The Arizona legislature's neglect of the public-education system will define these times

In 2112, when people look back at what Arizona was going through during its centennial, I'm betting that SB 1070 will not be the main topic of conversation.

It will probably make for an amusing anecdote, a political oddity born of short fuses and small minds, one that was met with marches in the streets and a chorus of loud whispers of, "What the hell's wrong with you?!" from the business community. It will have been a blip, one with neither a lasting legacy nor an impact.

No, the real head-scratching will be reserved for Arizona's long-term, self-destructive attack on its public-school system, an attack born of vindictiveness, fueled by classism and marked by blatant hypocrisy.

The origins of this right-wing crusade against public schools and their teachers are well-documented and needn't be repeated. What does deserve mention is the zeal with which this campaign has been carried out, especially in the face of ever-mounting evidence of its wrong-headedness, not to mention the willingness of those involved to double back over their own philosophical tow line in a Captain Queeg-like effort to teach other people a lesson.

One would have thought that the creation and proliferation of under-performing charter schools would have been a big-enough "screw you!" to public-school teachers. Backers tried to portray these places as "educational laboratories," wherein new and improved teaching techniques and curricula would be born and nurtured. This, of course, turned out to be a giant crock, seeing as how, since charter schools are publicly funded, they must, by law, follow the same curriculum guidelines as real public schools. Therefore, the only significant difference—and it's a biggie in the eyes of the teacher-haters—is that charter-school teachers cannot unionize, and their jobs are therefore at the daily whim of whoever is in charge of the building at that particular moment.

While there are certainly a few success stories, studies show that charter-school students are less-well-educated than their counterparts at the nearest-adjacent public school. This should be a good enough reason for the cash-strapped Legislature to pull the financial plug on most, if not all, charter schools. But there's no way that's going to happen, since, for the past several years, lawmakers' eyes have been focused on the Holy Grail of fake-ass neo-conservatism—the use of public money to send kids to private schools.

The Republican majority in the Legislature, along with their willing cohorts at the conservative Goldwater Institute, have been searching for ways to circumvent state law—not to mention their own stated ideals and common decency—for several years now. They came up with a voucher system that a conservative Arizona Supreme Court took one look at and responded with (and I'm paraphrasing ever so slightly here), "Are you out of your freakin' minds?!" And now, for the past two years, instead of looking for creative ways to shore up education funding, these people have been looking for back-door ways to bring back vouchers.

A couple of weeks back, I interviewed a guy from the Goldwater Institute who was touting SB 1553, which had been signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer. The new law will cynically use handicapped kids to prop open the back door to vouchers, making those who scream about government handouts and then turn around and promote the use of public money to send kids to private schools ever so giddy. He started out with the falsest of all such premises—that "we should apply free-market principles to education."

First, the use of the term "free-market principles" should send the reasonable person screaming into the street. It's like hearing Newt Gingrich talk about family values. Plus, we don't really have a free market (and we should probably all thank God for that, considering how the lower and middle classes get dicked by this sorta-free market). Most importantly, educating our state's young people is a public responsibility and a sacred trust. State legislators should do everything in their power to make Arizona's schools the best they can possibly be. If someone with means wants to opt out of that system and send their kids to a private school, that's the American way.

According to the "logic" employed by these people, if someone can only afford to ride the public bus back and forth to work, the state should use public money to help that person buy a car. Or if they can only afford a small TV that only gets the local stations, it's the Legislature's duty to provide them with cable and broadband. I simply don't understand how people who tout personal responsibility and decry government giveaways can turn around and—with a Botox-straight face—claim that they are acting in the public interest and in accordance with their own principles.

The final history of this dismal period has yet to be written, and we, as a state, may yet come to our collective senses and find a way out of our various messes. However, it may someday be shown that things were bad while we were adhering to the avowed philosophy of the political majority—but it wasn't until they decided to talk out of one side of their mouths and do the exact opposite that the train went completely off the tracks.

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