Commentary

There are popular fixes to our education system. But will GOP lawmakers help or hurt?

education funding

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Controversial or competent? Gridlocked or goal-oriented? In 2022, the Arizona legislature and governor must choose what type of leaders they will be. 

This year, the legislature has a real opportunity to improve the lives of Arizonans. Our state has the funds to fix abysmal teacher salaries, create lasting solutions for students, and provide for working families. Will our elected leaders rise to these responsibilities when they reconvene this week, or will they succumb to the extremism and unproductive bickering of last year’s legislative session? 

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Arizona voters continue to overwhelmingly support public education. Recent polling shows that the vast majority want to increase teacher salaries and recognize that school funding remains far too low. A staggering 91% of voters agree that every school should have the resources it needs to deliver quality education that prepares every child for the future. 

Yet Arizona remains last in the nation for per student spending and majority lawmakers refuse to keep their election-year promises to support educators and students. Despite their razor-thin majority, Republican leadership would rather placate the most extreme members of their party than work across the aisle. We call on them to work in bipartisan fashion, which is what best represents our state. 

With a looming crisis of $1.2 billion in education cuts this March that will lead to teacher layoffs, program cuts, and worse, some lawmakers are instead pushing punitive and unproductive policies like body cameras for teachers. 

Local schools are desperate to hire adequate teachers, counselors and aides to support the needs of our students. But majority lawmakers beholden to special interests are agitating for further private school ESA voucher expansions that defund our local public schools, exploit families, and prop up unaccountable education-for-profit schemes. 

If Arizona’s leaders actually wanted the whole system to collapse, they could hardly improve on their current performance.

– Beth Lewis & Nicky Indicavitch, Save Our Schools Arizona

Instead of working to ensure the health and safety of students and teachers, Republican lawmakers are threatening to prevent schools from implementing even the most basic health protocols while COVID-19 surges and overwhelms Arizona ICUs

Instead of funding upgraded buses and functioning laptops for all Arizona students, state leaders push for competitive “innovation” grants that leave schools fighting for scraps. While a handful of schools benefit and the governor pats himself on the back, the vast majority of kids continue to go without. 

Despite utterly inadequate resources for special education and vastly inequitable funding for low-income and rural schools, majority lawmakers are focused on banning teaching accurate history rather than rolling up their sleeves to find real solutions for children.

Gov. Doug Ducey and the legislative majority’s chronic refusal to fully fund Arizona’s public schools has resulted in a patchwork system of haves and have-nots, which the pandemic has revealed in all its ugliness. 

The stresses and cracks of a broken system cannot take much more and if Arizona’s leaders actually wanted the whole system to collapse, they could hardly improve on their current performance. 

The contrast between what our schools and communities need from our state leaders and what we have come to expect is truly staggering. When the legislature convenes, education advocates will likely be stuck playing defense in Arizona’s own version of the Education Hunger Games. We will fight to stop massive funding cuts and ridiculous policies aimed to divide and distract. And, if necessary, we will once again hit the streets to refer a ruinous flat tax or irresponsible ESA voucher expansion to the ballot, because Arizona’s kids deserve better. 

To Ducey and legislative leaders, we have one message: Arizonans are counting on you to rise above the extremist posturing and partisan bickering to find real solutions for our schools and our communities. Our kids’ futures depend on it. And if you can’t do this, the November 8 election can’t come soon enough.

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Beth Lewis
Beth Lewis

Beth Lewis is the director of Save Our Schools Arizona, as well as a Tempe educator and parent. Save Our Schools Arizona is a community-based nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to supporting strong public schools for a strong state.

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Nicky Indicavitch
Nicky Indicavitch

Nicky Indicavitch is the statewide outreach director for Save Our Schools Arizona and a parent in Prescott Valley. Save Our Schools Arizona is a community-based nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to supporting strong public schools for a strong state.

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