Friday, May 13, 2016

Letter to the Editor: Support Education, Not Prop 123

Posted By on Fri, May 13, 2016 at 9:00 AM

Dear Tucson Weekly:

As a concerned parent/grandparent, public education advocate and TUSD board candidate, I am very worried that the YES campaign on Prop 123 will dominate the media landscape and push through a dangerous and divisive proposition. How, you may ask, can a public education advocate vote AGAINST school funding? My answer is that I do not believe that this is school funding. This is an end-run around having to comply (first) with Proposition 301 legislation that was the will of the voters and (more recently) with a court order demanding compliance with that legislation. Prop 123 is being pitched to us as education funding by a governor who calls himself the "education governor" while presiding over a state that has defunded, for all intents and purposes, universities, technical education and K-12 school districts.

My point of entry into the subject is my brand new granddaughter, Emma, who I hope will have a broad and diverse public education here in TUSD. However, she will not be entering the system for about 6 years, which means that in a very concrete way she will experience the outcome of Proposition 123—an outcome which could be quite horrendous (just ask anyone who lost a home in 2008 if ever-increasing investments is something we can place all of our faith in....) She will never be educated in a public school with more than 49 percent of the budget; if she is, a trigger is tripped and all bets are off. Sorry, little Emma, guess the dream and the state's constitutional responsibility to educate you were just a fantasy!, Meanwhile, my granddaughter’s uncle, my youngest son is a high schooler who will have the huge opportunity to move from number 50 to number 48 in the nation in terms of school funding should Prop 123 be passed. Yes, teachers may receive a raise, but possibly at the cost of future employment, if public education is privatized. (The funds are "undesignated" so it is not even a given that they will in fact be used for teacher raises) Many fear that this Proposition is a "first step" to privatization, and nothing else.

I would like to know, after twice being fooled, just how much trust should we place in either our legislature or our governor? Why twice fooled, you ask? The first time was when the taxpayers supported extra taxation to go to public schools, and the 2008 economic downturn forced a compromise and the legislature canceled payments and used the money for general fund needs. The second time was when we the public all lined up AGAIN to designate a permanent 1/2 cent tax increase to take care of school funding, (to resolve the dire situation that our schools were left in by the first foolishness) only to have the election stolen by this very governor and his dark money friends. So my question here is, who is to be trusted and why?

Far from being a school funding plan, this is a bald and bold attempt by the governor and the legislature to get their hands on the state trust lands fund which has historically been the most designated of designated funding. They can (and will) continue to give tax breaks to their cronies, while our public schools pay the price. If teacher raises were the goal of this proposition, negotiators would not have fought so hard to assure that the monies would be undesignated funds, instead of directed to classroom spending.

Not all supposed beneficiaries have been convinced by the pricey YES campaign. On my own informal tour around town as I knock on doors for my campaign, I find plenty of teachers, aides, school nurses and others who are against 123. There are even more retired teachers, aides, nurses and others who are against it. It doesn't break into the fault lines that the governor and a lot of politicians backed by the big money behind Prop 123 would have you believe.

So what, then, should we do? In the inevitable lawsuit that will follow with either passage OR failure of the Proposition, we Arizonans who support public education (and the polling for prop 204 showed that we ARE the majority) should begin to negotiate from a position of strength, and quickly. Our so-called "partner" in education funding (Ducey) is quickly padding the number of his supporters on the Arizona Supreme Court, which may well be a player in the future. The recent KidsCare example shows that kids do not have to be a partisan issue. On important issues like kids and public education, it is essential to create strange and pragmatic alliances.

We the people of Arizona DO support public education. Until and unless we get a majority of people in our legislature from either party who actually support public education, we have nothing to lose by working together. In fact, we must do so to create a real funding plan for public education, not sham propositions like 123. Our children's and grandchildren’s educational future depends on it.

— Betts Putnam-Hidalgo

Betts Putnam-Hidalgo is a candidate for the Tucson Unified School District Board.

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