With nearly two years in office, outreach and community collaboration have become important cornerstones of Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction efforts during her tenure in office.
The centerpiece of Diane Douglas’ outreach is her annual “We are Listening Tour,” which will swing through Parker from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Parker High School – Alumni Hall, 1600 Kofa Ave.
The statewide meetings are designed to give Douglas an opportunity to make sure no community feels isolated or becomes even more frustrated with by all accounts is an underfunded education system.
“When I came to office in 2015 we created this tour,” Douglas said. “Before becoming an elected official I had often been at meetings where candidates went out and solicited our votes. They promised all kinds of things, but after getting elected we wouldn’t hear from them again. Our government system is by the consent of the governed, so when I was elected I felt I had to get out there and speaking with the people.”
One of the things Douglas has heard “loud and clear” was that Arizonians want their teachers paid better.
“Ours is a system of local control through our locally elected school boards that have a lot of latitude with how they can do things,” Douglas said. “Part of it involves decisions, but it also is about the funding you get from the state. I realize it only goes so far.”
While many research firms have Arizona hovering near the bottom in the nation in terms of funding education, a recent study conducted by WalletHub – based on information from the National Education Association – has the state being the third worst place for teachers.
According to WalletHub Arizona is 37th for the average starting teacher salary (adjusted for cost of living), 47th in the median annual salary, 51st in a 10-year change in salaries and 50th in per pupil spending.
Although WalletHub is not Douglas’ favorite research firm she did add, “We know we can do better. Money for our schools, and especially money for our teachers, is something I will always advocate for.”
In a largely conservative red state like Arizona, Douglas realizes a sea change in attitudes on education funding may only happen by the grace of God.
“People are elected to the legislature because many who move here come because they were literately driven out of where they lived previously from high taxes. I think the legislators hear that message from their constituents. It’s a tough balance, Douglas said. “There’s no easy answer out … but we are Americans so we will fight, argue and debate everything. This is the nature of our great country.”