A 1% Investment in Future Human Capital for the Sake of our Children



We need parents and stakeholders to step up and help get Arizona fixed. We need to start demanding that our kids get quality instructors, facilities, and equipment to make our next generation something to be proud of. I get angry when I hear companies like TESLA passed on Arizona because our school systems were not good enough for their employees’ kids. Whether we like it or not we have a stigma now.

Don’t our leaders of industry want home grown talent? Can’t we agree regardless of party affiliations that education in any form is the path to advancement and a burgeoning economy?  Right now a quarter of our high schoolers are not even making it to graduation. Last time I checked, we are only 2 years out from being dead last nationally in this as well. Our teacher core is leaving in droves, and there are some parts of the valley that have not had new schools built in over a decade. Currently, 1 in 5 teachers are not even real teachers, and if you teach anything in science or special education well then; you’re a golden unicorn, who is akin to finding a 4-leaf clover in the badlands between Phoenix and Tucson.

I am writing this month about teacher compensation. I think we all know that this indeed would solve 90% of our problems. 25 years ago, we were on par with the rest of the country, however, after 2 decades of neglect, we are in serious trouble. In this current climate of continued dysfunction, we are seeing effects that may not be reversible. A generation of our kids will pay the price for that neglect and that makes me angry.

A friend of mine says that retention is dependent on three things; intrinsics, financial security, and appreciation. I would have to agree with her. Teachers don’t do this job for the money. No one goes into teaching thinking they will be a millionaire. They do it because they believe in making a difference. But soon these same folks realize that there is no appreciation for what they are doing and that there is no relief in sight. Instead,we see an endless attack on public education in the form of cuts and more cuts. Instead, we just hope for fewer cuts each year. That is not a platform for growth.

Gone are the days where you can even advance through coursework and professional development. Many districts no longer even have a ladder for advancement. So why would you want to stay in a job with no hope for a raise? Ever? Is it any wonder we have such a crisis currently in our school systems?

In the old days, people retired from our profession. Usually, it was announced and to the tune of a shin dig or a nice luncheon, a celebration of a career to be proud of. Today, people just disappear. A side effect of the low compensation and the necessity for folks to take care of their families with a sustainable living wage.

Would it be too much to ask for fresh paint every few years in our school colors? Right now, we can’t even do the little things like maybe less than 40 kids in a class, air conditioning that works, and maybe health care for your family like they used to do in the old days? Maybe functional facilities and working equipment? Is it too much to ask for free paper for the copy machines? My friend in the East Valley literally showed up this year to a completely empty classroom for ECSE. Not even desks!!

In multiple articles posted this week, even the leader of a research committee appointed by the Governors to look into Arizona school finance has come out and said the only answer is to raise taxes and to do it soon. Currently, folks at the state capitol are looking to keep our .6% education sales tax from going away in 2020. Lawmakers believe they may have a chance to extend this a little while longer.

A great plan in my humble opinion. I am rooting for them to do this. However, if we are going to play the long game with our kid’s future education, then why not go for a full 1%? I know it sounds crazy. This would be a significant increase in taxes. I get it. And in a state that hates taxes no less, however, what other choice do we have? I think 1% is something people could rally behind. Even with such a bold move, it will take YEARS to recover from our current situation near dead last in everything.

I propose not calling this legislation a levy or a tax, instead, let’s call it what it could be; an investment in future human capitol. An unprecedented agreement by a people to invest in their kids for a higher good. A nest egg that will yield high gains for our children and grandchildren. There is no reason why Arizona can’t be the best at educating its populace. We should already be one of the best in the country. Not the state with one of the highest dropout rates.

I believe our leaders can do this, and I believe they should do this. It should not be a political hot topic, it should be a “survival topic” akin to building our water system. An engineering masterpiece. I believe Arizonans would approve of such a measure and I believe lawmakers would be heroes if they pursued this. We already have the people and western swagger that makes us great. If we want this state to thrive and grow economically then we need to make some hard decisions, and we have to do it now before we cross the event horizon.



Mike Vargas

My name is Mike Vargas. I am a proud recipient of the 2014 ASTA Arizona HS Science Teacher of the Year award and I am a 2016 AEF Arizona Teacher of the Year Ambassador for Excellence. I earned my undergraduate degree from Northern Arizona University where I was Vice – President of the Associated Students, a recipient of the Gold Axe, and President’s Prize awards. I am an advocate for physics first instruction and I am leading a movement to double the current number of physics teachers in Arizona in the next 5 years. I teach high school physics at Pinnacle High School in the Paradise Valley Unified School District.

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