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ACF Leadership Blog


Opinions, thoughts and ideas from the leaders of the Arizona Community Foundation, Arizona’s largest statewide philanthropic grantmaker.

How we broke the teacher labor market and what we need to know to move forward
By Steve Seleznow, President & CEO / September 25, 2018
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The Arizona Community Foundation supports quality education for all students, but that aspiration is not achievable within an education system that our state’s leaders and citizens have long neglected. When our public and charter school teachers stopped going to work; when superintendents shut down their districts; and when instead teachers, accompanied by students and their parents, showed up en masse at the State Capitol, the lesson was clear: the system isn’t working.

Arizona’s teacher labor market broke under the weight of leaders who, for decades, failed to confront the brutal facts about funding public education in order to build long-term, sustainable solutions that could have supported teachers and schools. We need to recognize where we have fallen short, put an end to our history of solving education problems using quick fixes and episodic ballot measures, and develop long-term solutions and strategic approaches to school finance.

To move forward, ACF and the Rodel Foundation of Arizona funded an analysis of Arizona’s teacher labor market, conducted by Education Resource Strategies, a highly respected nonprofit data analytics firm. The key findings of the study are a powerful testament to the need for immediate change, confirming that:

  • Arizona struggles to attract and retain a strong and effective teacher workforce.
  • Low teacher salaries are a primary challenge leading to this unhealthy teacher labor market.
  • Arizona’s funding mechanisms and market incentives are inadequate.
  • Addressing the teacher workforce challenge will require new and strategic investments.

Ignoring basic facts and data led us to a point where 80% of Arizona teachers reported low pay as the main reason they left the profession, compared to less than 10% nationally; where it takes a quarter of a century for many of our teachers to earn a living wage; where our teachers in public and charter schools walked out of their classrooms, not as part of a labor dispute, but rather to bring public attention to the desperate situation they were in—a situation helped, but not solved, by the 20% increase in salaries over the next three years.

We cannot continue to ignore a problem that has been years in the making. We need a strategy, vision, and revenue stream to support a healthy and robust teacher labor market. Our hope is that this analysis will be used to inform future strategies to fix Arizona’s teacher labor market and support schools and teachers in ways that lead to real, measurable, and sustainable improvements.

Read the full Arizona State Funding Project: Addressing the Teacher Labor Market Challenge report here. We encourage you to use the data to set the stage for learning, discussion, and debates that will help us build strategies for future funding, incentives, and innovative solutions. Arizona teachers found their voice this year, and we owe it to them to listen and enact meaningful change. We believe this deep analysis of the facts can lead to a long-term funding strategy that provides the support our teachers and students deserve and makes Arizona’s education system worthy of respect and admiration.

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