Frontier Elementary School here in Payson, Arizona, is a performing plus school. It is one of three elementary schools serving the Town of Payson. It’s a rather unique school in terms of layout. The school is divided into domes that double as both classrooms and all-weather PE halls. My mother-in-law volunteers there and sometimes I join her, eager to obtain some classroom experience before I test the waters of a degree in education. The children here are remarkable, and the school has some of the lowest class sizes I’ve ever seen. The class I serve in, a small room full of bright third graders, has only eighteen students. Even this small amount is enough to keep the teacher, myself, and my mother-in-law on our feet most of the day.
As most of you might know, public education in Arizona has seen brighter days. From kindergarten all the way up to the state universities, budget cuts handed down by the Republican-dominated state legislature have sent administrators scattering to fill the gaps. Here in our small town of about 18,000, the result has been enormous layoffs. The school district no longer has any librarians. The vice-principal of Payson High School was laid off less than one year before his scheduled retirement day. Even with a budget override of $1.2 million passed by the town, the schools have been told that all of them will have to make do with shared principals, reduced staff, fewer teachers, and larger class sizes. Nine faculty and staff were laid off last month. Had the override failed at the ballot box, the result would have been close to 30. Worse yet, there is no word from the local school board on whether or not these positions will ever return.
Arizona Prop 100, a temporary one-cent sales tax increase sent to the ballot by the Arizona legislature and Governor Jan Brewer, is a needed measure to help balance the budget without resting the brunt of it on the backs of our educators and public safety officers. Education is a fundamental part of a successful economy, moreso than just about anything else. Should this measure fail, the coming onslaught of cuts would decimate the system beyond repair. The cost of doing nothing would be a lot worse than one penny on every dollar spent. Frontier Elementary, a school that has become rather dear to me in the short time I’ve been in Payson, would be on the chopping block permanently. Its 200+ students would be uprooted from the school they enjoy and forced to go across town to Payson or Julia Randall Elementary, bloating the class sizes there by perhaps as much as 35%. The hardworking staff would be out of a job. I can’t imagine the prospects would be much brighter in other parts of Arizona.
Do I think hiking sales tax is the right answer to solving our budget woes over the long term? NO. Arizona needs to get serious about corporate and property tax rates and ending its over-reliance on a shaky, regressive form of revenue. Sadly, the right-wing extremists who’ve controlled the state legislature since 1993 are not inclined to get tough with their pals in corporate boardrooms across our state. Hell, most of the state legislature didn’t even have the testicular abundance to pass the sales-tax hike themselves despite seeing the trouble the state is in financially. Instead, they were too busy passing bills prohibiting centaurs, dehumanizing people and denying them basic rights, and revoking sensible concealed carry laws. These robots have never seen a spending cut or deregulation they didn’t fall in love with, and they’ve never seen a tax they didn’t want to end forever. They are the root of the problem.
That’s why I present this appeal to you, readers in Arizona, to preserve our schools, our highway patrolmen, our streets and our social safety net. Get out to the polls on Tuesday, May 18, and vote YES on 100. And then, on November 2nd, kick out the bums who didn’t have the nerve to pass this themselves.
I found this letter by Mary Coleman to the Arizona Daily Wildcat a refreshing reminder of how willfully ignorant the rich can be toward the plights of the less-fortunate. Coleman starts her letter with “As many of us are familiar with FAFSA, many, on the other hand, are not.” Along with her proud claim that she is “not receiving anything at all from this so-called ‘aid,'” Coleman is clearly in the latter category, or her little rant wouldn’t be so misleading.
For what it’s worth, I’m a full-time, in-state student who relies on FAFSA aid for every cent of what I pay to attend school here, and I can assure you that I and others like me do not spend our aid money on “strip clubs, beer…getting manicures, and buying unnecessary things.” Why? Because there’s not enough money in our aid packages to afford those kind of deals! There’s barely enough money to cover the expenses of tuition and books on the Pell Grant these days. The only way you’d have a meaningful sum of money left after those big expenses is if you:
- Have a personal college savings fund. Obviously, no taxpayer contributes to this but you and your relatives.
- Have scholarships, which are usually voluntary contributions by private entities to scholarship funds held by the UA Foundation. I know, because I log and process at least ten of these every week at my Work-Study job.
- Speaking of Work-Study jobs, it may be taxpayer money, but it’s still my time and energy that goes into earning those funds, and I’ll spend my hard-earned check however I damn well please, thank you.
- Get a tuition waiver for academic performance in high school (aka Wildcat Excellence). These are important for maintaining what little prestige the UA can still claim in its undergraduate student body.
- Take out a loan package. Contrary to Coleman’s ignorant statements, Stafford and Perkins loans are NOT taxpayer-funded. They are only insured by the federal government against default by the borrower or abuse by the lender. (By the way, you ever notice that wealthy conservatives use the term “taxpayer” as an insinuation that the poor who benefit from government services don’t pay taxes? Maybe they ought to get a good look at my mother’s check stubs.)
The woman also claims that “shopping for clothes” is somehow a wrong way to spend taxpayer money. Why? If I recall correctly, clothes are right next to nutrition and shelter as absolute necessities for humans to subsist in civilized society. If my wardrobe falls apart, and all I’ve got is financial aid to pay for some replacements, I’m certainly not going to strut into class half-nude or wear the same clothes for days at a time to save Uncle Sam some money.
I’ve seen a lot of stupid, backwards shit sent from Wildcat readers to the editor. While most of it makes me chuckle, this right here just made me mad because it indicates just how little wealthy twits like Mary Coleman think of folks like me, my fiancee, and every other less-off student who has dreamed of a college education. With misinformation like hers being touted as fact, it’s no surprise that factions hellbent on regressing the American economy to the bad old days of the 1920s are gaining ground.