Election season presents an opportunity for everyone in Arizona to think critically about the future. Our decisions on how best to move forward have generational effects on the diverse group of people who call this state home – and it’s crucial that the leaders we choose to carry out those decisions in Phoenix understand what’s at stake. As a former teacher, when I think about the future it all boils down to one thing: ensuring an excellent education for Arizona’s kids. Issues of quality and access have plagued the state for too long, and it is absolutely imperative that Arizona’s next state government makes education a priority. I plan to do so in the state House, and we need a governor who feels the same way. We need Fred DuVal.
Arizona decreased its per-pupil spending on education by almost 10 percent between 2009 and 2012, one of the highest rates of change in the country. Per-pupil spending was a dismal $7,554 in 2012, making us 47th in the nation when it comes to investing in our students’ education. Decreased funding has meant rampant inequality, lower standards, and poor results in our schools. Unsurprisingly, low-income and minority students have taken the brunt of the damage associated with a lack of adequate funding: In 2013, Arizona Black and Latino public school students respectively scored an average of 23 points and 26 points lower than white students on The Nation’s Report Card. Similarly, students who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (most often from low-income families) scored an average of 28 points lower than their wealthier peers. We can do better.
As public servants, our job is to provide for Arizona’s future, and that means taking care of our kids. Every child deserves the opportunity to graduate from an excellent public school with access to top-notch institutions of higher education, regardless of race, location, or their ability to pay. Fred DuVal has promised to stop cuts to education and increase funding in an equitable way that will support and produce great teachers, schools, and programs to best prepare our students to succeed. Arizona can escape its longstanding position at the bottom of the education rankings and even become a national model for education – but only if we act now.
But it’s not all about funding; resources have to be directed toward the people and programs with the greatest need. That’s where the “equitable” part comes in. Arizona’s next governor must support programs that specifically target minority and low-income students who have been marginalized for too long and who need additional support from childhood through college to help them succeed.
That starts with assisting parents with childcare and combining it with high-quality early education programs for children before they reach school age. Ensuring access to education early in a child’s life creates the best opportunity to succeed in school later on and makes it easier to keep up with peers. As our kids enter school, we need to take steps statewide to restore full-day kindergarten, which provides essential early education to children and childcare for parents who can’t afford to take time off work or hire a sitter. And when Arizona’s young adults reach high school, we need to provide clear pathways to higher education by lowering tuition costs, strengthening counseling services, and improving admissions practices.
When I stand at the ballot box this November, I’ll be thinking of the future. By appropriately funding and supporting proven tools that help students get ahead, we can access the untapped potential of Arizona’s future leaders who will make our state the best it can be. We can’t wait another four years for a governor who understands the importance of education. After the election, I hope to work with Fred DuVal to revolutionize education in Arizona for every student – and for the future.
– Reginald Bolding is a Democratic candidate for House Legislative District 27.