PHOENIX — Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas called for better teacher retention and more funding in an annual education address, given Wednesday in Phoenix.
Douglas told legislators at a gathering at the state capitol that Arizona’s education system was the third-best in the nation, primarily because of high teacher salaries, according to an article from the 1920s. That number has fallen over the years and was one of the largest concerns expressed during a statewide tour, she said.
Though she stopped short of outright calling for an increase in teacher salaries, Douglas did say the state needs to do more to retain current teachers and attract new ones by “providing them with the funding and the support they need.”
While Douglas said she is against raising taxes, she encouraged lawmakers to realize the importance of education funding and the importance of fiscal responsibility.
“I ask each of you to remember that out of all the things you decide to spend money upon, nothing is more vital than the education of our children,” she said.
Douglas praised the Legislature for reaching a deal in October that will see $3.5 billion pumped into the state’s K-12 education system over the next decade.
“That additional funding will be an important first step to tackling the teacher shortage our state faces,” she said.
Douglas also supported a bill proposed by Rep. John Ackerley that would allow parents to opt their children out of statewide testing, saying parents should have the right to make decisions they feel are in the best interest of their children.
“I will work with members of this body to see that basic parental rights, including the right to opt children out of testing, are returned to the people of Arizona,” Douglas said.
After a year that saw her square off with the state school board on several occasions and face a recall effort, Douglas said her biggest accomplishments — in addition to the statewide tours and obtaining more funding — were issuing her formal plan for the education system and repealing Common Core standards.
“I remain committed to the idea that Arizona children deserve the very best standards and that only Arizonans should decide what those standards look like for Arizona children,” she said.
Though the board voted to repeal the standards, Common Core is still in effect in Arizona, pending a review.
“But (the vote) will give Arizona the freedom to modify, add to, delete from those standards as Arizona sees fit,” Department of Education spokesman Charles Tack said at the time of the vote.
Looking forward, Douglas said she hopes to establish programs that better protect student data, expand parental rights and resources, provide more assistance to struggling students and removing statutes to streamline both the education system and its funding.