Arizona students, supporters march at Capitol for continued education funding

Video by Brian Fore | Multimedia Reporter

With Gov. Doug Ducey and the Arizona Republican's budget proposal showing even more cuts to higher education, ASU students and Arizona residents gathered at the Capitol on Thursday to protest the new plan.

While supporters, including Tempe Undergraduate Student Government President Cassidy Possehl, talked to the Senate Appropriations Committee about the devastating impacts these cuts would have on students, others protested on the steps.

“They say cut back; we say fight back” was just one of the chants echoed by the crowd of nearly 600 students, teachers and parents fighting for education.

Raquel Teran is a representative with Mi Familia Vota, a national nonprofit organization that supports education for the Latino community. She said these cuts could impact various lives for many years.

“The budget cuts are disastrous,” Teran said. “This impacts the lives of children, teenagers, college students for many years to come.”

The new proposal would cut more than $100 million from the budget, which is an increase from the $75 million Ducey originally proposed in January.

Teran said she was out marching because Ducey needed to know how much support was rallied.

“The message we are proving today is not to give up,” Teran said. “We are willing to take legal battles to fight an issue that is nearly unconstitutional. In the Arizona Constitution, it says that higher education should be nearly free.”

With all the educated people in legislature, they should be able to find a solution or a loophole that puts people first, Teran said.

Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, said she will fight from the inside to make sure the proposed budget plan does not get approved.

“I will continue to vote no on this budget until there are compromises to education funding,” Gonzales said. “The more people that are out here gives this issue more weight.”

Beth Maloney, a fifth-grade teacher at Sunset Hills Elementary School, came out to the Capitol with her daughter, Shannon, to let legislators know who the funding truly effects.

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“The government needs to hear the impact of cuts from who really matters — our kids,” Maloney said. “Education needs to be spared cuts. They have always been cut.”

Maloney, who was also named 2014 Arizona Teacher of the Year, said she has seen the effects and suffering that cuts to education funding has caused first-hand.

“The budget cuts will affect non-classroom funding, which means our counselors, nurses,” Maloney said. “We have kids who are facing all types of issues. There are children who need medication, have allergies, need EpiPens. We couldn’t function without our nurses. That’s putting kids at a serious risk.”

Eric Best, husband of one of the organizers of the protest, said Arizona needs to improve its educational funding ranks, not cut them further.

“We are 47th in the U.S. (for education funding) and these cuts will put us last,” Best said. “I find it an abomination that Ducey is willing to put more money in prisons than schools. These children are the special interest groups we should be funding.”

Best, who has two sons, ages 12 and 10, often volunteers in their school along with his wife.

“When I walk in there, I see empty classrooms — why?” Best said. “Because we don’t have enough funding to hire more teachers? Kids only get half an hour for lunch. By the time they get through the lunch line, they only have 10 minutes to eat. There’s not enough staff to serve the children.”

The cuts Ducey is proposing will cause much more harm for not only students, but their parents, Best said.

“This will cut non-classroom education, like cafeteria workers, nurses, bus drivers,” Best said. “So let’s say they widen the circle to bus kids in from a mile to a mile and a half, how many parents now have to find a way to get their kids to school? Are you going to have third and fourth graders walking to school? No! What about the maintenance staff for the buses? Now the buses won’t be properly maintained. It causes a huge ripple effect.”

Best said putting funding into special interest groups, such as prisons, sends children around the state a bad message.

“Students need support to survive and grow a future,” Best said. “What message does it send to our kids that we’re willing to put $52 million into prisons but not into education?”

 

Reach the reporter at Jlsuerth@asu.edu or follow @SuerthJessica on Twitter.

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