February 1, 2023

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The Education Specialists

Election Reflection – STORIES FROM SCHOOL AZ

Another Arizona election is in the rearview mirror and I’m tired. For Arizona public education advocates, election season is emotionally, mentally, and physically grueling. It’s been 3 weeks since election day and I’m still exhausted.

Those who dedicate their time and energy to campaigning for public education spend several months leading up to election day tirelessly canvassing neighborhoods, attending meetings, writing postcards, and making phone calls.

In October, I wrote a blog about educator involvement in advocacy work. We donate treasured personal time to advance policies and people that impact learning and working conditions. I know most people don’t want education to be political. It shouldn’t be. I wish this type of involvement wasn’t necessary. But when the important decisions are in the hands of politicians, our jobs regrettably become politicized.

The blog I wrote ended with these lines:

I’m tired, as are so many of my dedicated colleagues. I want to spend my weekends reading, hiking, and hanging out with my family.

I can’t wait for the first lazy weekend after the battle for our public schools has finally been won. 

Those last few sentences have been on repeat in my mind as I’ve done some post-election reflection. Despite our best efforts (and my desperate pleas to the universe) I will not be enjoying the lazy weekends I’ve anxiously awaited. Arizona isn’t there yet. There is still so much work to be done before we can declare ourselves a pro-public education state.

However, there were some successes this year. While I don’t intend to be lulled into complacency by a few nice wins, I also want to acknowledge the hard work of the advocates that made them possible. Further, since we don’t often have public education wins in Arizona, it’s important to savor them when we get them.

The vast majority of bonds and overrides passed. This is a huge victory for public schools. Arizona consistently ranks near the bottom of states for school funding. Because of this, districts look to increase their funding through local initiatives like bonds and overrides. Without the additional funding the initiatives provide, districts would be forced to cut staff, scale back maintenance projects, and forego upgrades to buildings and technology. The fact that most of the bonds and overrides passed is a success worth celebrating.

Policies that impact education often show up on our ballots as propositions. In this election Arizona voters passed proposition 308. This will allow students who graduate from an Arizona high school to receive in-state tuition at the public universities regardless of their immigration status. This was a huge success. Not only is giving in-state tuition to these students the right thing to do, but it also makes good economic sense. They are already in our classrooms. They are part of our community. It behooves all of us to help them acquire an advanced education so they can be productive and self-sufficient members of our society.

Trying to earn votes for policies and ideas is often easier than getting a person elected. Voters attach biases, preconceived ideas, and personality judgements to people in a way they can’t with propositions or overrides. Getting people elected is really challenging work. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the efforts to elect candidates who will prioritize public schools delivered mixed results.

The good news is voters elected many pro-public education candidates to the state legislature and to local school governing boards. This is important because these are the people who will develop our budgets, craft laws, and promote policies that impact public schools. Forward progress will depend on the right people doing this work.

The bad news is we didn’t elect enough. Unfortunately, those who covet the privatization of the education system still hold a slim majority in our state legislature. This is a fact we must acknowledge and work to overcome.

How will we do that? What still needs to happen to change the priority status of public education?

The bottom line is we need to elect more public education supporters to the Arizona state legislature. We must continue to work for this until we are successful. We also must make it our mission to get as many people involved as possible. It will take an enormous collective effort to get quality candidates elected. If you aren’t involved yet, please make it a priority to get involved in 2023.

School governing boards are a fundamentally important part of a well-functioning school district. Despite this, they’ve been mostly ignored until recently. Since the pandemic we have seen once mundane school board meetings devolve into childish and chaotic spectacles.  This phenomenon has highlighted the importance of electing the right people to represent our school communities.

One way we can positively change the trajectory of who is getting elected to our school boards is to educate the community on the importance of voting in school board elections.  We need people who genuinely care about serving students’ best interests elected to our boards. For that to happen, we must increase voter participation in school board races.

We saw some wins, but we still have so much work to do. Part of that work is changing who is in decision making positions. We need to elect public education supporters to the state legislature and to our school boards.

The election is over and I’m resting. But while I rest, I’m reflecting on how I can be a more effective advocate next time.

How will you get involved to advocate for public education?