#RedforEd…now let’s talk budget

As a former educator in Arizona I’m super duper #RedforEd.  The pay is terrible, and even when salary comes up a little they kill teachers in other ways, like ridiculously high insurance premiums.  High stress + terrible pay/benefits = High teacher burn out.  I quit so I could stay home with my children.  Everyone’s favorite question to ask me is if I plan to go back once my children are in school or grown.  The honest answer is:  No way in HEdoublehockeysticks would I go back to that level of stress for so little money.  I do keep my certificate active in case it became a necessity to return, but I have no plans of going back.  That’s sad, and I know I’m not the only teacher that feels that way.  We are losing good teachers, or people that could be amazing teachers are avoiding the teaching field because it’s just not worth it.  I could soap box on this for a long time, but suffice it to say that I think a lot of issues in education could be improved if teachers were paid a competitive salary.

So Arizona teachers- I stand with you.  I would strike with you.  I support you.

But… we need to have a serious discussion about where this money is going to come from.  Unfortunately money doesn’t grow on trees (and if it did the inflation rate would be atrocious!)  There’s only two ways the State can increase the amount of available spending money- raise taxes or cut money somewhere else.  Unfortunately no one can agree on how to do this, which is really at the heart of so many political battles, not just education.

Propose that we raise taxes (whether that’s income, sales, sin, or luxury) and someone is going to throw a fit, propose we cut back on this or that budget and someone is going to lose their job and extra people are going to throw a fit, propose that teachers just suck it up and you’ve got strikes.

This is going to require coming together, looking at priorities, and making some serious compromises on several levels.  It’s not going to be easy, but it’s long overdue and it’s gotta be done.

There’s no one tax or cut that will solve the problem, it needs to come from multiple places.  I’m going to attempt to give pros and cons for suggestions I have heard from others or have thought of myself.  As I’m not an expert on State expenses I am very open to suggestions, in fact I’m writing this with the purpose of getting the conversation started.

TAXES

Income taxes

I don’t love this idea, because if you raise salaries and then tax them more then what was the point.  Also, I kinda like having the money that we work for.  But, I think we could handle a small increase in taxes, a little bit from each household could go a long way.  It wouldn’t solve it, but in conjunction with other measures it’s a viable option.

Sin/ Luxury taxes

Maybe I like this idea because as a “saint” with a non-luxurious lifestyle it doesn’t really impact my budget.  But the point of the luxury taxes is that those buying the luxury items won’t be hurt as much by the relatively small increase in price.  Sin taxes are sort of weird from an ethical point of view.  On the one hand I’m saying don’t smoke or drink because it’s bad for you, on the other hand, if it’s supporting education then please don’t stop because we need your money.  Also, I know a lot of people who drive to the reservation to buy their cigarettes to avoid taxes so there are ways around it.

This could be extended to raising the fees on police citations, but again, it’s almost begging people to speed so that we can increase revenue, and it brings up other issues with cops being more likely to issue citations to certain groups of people.

I think there is definitely some room for discussion here, but it’s by no means a full solution for funding.

Cut spending on other state funded programs

Public Safety and Department of Transportation

These are a no go for cutting in my mind.  My dad used to be the head of traffic for ADOT and now he’s a teacher (glutton for punishment much?)  And I’m pretty sure he would start twitching if we started trying to take more money out of the transportation budget.  Turns out that people like driving and having less traffic issues.  And public safety- well, I for one prefer that there are officers available if I need them.  So let’s leave these alone.

Parks and Rec

I like parks, I like having clean and well maintained parks.  We make use of parks on a regular basis.  I’m not suggesting to let the parks go.  But…the park we go to got a giant face lift this last year.  It’s nice, and my kids really like it, heck I really like it.  But, the old equipment was fine, it was not presenting a safety hazard.  So if it came down to brand new playground equipment or a little more funding to education- I definitely would have chosen to stick with the old equipment and send that funding to the schools.

An episode of Parks and Rec is running through my head right now, and I know Leslie Knope would hate me for saying this, but I would also be ok if they cut back or got rid of Parks and Rec classes especially if that meant more funding to extra-curricular activities at schools.

SNAP/EBT

A lot of the requirements on the SNAP or EBT program are federal mandates as far as what can and cannot be purchased using the card.  By federal mandate they can not be used for alcohol, tobacco, pet food, etc.  However, what many have deemed as “non-essential” food items such as ice cream, soda, etc. are not excluded by the federal mandate and can not be excluded by the state.

However, the amount of money put in by the State is not mandated on the Federal level.

Hold your horses, before you flip your lid and think I’m suggesting that the State stop funding EBT.  That is not what I’m suggesting.  However, as it has come down to teacher pay or people being able to afford ice cream with state funds, I’m going to ask them to sacrifice the ice cream before I ask the teachers to sacrifice their pay.

You could also consider that if my family were still living on my teacher income alone, now as a family of 4, we would qualify for these benefits.  So if you pay teachers higher than the poverty line for a family of 4 then you might have fewer people in the system anyway.  And if education improves hopefully we will have less in the system as well.

Cuts within education

Extra-Curricular Programs

Doug Ducey has suggested a giant decrease to arts funding as part of his solution.  Honest question here, and hopefully someone can help answer this: Why do they always jump to cutting the arts, and not sports, or at least balanced between arts and sports?  Follow up question, where does the money made from sporting event ticket sales go?  What budget does it fund?  Would ticket sales, or “suggested donations” to concerts do anything to help the situation?

I realize I’m super biased here, being all arts and no sports, but I will fight you on why the arts are an important part of a well rounded education, and that sports are no MORE important than the arts.  So if we are going to look at cutting back on extra-curricular programs could we take it off both ends, but mostly could this be the last resort instead of the first.

Top down approach

Can we take a serious look at the district level and determine if there is anything there that could be cut or combined?  As an extreme example- Tempe has 3 school districts (two elementary and one for the high schools), it is not a very large city and they were actually having to consider closing some schools while I was living there.  That’s 3 superintendents that are being paid about 5 times the amount I was being paid before I quit.  If they reduced to one district and therefor one superintendent that would open up $300,000 to the budget.  You could give 30 teachers a $10,000 pay increase right there.

But it’s not just the superintendents at the district level, on one of my more frustrating days as a teacher I stopped by the district office after work (on my way to my second job) to drop something off to one of the many district level supervisors.  First of all the person I needed to talk to wasn’t in her office because they were having an office party (paid for out of the district budget) and as I walked past the secretary to leave a note in the supervisor’s office I noticed that the secretary was playing Candy Crush on the computer.  I just about freaked out.  Here I had spent the day literally being beaten on by my students, had been using my own money to buy supplies for my classroom, and had a to-do list a mile long and the district level employees were having a party and someone was getting paid to play Candy Crush.  I. Just. Can’t. Even.

Combining

In addition to looking at the district level to find places to cut, I think a serious look could be taken at combining some smaller schools.  I’m not talking rural schools that are small and far between.  Again I’m going to pick on Tempe.  Tempe High and McClintock High, are only about 2 miles apart.  In their prime they were probably larger, but while we were living close to them they were both going down hill pretty fast on numbers and with low numbers their programs (mostly art, but also sports) were starting to suffer.  I’m sure there are probably other areas facing similar issues.  Why not shut one of them down, keep the academic subjects teacher to student ratio similar at one school, but now you have the opportunity for 1 thriving arts and sports program instead of 2 dying programs that can’t really be justified.  You also could have fewer administrators.

Downside, I just eliminated a few jobs.  That’s an issue that is going to have to be considered- it sucks, but it’s a discussion that needs to happen.

In conclusion

There’s only so much State Funding Pie and if you want a larger piece then other pieces have to get smaller or you have to make a bigger pie.  Every option to do that will hurt someone somwhere somehow.  It’s going to have to come down to open minds and compromise.  If every side keeps digging in their heels then we will continue getting nowhere.

I am sure there are so many ideas that I have missed and concerns that I have not adequately addressed.  So, here’s what I want from you.  Please comment with your top 3 ways to find the money, and your top 3 absolute no-ways.

For example:

My top 3 ways to improve the budget:

  1. Top down
  2. Combine
  3. Cut back on other non-essentials from state funded programs

My 3 no-ways

  1. Cut the arts
  2. Cut back on roads or safety budgets
  3. Status quo

 

Please keep all comments civil, fighting will not solve this, discussing will.  If you disagree with someone you could say, “I respect that you feel that way, but have you considered……”  “I see your point, but based on _______ I think there is a better way.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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