People do not care about public education! That was the message that many Arizonan educators received back in November as a wave of school overrides failed at the ballot. Shortly after, the budget for public education was drastically cut which further drilled that message into teachers. I wanted to believe that the voters and elected leaders had our best interest in place, but it was a hard pill for me to swallow. These circumstances caused a huge setback for teachers in Arizona and I am still not entirely sure how these measures are going to impact my profession or students in the coming years.
However, due to recent events, I have learned that the message that I was holding onto through out winter and spring was wrong. I was wrong. People do care about public education. They just wanted to have a voice in the decisions being made so they used the ballot box to be heard.
School districts have huge budgets. I was astounded when I learned that my district runs on a 100 million dollar a year budget. Even though that is not nearly enough, that is an astronomical amount of money on paper that many of us cannot fathom how to manage. I can totally understand a voter’s perspective. “That school already has millions of dollars flowing in! Why do they need another hundred thousand!?” Put in that frame, it makes perfect sense that voters said no back in November.
I wonder if voters truly understood why the money was needed, would the outcome have been different. I know money leaves a trail but it gets very hard to follow as it moves from the government into the hands of district administrators. Add on all of the red tape for specific requirements for certain amounts of money, (i.e. money that may only be used for special education services or extracurricular activities) and it is near impossible to understand where the money is going. When people do not understand where the money is going or how it is being used, then of course they are not going to funnel more money into the system.
I recently completed a fundraiser on www.gofundme.com. I asked friends and family to donate money that I could use to buy iPads for my classroom. I was quite clear in my goal and explained my rationale. Within three weeks, I had raised nearly $2500. In South Carolina last week, comedian Stephen Colbert recently funded every existing project for teachers on www.donorschoose.org. He paid out almost $800,000 which allowed teachers to fund their projects.
I began to compare these two situations to what happened in Arizona. One major thing stuck out to me. The donors who gave money for iPads for my class selected the amount they wanted to give knowing full well where the funds would go. Colbert got to decide that he wanted to fund the teachers in South Carolina. My donors and Colbert both had a choice and a voice in how the funds would be used so they were willing to give money. My project and the projects on donorschoose.org are well-explained so it is quite clear how the funds are to be used.
What if school budgets were more transparent? What if voters better understood where the money was going? What if voters had more of a choice in how the money was allocated? What if voters could refuse paying there taxes until the legislature created a budget for education that satisfied them? I do not have the answers to these questions but both of the examples given prove my first message wrong. People do care about public education. They just want a choice and a voice in the process. I can’t argue with that because, as a teacher, I want the same thing.