by Nicky Indicavitch
Here we are again, approaching another November election packed with issues that will impact our families, communities, and, most importantly, our children.
As is typical in Arizona, we again see voters naming public education among their top concerns in the current election, but what does it truly mean to support public education in Arizona? How does a voter make sure they are supporting our public schools?
First, every candidate on your ballot will likely tell you they are running to “fix our schools,” “make education a priority,” or “address the serious needs of our students;” in evaluating these claims, you have to commit to truly understanding where each candidate stands. This takes a little work, but will yield better results for children. Now more than ever, every Arizona voter must research the candidates to assure they cast a vote to secure the future of children in Arizona classrooms.
If a candidate speaks poorly about teachers, they are not pro-education. Our teaching force is not to blame for what has happened here — teachers are the only way we move forward with successful students and communities. This continuing vilification of our educators must stop now. Our children cannot afford for our teachers to be the latest victims of partisan politics.
If a candidate tries to sell you on the idea that our schools, a cornerstone of our democracy, are failing, they are definitely not a pro-education candidate. Those who claim that schools are wasting money are not pro-education either, because that claim flies in the face of the reality of Arizona’s public schools.
The realities are that public schools are an investment in our kids, never a waste; that public-school teachers are well trained professionals; and that our schools are not failing — rather, we are failing them.
Second, we have to discuss resources, and that means increasing funding for Arizona schools. As we sit today, the State of Arizona (our Legislature, to be exact) has been sued twice, once for failing to fund inflation, and once for failing to fund capital dollars. In a state where litigation is necessary to fund our schools, we have to accept the reality that we have been chronically underfunding our kids for a long time.
Here's an easy one: if a candidate for office doesn't support additional resources for public schools, they are not pro-education. It's really that simple. If they say administrative pay is too high, you’ve heard it here: Arizona is 47th in the country for administrative pay, and runs 25th to 27th for cost of living.
We don’t have overpaid administration. Rather, we have a state that has failed to offer our children the opportunities they deserve, one that has failed to care for our future workforce, and one that has only begun to see the ramifications of those failures, with shortages in critical employment areas (skilled labor, medical professionals, etc.). What Arizona has done to its public education system will be felt for years, not just by our children, but also by our communities as a whole. In a world so closely connected, you can’t behave as though your failure to care for things like schools won’t have far-reaching impact economically and socially.
Finally, if a candidate for office attempts to sell you on a privatized school market, question their motives. In business, when something is expensive, let’s say in this case a child with extenuating needs like speech delays or physical disabilities, what does a business do? It cuts the expense, it’s only logical. If a child is “cheaper” to educate, they are naturally more attractive for schools that aim to make money (private schools and for-profit charters). The idea that our children are expense items or profit machines based on what they need or don’t need must never come into play. Children are investments in the future, and any politician attempting to put them into a business model is clearly not looking out for what’s best for them. Schools are not now, nor should they ever be, “in business” or competition. Competition like this, when discussing children’s wellbeing, is dangerous because competition means someone loses, and in this it’s our kids who ultimately lose.
Looking down your ballot, many issues will appear. Statewide initiatives, local initiatives and local candidates, and one true test for all these issues should be: what will this vote do for kids in Arizona after November 4? Remember, our kids don’t get a vote, so we have to decide what’s best for them and so help them become the next generation of voters to look out for kids.
Here are some important guiding questions as your fill out your ballot:
Will our children see increased opportunity because of how I elect to cast my vote?
Will our children benefit from me making the trip to my local vote center?
Can I see local and statewide improvements to Arizona schools and our kids because of this vote?
If you can’t say yes to all three, it might be time to reconsider your position and make sure you're doing your part to offer Arizona’s children all the opportunities they deserve. As is often the case with children, everything you do for them comes back in a positive way. Give them a healthy family and community, and they will carry that forward. Give them a great classroom, and they will lead the world. Give them a vote for candidates and policies that support their dreams and aspirations, and they will give you a thriving community.
Nikki Indicavitch previously worked for the AZ Schools Now coalition, served as the PTA State Legislative Issues chair, and is now an organizer for the Arizona Center for Economic Progress.