Give our schools your support - Tucson Local Media: Editorials

Give our schools your support

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Posted: Tuesday, October 20, 2009 11:00 pm

Chances are, you live in one of the six local districts with a school funding proposition on the ballot. You should vote Yes, as should people in the 83 other Arizona school districts holding override or bond elections.

Our local districts holding elections are Tucson, Amphitheater, Catalina Foothills, Sahuarita, Tanque Verde and Vail.

Arizona's schools are hurting. This year, the state cut their already low budgets even further. They're running at the bare minimum funding right now, and things are likely to get worse come January.

If you remember, last January the state cut $133 million from schools to help balance the budget. Right now, the state budget is in worse shape than it was then. More cuts to schools are inevitable.

There's no need to take my word for it. Republican House Majority Whip Andy Tobin said to a group of superintendents and school board members recently, "If you plan on spending the money Gov. (Jan) Brewer put back in education, don't." Unfortunately, he knows what he's talking about.

You might have a reasonable argument for voting down money for schools if you lived in a state like Connecticut or New Jersey or Vermont or New York. All of them spend more than twice as much per student as Arizona does. A third of the states spend 50 percent more per student than we do.

Arizona is rock bottom in per student spending. We're number 50, or 51 if you count D.C. Arizona holds the same "honor" when it comes to the number of students per teacher. We're dead last in the nation. All of us deserve to hang our heads in shame at our state's lack of concern for our children's futures.

(In case you think I'm cooking the numbers, my figures come from the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council [ALEC]. The study, Report Card on American Education, has a foreword by William Bennett, Reagan's Secretary of Education, and they don't come much more conservative than Bennett. I'm using their figures from the 2006-7 school year since it takes time for organizations to gather data and crunch numbers, but you can be sure Arizona hasn't risen in the rankings since then.)

Remember too, the state poured two years of federal education stimulus money into this year's budgets. As bad as our funding situation is right now, it will be even worse next year.

So when the schools ask for more funds or, in the case of some districts, a continuation of funds they're already receiving, we need to support them actively, with a Yes vote. That means making the effort to send in our vote-by-mail ballots or going to the polls. Just shaking our heads and saying, "Ain't it awful" isn't enough. We need to be part of the solution or we're part of the problem.

It's this simple. If Yes voters come out in numbers, the schools win. If Yes voters can't be bothered to make their voices heard at the polls, the schools lose.

Remember, this is an off-off year election, which means the turnout will be low. These odd year elections generally bring out a third as many voters as a presidential election. Simple math will tell you, that means your Yes vote has three times the weight it had last year.

And if you decide not to vote, or forget to vote, or you have some good reason why it's just too difficult to mail in your ballot or make it to the polls, that's like casting three votes against our schools.

Those of us who understand that educating our children is one of our most vital shared responsibilities need to make our voices heard in the school budget elections, and again next year when we vote for our state and national representatives and senators. Candidates must understand, supporting schools is one of our top priorities.

Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.

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