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New school year starts with same teacher challenges

PHOENIX — It’s back to school, and back to the same challenges in education Arizona has faced for years.

Monday was the first day of school for many youngsters, but it’s too soon to know if there will be a teacher shortage this year. That’s because, according to superintendent of public instruction Diane Douglas, each school district makes its own hiring decisions.

To ease the shortage, she said, the state legislature has helped in attracting teachers by changing the way teachers get certified.

“This year, our legislature has made some changes in teacher certification to allow people who have not come through traditional teacher training, but yet have years of experience within their given fields,” Douglas said. “They passed a law to make that certification process easier and get them into the classroom faster.”

Douglas said she hopes the districts will have a good idea in a month or so whether they have enough teachers.

It’s not just teacher shortages that have challenged the Arizona education system.  It’s teacher salaries, too, which are among the lowest in the country.

“Arizonans want their teachers paid better,” she said.  “They don’t like it that we’re 49th or 50th depending on which survey you take a look at, and they’re doing as important a job here as everywhere across the nation.”

The funds generated by Prop. 123 don’t necessarily go to teachers’ salaries, since the law does not mandate exactly where the money goes.  Because the districts are all under local control, each district decides how and where to spend its funds.

But Douglas pointed out that a different proposition, Prop. 301, puts a lot of money into the school system.

She wants to see Prop. 301 extended and expanded before it expires in 2020.

“That brings about $600 million into our education system and I can’t even imagine what will happen if that is allowed to sunset.”

Douglas said she’s hoping for a 0.4 percent sales tax increase. That, she said, would generate the funds to extend and expand Prop. 301.

“Hopefully, it will come through the legislature and my department will write language to make sure that it’s specific to teachers’ salaries,” she said.

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