At a summit about education funding, I spoke in favor of helping our schools retain their best teachers, as featured in Arizona Public Media.
“We know it takes a village to raise a child – we already know that – but it is going to take an army to educate them," Fernandez said. "And that’s why we are here tonight to make sure that you are our army.“
Gov. Doug Ducey and fellow Republicans in the Legislature are trying to come up with increased education funding as the protests grow over cuts made earlier this year.
People are turning out in big numbers in what’s become a statewide movement. A recent forum at Catalina High Magnet School in Tucson packed the school's auditorium.
“Stop complaining and get active," said Democratic state Representative Lisa Otondo of Yuma at the forum. "I’m so happy to see so many people here!”
Last year at this time, a forum on funding public education might have attracted a couple of dozen people. Now, public gatherings are attracting hundreds.
“The fact is that in Arizona, we have one of the highest rates of people in poverty in the country and the only tool that has ever been found to reliably raised people out of poverty is public education," said Democratic Representative Steve Farley of Tucson at last week’s forum.
Farley spoke at one of some 30 forums planned around the state between now and the next legislative session in January. They’re spearheaded by Democrats, but attracting a broad audience.
At the Tucson forum, a cross section of community leaders, parents and activists were in the crowd.
Among them is Alex Rodriguez, Southern Arizona director of the Arizona Technology Council.
“From Raytheon to Google – from Universal Avionics to Go Daddy – Our vision is to help convert Arizona’s economy into the fastest growing tech hub in the nation," Rodriguez said. "Education was, is and will be the number one way to help improve our quality of life in the state of Arizona.”
Restoring funding to public education will take a complete reversal of the mindset of the Republican leadership at the Legislature.
The cuts that the governor and the Republican-controlled Legislature passed last spring included $113 million to K-12, $99 million to state universities and complete defunding of Arizona’s two largest community colleges.
When the budget was unveiled earlier this year – thousands took to the state capital in protest.
At another recent forum, held in Oro Valley, Republican State Representative Vince Leach of Saddlebrooke defended the cuts, saying the state shouldn’t spend what it doesn’t have. He adds that majority rules and Republicans, he said, are in the majority.
“If you’re section that wants this, this and this, is smaller than the section that does not want this, this and this–guess what? This isn’t pretty, but you lose,” he said.
Republican Senator Steve Smith of Maricopa said at the Oro Valley forum that in reality Arizona is spending more on public education, not less.
“The overall net increase to K-12 went up 30 bucks per student," Smith said. "You can argue. I don’t care, those are the numbers.”
Democratic Representative Randy Friese of Tucson maintains those numbers are just plain wrong. He asks that voters do their homework and says information can be found on the House Democrats’ website.
“When someone is talking to you about something that doesn’t seem quite right, I want you to have information to be able to challenge them and ask them some informed questions,” he said.
Friese and other Democrats in the state House are among those putting forth plans to increase educational funding.
Gov. Ducey last week said he is working on revisions to his idea to take more money from the state Land Trust for education, and Republican legislative leaders say they are willing to use some of the state’s growing surplus.
Democrats, meanwhile, continue trying to raise the stakes at forums such as the one in Tucson last week. Democratic Representative Charlene Fernandez of Yuma spoke to a group of more than 400 people in the audience.
“We know it takes a village to raise a child – we already know that – but it is going to take an army to educate them," Fernandez said. "And that’s why we are here tonight to make sure that you are our army."