Strauss: Prop 123 is first step toward repairing the public education system

I have never been a believer in throwing money at a problem. But the fact is, money is exactly what is needed to improve our public education system in Arizona.

Paul Strauss

Paul Strauss

That is why I support Prop 123, and it is why voters must give this measure serious consideration before casting ballots on May 17. Being a school teacher myself I know firsthand just how desperately we need this funding.

Arizona ranks next to last nationally for per student spending yet many are often stunned by the fact that our test scores are low and our schools don’t have enough teachers to fill our classrooms — there are currently more than 2,100 unfilled teaching positions in Arizona. This should be alarming to not only parents but to anyone who cares about the future of our state. These things are not mutually exclusive.

I have been an 8th grade science teacher in the Deer Valley Unified School District for the last 12 years and I am absolutely passionate about my vocation. Prior to this, I spent seven years in the high tech industry including being an international marketing manager for a global software company. Having lived in both of these worlds I know that on the corporate side, compensation is usually commensurate to the value provided by an employee. This, however, is just not true in education. After teaching for a dozen years, I now earn exactly half of the amount of my former private sector salary.

It is a true cliché that nobody gets into teaching for the money but that does not make it any easier every month when my mortgage and electric bill arrive. Since my living expenses are higher than my salary, I hold three part-time jobs just to make ends meet. But sadly, I have known so many incredible teachers who have had to quit the profession just because they simply could not support their families any longer.

Besides the tremendous loss of talent, it is not an exaggeration to say many of our districts can’t replace teachers fast enough. In many cases, students are “taught” by substitutes just so we can have an adult in those classrooms.

As much as I want Prop 123 to pass, I know that it will not solve our education crisis in Arizona — but it is a great and necessary first step to help our schools. We need to encourage more people to follow their calling to become teachers right here in Arizona and we need to keep the veteran teachers we already have.

Prop 123 is the best and fastest way to begin repairing our public education system. Upon Prop 123’s passing, Arizona public schools that serve more than 1 million students will receive more than $230 million this school year alone — and billions more to come in the following years. There is no alternative scenario that provides reliable, immediate and sustained funding necessary that allows my district and others to plan years ahead to best serve our students.

Each school day, I teach science to 140 teenagers, which means that over the years I have had more than 1,600 students come through my classroom. I absolutely love my work because I know that I truly make a difference in their lives.

Prop 123 tells me and my peers that there is a value to and an appreciation for what we do and all the personal sacrifices we make. But more importantly Prop 123 will undeniably help all of our students by strengthening every classroom across Arizona.

Editor’s note: Mr. Strauss teaches 8th grade science at Sunset Ridge School in the Deer Valley Unified School District where he also won Teacher of the Year.

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