The 2021 Arizona legislative session might as well have been called the “The Year to Exact Revenge on Educators,” as it started with a speech by our Governor slamming schools for daring to close during a deadly pandemic and ended with teachers exhausted, parents confused and politicians gleeful over their 170-plus-day assault on our schools.
If you agree with the politicians here, you might think, good, the schools deserve it. You might have an issue with something your local community school did in this past year, as even public-school supporters felt the chaos and failed decision-making from time to time. However, remember that pain inflicted on schools impacts one group more than any other, and that is children. No matter how you slice it, what has happened among the ‘adults’ is harmful to children.
Now, as the state attempts to heal and discuss next steps, one must ask, where do we go from here? Can public-school supporters again launch a defense of Arizona's children?
Here is how we see it.
The legislative body made a series of decisions that impact kids. First let’s look at the efforts to privatize. This session we saw many bills presented that attempt to move us from public education to privatized schools. A few of the more alarming ones centered on gutting the services that public schools provide. Instead of riding a bus to school, for example, Arizona kids could hop an Uber or jump in their neighbor’s van and co-op their way to school thanks to the bill granting public money for private transportation.
Never mind the safety implications for children, what’s the purpose here? The state is invested in transportation for our 1.1 million school age children, so why do we need another system that moves public funds to private entities? This was one of many privatization bills presented this session. Some made it to the Governor’s desk, some did not, but what we now know for sure is that the goal is and has always been to privatize our schools.
Next, let’s look at our expansive voucher program. Arizona leads on “school choice” policies nationally, and so far we are not leading on student success, so, given the option, politicians and lobbyists have decided the best course to improve results is more of the same.
So at the last minute they pushed through a major voucher expansion by reducing the number of days a student must be enrolled in their public school from 100 to 45 to qualify for the voucher.
Set the stage here: you’re a private-school parent, you know your family can afford and will choose a private education, so you move to that, but on the way you know that if your child spends 45 days in a public school, the government will subsidize your private education via a voucher. For some this is an open invitation to use public money to subsidize their private-education plans.
Next let’s discuss some good old-fashioned revenge at the cost of opportunities for a million kids.
There are not one but three new laws built to gut Prop 208, which raised the tax rate on incomes above $250K to help fund our schools and teachers. Three bills, all deliberately drafted, debated, and passed to thwart Arizona voters who just under a year ago said yes to that proposition. Maybe you didn’t support 208, but regardless of how individuals feel, it passed and became law, so debate around it should have ended with the result delivered by Arizona voters.
So here we are, with new laws meant to do harm to public schools. We think we can read between the lines on why, and now we’re seeing the means. How do you as a lobbying firm, think tank or political donor convince large groups of people that their schools must go, that they are wrong for our kids, even though we know that’s not true from years of consistent polling expressing the love of Arizonans for their public schools?
You defund them, you attack them, then you offer a shiny new solution. You tell people that their schools are failing, you tell them their teachers are evil, you malign them as often as possible, then you pull back on the resources they have, leaving parents and communities feeling hopeless and vulnerable to the idea that some evil teacher, board member or Superintendent is looking to hurt them.
Here is where we are, but we hope you’ll ask yourself one very important question: who makes money on this? Administrative pay in AZ is the lowest in the country when adjusted for cost of living, so it appears the Superintendents aren’t on the take here. Teacher pay is down and they are leaving our classrooms, so clearly they aren’t benefiting from all this. School boards in Arizona are all-volunteer, so this group clearly has no financial stake in the fight.
So who’s making money? Politicians are. Political donations from school-privatization groups are big, and they come in consistently for candidates willing to do their bidding. Here in LD1 we had a representative collect a donation larger than the entire year's salary for their position! Money flowing to AZ politicians is skyrocketing and, make no mistake, it is meant to purchase one thing: our kids’ futures.
We can't speak for all educators, but we are comfortable going on record that yes, public-school advocates are responding and they will defend these children, because nobody fights for kids quite like parents and teachers do.