Supt. Hoffman Delivers 2020 “State of Education” Address

Published: February 4th, 2020

The below text is of the full speech that Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman delivered to the Arizona House of Representatives on February 3, 2020.

Chairwoman Udall, Vice-Chairman Fillmore, members of the committee:

I am honored to be here today and to share with you the State of Education in Arizona.

Our schools are communities of students, families, and an entire workforce of professionals who support and guide students throughout the day.

Ask any educator and they will tell you: I don’t do this job alone.

There is the bus driver and the crossing guard who make sure our kids get to school safely and on time. The classroom aide who walks students into class and gives a little extra care to the kids who need it to start the day strong.

There is the sign language interpreter who makes sure every student has access to learning – and the school counselor who helps address the trauma too many kids carry with them into the classroom.

There is, of course, the classroom teacher, whose expertise lays the foundation for students’ academic success.

And there is the principal whose leadership sets the culture of support and excellence for their entire staff.

All of these professionals are supported by the families that make up our education communities.

When I visit schools, I see this firsthand. In nearly one hundred school visits across each of Arizona’s 15 counties, I have seen how collaboration and passion for student success – at all levels of a school community – create transformative learning environments for students and teachers.

Importantly - I want to thank our educators for their talent, expertise, and commitment – all of which directly ties to the success of our students and schools.

Every day, Arizona teachers and students make incredible achievements in the classroom. We see these achievements in Lynette Stant, the first-ever Native American to be recognized as Arizona’s Teacher of the Year.

We see them in Victor Anaya, a student at Douglas High School who is already an advocate for healthcare access in rural communities and dreams of becoming an FDA Medical Officer.

We see them in Ashton Redd, a senior at Casa Grande High School who is passionate about water conservation and is already a leader in Arizona’s agribusiness industry.

I want to take a moment to recognize the accomplishments of both students, and thank Ashton Redd for being here today. In March, they will fly to Washington, D.C. to represent Arizona in this year’s U.S. Senate Youth Program.

It is the achievements of Victor and Ashton and students across our state that give me relentless optimism for Arizona’s future.

But when we look statewide, we also see that our schools are facing serious challenges.

With one out of every four teaching positions unfilled or filled with an underqualified candidate, our education system is in a state of emergency.

A few months ago, I was at a Chandler Chamber of Commerce meeting, when a business leader raised the issue of student literacy. I agreed that literacy is critical to our students’ academic success, and he asked what could be done to improve reading and writing skills across the state.

As an educator, and as State Superintendent, I have seen the root causes of the disparities found in literacy and student outcomes. And I wanted to frame the urgency of this challenge in parameters relevant to him and the other business leaders in the room.

So, I posed this question: if one out of every four positions in your company were unfilled, or filled by an employee who was not properly trained, what results would you expect? As a CEO, what steps would you take to keep your talented staff and to attract new, highly qualified employees?

This is the key issue Arizona public education is facing today. If every classroom does not have access to a highly-qualified teacher, we cannot expect every Arizona student to succeed.

Like our local business partners, the Arizona Department of Education is tasked with developing a plan that cultivates the long-term health of the system. And we cannot address student achievement unless we address the state of the workforce that serves them.

With nearly 2,000 unfilled teaching positions, it is imperative that we act quickly and develop a long-term plan.

The truth is, there are already thousands of qualified, passionate teachers in our state who could fill these positions. But years of cuts to education funding have built a system where inequities thrive – be it teacher pay, student resources, or community supports.

Arizona’s education workforce challenges are an issue of economic security.

ADE has already started the hard work of addressing these challenges by collaborating with districts, state agencies, universities, colleges, and community organizations.

Today, I ask for your continued partnership to make this a state priority so that - together - we can take a comprehensive approach.

When I took office a year ago, I realized that addressing these inequities needed to be our top priority. So, we established a team solely focused on educator recruitment and retention, and they have hit the ground running.

This team of specialists is dedicated to ensuring every school has access to tools and strategies that help them grow and retain educators. That includes collaborating with districts that have already begun to find solutions.

Take Vail Schools, for example, the first district in the state to offer its own certification program that trains aspiring educators within their community. Vail’s training and certification process builds a flow of new teachers and allows experienced educators to mentor the up-and-coming workforce.

That’s how Mr. Adam Nieto, a science teacher at Rincon Vista Middle School, found his way to the classroom. A product of Vail schools himself, he was working as a substitute teacher at Rincon when the principal – Ms. Cristela Cardenas recognized that she’d taught him in the first grade.

Ms. Cardenas saw his potential and passion and advocated for him to pursue Vail’s alternative certification program. Mr. Nieto has been teaching through the program for two years and hopes some of his students aspire to return to the community as educators just as he did.

I asked Mr. Nieto to join us today to celebrate his commitment to his community and to public education.

These types of Grow Your Own programs could be particularly helpful in districts that rely on long-term subs and teachers with emergency certificates, or in rural areas where it’s harder to access teacher pipelines.

They make educators out of paraprofessionals, moms, dads, neighbors, or any community member who is already committed to the success of their local schools by allowing experienced educators to share their knowledge and expertise.

Looking ahead to the professionals that we aim to recruit in the next decade, our work starts with inspiring the next generation to consider a teaching career. To do so, we must demonstrate through our words and actions that Arizona values teachers.

Educators are problem solvers, collaborators, and leaders in and out of the classroom. “Grow Your Own” is most effective when we all take responsibility to champion the profession and provide early opportunities for aspiring educators.

At Lake Havasu High School, Representative Biasiucci and I had the privilege of touring the Early Childhood Career and Technical Education program, led by Mrs. Cathy Bagby.

Mrs. Bagby, who is here today, runs the community’s only Quality First pre-k, where high school students work directly with children and gain invaluable hands-on experience.

Their high schoolers learn how rewarding it is to be an educator while learning how to provide quality instruction.

Lake Havasu is just one example of many CTE programs in our high schools across the state. Imagine if every high school offered a CTE Educator Preparation pathway!

Initiatives like the ones in Vail and Lake Havasu are essential to building our teacher pipelines. Our Educator Recruitment & Retention team will continue to work with districts and other key partners to see how we can scale these models and serve more of our state.

But our agency also needs the partnership of all of you, our lawmakers, to implement policies that allow teachers to follow best-practices and effectively lead their classrooms.

This starts with repealing the “English-Only” law.

For too long, educators have been handcuffed to a policy that inhibits English language learning for our multilingual students. Research shows this harmful policy drives the disproportionate outcomes we see among these students - particularly within high school graduation rates.

Last week, you passed HCR 2001 out of this committee - let’s keep this bill moving and send the “English-Only” law back to the voters to repeal it once and for all. By taking this step, Arizona teachers will be further empowered to lead all of their students to success.

We cannot talk about language and literacy without talking about quality early childhood education.

Anyone who’s worked in our classrooms will tell you that access to early childhood education is one of the absolute strongest predictors of students’ academic success.

And any economist will tell you about the Return on Investment on quality pre-K – an estimated four to nine dollars in return for every dollar invested.

On the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, the ‘Hman ‘shawa Early Childhood Development Center serves the community’s youngest members, from birth through age five. This tribally funded center serves 60 PreK and kindergarten students who receive high-quality instruction in both English and their native Yavapai language.

Every community should have a quality pre-k program like this that meets local needs and supports young families.

Programs like First Things First and Head Start have laid the groundwork, but without dedicated state funding, too many families, in rural and urban areas alike, lack any access to pre-k – let alone high-quality or affordable.

This problem is exacerbated by our state’s recent loss of $20 million in federal funding for preschool.

I’ve seen the impact of this firsthand in Prescott, where the waitlist for the Family Enrichment Center’s preschool is pushing 56.

I’ve seen it in Naco, a community on the border where there is no preschool at all.

It is numbers like these that explain why, despite a strong economy, Arizona has been ranked one of the ten worst states to raise a family.

Kindergarten faces a similar story. Because Arizona does not fund full-day kindergarten, the districts that offer it, often pull the money from other pots – moving funds from critical resources to provide another.

An hour east from Downtown Phoenix, the Superior Unified School District has prioritized offering free pre-k and full-day kindergarten because they know just how critical early childhood education is to the foundation of academic success.

But providing this service to their community and students comes at a cost. They can’t afford to offer programs like arts and music – and two years ago, they cut their certified Physical Education teacher.

To help students reach their full potential, our state must dedicate comprehensive funding that ensures every family – regardless of their location and income – have access to high-quality pre-k and kindergarten.

If early education lays the foundation for all later learning, our students’ physical and emotional wellbeing is the framework that ensures they’re ready to learn.

For too long, the work of a counselor and social worker have fallen on the shoulders of teachers as the state cut funding and inhibited schools from providing these vital services.

However, 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.

The expansion of the program has allowed our schools to hire highly qualified professionals who will work alongside our classroom educators to deliver the support and resources students need – especially when we are seeing alarming rates of mental health challenges.

One of those counselors is Katie Calvin who starts next week at the Eisenhower Center for Innovation in Mesa Public Schools and who has joined us here today.

We know how essential Katie’s work will be. In the east valley community where she will work, 35 young people have died by suicide in the past two years.

This is why schools should not have to compete for school safety positions – we must keep going.

I applaud Governor Ducey’s current proposal to fund all of the first-choice positions that nearly 900 schools requested last year.

And I wholeheartedly support bipartisan efforts including bills sponsored by Senator Bowie and Representative Pawlik to expand the Teachers Academy to include counselors and allocate enough resources to lower our student to counselor ratio over the next several years.

More counselors in our schools means more time for teachers to teach – and it means healthier and safer students.

In the last year, ADE has worked to leverage all of the resources available in our state by partnering with other state agencies.

I am grateful for our partnerships with the Department of Economic Security, Arizona Department of Administration, AHCCCS, Department of Health Services, Treasurer’s Office, and the Governor’s Office so that we as a state can offer more of the services that our schools need.

But we still have a patchwork of solutions for a problem that demands a comprehensive approach.

The current funding system – which too often forces schools to rely on one-time grants and bonds and overrides – is driving vast inequities across our state.

Between two neighboring counties, we can see how this patchwork of funding reaches some communities but fails many others. Too often, it offers a short-term solution to whichever crisis must be addressed first.

Take a look at Mohave Valley in Mohave County, a beautiful community that borders California, Nevada, and Utah. They couldn’t keep up with regional salaries and were losing teachers to neighboring states. After losing too many teachers, the community passed an override that allowed the district to increase base pay to $47,000 dollars.

The result? They started the 2018-19 school year with every single position in their district filled. The budget override helped them fill one need – but several critical needs remain.

Lake Havasu, also in Mohave County, passed a bond and override in 2016.

They used the bond to make critical infrastructure repairs in leaking roofs, plumbing, and their defunct H-VAC system.

They used the override to cover teachers’ benefits, a key part of their recruitment strategy, which had previously been covered with their maintenance funds.

In comparison, an hour and a half south of Lake Havasu, in La Paz County, is Quartzite.

This rural community has struggled and failed to pass a bond and override for years.

Their primary concern is their school building – portables they’ve been using for more than twenty years. But another concern is that they can’t afford to hire another teacher.

As a result, they currently bus their kindergarten, first, and second grade students down the interstate to an elementary school 18 miles away.

Principal Raquel Burton, Quartzite Police Chief William Ponce, and School Board member Monica Timberlake gave me a tour of Quartzite Elementary in October to share these challenges and their school’s story.

They are doing their best to provide their students a safe and high-quality education – but the current funding system is holding them back from delivering what they know their students need.

I cannot mention these inequities without mentioning their impact on our educator workforce.

Funding disparities drive our workforce gaps and result in unequal access to educational opportunities for our students—and they still exist despite the incremental wage increases from the 20x2020 plan.

I can’t tell you the number of times I have been offered a job as a speech therapist when I visit a school. In Greenlee County, a principal even asked if I might be willing to evaluate a student’s speech skills during a school tour.

Senator Allen’s special education funding bill, SB1060, takes an important step in filling the gaps that drives disparities in the achievements of our students with special needs and the workforce of educators that serve them – and I urge all of you to support this legislation.

These are encouraging first steps, but as a state, we need a bigger plan.

We need a plan that levels the playing field within our state, includes all of our educators, and allows Arizona to compete regionally.

In 2020, Arizona remains 49th in the country for teacher pay – and we run the risk of falling even further behind.

Last year, Utah signaled that they plan to increase their base teacher pay to $60,000 after a comprehensive cost analysis clearly demonstrated that their educator salaries were too low to keep their teachers in the classroom.

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

Together, we can overcome these challenges. Visit any school in our state, and their resilience and determination will show you what this system can achieve.

I believe Arizona’s future is bright. And I believe it starts in our schools.

For our state to excel in excellence, we must have a fair, equitable, and regionally competitive education system that prepares every student for success.

We can do this fairly – so that every school leader knows that their community matters and their needs will be met.

The structures exist.

We are building the pipelines.

And our state has the resources to do what is needed.

So, it’s up to all of you, our state leaders, to choose to invest comprehensively in the system, and in the coming generations of Arizonans that will create and define the future of our great state.

Thank you.