Leaders in the Arizona Legislature say Southern Arizona should value education and put children first. However, many of their recent decisions do not reflect such sentiments.

Our community should take care of teachers as they take care of our most prized assets, our children. It's time that K-12 teachers at public, private and charter schools can access programs aimed at enriching their lives.

Those behind Tucson Values Teachers agree. This regional initiative will strive to raise Pima County teachers' pay by $10,000 over the next five years through significant incentives, professional development opportunities and internships with salaries that match industry standards. It won't be easy, but our region won't thrive without actually helping teachers instead of merely providing lip service.

My family's business, El Charro Café, is rewarding educators through the "Summer Breaks for Teachers" campaign. All of our restaurants are offering two-for-one entrees on Tuesdays until Labor Day, including at our newest location in Oro Valley. Our friends over at Metro Restaurants are having a similar deal on Thursdays. Many other area businesses are offering major discounts on hotel rooms, car repairs and school supplies.

These discounts are a small way for us to thank our educators for a hard year in which budgets were slashed, class sizes increased and teachers asked to do more with less.

My family has been doing business for 87 years in the Tucson region. During that time, highly educated team members have helped grow El Charro Café into a prosperous organization. We need smart accountants, marketing professionals and chefs to succeed in the restaurant business, and many of the ones we hire are born and raised here in Arizona. As we are heading into our fifth generation of local ownership, we realize that none of our successes would have been possible without the guidance of local teachers.

Creating value for our teachers isn't just about providing affordable meals or large discounts. It's also about expressing and spreading a message. I challenge all community members to take time to help on class field trips or to read to a child after school. Help us elect leaders that who support a robust educational system here in Oro Valley, Marana, Northwest Tucson and everywhere else in the region.

We can't always leave our future up to others; sometimes we have to take ownership of the problems and help find solutions. Taking matters into our hands will help us demonstrate that Tucson values teachers and we will stand behind them in tough times.

Business and community leaders should join in the Tucson Values Teachers effort and make a change. It's the most important step we can take.

Ray Flores is the president of El Charro Café, the nation's oldest Mexican restaurant in continuous operation by the same family. For more information on Tucson Values Teachers, visit www.tucsonvaluesteachers.org or e-mail Ray at ray@elcharrocafe.com.

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