Arizona’s district public schools have an equity problem. Many students and educators are learning and teaching without the support of a state-certified school librarian in their school. This lack of access to the knowledge and skills of library literacy leaders is an equity issue. As a matter of social justice, all students and educators deserve the support of a highly qualified school librarian.
Proposition 208: The Invest in Education Act
This fall Arizona voters have an opportunity to help transform K-12 public schools. Proposition 208, the Invest in Education Act, will be on the ballot. The proposition levies a 3.5% state income surtax on individuals earning over $250,000/year and couples earning over $500,000 a year.
When the proposition passes, 50% of the funds collected will be earmarked for increasing salaries, hiring, and retaining educators, school librarians included. (To learn more about #INVESTInEd view the Yes on Prop. 208 video).
The fact that school districts can use these funds to hire and retain state-certified school librarians means the Arizona library community is “all-in” for this proposition. The Arizona Library Association (AzLA) and the Teacher Librarian Division (TLD) of AzLA are partnering with EveryLibrary, Investined, and the Arizona Education Association to promote voting and passage of this voter initiative.
The Problem in Context
Arizona is one of six states that has not yet recovered education funding since the last recession. In fact, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, between 2008 and 2015 Arizona’s funding for education adjusted for inflation declined 36.6%.
Even with the #20×2020 teacher salary increase passed by the Arizona Legislature in 2018 as the result of the #RedForEd movement, Arizona teachers rank 46th in the nation for average teacher pay. California is second highest and New Mexico ranks 36th. Arizona cannot retain teachers if they can earn so much more in neighboring states.
According to an Education Law Center study cited by U.S. News and World Report in January of this year, Arizona’s school funding in 2016-2017 amounted to $5,477 per pupil, falling far short of the national average, $14,046.
Clearly, K-12 education funding in Arizona is in dire straits. Underfunded schools and priorities that have not included school librarian literacy leaders have resulted with very few state-certified school librarians remaining in positions in districts throughout the state.
It will take a coalition of like-minded people and organizations and a long-term commitment to fix what is broken.
Successful Advocacy Campaigns
Successful advocacy campaigns require building partnerships with other people and organizations that share our values. AzLA and TLD members promote and provide library services to Arizona’s youth and families. Literacy and voter education are central to our mission. We care deeply about the present and future of young people’s access to high-quality education and to the health of our democracy.
Partnering with EveryLibrary is giving us the opportunity to bring something to the table when we meet with the Invest in Education Act leadership. Together, EveryLibrary, AzLA, and TLD have launched a “Take the Pledge to Vote YES! on Prop. 208” campaign.
When we work together to build support for voting and for this proposition, we will assure education stakeholders that the library community is committed to improving education funding in our state. We are committed to passing this initiative and to working together to provide literacy learning opportunities for Arizona’s youth.
If you are an Arizona voter, we invite you to Take the Pledge to Vote YES! on Prop. 208. If you live in another state and have friends or relatives in Arizona, please share the Pledge with them.
Note: In November, 2020, Prop. #208 passed with 51.7% of the vote. Since that time, it has survived lawsuits filed by the Goldwater Institute and the business community. As of this writing (2/18/21), it has so far prevailed against attempts by the Arizona Legislature to undermine this critical increase in funding to meet the needs of K-12 district public schools.
Image courtesy of the Arizona Library Association. Used with permission.