Gov. Doug Ducey could've thrown teachers a lifeline. He didn't even thank them

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Gov. Doug Ducey gives his final State of the State address during the opening day of the 2022 Arizona legislative session at the State House of Representatives in Phoenix on Jan. 10, 2022.
Gov. Doug Ducey gives his final State of the State address during the opening day of the 2022 Arizona legislative session at the State House of Representatives in Phoenix on Jan. 10, 2022.

I’ve spent the last couple of months at home bonding with and welcoming my newborn daughter into the world and our family.

And while my schedule may have changed from school visits and briefings on pending legislation to late-night feedings and diaper changes – it’s given me a lot of time to think about our public schools and the staff and teachers who have gone to incredible lengths to keep our schools running as we enter the third year of this pandemic.

Right now, our schools are doing everything humanly possible to remain open during the most challenging surge of the virus yet.

Teachers are covering extra classes during their lunch and prep time. Principals are covering bus routes to make sure students get to school on time.

That’s why I was so disheartened by what I heard – or more accurately, what I didn’t hear – from Gov. Doug Ducey in his recent State of the State speech.

Ducey ignored teachers in his speech

His counterparts in New Mexico and Colorado recently proposed raises for school staff and educators, by 7% and 8%, respectively – a recognition of the essential role public school teachers play in our communities.

Our governor? Not only did he not thank teachers or propose new pay raises to support them – he didn’t even mention them.

One in five Arizona classrooms are without a teacher, and another 55% don’t have a certified educator leading them, statistics that have persisted for years. Given the divisive rhetoric from our governor, who recently referred to teachers as “thugs,” this shouldn’t be very surprising.

And it has left our schools unprepared to meet the challenges imposed by the ongoing pandemic. When a school is already grappling with dire staff shortages, any number of educators out due to quarantine or illness creates an even more acute staffing crisis for our school leaders to manage.

Our teachers and school staff deserve our gratitude and respect, not our scorn.

What the governor should have done to help

And while the governor’s proposed budget includes some increases in education funding, these targeted investments do not go far enough and will not stem our dire staffing shortages.

The governor could have used his last State of the State speech and final budget to recognize that teachers and school employees are frontline workers deserving of hazard pay.

He could have announced he was calling up the National Guard to help our schools with the bus driver shortage, like other Republican governors have recently done.

He could have mentioned and remembered some of the teachers and school staff we’ve lost to the virus.

At a minimum, he could have thanked our teachers and recognized just how difficult it is to teach during a pandemic.

The bottom line is every child in our state deserves the highest quality education, and we need teachers to make that possible. I’m urging the governor and the Legislature to act now in support of our teachers and the students they serve before we lose any more educators from our classrooms.

Will lawmakers step in to avoid school closures?

The most important task at hand is ensuring our district schools avoid devastating budget cuts of more than a billion dollars by immediately suspending the district funding limit, a relic from 1980. These budget cuts will impact every public school district in our state.

A two-thirds majority of the Legislature is required to suspend the funding cap, which has been done without controversy in the past. But this year, some Republicans are signaling they will use it as a bargaining chip to privatize our school system further.

This outdated funding cap from more than 40 years ago is a school closure ticking time bomb – one that will harm students and families if not addressed immediately.

Bills for a clean fix and a permanent repeal have already been introduced. The Legislature must pass this critical legislation now and allow our schools to get on with serving their students and families.

The truth is, we can avoid this divisive fight over education this session, and we can come together to support our public schools and the children of our state. I hope Governor Ducey and the party in control of the Legislature will work with their Democratic colleagues to make that happen.

Kathy Hoffman, a Democrat, is Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction. On Twitter: @Supt_Hoffman

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Gov. Doug Ducey could've helped teachers. He didn't even thank them

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