Bringing Education in our City to the PhoeNEXT Level


I am a lifelong Phoenix resident from a family of six, raised for the most part by a single mom, and during some of those years, by a dad who was never able to overcome the demons of alcoholism. 
So growing up, we struggled. And we moved frequently. Moving frequently meant attending different schools - 13 different schools in all. A NEW school nearly every year, with NEW teachers and NEW classmates and the need to make a NEW set of friends, leaving behind friends made sometimes just months earlier, only to repeat the experience again and again. 

Yet with all of our challenges, we got by. 

What made the difference was the help I got along the way. That help, all those schools, and my many teachers made ALL the difference. 

I know from my own experience how important education was in providing me with a way up and a way out. It made me the person I am today. 

As a member of the Phoenix City Council, I have come to realize even more that high-quality education is the single most important element of a city’s success. It offers an opportunity for residents to climb to higher levels in their careers and allows businesses to be created, expand, or relocate to our community. To get to the NEXT level, the City must also take individual steps. This starts with education investment.  

Excellent schools create a world of opportunities for our youth while encouraging families to put down roots in Phoenix. 

Business leaders know that a city with great schools is a place that can attract top talent, and that will produce rising generations with the knowledge and skills to compete. In fact, while a strong infrastructure network, a favorable tax environment, and other factors are important, it is our ability to attract, retain, and especially develop talent that will be the largest single factor in regional economic development and high wage job creation success in the future. 

The City of Phoenix does not run Phoenix schools, but with our economic future and quality of life riding on their success, no one can afford to take a “not my job” approach. As I have done as a member of the Phoenix City Council, I will continue to be a proactive partner as Mayor with our school districts and school communities; I will expand innovative and proven youth programs that enhance skills and make our education system world class; I will engage our business community in bringing realistic, relevant 21st Century career education and opportunities to our students; and I will elevate the voices of teachers.

Phoenix is home to more than 400 public schools. Given the city’s rapid population growth, school districts have absorbed a dramatic number of new students in recent years. The City of Phoenix must be a supportive and responsive partner in helping our schools rise to meet the challenge of continued educational excellence. 

No one understands this challenge better than the teachers who dedicate their lives to preparing kids to succeed. Teachers are professionals who are asked to be not only educators, but social workers, mediators, counselors, and even to purchase essential school supplies – on salaries that are below their counterparts in neighboring states.[1] As Mayor, I will be an advocate for teachers, of whom we have demanded too much, and to whom we have offered too few resources to maximize their positive impact. 

By high school, each and every student must be shown that there is a realistic and promising career path for them that they can get started on now. If every kid who attends Phoenix schools has that knowledge and understands how their education fits into a future they can envision, then we will approach a 100 percent graduation rate. We know that kids’ interests will evolve and change as they mature; they will encounter new and unexpected opportunities in higher education or as they launch their careers, and they don’t all need to know what they will do with their lives. But if they can gain fundamental and relevant career skills in their youth, and are shown the power of their motivation, they will never find a dead-end. That is our responsibility.

On the City Council, I have been a leader in developing programs where youth from all backgrounds are gaining fundamental skills and the confidence to succeed:

  • I am proud to have led efforts to create the privately funded CodePHX program which provides computer coding classes to Phoenix youth, giving them a jumpstart on their education and careers, and laying the groundwork for an unmatched tech workforce in Phoenix. 
  • I also led efforts to create Read On Phoenix, leveraging the strength of the community and committed volunteers to ensure that every child is reading at grade level by third grade.
  • I have worked closely and continuously with our institutions of higher education, including ASU, U of A, the Maricopa County Community Colleges District and Grand Canyon University, on initiatives to promote Phoenix as a top-tier destination for entrepreneurial activity, research, and investment, fostering the organic creation of local entrepreneurial talent and enterprises.
  • Last Fall, I was the only candidate for Mayor to endorse and campaign for every K-12 school bond and override measure that was placed before the voters of Phoenix-based school districts. Measures in nine districts, spanning from the Roosevelt District to the south to Paradise Valley in the north. All were approved. This Fall, I will once again be supporting seven bonds and overrides in six Phoenix-based school districts. I am not willing to wait around for the Legislature to do its job and fully fund our schools. It’s too important for our tomorrow. And it’s also too important TODAY… to our children … and their families…and our city. 
  • I am excited by the opportunity as Mayor to replicate the education strategies that have yielded the best results, and to grow our own success stories – while pursuing new and innovative ways for our city to add real value to the great things already happening in our schools. I will prioritize:
    • Bringing Phoenix business and education leaders together to develop relevant 21st Century career education curricula, and early introduction to real-life career opportunities that motivate students to challenge themselves, and stay in school. 
    • Replicating successes such as CodePHX by expanding extracurricular and enrichment programs after school and in the summer that enhance academic learning, in-demand job skills, positive relationships, and keep youth on the right path, and empowering teachers, principals and parents to make their schools work. My goal is to have such programs accredited so that our children can earn advanced placement credits on their way to college or a trade certification. 
    • Attracting and retaining top teachers by making Phoenix the most Teacher-Friendly city in the country.
    • Making schools true centers of our communities where city resources can be used to support students – from sharing parks and recreation facilities and equipment to helping students access all services for which they are eligible. This allows school districts to place more of their limited resources where they are most needed – in the classrooms. 
    • Ensuring that every child is safe at school by expanding our successful School Resource Officers (SRO) program for those districts and schools that want them and pursue opportunities for a greater level of cooperation between our school districts and public safety professionals with the creation of a dedicated anti-bullying hotline. 
    • Strengthening our systems of higher education and certified training. I will continue to foster partnerships between city government and our colleges and universities, trade and technical schools, and employers, that make Phoenix a destination for postsecondary education and advanced skills training and make higher learning an engine of economic growth for Phoenix. 

Here’s how we’ll do that. 

Bringing Phoenix Business Leaders Together for 21st Century Education

The future of Phoenix as a vibrant economy and a world-class city and rests on the investments we make in our young people. The growth strategy I laid out in my economic plan, PhoeNEXT, involves not just attracting businesses and talent from somewhere else but investing in our most valuable economic resource – the potential of our youth. In serving as Chair of the Downtown, Aviation, Innovation, and Economy Subcommittee – the City Council’s economic development and job creation arm – I have come to understand that our business community knows that; they understand that the knowledge, skills, and work ethic of the workforce they will rely on in the very near future are being developed today in Phoenix public schools. Students need a better window into the real world of careers, and teachers – particularly those who provide career education – in order to learn more about what skills really give students an edge in their chosen fields. 

Phoenix area businesses leaders and the regional economic development community together can bring expertise and resources that make the future more real for our youth at a critical time when students are trying to identify their talents and their passions – and plan their next steps. Research has demonstrated, not surprisingly, that middle school students benefit vocationally and academically from programs that increase knowledge of career opportunities and paths.[2]

Every serious and growing business has a recruitment plan. I will engage the business community to start thinking about how Phoenix schools can be a part of their long-term recruitment strategies, and laying the groundwork for their industries’ next generations through pre-recruitment outreach and education. As Mayor, I will create the space and mutually beneficial opportunities for Phoenix area businesses to engage with our education leaders in achieving our common goal: ensuring that our graduates are prepared to seize the best opportunities our city’s industries will have to offer them.

To do this, I will: 

  • Convene a working group of Phoenix-area business leaders and education leaders to re-imagine what 21st Century career education in K-12 schools. As part of the Phoenix Alliance for a Competitive Workforce, which I proposed in my recently released plan for economic development, PhoeNEXT, this working group would represent and involve the region’s diverse and fast-growing industries, as well as thought-leaders and policy makers in education. This is the first step in creating productive conversations that lead to much-needed innovation in this area. Action items would include, but are not limited to:
    • Reality checking our career curricula. The business world is not what it was 20 years ago; it is not even what it was 10 years ago. That is true for industries from manufacturing and engineering to technology, tourism, sales, and services. Not only have the hard skills required for these jobs changed but so have the soft skills and characteristics that enable success. Without regular input from these industries and private sector expertise, it can be challenging for career education teachers and students to know whether what they are teaching and learning will be relevant and valuable in an economy that is moving at a faster pace than ever.
    • Creating connections to real career opportunities in high school and earlier. It is never too soon for youth to start learning about the wide range of careers available to them. Unfortunately, if a student hasn’t made meaningful connections between their education and their future by the time they reach high school, they may already be allowing doors of opportunity to close. Age-appropriate field trips to places of business, for example, where they can see technology in action and glimpse behind the scenes at diverse job sites can spark their imaginations and plant the seeds of motivation in the youngest school children. Speakers representing different occupations are concrete examples of what it takes to achieve them can inspire youth to explore paths they hadn’t considered. 
    • Developing more internships and job-shadowing opportunities for high schoolers who exhibit aptitude and interest. The more opportunities students have for experiential learning, the more confident and motivated they will be in their choices for postsecondary education and training. If a critical mass of young people can get high-quality early career experiences and exposure by the time they enter college, they will be uniquely advantaged to pursue the opportunities available to them – and our economy will benefit from a uniquely prepared workforce.
    • Facilitating dual-credit and apprenticeship opportunities to give high school students a head start on college, a career, or both. P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) for example, an IBM-inspired career-focused six-year education model allows high school students to earn both their high school and two-year college tech degrees in four-to-six years.[3] Dual credit enrollment programs also improve college affordability and increase access for committed students by shortening the time required to earn a credential, and reducing the cost.[4]
    • Build upon the solid foundation of existing Phoenix summer jobs programs for our students. My own experience with summer jobs through Arizona Call-a-Teen, the Urban League, and the OIC not only aided my family, but instilled in me a work ethic and the value of teamwork, time management, and money management. Through the partnerships with the business community outlined throughout this proposal, I will seek to open the door for the development of more summer job opportunities that serve to supplement classroom learning. 
    • Strengthen existing and encourage new partnerships between the education, business, and arts community. The Phoenix business community has historically been a generous supporter of the arts and our many cultural assets such as the Phoenix Art Museum, Herberger Theater, Heard Museum, and other institutions. The arts are a critical element of our economic development strategy and have helped make Phoenix the world-class city that it is. Yet we need to do much more to introduce our students to the arts in order to expand their imagination and creativity essential to their future regardless of their career pursuits. I’ll look to the business community – the ultimate beneficiary of a trained workforce - to aid our school districts that have been forced to limit arts program due to budget constraints. 

Replicating and Expanding Successful Programs for Higher Impact
(or, Do More of What Works)

Cuts to our schools’ funding have diminished the range of team sports, music, art, dance and other non-core subjects and activities available to students; yet study after study (as well as common sense) tells us that these are not mere “extras.” They are vital components of education that can impact a child’s whole life. They provide essential experiences that can develop social skills, self-esteem, and confidence, character, accountability, persistence, and integrity – not to mention opportunities for scholarships, positive relationships, and networking, staying motivated to do well in school and avoid bad decisions. A report by Afterschool Alliance, among other studies, showed that students who aren’t involved in after-school activities are three times more likely to engage in risky behaviors including crime, drug, and alcohol use, and sexual activity. 

The Rose Institute at Claremont McKenna College estimated that every dollar invested in after-school care saves taxpayers $3 – and that is not even including savings resulting from crime reduction, another known impact of quality after-school programs.[5] 

There are powerful programs in Phoenix and in other cities nationwide that are proving they make a real difference in children’s educational success, and in the quality of their neighborhoods by elevating kids’ knowledge, skills, and confidence in themselves and in their academic success. These are the kinds of programs that can change lives, and empower communities to lift themselves up. I believe we must be innovative in pursuing initiatives that create new educational and growth opportunities for all our youth – but I am not satisfied with one-off programs that help a few lucky kids and ignore the rest. To have a positive impact on our city, we should build on and scale up what we already know is effective, so that it can become transformative.

To do this, I will: 

  • Increase access to high-quality preschool for working families. The national research is in. Study after study has shown that high-quality preschool is the single highest-impact investment that can be made in improving education and life outcomes for our youth.[6] It is also key to improving the quality of life for young families and supporting a competitive workforce. High-quality preschool is one of the few interventions that has been proven to narrow the achievement gap between low-income and high-income children that begins before they even start kindergarten.[7] Measurable impacts include higher academic achievement and educational attainment, higher rates of high school graduation and college attendance, lower rates of unemployment in adulthood, lower rates of violence, arrest, and incarceration, and less reliance on public assistance – effects that continue to pay dividends over their lifetimes, both to the individual and to society.[8,9] Economists estimate that every $1 invested in high-quality preschool programs yields $4 to $9 in benefits;[10] other estimates are even higher.[11] While the benefits of preschool for economically disadvantaged kids are most dramatic, positive impacts can be measured in children from all economic backgrounds in studies that have spanned decades.[12,13]

    Arizona as a whole has the fourth lowest pre-school enrollment in the country. According to First Things First, only a third of Phoenix's kids attend pre-school. When 90% of a child’s brain development occurs before the age of 5, this is a huge problem. Phoenix should join the ranks of forward-looking cities like San Antonio, Denver, Minneapolis, Cleveland and others to help increase access for working families to affordable high-quality preschool while supporting, and not disrupting, our existing infrastructure of child care options. 
    • 1) Provide development incentives for new Pre-K schools. In the Phoenix, there is one slot in a preschool for every two and a half kids. Licensed Phoenix childcare providers have capacity for just 25,000 kids in Phoenix North, and there are 66,000 kids birth to six in the area. Half of the equation for increasing preschool enrollment is increasing capacity by encouraging the development of more preschools. This could come in the form of tax incentives, or funding from the Phoenix IDA.
    • 2) Provide short-term scholarships for families on childcare wait lists. While there are 11,000 kids being supported by some form of child care assistance, there are 19,000 kids in Phoenix North living under the poverty line. This gap is partially due to long waitlists for state and federal programs; there are 623 on the DES child care subsidy program waitlist alone. The City of Phoenix could provide short-term scholarships for these families as they sit on the wait list because every month of a young child’s brain development is critical. 

I believe there are two ways the city can do this:

  • Continue to expand CodePHX. One accomplishment during my tenure on the City Council that I’m very proud of is the success of CodePHX. When I was elected, only about a quarter of our schools offered computer science courses.[14] All of Phoenix’s fast-growing industries involve technology, and jobs in every field require tech-savvy employees. This trend is only growing, and skills like coding open doors of opportunity for kids from any economic background. I asked the question, “How do we make coding accessible, equitable, and free to every kid in Phoenix?” and in 2016 I launched a pilot program through the Phoenix Department of Parks and Recreation offering eight-week coding courses in two public libraries. CodePHX has grown to eight library and community center locations, and to offer popular summer programs; it is poised for expansion to 29 Phoenix-wide locations to serve an even more diverse group of students through funding I was able to secure through private partners.[15] As Mayor, I will continue to champion this program by training more teachers to lead the program so that it can be made available to students in every school in Phoenix – whether as part of the curriculum or an after-school program. I’ll seek opportunities to expand CodePHX through our network of non-profit organizations such as the Boys and Girl Club and other community-based non-profits that serve our children in every neighborhood of the city. Moreover, because a regional educated and trained workforce benefits Phoenix, I’ll facilitate efforts to make CodePHX available to other Valley cities that may have an interest in introducing it to their communities.  
  • Support proven career-path interventions for high school youth who are at-risk of dropping out and recruit them for employer-sponsored training programs that can lead directly to career opportunities as they earn their diploma. 
  • Create an Urban Debate League that rivals our peers. Of the top 15 metros in the country, Phoenix is one of three cities without an Urban Debate League. Minority participation in debate continues to lag behind their peers, which is why some of America’s top cities provide additional support to debate programs at Title I schools. Urban debate leagues are proven to be effective at beating the achievement gap: a student participating is 3.1 times more likely to graduate high school. In a day and time where discourse is increasingly divisive, the need for quality debate training is ever important. The cost of a UDL is quite low as well, averaging less than $650 per student, paying for coaching, transportation, and judging at tournaments. Funding could come from a combination of school districts, private partnerships, and the city.
  • Empower teachers to teach, principals, to lead, and students to learn. I will advocate for state and local education policies that are based in evidence, affirm the right of every child to a high-quality public education, and support the following principles: 
    • The number one element of improved education is improved teaching. Politicians and bureaucrats cannot improve educational outcomes without the cooperation and input of teachers. Most teachers became teachers because they had a passion for teaching. We should let them do their job by treating teachers like the professionals they are, listening to their expertise when it comes to addressing challenges, and giving them the resources they need to do their jobs successfully. I discuss this further in the following section, Making Phoenix the Most Teacher-Friendly City in the U.S.
    • The primary role of the principals should be to lead the school, its educators and staff, and its students in the right direction. Empowered principals are supported by their districts in administrative and bureaucratic roles so that leadership is their focus. They have access to the tools and training to use data to tackle challenges strategically, and use metrics to measure the results of those decisions over time. Professional development, such as sending principals to Leadership Academies, should be a top priority – especially for principals charged with turning around low-performing schools.

Making Phoenix the Most Teacher-Friendly City in the U.S.

Phoenix has recovered from the recession, but the deep cuts to Arizona schools have not been made whole. Of the $1.5 billion cut by the state legislature from classrooms over the last decade, $1.1 billion is still missing.[16] We need talented and dedicated teachers more than ever to provide our kids a world-class education, but years of underfunding our schools is reflected in low teacher salaries, a dismantled support system of counselors and aides, and unreasonable workloads that result in high burnout levels and low morale; this is not a place from which they can effectively teach fundamental skills, let alone inspire and motivate our youth. 

Recent commitments from the state for a teacher pay increase over time are an important start to fixing what is broken, but they are not enough. Today in Phoenix there are billboards paid for by the Fort Worth, Texas school district directed at Phoenix
teachers that read, “Your Future is in A Fort Worth Classroom; Teacher Starting Salary $52,000.” 

We can keep our best teachers from leaving – and become a magnet for top teachers everywhere, by improving their quality of life and respecting their professional service to the public – in other words, making Phoenix the best place in the U.S. to be a teacher. 

As Mayor I will:

  • Convene a Phoenix Teachers Cabinet to provide a forum for teachers – of all backgrounds and experience-levels and from all kinds of public schools – to engage in and inform high-level discussions about education in Phoenix. The Mayor’s Teachers Cabinet will serve to ensure that teachers’ voices are heard and respected as we work to make Phoenix’s system of education second to none. Modeled after the Nashville Teacher Cabinet, which has helped to modernize professional development for teachers, and improve teacher recruitment, the Teachers Cabinet will serve as a valuable forum for generating practical solutions to our education challenges, as well as for improving educators’ working conditions.
  • Connect teachers to the private sector to help keep their skills current. We need to create more opportunities for teachers – and especially educators in STEM subjects and career and technical education – to grow professionally and continuously update their knowledge and credentials in the latest developments in their fields, and to hone and refresh their own teaching methods. I will launch a program that encourages and recognizes private businesses who commit to make relevant work, research, or fellowship opportunities available to public school teachers during the summer where they can learn about the latest advancements in the private sector while upgrading their skills and potentially earning extra income. When they return to their classrooms they can relate the latest real-world applications and relevant and current career skills to their subjects, with greater impact on student success. 
  • Launch a Phoenix Teacher Next Door Program. Cities like San Francisco and San Jose, among others, offer special housing benefits to full-time public school teachers as a recruitment and retention tool. San Jose, for instance, offers up to $40,000 in interest-free loans to teachers purchasing a home.[17] This nearly 20-year old program has been helpful in recruiting teachers and enabling them to live in the neighborhoods where they work as home prices have risen. In San Francisco, after five years of qualifying service and regular payments, teachers can begin to have their loan balance forgiven incrementally; after 10 years of continuous service in schools within the city, the remaining balance on the loan may be forgiven.[18] I envision a similar program in conjunction with the Phoenix Industrial Development Authority. 
  • Teach-To-Go Transportation Benefit. We can improve our competitiveness when it comes to teacher recruitment and retention, and show that teachers are valued for their contribution, by launching a “Teach-To-Go” public transportation pass especially for full-time teachers at public schools in Phoenix.

Engaging Schools as Centers of Phoenix Communities

The idea of schools as centers of the community is not a new one, but it is a powerful one. I believe our city should be supporting learning and development in our schools through quality programs that yield benefits for the entire community. The city can provide technical assistance to districts and schools in accessing and leveraging new resources, such as federal funding and grants. The city itself also has resources that can be directly shared with the schools at little to no extra cost – while freeing up scarce school district resources to be used for classroom instruction. For example, certain parks and recreation equipment and facilities can be leveraged in support of school athletics and playgrounds – and reserved for use by the community at other times. And valuable after-school activity options can be enhanced and expanded through stronger partnerships between the school districts and the city.

To achieve this, I will:

  • Help schools maximize the federal funding to which they are entitled while improving access to services for students and their families. The City of Phoenix can do a better job of utilizing our schools as hubs to conduct community outreach to those who may be eligible for services they are not currently receiving, from special education to free or reduced lunch, to Medicaid. A good example of this is the Earned Income Tax Credit, which has proven to be highly beneficial to families that receive it when their kids are in the 13-17 age range. However, 1 in 5 don't claim the tax break. The City of Phoenix could work with local accounting firms and CPA's to provide free tax services at high schools during tax season for eligible families.

    Many school-based programs that support low-income families or students with special needs are federally funded, so ensuring that they know how to apply for appropriate services can improve student and community health and well-being while freeing up local resources for instruction. Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) funding, for example, is available for school-based health centers. We should be leveraging those dollars in support of our schools and communities to the greatest extent possible – and helping to transform our schools into true community centers.
  • Broker cost- and resource-sharing agreements. In a large and geographically dispersed city like Phoenix with multiple school districts serving the community, it is not always feasible for schools and districts to regularly consult with each other on all the ways in which they could potentially coordinate and cooperate to achieve cost and efficiency savings – for example on elementary school bus fleets and motor-pool cars. The City of Phoenix can play a role in helping schools save valuable dollars by acting as a broker or clearinghouse for school and district contracts and negotiating better deals by consolidating contracts or partnerships for needed services like vehicle maintenance, among other possibilities. In addition, more resource-sharing agreements should be pursued between school districts and the City of Phoenix itself, such as city parks and recreation equipment and staff that could be leveraged through intergovernmental agreements in support of school athletic programs and after-school activities, at little to no cost. When schools save money, it can be re-invested in classroom instruction, where it is most needed.
  • Target improvement efforts and special outreach to underperforming schools in areas where we are targeting revitalization and development efforts. If we are serious about results – and we are – we must pay special attention to the needs of schools in neglected or blighted areas where we are investing in the redevelopment of neglected or blighted areas; improving schools goes hand in hand with improving neighborhoods. I will work with school districts to identify ways in which the city can best support these targeted efforts. For example, we could provide one-time bonuses or stipends to recruit experienced teachers to hard-to-fill positions in struggling schools. 
  • Integrate Phoenix education leaders into our economic development effort. Through their involvement with the Greater Phoenix Economic Council and collaboration with the City of Phoenix Community and Economic Development Department, the leadership of our universities and Maricopa Community College are very much a part of economic development and business attraction strategies. As Mayor, I will take steps to ensure our district superintendents are at the table as well. 

Ensuring That Every Child is Safe at School

As a parent as well as someone who has family members who have taken up the profession of teaching, I know that the safety of our children and all of those in our schools is fundamental. Learning does not happen and teachers do not perform unless students and teachers feel safe from known threats as well as from random ones. Like the rest of the country, I have been sickened and heartbroken by the gun violence that has taken the lives of students and teachers in the schools that should rightfully be safe havens in any community. As Mayor of Phoenix, I will make it my personal duty to ensure that every school in our city has the full array of Phoenix’s public safety and mental health resources at their disposal in their efforts to secure their campuses, ensure that troubled youth have access to mental health resources before they are in crisis, and prevent violent acts of all kinds from happening in our schools.

As Mayor, I will:

  • Provide every school in Phoenix with a direct liaison in the Phoenix Police Department. I want every school to have a strong relationship with their local police station and access to experienced law enforcement personnel who are in turn familiar with their local school’s security protocols and emergency response plans. They can help coordinate drills and be available to assess any potential threats. I will ensure the necessary investment are made to enable our public safety department to engage in regular communication with our schools and cultivate positive partnerships between schools and their local law enforcement. 
  • Ensure that every school in Phoenix that requests a School Resource Officer (SRO) can have one. I understand that having an SRO on campus may not be the right approach for every school. But in Phoenix in 2018, every school that wants an SRO for added security should be able to have one. I will work to leverage all federal and state grant funds available for this purpose, and to match these with city resources to add needed officers. We place many demands on our dedicated police force and public safety departments in Phoenix, but none is a higher priority than keeping our children safe whenever and wherever needed. 
  • Launch a public awareness campaign in Phoenix schools to increase knowledge about mental health – and ensure that every school in Phoenix has a direct line to the Phoenix Department of Health and Human Services for referrals. Enhanced security and emergency planning are essential, but we need to address the mental health of our youth before they are in a crisis – before violence is even considered. It is an unfortunate but well-known fact that our schools have inadequate counseling and mental health resources. This must change, but we can’t afford to wait for the state legislature to act. In the meantime, to support and protect our students in Phoenix, we need to do whatever it takes to help students identify known signs of depression, bullying, or mental illness – whether in themselves or peers who are struggling – and that they know where they can turn for help before problems ever escalate toward violence.
  • Resist efforts to arm teachers. I staunchly oppose President Trump’s misguided idea that more guns in schools leads to less violence – when the evidence continues to demonstrate the opposite.[19] Indeed, the vast majority of teachers oppose these proposals.[20] Teachers have an important job to do and many competing responsibilities as it is; their professional development should not consist of weapons training, nor should they be asked to serve as security guards or a deputized militia while trying to educate students. And individuals who aren’t trained security officers shouldn’t be entrusted with deadly firearms around our children and told to make life-and-death decisions about using them. Such efforts would also put our First Responders at risk. We owe it to our kids – as well as our teachers – to provide a safe learning environment … one that is free of weapons, not the opposite.

To me, student safety is not an issue for political grandstanding, or partisan bargaining; it is a matter of using every tool in the toolbox to protect precious lives. Working together, we can and must provide an environment where students can learn without fear.

Strengthening our Systems of Higher Education and Skills Training

Despite our recent surge in tech growth, Phoenix remain in the bottom half of the top 100 U.S. metros for the percentage of jobs in high-paying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields (54th), and for the percentage of STEM-field jobs available that do not require a 4-year degree (71st). With a Top 25 research university and the largest engineering school in the nation in ASU – which also ranks in the Top 10 for 

graduate employability – Phoenix should be maximizing its position as a rising global hub for high tech. However, like the rest of the state, Phoenix’s workforce includes a relatively low percentage of college graduates (27 percent in the Phoenix-Mesa Metro). This is limiting job growth in the higher paying sectors of the economy, which in turn depresses wages across the board, across sectors and skill levels. Not every high school graduate in Phoenix needs to go on to earn a four-year degree to be successful, but more of them do to support our region’s continued growth in 21st Century industries.

While four-year degrees are essential to growing our knowledge economy, they are not the whole story. It would be a huge mistake to treat traditional college as the only path to a great career. In fact, over-emphasis on the four-year degree has been destructive. Many youths are encouraged to take on excessive student debt for a degree they are unsure will lead to a job, while others with great technical aptitude are discouraged from pursuing promising and lucrative careers in high skilled jobs – from welding to construction to coding – that do not necessarily require a degree, but do require advanced training or skills certification. 

We can do a better job of strengthening our systems of postsecondary education and advanced skills training to ensure that every high school graduate has realistic options for pursuing a promising career path, and to make Phoenix a place where fast-growing businesses know they can find the talented and high-skilled workforce they seek. We can make higher education and advanced skills training an economic growth center for Phoenix through innovative partnerships with our local universities and community colleges like ASU, U of A, NAU, GCU, and Maricopa Community Colleges. In addition to the initiatives described above in Bringing Business Leaders Together for a 21st Century Education, we should pursue the following approaches designed to strengthen and align postsecondary study and training with the skills and knowledge needed by employers in the immediate future – and to make Phoenix an even more desirable place to develop those skills:

  • Convene a Phoenix Alliance for a Competitive Workforce.  For example, the city of Memphis has demonstrated what can happen when city leadership brings together regional business, education, workforce, and philanthropic leaders in shaping an approach to career skills development starting in K-12 and continuing through the postsecondary education system – with a special emphasis on technical and community colleges. The Greater Memphis Alliance has a mission to establish a coherent, aligned approach to skills development and had received unprecedented support, using private funding totaling $2.5 million to leverage more than $10 million in state and federal grants.[21]
  • Bring our universities, community colleges, and trade schools to the table with employers to launch or enhance existing certification and training programs for the most in-demand job positions. Many Phoenix companies share workforce needs and would benefit from tailored workforce training programs targeting high schoolers and graduates, and offered through local universities and community colleges. The city is well positioned to help connect those dots to launch customized training programs for top in-demand jobs in promising fields.
  • Connect our universities, colleges, and trade schools directly to our city’s economic development initiatives. For example, as part of the Los Angeles Regional Export Council (LARExC), the USC Marshall School of Business and the UCLA Anderson School of Management have created the Export Champions program. This initiative connects MBA student teams with ready-to-export companies in the region during the semester. The students, who typically come to the table with relevant professional experience and foreign language skills, work on a $10,000 marketing strategy for the firm, helping select target markets and even traveling to evaluate potential distributors and clients. Syracuse University, Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business, The University of Kentucky and the University of California, San Diego’s School of International Relations and Pacific Studies have similar engagement with local economic development efforts.
  • Create a Phoenix Promise to Make College Accessible to All Phoenix Graduates. To maintain our current rate of economic growth, and to increase the prosperity of our citizens, we know that Phoenix needs more of its high school graduates to go on to college. Only about a third of the Phoenix workforce has a college degree[22] – a relatively low percentage. (In cities like San Francisco, San Jose, Boston, and Washington, DC, that number is over 50 percent). Our missing graduates limit job growth in high-paying sectors, which in turn depresses wages across the board. What’s more, most of the college graduates in Phoenix (77 percent) came from out of state.[23] We expect about 35 percent of new jobs to require a bachelor’s degree, and 65 percent require a degree or certification/training credential beyond high school.[24] Not every high school graduate needs to go on to college – but more of them do; and most of them will require some education beyond high school to compete in today’s economy – both for their individual success and for our city’s. 

    As Mayor, I will champion a Phoenix Promise: that any Phoenix graduate who wants to go to college and is prepared to succeed there should have that opportunity, regardless of her or his family’s income. The concept is simple: Kids who attend Phoenix public high schools, are accepted into an accredited in-state college or university, and continue to perform at a high standard, should qualify for a Phoenix Promise Scholarship to cover unmet financial need. There are currently about 54 similar place-based scholarships available in the U.S.[25] designed to guarantee that local high schoolers know that if they work hard to make the grade, college is a real option for them, regardless of family circumstances. One example is Promise for the Future in Coolidge, which provides free tuition for up to two years (four semesters) at any Central Arizona University campus for students graduating from a Pinal County High School with a 2.75 GPA or higher.[26] The scholarship was established in 2004 with a major gift from the Kemper & Ethel Marley Foundation. If they can do it in Coolidge, I know we can do it in Phoenix.

    As Mayor, I will challenge the business community and private foundations to come together with our institutions of higher education to make the needed long-term investments in the future of Phoenix as a prosperous, global city. 
  • Give students another great reason to attend college in Phoenix, and stay to pursue their career here through a “Stay Work Play PHX” initiative. In New Hampshire, for example, participating employers agree to help pay down the federal college loans of newly hired graduates of local universities.[27] In return, the government provides promotional acknowledgment of employer sponsors. For example, the Stay-Work-Play Challenge showcases New Hampshire employers who contribute at least $8,000 to pay down federal college loans of newly hired New Hampshire college graduates over the first four years of their employment. Stay-Work- Play NH, Inc. was established as a nonprofit organization to advance the recruitment and retention of a younger workforce, and serve as an independent organization targeting young college graduates. Its Board of Directors includes USNH, the NH College and University Council, the Business and Industry Association of NH, the NH High Technology Council, and the NH Department of Resources and Economic Development.


There are those who will say schools aren’t a city responsibility. 

I reject that. 

Our schools shouldn’t be viewed as someone else’s responsibility—teachers, parents, the school board, and certainly not our State Legislature, which has sadly neglected education. 

That is why as a member of the City Council, I have been one of the most forceful education advocates in City Hall. 

Because whether we have children in our schools or not—I happen to have two children in school—we ALL have a stake in good schools. Good schools provide the trained workforce we need to attract companies with good paying jobs and expand our tax base. That helps all of us and helps move Phoenix forward. 

As Mayor, I am determined to make Phoenix a city where students have the opportunity to reach their full potential.