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Tucson Opinion: The Pandemic renewed my love of public schools; now they need our help
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Tucson Opinion: The Pandemic renewed my love of public schools; now they need our help

"Instead of making them and their teachers beg for funding, let’s give them the money we’ve already approved," she writes.

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The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

When schools closed their physical doors a year ago, like many parents, I felt completely adrift. Although I had worked in public education for 15 years, I was unsure how to support my elementary aged children through this upheaval. I nervously waited for our public school district to provide a roadmap for my family.

What they provided instead was a lifeline. As teachers Zoomed into our home, they offered my children structure, academic support and an emotional outlet.

After a swift and unanimous vote to purchase more technology, our district provided my family with three laptops and a hotspot. I watched in awe as teachers demonstrated professionalism, reliance and an unwavering commitment to their students.

I was reminded why I fell in love with public education so many years ago.

Unfortunately for Arizona’s children, not all of our state officials feel that same love. In fact, some Arizona legislators have proposed a roster of bills that actively undermine public education.

For starters, Senate Bill 1452 proposes a massive expansion of ESAs, or empowerment scholarship accounts, which allow families to use taxpayer monies for private school tuition.

Arizonans voted with a decisive 65% against an ESA expansion in 2018, in part because we already provide ESAs to students who have special needs or meet other criteria.

Senate Bill 1452 would extend voucher eligibility to any student attending a Title I (low income) school. That means instead of serving the current 9,700 students, a whopping 700,000 students could access these private-school vouchers. This would funnel exponentially more taxpayer money out of public schools.

Senate Bill 1783 is a bill that would undermine Proposition 208, a tax increase that voters approved in 2020 to fund education.

This bill would create a loophole that allows small businesses to avoid the Prop 208 tax.

According to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, SB 1783’s passage could slash Prop. 208’s estimated revenues from $827 million to only $300 million.

Teachers of various backgrounds and political parties rallied around Prop. 208, and voters stood by them.

Senate Bill 1783 is a devastating blow to their bipartisan efforts, and it would guarantee that Arizona retains its current national ranking: dead last for both per pupil spending and teacher pay.

While voters have united to support public schools, Republican legislators are voting along party lines to move these bills forward.

This begs the question: why is supporting public schools a partisan issue at all?

And why are lawmakers who promote limited government repeatedly seeking to override their constituents on education issues?

Surely Arizonans from all parties can unite around the shared value that our children are entitled to a free, appropriate and fully funded education.

The nearly one million students who attend Arizona’s public schools are our relatives, our neighbors and will someday be employees at our businesses.

Instead of making them and their teachers beg for funding, let’s give them the money we’ve already approved.

Let’s demand that legislators remove these divisive bills so that Arizonans can build the strong public school system we deserve.

When public schools are appropriately funded, they can address issues that are important to families like raising salaries to attract qualified teachers, purchasing technology that gives students an advantage in the 21st century marketplace and providing the convenience of quality schools in our own neighborhoods.

I urge you to learn more about these and other proposed bills that would drain funds from our already depleted public schools. Then contact your Arizona House of Representative members and ask them to reject these bills.

Public schools have shown up for Arizona’s students throughout the pandemic.

It’s time we show our support in return.

Heather Mace is a beginning teacher mentor in Tucson, and a Public Voices fellow with the OpEd Project.

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