This is part 1 of a multi-part series by Beth Lewis and Dr. Sharon Kirsch.
This past weekend, we represented Save Our Schools Arizona at the Network for Public Education’s 4th annual conference in Oakland, CA. There, we were able to raise awareness of our efforts and network with over 400 public education teachers and activists.
We learned so much, and heard so many stories that beg to be shared. Our heads are still spinning from it all; we hope we can do it justice for all of our incredible volunteers.
#1: Arizona is ground zero in the fight to save public schools.
We knew that Arizona was in bad shape, but our worst fears have been confirmed. Of course, we know the statistics. 49th in the nation in per-pupil spending, 48th most crowded class sizes, 51st worst state to be a teacher… We can recite these numbers in our sleep. But our troubles go far beyond statistics.
It is not hyperbolic to say that every major education policy enacted in Arizona in the past 22 years has led to the decimation of our public schools and paved the way for the privatization attempts we are now fighting. We are the playbook now being used in every other state for the strategic attempt to dismantle public education by out-of-state interests.
In Arizona, we’ve seen 20 years of open enrollment lead to communities fleeing struggling schools instead of banding together to fix them. We’ve seen an onslaught of for-profit charter schools that burden our system and deepen segregation. Our state has awarded tax breaks for over $1 billion in private tax credit scholarships to help the rich under the guise of aiding the poor. We are one of the only states in the union to use standardized tests to grade schools on an A-F basis, which we then use to shame the poor through results-based funding formulas that grant more funds to high performers (rich schools) and deny such funds to those who need help (thanks, Governor Ducey).
Educators from other states who are now fighting these programs were shocked to hear we've had them in place for years, if not decades. Other states now have the “luxury” of looking to Arizona to see how horrific things can actually get. They can use our experience (and demise) to fight back against public policy that's become the status quo here. Many privatization attempts look innocuous at first; it is only through the lens of hindsight (or Arizona history) that we can all now see how damaging and far-reaching these policies can be.
Let this fuel our fight against vouchers — we don't need hindsight to tell us that vouchers will harm our kids and destroy our schools. The writing is already on the wall.
Continue to part 2