State of Emergency in Arizona’s Schools.
The Superintendent’s narrative took a dark turn as she reminded the committee that Arizona’s schools faced many daunting challenges. These include a sizable teacher shortage and funding inequities among the state’s school districts.
One-quarter of Arizona’s classrooms are either without an instructor or led by a teacher that did not have the qualification to teach either the students or the subject matter.
Ms. Hoffman said, “ Arizona’s education workforce challenges are an issue of economic security.”
She also said this teacher shortage situation presented “a state of emergency” for “our education system.”
Stating, “If every classroom does not have access to a highly-qualified teacher, we cannot expect every Arizona student to succeed,” she called for everyone in government to work together to take “quick action and develop of a (comprehensive) long-term plan” to solve the teaching shortage crisis.
Furthermore, the Superintendent pointed out the funding inequities and hard choices districts had to make because Arizona is ranked 49th in education funding. She talked about the Superior Unified District that had to choose to support a full-fledged Pre K and Kindergarten program over art, music, and physical education classes. She called attention to the plight of Quartzite Elementary School, a system that, unlike neighboring Lake Havasu or Mohave Valley, is unable to pass a budget override for more school funding and where students are forced to attend classes in twenty-year-old portable buildings. She reminded the committee that the school safety grant requests far outpaced the money available to fund all the projects.
The Superintendent said that:
“ ….we still have a patchwork of solutions for a problem that demands a comprehensive approach. The current funding system – which too often forces schools to rely on one-time grants and bonds and overrides – is driving vast inequities across our state.”
Solutions to fight the Emergency
Superintendent Hoffman relayed to the committee that her team has been hard at work, in collaboration with other education stakeholders across the state to find solutions to the teacher shortage crisis.
Through her travels, she cited several innovative examples districts around Arizona were creating to solve the local teacher shortage.
One example is the Vail District, which has formed an alternative certification program. Another creative program is the Early Childhood and Career and Technical Program the Lake Havasu School System where high school students get a taste as educators by working with pre-kindergarten students.
The Superintendent also recognized the bipartisan efforts of Governor Ducey and Arizona legislators like Sylvia Allen, Jennifer Pawlik, Sean Bowie and John Filmore in advancing measures to:
- Increase education funding including special education.
- Repealing the English Only Law.
- Fully funding all the safety grant first choice requests.
- Expanding the Teachers Academy to include counselors.
However, while applauding these initiatives, Ms. Hoffman said:
“These are encouraging first steps, but as a state, we need a bigger plan. We need a plan that levels the playing field within our state, includes all of our educators, and allows Arizona to compete regionally.”
She closed her address by calling for a united front to build on what is right with Arizona’s schools and devise a comprehensive and fully funded educational system that is:
“…. fair, equitable, and regionally competitive education system that prepares every student for success.”
The Superintendent took questions from the Committee Members
Following her presentation, Superintendent Hoffman took questions from several of the Committee members.
Most of the representatives commended Ms. Hoffman for traveling the state to see the situation Arizona schools are facing.
Representative Reginald Bolding praised her leadership.
Representatives Regina Cobb and Nancy Barto thanked her for helping with situations at local schools and alternative special education testing.
Cobb also asked if the Superintendent supported Governor Ducey’s Project Rocket funding ideas. Ms. Hoffman said yes.
Things became testy when Cobb switched the topic to the incident last week where Department of Education staff inadvertently sent documents that had unredacted private data of families participating in the Empowerment Scholarship-Voucher Program (ESA) to three parties.
The Superintendent apologized for what occurred last week, saying, “The last thing I want to do is lose the trust of our families.”
She went further saying the Department had taken steps to remedy the situation in a collaborative way with the United States Department of Education and State Attorney’s office. They have started to review data protocols and look for ways to develop policies and checks so this error does not occur again.
Ms. Cobb persisted, insinuating that maybe the transmission was deliberate, and suggesting that the ESA program should be privatized and taken out of the Department’s hands.
Those comments resulted in strong rebukes and a defense of Ms. Hoffman by Representatives Isela Blanc and Aaron Lieberman who reminded the committee that it was the School Superintendent that called for major increases in the funding of staff and oversight of the Voucher program.
Ms. Hoffman said, “if the funding and services are not increased at the end of the session, it (The ESA program) will not sustainable to oversee.”
The questioning ended shortly after when Committee Vice Chairperson John Fillmore diffused the tension saying, “I want support” (which brought laughter in the room) for his plans on school consolidation in exchange for funding more oversight of the ESA division.
Superintendent Hoffman is correct in asking for a united front in combatting the teacher shortage and funding inequities in Arizona’s education system.
No school district should have students taking classes in 20-year-old portable buildings.
School Boards should not have to choose between whether to offer full-day Pre K, kindergarten, art, music, and physical education.
Children need qualified educators in every classroom.
Teachers deserve a comfortable living wage.
Only by working together can the needs of children and educators be fully addressed.
The people should not have to continually pass initiatives at the ballot box to increase funding when the public servants they have elected should do the job themselves.
It is time for the members of the Arizona State Legislature to follow Superintendent Hoffman’s request and get to work at fully taking care of the state’s schools.