A few hundred students packed the Tucson High Magnet School auditorium earlier this afternoon for a forum to discuss the effects the state's $30 million budget cut to joint technical education districts will have at the school and the entire Tucson Unified School District.
Leroy Aaron Fisher, a junior at Tucson High, says the cuts jeopardize his plans of becoming a paramedic, and he has a question for Gov. Doug Ducey: "Why would you do that?"
"I don't want to sit down and take this," the 17-year-old said while he waited for the forum to begin. "How can I, as a student, how can we, as a school, combat this?"
Students had originally intended to have a walkout today (Tucson High student Morgan Darby, who spoke at the event, had posted a photo about it on her Instagram). But the school and district decided to meet them half way and host a forum. Fisher still thinks a walkout could intensify the message they have for the governor and lawmakers who continue to cripple the state's education.
"I am turning 18 very soon and I am going to register to vote and I am not going to vote for (Ducey)," he says.
Get out there and vote as soon as you can—that was also at the core of today's forum.
"There is a choice, we can all sit and allow the Legislature in Phoenix to continue to fund prisons or to start funding you," said TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez. "We could also do nothing, be uninformed and sit here and allow big companies that make billions of dollars a year get tax breaks, maybe that money can be redirected toward you. My personal preference is that you are supported, that you are educated, my personal preference for a better Arizona, a better Tucson is for you to take a hold of your state, it is your state, your future and your responsibility, thank you for being here. I want to tell you how many millions of dollars are going to companies for tax breaks, I want to tell you how many millions of dollars are going to prisons."
Sanchez asked all students who were 18 to raise their hands. "You better be registered. Being informed is half of it, the other half is going out and voting."
U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, who sat at his daughter's side—TUSD Board President Adelita Grijalva—thanked the students and told them their action is one of the most patriotic things they could do, and that the real ignorants are the ones in power making these cuts.
"To be critical is what is encouraged and needed in this country," he said.
The budget, (updated after publication, 10: 17 p.m.) which Ducey signed tonight, will take away $330 for every student that enrolls
in a career and technical education class at TUSD. In total, TUSD would lose about $1.4 million in support for these classes.
Fisher is one of about 7,750 students in the district who takes advantage of the accounting, bioscience, computer networking, marketing, and several other career and technical classes the district offers. In Tucson High alone, close to 2,600 students are currently enrolled in one, according to Charles McCollum, the interim director of TUSD's Career and Technical Education.
Thanks to the CTE program, Evelyn Bolaños, also a junior and president of Tucson High's welding club, can pretty much get a welding job as soon as she graduates high school. She's taken enough classes to get a certificate.
"These classes make Tucson High a very special school," she said to the audience. Tucson High students Nathaniel Gallegos, Jessica Gallegos and Nicholas Trujillo also spoke. So did TUSD board member Cam Juarez.
Community colleges and universities were also thrown into the mix—a lot of the teens getting ready to graduate will feel those cuts come fall.
"One of the problems that I have is how selective it was, Pima County and Maricopa County community colleges didn't receive funding but other counties did," she said. "What doesn't make sense is we keep talking about how important it is for you to be career ready and yet the career ready programs were the ones that were cut. I have a hard time wrapping my head around that."
If these courses are gutted, Fisher says he is considering moving to Washington, where his father lives, because education is "more of a priority there."
"But I would miss my friends. I love this school so much and I don't want to see so many amazing classes cut. That is the reason I I come here, because of these classes. To see all these things go away, is really painful."