I just found out one of my favorite teachers at my children’s elementary school is leaving not only our school, but teaching all together. Selfishly, my first thought was sadness because I’d really been hoping my youngest would be placed in her class next year. My next thought was how sad it is for all kids because this woman is an extremely talented, skilled and devoted teacher. Not only will kids not have the chance to learn from her, there’s no guarantee there will be a qualified teacher to fill her position.
With the lack of basic funding and the mass departure of long-term, experienced and skilled teachers, I’m terrified what public education is going to look like in the next three, five, 10 years. This affects all of us, whether or not you have kids. What are we going to do with a workforce that doesn’t have the most basic education? You need educated, capable people working alongside you, but they just might not exist in Arizona.
Though Arizona’s leadership likes to run ads touting its commitment to education, the sad reality is teachers had to walk out in order to get the most basic funding for our schools. And for anyone that thinks the teachers were “greedy” for the “Red for Ed” walk out, consider this: those “greedy” teachers’ wages are the same today as they were 10 years ago. (A good friend is a teacher with 25+ years experience and a Master’s Degree in education. She earns roughly $35,000 a year, not much above the poverty line for a family of four.)
Our governor likes to put on his ‘Dad lecturing the kids’ hat by saying ‘we must live within our means.’ Okay, I get that; we can’t spend money we don’t have. That begs the question, ‘Does Arizona have any money to expand school funding?’ The short answer is ‘no.’ But what’s really important to note here is why Arizona doesn’t have the money. Despite a growing economy and increased population, Arizona takes in roughly the same amount in tax revenue today as it did 10 years ago.
How on earth is that possible, you might (justifiably) ask? This is the part they don’t talk about in their ‘we-love-education’ television ads: Our governor and Legislature continue to grant huge tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. So, despite a surge in the state’s population and the relocation of several large corporations to the state, less money is coming in from taxes. Less money from taxes means less money in the general fund for things like, oh, you know, public education. And let’s not forget that the Department of Revenue’s staff was decimated, meaning there’s virtually no one to investigate tax fraud. Not surprisingly tax revenues are down due to that, too. It’s a veritable free pass for the 1%.
So when the governor says we have to live within our means, he should really add that those ‘means’ are a whole lot lower than they should be thanks to feloniously generous tax cuts for a select few and lax oversight.
There are those – like the Governor and most of the Legislature – who believe tax cuts are good for everyone because they spur economic growth. The most common argument I hear in support of the ‘Supply Side’ Economics approach to governing is that, absent a tax bill, companies will have more money to create jobs. Those newly hired folks will then go out and buy stuff, and sales tax collections from all that stuff will offset the original tax cut. There’s just one problem: it’s all crap.
This tax-cutting-to-prosperity concept — Supply Side Economics, aka, Trickle Down Economics — gathered steam in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan extolled its virtues. It’s remained a popular topic over the years, with President George W. Bush invoking it in the wake of the post-9/11 economic troubles. Despite a mountain of evidence that supply side economics doesn’t, in fact, work, Congress based its entire 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on it.
In Arizona, those on the receiving end of tax breaks win on two fronts: (1) they have more money in their pockets, and (2) they get to use all the services provided to them by the state — police, fire and other first responders; paved and maintained roads; health and medical services, etc. — while paying little to nothing toward the cost of those services.
Put bluntly, this isn’t how a civilized society works. It’s not normal nor is it sustainable. We are already seeing the effects of this misguided policy in our crumbling public education system and the mass exodus of talented, dedicated teaching professionals. Unless we change course, we’re facing a bleak future not only for our children, but ourselves.