Lloyd Hopkins, pictured second from left, is the executive director and founder of the Million Dollar Teacher Project, a nonprofit created as a mechanism to strengthen schools in Arizona through the areas of recognition, compensation and support. (Photo: Million Dollar Teacher Project)

Teacher Appreciation Week begins Sunday, May 1 through Saturday, May 7. But what meaningful thing can you do for teachers who have spent years working in challenging circumstances for lower-than-average wages?

Lloyd Hopkins, executive director and founder of Million Dollar Teacher Project, is trying to answer that very question.

To create new pathways for community support, The Million Dollar Teacher Project launched the Teacher Appreciate Package (T.A.P.) this year in partnership with Local First Arizona.

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, a number of local places will be offering discounts for certified K-12 teachers May 1-7. Over time, the goal is to expand T.A.P. to local businesses across the state, and encourage discounts that last year-round.

According to Hopkins, the program grew out of a desire to impact teacher compensation through non-legislative methods.

“As a growing organization, we do not yet have the budget capacity to grant funds to schools to raise teacher salaries,” he said. “So we decided to find another way to make teachers’ current salaries, which rank amongst the lowest in the nation, go further. By partnering with businesses to offer meaningful discounts to teachers on goods and services, we believe we can help teachers retain more of their hard-earned money, and get more fulfillment out of their salaries.”

The “Teacher Tree” program allows teachers to create a list of things for which they need support, and the Million Dollar Teacher Project then shares those lists with supporters to help meet classroom needs. (Photo: Million Dollar Teacher Project)

Valley Coffee Company signed on as an early participant in the T.A.P. program – offering teachers a free espresso, coffee, or tea beverage.

“I have tons of friends who are teachers, so I know the struggle,” said Donny Peper, owner of Valley Coffee Company. “It just resonated as a thing we wanted to get involved in.”

According to a 2020 report by the Education Law Center, Arizona ranked last when it came to school funding systems compared to the other 50 states, citing low funding as “the root of the state’s severe teacher shortage and lackluster student achievement.”

Overall, Arizona ranked 48th in high school teacher pay in 2017, and last in elementary teacher pay, when adjusted for cost of living, according to a study by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy. And despite raises in recent years, Arizona is still one of the “the worst” states to be a teacher, according to WalletHub.

Million Dollar Teacher Project was established in October 2016 with the goal of raising the profile of highly-effective teachers, and drastically improving teacher compensation, “bringing the teaching profession to the prestigious level it deserves,” according to Hopkins.

In addition to the T.A.P. program, the Million Dollar Teacher Project has numerous other initiatives, including “Take A Teacher To Lunch, the “Classroom Support Team,” “Title 1 Tech,” and a host of other programs.

“The most exciting part of my job is the work I’m able to do, daily, to create a more equitable education systems for students,” Hopkins said. “This year, we are doing the T.A.P. program during Teacher Appreciation Week, next year, we are hoping to expand the program and do it twice a year. Community support of this initiative is imperative to help us reach that goal.”

If you are a local business looking to get involved, or an individual looking to volunteer or donate, contact the Million Dollar Teacher Project here.