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Hoffman: Arizona Education System In 'State Of Emergency,' Citing Unfilled Teacher Jobs

Kathy Hoffman
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Kathy Hoffman speaks to Arizona lawmakers on Feb. 4, 2019.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman gave her State of Education speech to lawmakers on Monday. 

And she said “our education system is in a state of emergency.”

The problems, she stated to the House Education Committee, stem from 2,000 unfilled teaching positions, uncompetitive teacher pay, and a per pupil funding level that particularly hurts rural schools. 

She cited the example of neighboring Utah. In that state, a panel of education and business leaders  recommended starting teachers off at $60,000 a year

“Just as Utah teachers deserve a living wage, so do our teachers in Arizona,” she said. “If not, I fear we will continue to lose highly-qualified educators to other states and other industries that place a higher value on their leadership skills.”

An ASU analysis of government data  says Arizona ranks 49th in median elementary school teacher salary when adjusted for cost of living — about $45,353 per year. Utah ranks 24th at $59,351 per year.

In addition to the ongoing gaps, Hoffman named a couple of positive recent steps, like last year’s increase in funding for school safety staff.

“Thanks to the expansion of the school safety grant last year, we were able to provide 383 schools with funding for new school safety positions including, for the first time, school counselors and social workers,” she said.

Hoffman also applauded the committee passing  HCR 2001. If passed by the full Legislature, voters could weigh in on repealing a law requiring English Language Learners to take classes only in English.

In answering lawmakers questions after the speech, Hoffman said money allocated for specific areas like school safety and  special education is good, but rural districts need a hike to per-pupil funding, because they have more flexibility with that money.

“When I visit some of our most rural, small schools and they’re relying on per pupil spending, if they lose one student, that right there is a major cut to their budget,” she said.

Hoffman was also asked about a recent error by her department. A public records request  did not properly redact the names and emails of parents with children enrolled in the state’s voucher program. She apologized and said her department was working with the federal government and state Attorney General’s Office on an investigation.

“We immediately started reviewing our procedures and protocols around our data governance and student privacy,” Hoffman said. 

Hoffman joined The Show on Tuesday to talk about her speech and the issues impacting Arizona schools, including the recent Empowerment Scholarship Account data breach.

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Bret Jaspers was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2017 to 2020.