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Arizona Gov. Hobbs launching task force on educator retention, accepting applications

Gov. Katie Hobbs speaks during the HomeBase Surprise grand opening on Feb. 2, 2023, in Surprise.
Gov. Katie Hobbs speaks during the HomeBase Surprise grand opening on Feb. 2, 2023, in Surprise.

Gov. Katie Hobbs announced this week her office will start a task force on educator retention and is taking applications from members of the public who are interested in joining the effort.

That executive order makes good on a promise Hobbs made in her State of the State speech earlier this year, as she took leadership over a state with an intractable teacher shortage and among the lowest per-pupil spending in the nation.

“The reality is we don’t have an educator shortage, what we have is a retention crisis,” said Hobbs in a press statement. “There are too many amazing professionals who had to leave a career they love because of the uncompetitive salaries, onerous policies, and unfunded mandates that rob educators of the joy of teaching.”

Applications to join the task force are due Feb. 24. The commission will submit a report with recommendations to the Governor's Office by Dec. 1, 2023, according to the press statement.

The National Education Association ranked Arizona 44th in the nation on average teacher salary, which comes in at $52,157. The Legislature passed a phased-in 20% teacher pay increase in 2018 following the Red for Ed teacher strikes. Five years later, the full raise only made it to teacher salaries in about half of Arizona’s school districts, according to a report by the Arizona Auditor General's Office.

Arizona also spends less per pupil than most other states, despite historic additions to the education funding formula last year. That’s because of the impact of recession-era cuts, inflation and the growing cost of modern education.

Schools keep little data on how teacher shortages impact educators and students, such as expanding class sizes or teachers losing their prep periods to fill in for others. That makes it difficult to understand how broadly the shortage affects students and teacher working conditions.

Arizona has ramped up several efforts to combat the teacher shortage in recent years.

One is the Arizona Teachers Academy, a program that gives scholarships to teacher candidates in a state university or community college. The second is the Arizona Teacher Residency, run out of Northern Arizona University, which offers subsidized tuition and years of mentorship to new educators getting a master's degree. It was funded with federal relief dollars by former Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman.

Arizona State University also runs a team-teaching learning model in several Valley-area schools. The university says this model lessens the burnout and isolation of teaching.

On the campaign trail, Hobbs proposed increasing educators' annual salaries by an average of $14,000; expanding a state program that subsidizes tuition for college students studying education; promoting mentorship programs; and ensuring teachers can access affordable health care.

“As the sister of two public school teachers, I see how hard they work every day on behalf of their students,” Hobbs said. “Teachers are creating the workforce and leaders of tomorrow, and it’s time we started treating them with the respect they deserve.”

Members of the public interested in joining the task force can click here to learn more and apply.

Yana Kunichoff is a reporter on The Arizona Republic's K-12 education team. You can join the Republic's Facebook page and reach Yana at ykunichoff@arizonarepublic.com.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Hobbs to launch task force on educator retention in Arizona