Public school funding is essential to ensuring that children in Arizona will become successful in their future endeavors. Special education is one part of public education that needs to be emphasized in particular because most parents who have children with special needs often don’t have any idea on where to turn for help.
According to the Arizona Constitution, it is the responsibility of the state to provide education to all children, including those from families who can’t afford everything that goes into educating children with special needs. It’s for this reason that I’m sharing my story and why I strongly believe it’s important to better fund public schools as a whole as well as special education.
When my son was diagnosed with autism, I had no idea what it was or what I could do to help him. I asked his pediatrician and did my own research in order to improve his quality of life. When he was two and a half, he started attending preschool in our neighborhood school. I reached out to the teachers and school staff who were extremely well–informed and resourceful. As a matter of routine, they gave me pointers and plans so I could prepare my son to be properly attuned to the school setting as well as adapt to changes he may encounter in the future.
As time went on, his public–school peers and teachers made sure my son got all the help he needed and more – all without additional cost to me or bias and judgment from others. He progressed to the point where he went from nonverbal to talking and directing his bus drivers and school staff on how to get him home, sort of like a human GPS system.
As time went on, my son – as well as I as his parent – gained skills and flourished. Despite the potential challenge of attending public schools in two different states, he grew confident in his communication and other skills and thrived. Our public schools taught me, as a parent, about Individual Education Plans as well as the various federal and state regulations that came with it so that I could be a powerful advocate for him.
It’s because of public schools that my son is now in college, about to graduate, and transfer on to complete another degree in sociology, psychology, and African American studies. If you were to meet him today, you wouldn’t even believe that he was mute at one time in his life. He still needs support because autism doesn’t simply go away like some might think, but he’s a success because of his public-school education and the many wonderful teachers, staff, and peers he worked with along the way.
The impact public education has on preparing our children isn’t unique to my story. My son attended half of his life in Virginia schools, and even though Virginia has a lower minimum wage, at $9.50 per hour, than Arizona, at $12.15 per hour, the state of Virginia in terms of their public-school education ranks much higher than Arizona. Arizona has no excuse for underfunding our public schools.
It’s for that reason I say to Governor Ducey and those in our Legislature: if caretakers neglected their children’s education like the state of Arizona has neglected their education, they would be thrown in jail. It’s time to do better for all of Arizona’s students, just like I did for my son, so they can truly be empowered as learners, workers and citizens.
Carmen Terrell lives in the West Valley where she has two children attending their local public schools. She has advocated for public education for many years, particularly for students with special needs.