Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona has proposed expanding voluntary kindergarten, raising teacher salaries, and providing more professional development for teachers as her recipe for improving education in the coming year.
The governor, a Democrat, said in her Jan. 9 State of the State Address that Arizona had begun to pay for full-day kindergarten two years ago, and that the program should now be extended so that it is available to every parent who wants it.
“Young minds are hungry for information and develop quickly. The more they learn, the more they can learn. Let’s offer voluntary full-day kindergarten to every parent who wants it, and let’s do it this year,” the governor urged.
The current all-day-kindergarten program covers about 10,000 children, according to Becky Hill, the governor’s education adviser. In proposing to raise salaries for teachers, the governor picked up on recommendations by a task force she had appointed last May to examine teacher quality and support. The task force said in late December that Arizona should raise its average salary for starting teachers from $28,000 to $35,000.
While Ms. Napolitano did not endorse the starting-salary proposal in her speech, she argued that the base for teacher salaries should be increased so that every teacher makes at least $30,000 a year.
The governor, who finishes her first term this year, also said that the state is lacking adequate professional development for teachers. “The bad news is we have no statewide system for professional development,” she said. “The good news is that we have a very limited but highly successful program—called Career Ladder—that has been providing professional development in 28 Arizona school districts with great results for more than a decade.”
She proposed expanding the Career Ladder program statewide, which was also a recommendation of the teacher-quality committee. The program rewards teachers by as much as $7,000 for raising student achievement, taking on additional responsibility, and other accomplishments.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne took issue with Ms. Napolitano’s assessment of teacher professional development in Arizona. He put out a press release the day of her speech saying that she was “incorrect” in claiming that Arizona doesn’t have a statewide system for professional development. In fact, the press release said, such programs are available to teachers online 24 hours a day.
Ms. Hill said the governor believes “there isn’t a defined systematic infrastructure to serve Arizona’s 55,000 teachers.”
Gov. Napolitano did not mention in her speech the controversy over how Arizona should provide an adequate education of English-language learners, which is the subject of a long-running court case in the state.
A Dec. 15 ruling in Flores v. Arizona by a federal judge gave the legislature and the governor until 15 days after the start of its 2006 legislative session, which began Jan. 9, to find a way to adequately pay for programs for English-language learners or face fines that could reach $2 million a day. (“Arizona Gets Ultimatum on Aid for English-Learners,” Jan. 4, 2006.)
Timothy M. Hogan, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the case, said it was “a bad sign” the governor didn’t mention the issue. “They’ve been under a court order for six years to do this, and the fact that it’s not even mentioned in the State of the State Address signals we’re going to have more difficulties here,” he said last week.