Arizonans disregard education with Proposition 204

Arizonans have spoken, and to education they said, “Eh, we can do without.”

On Tuesday, Arizona voters refused to make permanent a one-cent sale tax known as Proposition 204, an initiative that would have generated a billion dollars in annual revenue for the state’s education infrastructure and family support programs.

Despite bleak forecasts of closed schools, overcrowded classroom sizes and massive employee layoffs, Arizonan voters held their own in a comfortable “no new taxes” mantra. Indeed, Arizona won’t reinvest in education — not even a cent.

The culture surrounding education in Arizona hasn’t deviated too far away from its quaint conservatism. And yet Arizona’s unwillingness to devote greater funds to education reveals another set of ideologies, one that holds education as a burden, an expense — a luxury that can be exchanged for the almighty saved tax dollar.

Political convictions can be stubborn. In this case, they trump the welfare of citizens. Arizona State Treasurer Doug Ducey told Cronkite News Service that the “sales tax would hurt businesses.”

Students will learn from outdated textbooks; educators will lose jobs. Teachers, now threatened by layoffs, will certainly sleep better at night, knowing their careers were sacrificed in the name of job creation and a hustling business sector.

Until 13-year-olds in overcrowded classrooms can pull themselves up by the bootstraps to learn algebra, funds to keep qualified teachers employed will help. Until parents are willing to teach their children the difference between a metaphor and a simile, and drill geometry theorems with them, new textbooks are going to be important.

“If you think that more money going into schools is going to solve our problems, it’s not,” State Superintendent John Huppenthal said.

Republicans like Huppenthal can preach “personal responsibility” and “accountability” until the end of time, but how accountable were Arizonan parents when The Arizona Republic reported Arizona had some of the “lowest percentages in the country of students listed as ‘at or above basic’ and ‘at or above proficient’” in 2010?

Arizona parents weren’t taking any responsibility then, and they didn’t Tuesday.

Opponents of Proposition 204 argued with rhetoric that waxes the shortcomings of bureaucracy and harps on the failures of “big government.” The funds generated from Proposition 204 will trickle down to nothing after it funnels in and out of bureaucrats’ offices, Ducey implied to The Arizona Republic.

Even if that’s true, it’s not the bureaucrats Arizonans voted to defund — it’s the teachers. Republicans hate big government and bureaucracy a lot, but as the state saw Tuesday, they hate teachers a little more.

The educated “elite” worry some Arizonans. It’s “snobbery” to believe that all students can go to college, former presidential candidate Rick Santorum said in February. When Gov. Jan Brewer launched “Arizona Ready Education Report Card” in April, she mentions making students ready for a “competitive workforce.” Other countries see education as an investment so powerful, so important to their standing in a global economy, there is no sacrifice too great; here in Arizona, one-cent per dollar is too much.

Executive Director of the Arizona School Boards Association Timothy Ogle told Cronkite News Service that the state Legislature must find other means to close the $650 million deficit in schools. Not much has changed ideologically since Arizona first instituted the one-cent sale tax two years ago. But two years ago, Arizona voters made a courageous move to honor education with a small tax-increase.

Let’s hope teachers can hold out until Arizona finds that courage again.

 

Reach the columnist at ctruong1@asu.edu or follow her at @ce_truong.

 

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