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Supporting Teachers in Arizona and Florida

Author: Paul J. Luna, President and CEO

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at the Cartwright Elementary School District’s annual Back to School event.  Cartwright has a long history in Arizona with its first one-room school opening in 1884.  Today, Cartwright serves more than 19,000 students in 20 schools throughout the Phoenix area.  The district employs approximately 2,600 people, of which, more than 1,000 are highly qualified and certified teachers.  

As I was speaking with the more than 2,000 people at the event that day, I realized that all over Arizona and Florida, there are groups of teachers who are starting a new school year with the same dedication and determination as the teachers in that room.

As I shared that day, it is always an honor for me to be in the company of so many passionate and committed educators.  I am inspired by the work of teachers and know – unequivocally – that one of the most important variables in a student’s success is having a great teacher. 

I also have a unique perspective this year as my daughter, Ariana, just started her first year as a Teach for America Corp Member here in Phoenix teaching in a 5th grade classroom.  I am proud of her desire to ensure educational equity for all students and to help her students realize their full potential.

But, the reality is that it is a challenging time for educators in our country.  They face tremendous challenges.  In Arizona, a recent report by the Morrison Institute, “Finding & Keeping Educators for Arizona’s Classrooms” highlighted the reality that 42 percent of Arizona teachers hired in 2013 left the profession within three years.  In addition, when adjusted for cost-of-living, Arizona elementary teacher pay is the lowest in the nation.

The situation in Florida is similar.  According to a 2016 article in the Orlando Sentinel, state records show that 40 percent of new teachers leave the profession within five years.  Florida’s attrition rate for new teachers is 15-20 percent higher than the national average and this constant turnover costs upwards of $130 million per year. 

In both Arizona and Florida, we must focus on creating environments in which teachers are supported and encouraged.  We must value our teachers and the contribution they make to our students and ultimately to our communities.  Our teachers deserve it and so do our students. 

And to all of the teachers who are entering classrooms over the next few weeks, we salute you.

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