Expand Preschool and Full-Day Kindergarten Programs
Data demonstrates that participation in preschool programs results in improved reading, writing, and math skills during elementary school. These gains are greater for children from low-income families or with limited English proficiency. Expanded preschool and all-day kindergarten reduces the high-cost of child care for working parents, allowing them to save or spend that money on other necessities for their children. The educational and economic benefits of expanded preschool and all-day kindergarten have the greatest impact on parents and children with the most serious educational and financial need, but benefit all of Arizona’s parents and children. With the benefits as clear as they are, Arizona cannot afford to remain among the states with the lowest rates of preschool enrollment.
Improve Graduation Rates
Students who drop out of school have higher unemployment rates, higher healthcare costs, and are more likely to need government assistance. Ensuring Arizona’s students have a bright future requires providing the skills they need to succeed in a modern economy.
Not all students will attend college, but everyone needs job skills. Students benefit from multiple pathways to graduation, including Career and Technical Education (CTE). Nationally, participants in CTE programs have a graduation rate of 93%, making these programs a demonstrated path to a good career. Graduates from these programs have access to high-paying jobs that are in demand in Arizona today, in fields that are the foundation of innovation and growth in a 21st century economy.
English Language Learners
English Language Learners (ELL) are seriously disadvantaged in our schools. As a result, they are over-represented in the population of students that do not graduate high school. In Arizona, nearly twice as many Hispanic students drop out compared to their White non-Hispanic peers. These students face systematic discrimination due to unfair disciplinary policies and the requirement to demonstrate learning on English-only exams.
My research at the University of Arizona and research nationwide demonstrates that students who are supported with learning English in their native language show higher proficiency in both languages. Bilingual education improves overall academic performance, graduation rates, and consequently, the ability of students participate fully in society. Unfortunately, our state has chosen to ignore these data.
As a result, Arizona has the nation's lowest high school completion rate among students learning English. This is shameful and can only be corrected through reforming ELL requirements and repealing English-only instruction.
Support Special Education
As a speech therapist in the public schools, I serve on a Special Education team that works to improve academic achievement and life skills of students with disabilities. I love spending every day helping students improve their communication and speech ability. To better serve my students with cognitive impairments, I completed additional training to serve students who cannot speak, many of whom use electronic devices to talk. These students need a voice in government who understands our complicated Special Education system and often complex needs of individual students.
Many of these students see a wide array of specialists and receive occupational therapy, physical therapy, behavioral support, and assistive technology to be successful in school. The process of receiving services is intimidating and overwhelming. I am committed to programs that provide resources and training to families who need support.
I have worked with the Autism Society, Chapel Haven West, and United Cerebral Palsy to serve families, educate the community, and train other providers. Form my experience as an advocate for special needs students, I’ve learned that students with disabilities need partners in education who are dedicated to their success at every level, from the classroom to the office of the state Superintendent.
Inclusion of the LGBTQ Community
Inclusive school policies begin with recognizing that all students, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, deserve the opportunity to attend school free from the fear of bullying and discrimination. LGBTQ students experience higher rates bullying, isolation, and homelessness. It should come as no surprise that LGBTQ students also face higher rates of depression and suicides than their heterosexual and cisgender peers.
Politicians in Arizona have spent far too long blaming the victim and turning a blind eye to the ongoing abuse of some of our most vulnerable students. This must end now! Polices promoting inclusive schools must take a comprehensive approach to addressing these issues:
- Administrative processes must be modified in a way that accommodates family diversity. This begins with something as simple as changing forms to replace “mother” and “father” with “Parent/Legal Guardian”.
- Sex education must be science based, comprehensive, and inclusive of non-heterosexual relationships as well as gender identity and gender expression.
- Schools must demonstrate support for LGBTQ students by creating LGBTQ safe places with trained staff.
- Zero-tolerance nondiscrimination and anti-bullying policies must be enacted state wide. If the Legislature will not act, when I’m elected, I will.
We cannot argue over demonstrated facts: Clear policies, support groups, and activities for LGBTQ students decrease suicide attempts and bullying. Protecting the right of LGBTQ students to learn in an environment that rejects bullying and discrimination, welcomes family diversity, and promotes inclusivity must be a priority for our state and will be a priority when I am elected.
It is no secret that Arizona's teachers are severely underpaid compared to the national average. This disparity has resulted in Arizona being ranked “the least attractive state for teachers” by the Learning Policy Institute. The recent elimination of certification requirements for teachers (SB 1042) does nothing to improve the situation. Rather than paying teachers fair wages, our schools are being asked to place the education of Arizona’s children in the hands of unqualified individuals at unsustainably low wages.
With more than 60,000 certified teachers in Arizona and 48,358 teaching positions, its clear that teachers are not the problem. The median teacher’s salary in Arizona is nearly $14,000 lower than the national average, while per student spending is nearly $4,000 below average. The issue here is painfully clear: The governor and most of our legislators do not support teachers and do not believer your child’s education is a priority for our state.
To end this crisis, our state must cease prioritizing tax breaks for the wealthy at the expense of you and your children. When teachers do not receive fair pay and benefits Arizona’s children are deprived of the quality education and economic opportunities they deserve.
Simply put, we should follow the data where it leads us and stop experimenting with the health and welfare of students on ideological grounds. Communities that provide abstinence-only sex education have higher rates of teenage pregnancy, STI contraction, and lower graduation rates among female students. Abstinence-only sex education simply does not work. Providing comprehensive, science based, sex education is a moral obligation if we want to promote healthy family planning.
Education in Rural Communities
One of the biggest mistakes we can make with rural education is treating rural schools the same as urban schools. Rural communities deal with higher rates of poverty, mental healthcare needs, suicides, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, teen pregnancy, less access to quality food, higher prevalence of seasonal work, and limited access to post-secondary education. These issues all impact the ability of students to obtain a quality education and are often rooted in the failure of the state to provide these communities with the infrastructure and services they need.
- Teachers should be financially incentivized to teach and stay in rural communities to improve institutional longevity at schools.
- Hungry students have difficulty achieving academically, and with limited access to quality food, the state should fund free school lunches that emphasize a well balance diet.
- Transportation of students over longer distances puts significant strain on rural schools’ limited resources. Per student, transportation budgets in rural areas must be higher to accommodate maintenance and equipment costs.
- Schools should be a safe place for students where they have access to trusted counseling staff, social workers, comprehensive sex education, and programs to connect students to the help they need if they are impacted by domestic violence, substance abuse, or sexual abuse.
- For students who do not plan to attend a four-year university, secondary education in rural communities should include opportunities for career based learning that supports rural economies and future rural economic development.
- Parents in these communities must be supported. Providing access to summer and after-school educational programs is an effective way to help working parents save money on child care while accommodating the longer work days of parents in seasonal agricultural employment.