Teachers and parents stood before a packed room addressing the Pima County Board of Supervisors as it considered Resolution 2018-24, supporting the campaign to increase public education funding. Some came armed with hard data and facts; presenting them with a teacher’s precision. They articulated a thesis supported by strong evidence from gold-standard references. Others told personal stories. One former Arizona teacher, who left for better opportunities in the South Bronx, flew home on her own dime to stand shoulder to shoulder for her students in Arizona. The point was plain: Arizona has amazing teachers. Schools are doing more, for more, with far less than ever before. They need help before the system falls into itself. This is a tipping point.
Amidst a sea of red, and to thunderous applause, the Resolution passed 3-2.
Supervisor Steve Christy rose to speak against the measure. First he recognized the merits of the issue and the problems in our classrooms: the lack of funding, infrastructure failings, and the embarrassing state of educator pay. He voted “no” because he does not approve of walkouts. He missed the irony in his closing words. Supervisor Christy observed that today more stakeholders than ever are involved — teachers, parents, voters, politicians, children — all focused on K-12 issues, but he ignored the reason the spotlight shines is because of #RedForEd. And that is why we cannot allow this moment to pass without action.
At some point over the last 15 years, Arizona stopped viewing education as a public good. Our public schools carry out the state’s constitutional charge of providing an education for all students. This bedrock mandate directs the state to provide a robust system including transportation, counseling, libraries and special needs accommodations. All things derisively referred to as “administration costs” but absolutely essential services in the educational experience.
A common retort to the push for increased infrastructure and resources is that school districts are frittering away money on fat administration budgets, and the money, which is otherwise adequate, is not making it into the classroom. If true, that’s a legitimate problem. But it is not true.
Waste, fraud and excess are bad. The question is whether school districts are wasteful. We all agree that everything can be improved on the margins, but the deep budget cuts from the 2008 Great Recession remain in place and scraping at the margins won’t lead to success or foster innovation.
The Auditor General’s Office recently released its annual report on school district spending. In 2017 Arizona school districts spent 10.4 percent of operating funds on administration. Arizona’s average would be even lower but we have several single-school, rural districts that have significantly higher administrative costs. Remember what “administration” costs pay for: beloved librarians and school counselors; essential monitors and custodians; safe drivers and buses; and pretty much everything inside the schoolhouse except for certified teachers. That is why the promise of a 20 percent teacher pay raise falls flat. It is a magician’s flashy move, distracting from the real trick.
If only certified teachers get a raise, what does that mean for our failing infrastructure; out-of-date textbooks — the best sign of the rallies read “Who is Doug Ducey? My textbook says Janet Napolitano is our Governor!” — or school counselors who do more for the health and safety of our children than any armed math teacher can hope to do? It means nothing.
We’ve long wondered what would happen if everyone who cared about public education stood up. Now we know — change happens. Please don’t sit down.