By Carl Zaragoza, DFER-Arizona
My Turn: Cutting education only dims our children’s futures. It’s time Legislators turned the lights back on.
Over the last several years, we’ve seen constant attempts to divide our state. The Republican leadership has regularly opted for an “us vs. them” approach to rhetoric and governing.
The anti-immigrant SB 1070 and anti-LGBT SB1062 were perhaps the most prominent examples of that, but similar attacks were pushed forward once again in this year’s legislative session. Perhaps nowhere was that more obvious than the destructive agenda being pursued against Arizona schools and their students.
Arizona has cut over $1 billion in funding for public education since 2009. We spend the lowest amount of money per pupil in the country.
Most recently, our Legislature cut $99 million dollars from Arizona’s three universities, which had already suffered through deeper cuts during the recession than any other university system in the nation, and moved to eliminate all state funding for Maricopa and Pima community colleges.
This is in stark contrast to our history. In Arizona, the spirit of the Wild West used to be alive and well in our school system: if you worked hard and did well in school, you could have a high-quality and affordable college education at a state university. Unfortunately, that is becoming less and less a reality for students across Arizona.
The cuts have made it increasingly difficult for all students to get access to a quality K-12 and higher education system. Worse yet, the impact is disproportionately greater on minority and lower-income students.
In Arizona, a Latino child only has a 69 percent chance of graduating from high school, while a White child has an 83 percent chance. A child whose family lives below the poverty level has a less than a one in 10 chance of earning a college degree.
Adding insult to injury is the fact we had been making progress in understanding how to improve student achievement. Reasonable benchmarks have been shedding light on exactly where the gaps are — which communities most need increased investment and which programs are working.
Yet, instead of continuing to make the crucial investments needed to support the effective programs, these cuts were simply another attack on minority and low-income families.
As a school board member and education advocate, I’m often asked: what can we do to reverse this trend?
We must begin by demanding accountability from the governor and our Republican-led Legislature. We must fight for increased funding for K-12 and higher education schools. And we must continue working to establish clear benchmarks and clear data to measure where the need is greatest. If we don’t make the case about what works and what doesn’t, the impact of cuts just become further obfuscated.
Business leaders, parents, students, elected officials and, perhaps most importantly, education advocates have to work collaboratively to send a clear and powerful message that says, “Funding and improving our schools must be Arizona’s top priority.”
But to achieve this we must stand together, because if we continue to allow extremist politicians and parochial interests to drive us apart, the students of Arizona will be the ones who fall into the gap.
Carl Zaragoza is president of the Creighton School Board and sits on the Democrats for Education Reform Arizona Advisory Council.
Read the full story at The Arizona Republic: http://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/op-ed/2015/05/12/arizona-needs-to-take-care-of-its-schools-again/27197847/