by David Safier
The public hearings on school closures at Catalina High today made me want to cheer and cry. So much wonderful energy and enthusiasm poured out of the children, parents and teachers at the schools slated for closure! And yet, inevitability, many of the schools, probably most of the schools, will close.
Why the continuing crisis after nine TUSD schools were closed two years ago? The simple answer is, our state legislature started with the lowest per student funding in the country, then since 2008 cut that funding by the highest percentage in the nation — 21.8% — putting Arizona school districts into financial crisis mode. Prop 204 would have raised school funding if it passed, but the same people who have been hacking away at state school budgets for years poured all kinds of money into an anti-Prop 204 campaign, assuring its defeat.
First school districts cut as much fat as they could from their budgets, including that little bit of financial surplus they need to try out new ideas and give programs that may not be cost effective time to prove themselves. Then they cut into the muscle. The inevitable next step is to cut into the bone and lifeblood of the schools. And so TUSD faces a new round of emergency school closings caused by a multi-million dollar deficit — and even then, the closings will only take care of about a third of the deficit. Class sizes will have to rise. Art and music programs will be savaged. Everything that AIMS doesn't test will be on the chopping block.
The only winners in this scenario are the anti-public school/pro-privatization forces. They get to watch schools fighting against schools, parents fighting against parents, and everyone fighting against the school districts while the legislators who control taxation and the purse strings are the ones who manufactured the crisis. Cut the food supply of any group, and they'll start fighting among themselves for whatever scraps they can wrestle away from others.
TUSD, which already suffers from a bad reputation — partly deserved, partly undeserved — is looking even worse now because of the draconian budget cuts. More bad press for the district makes charter schools and vouchers look more attractive. School closings and program cuts drive angry parents to look for alternatives. Call it a conscious conspiracy to dismantle public education brick by brick or call it the unintended consequences of cutting taxes, then balancing the budget on the backs of our children. The result is the same. The children are the victims, and public education, one of the great innovations of American democracy, is imperiled.