May 9, 2014

Show Arizona’s lawmakers that education means business, Arizona Daily Star

By Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, Special to the Arizona Daily Star

This week is National Teacher Appreciation Week. There are many thoughtful ways we can show our appreciation for teachers – starting with a simple “thank you.”

Offering practical and much-needed support, Tucson Values Teachers uses community donations to purchase school supplies and professional development for teachers. I encourage Tucsonans to help as they can.

But I think we have to ask ourselves – when did the role of community donations shift from paying for extras, like class trips, to paying for essentials, like paper? When did it become OK – even expected – for teachers to pay for classroom supplies out of their own pockets? When did we decide that paying slightly lower taxes was worth more than our children’s education?

I don’t recall that debate taking place. If it did, I think we’d come to a different conclusion. I think we’d invest in our kids.

We are at the end of another disappointing legislative session with regard to funding K-12 public education. Before the next session begins, we need to make a concerted effort to demand full, competitive funding of our public schools. And Arizona’s business community needs to lead the way.

There are two reasons why I say this. One, education is an economic development issue. Two, our state Legislature listens to the business community.

The link between education and business is clear. Public schools train our workforce. A skilled workforce attracts higher-paying jobs, which brings more money into a community. Businesses benefit from both a skilled workforce and a community with more money to spend.

The business community has clout at the Capitol. In the wake of SB 1070’s negative impact on Arizona’s economy, 60 of our state’s top business leaders wrote a letter asking the Legislature to stop passing immigration bills – a tactic that seems to have worked.

I believe it can work again. If the business community of this state does what they did on immigration – this time asking for full, competitive funding of our public schools – I believe the Legislature will listen.

Don’t get me wrong. One letter alone isn’t going to move Arizona very far toward that goal. But it would be an important start.

Businesses leaders know you can’t cut your way to prosperity. You have to invest – in research, new products, and yes, your workforce. Our schoolchildren are our future workforce. They’re also our kids. On both accounts, they deserve an excellent public education. And the teachers who engage them in that process deserve more than thanks – they deserve support, in the form of competitively funded public schools.

Legislators tend to listen to the people who elect them. If you care about education, be sure to register and vote – in the primary as well as the general election – for candidates who commit to increase funding for K-12 public education.

Show appreciation to a teacher this week. Donate supplies if you can. And at the next and every election, show your support with your vote.

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