Preparing for Failure
July 30, 2013
By Christina M. Martinez, DFER Arizona State Director
As August looms closer, I can’t help but think of all the students who will be shortly starting a new school year. Each year is a once in a lifetime opportunity for students to achieve to their utmost potential and to become excited about the learning process. Sadly, too many students in Arizona are denied that opportunity.
Arizona is currently in the bottom ten states in both per-pupil spending and high school graduation rates. Arizona also tops the list for childhood poverty and food insecurity. In addition, it is one of the only states with children on the waiting list for state funded healthcare. This is unacceptable. Our kids are in serious trouble. If we continue down our current path of underfunding and underserving the next generation, we are preparing them for a future of failure instead of a future of success.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to speak with Arizona state Rep. Mark Cardenas about education in his district. He represents an area in my state that is largely Hispanic and composed of working, middle-class families. The schools in his district have been struggling to provide their students with the classes and support that they need to succeed. Music and arts programs have long since been cut. Fortunately, however, gifted and Advanced Placement (AP) courses managed to stay funded in most schools up until the last academic year.
This past year, however, one high school in Rep. Cardenas’ district ran out of funding for AP courses and tests. Students were faced not only with losing educational opportunities for that semester, but also for their entire future. AP classes are higher-level courses that can help prepare students for college by exposing them to more rigorous coursework, helping them develop better study skills, and giving them a better idea of what they want to may want study. AP courses also give students the opportunity to earn college credits and thus provide them with a head start on what they need to earn postsecondary degrees. The fact that, unlike in college, students do not have to pay tuition for these courses while in high school is an added bonus.
The high school that serves a large portion of Cardenas’ district contacted him and his seatmates in Legislative District 19, state Sen. Anna Tovar and state Rep. Lupe Contreras, as a last resort to help fund the AP program . The advocates’ main concern was that the school had many students who signed up for AP classes and were counting on potentially earning college credits, but who would be set back if they were not able to take and complete the courses.
Luckily, with the help of the local legislators, the school was able to raise enough money from the community and nonprofits to fund AP classes for the rest of the year and enable students to stay on track with a college prep curriculum. This year, things worked out, but students next year could find themselves in the same situation if things don’t change. Moreover, while this story has a happy ending, that isn’t the case for so many other equally deserving and hard-working students. The struggle to fund advanced courses in Rep. Cardenas’ district isn’t just an Arizona story; it’s an American story. AP and gifted courses that prepare students for college are being cut or eliminated in many school systems due to chronic underfunding. Instead of preparing our students for a bright future, we are setting them up for failure.
Budget cuts to education and ineffective school leadership have shortchanged students in Arizona and across the nation for decades. Until we decide that enough is enough and demand effective leadership and legislation that affects change, we will only continue to set our schools and our children up for failure. We must elect leaders like those in Legislative District 19 who will fight for educational opportunities and strong schools. Until every child has these opportunities, the cycle of failure will continue.
As I think about the incoming students this year, I think about the students in Legislative District 19. I think about how their future was positively impacted by lawmakers with the will to do what is good for students and for tomorrow’s workforce by helping to raise money to fund under-resourced AP programs. I wonder if this will be the year we all decide enough is enough. I wonder – I hope – this will be the year we do what is necessary to give all of our children a quality education that helps them succeed.
Christina has been working in politics and government relations for most of her adult career. A passionate education reformer, Christina has helped low income students in Arizona and across the nation receive the high-quality education they deserve. She has also been a champion in the AZ legislature fighting for families that have fallen victim to zip code discrimination. Read more about Christina here.