Its 2:22 am and I can’t sleep. I was too worn out to stay up and watch the election results, but then woke up just in time to see the news that Hillary had conceded to Trump. I watched his victory speech, listened to the stunned pundits on MSNBC and then thought I’d go back to sleep. Well, that didn’t work out like I planned it. None…of…it!
So yeah, as the markets around the world are proving, these are tumultuous times and I’m worried. My eyes are wide open and I don’t like what they see. I understand this election was a referendum on an establishment that didn’t care enough to really listen to the concerns of many Americans. It was also though, one of fear and hatred and it brought to the forefront, all that characterizes the “ugly” American.
In addition to all the hateful rhetoric spewed by President-Elect Trump, I am concerned about his stance on public education. His vision for K-12 education is to: 1) immediately add an additional federal investment of $20 billion towards school choice and says he’ll do this by reprioritizing existing federal dollars (just imagine the role district schools play in this reprioritization); 2) give states the option for backpack funding and favor states for grants that have maximum school choice; and 3) establish a national goal of providing school choice to all 11 million school aged children living in poverty. It is easy of course to promise to fund something without being specific about where it will come from or and to promise you’ll provide school choice to the poor. After all, the definition of “opportunity” is “a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.” If the student can’t avail him or herself of the opportunity (because for example, he or she has no transportation to the school), it makes no difference how much “school choice opportunity” they’ve been given.
And yet, I have hope. This isn’t the first time our country has faced a crisis and it won’t be the last. Despite all the challenges our nation has experienced in its short 224 years of existence, the strength of our Constitution and the resiliency of our people have ensured we not only survive, but thrive.
I also have hope because as Diane Ravitch wrote, there were many “piece[s] of good news in the midst of a dark night.” The one she specifically referred to is that the voters of Massachusetts “overwhelmingly defeated Question 2, by a margin of about 62%-38%. This ballot issue would have permitted 12 charter schools to be added in that state every year in perpetuity. Despite the proponents spending at least $22 million, much of it from out of state donors, billionaires and hedge fund managers, the little guys rallied to save the say. Over 200 school committees passed resolutions against Question 2 because they understood every charter built would drain funding from the district schools…schools that in many cases are already the best in the nation. In Arizona, voters have yet to come to the realization of what the commercialization of our schools is doing to the 85% of Arizona students that choose district schools. The “horse” is definitely out of the “barn” and I’m not sure how we can coax it back in.
Of course, public (district) education advocates were certainly hoping to see more pro-district education candidates elected in our state. Unfortunately, when I looked at the results as of 11/9/2016 at 2:28:31 am, the counts in the Senate remained the same with 17 Republicans and 13 Democrats. The House, likewise, remained unchanged with 36 Republicans and 24 Democrats. But then I looked at the 9:04:43 am results and Daniel Hernandez had pulled ahead of Chris Ackerley and Mitzi Epstein had pulled ahead of Bob Robson to make the House 34 Republicans to 26 Democrats. I noted the Brophy-McGee versus Meyer race had tightened as well to less than one percentage point. Only 97.55% of precincts had reported at this point, so these results are unofficial.
I wanted to get a feel for what all this meant to the K-12 education in the coming 53rd Legislature so I did a very unscientific analysis. I first looked at the voting records of all the incumbents from the 2016 Friends of ASBA Educating Arizona guide. This guide shows which legislators voted with ASBA K-12 legislation in 2016. Based on my rudimentary review, the average percentage all legislators voted with ASBA was 62% of the time. Then I carried those numbers over for incumbents and gave newly elected legislators an average score based on how their Republican (60%) or Democratic (80%) counterparts had voted. This resulted in an average predictive score of voting with the ASBA position of 63 for the incoming 53rd Legislature.
I don’t know if my analysis has any real validity, I’ll leave that to the statisticians among us. What I do know is we probably shouldn’t expect too much change from the Legislature on K-12 education legislation. I’ve no doubt we’ll see an attempt to once again push through a full-blown expansion of vouchers (Empowerment Scholarship Accounts) and tax credits to maximize the siphoning of tax dollars from district schools to commercial ones with no increase to the badly needed accountability and transparency. The GOP-led Arizona Legislature has made no secret of their intent to privatize public education, and voters continue to validate their position. Until we can get enough voters to speak with our votes on behalf of their community schools, they’ll continue to lose out.
It is easy to get disheartened and defeatist, but giving up won’t help the 85% of Arizona students choosing to be educated in our district schools. Now is not the time to “shelter in-place”, but to look for any silver linings we can find and build on them. There is much to fix in our schools, our communities, our state and our nation and it will take all of us working together to do that. So, today you can be afraid, you can be angry, you can be disappointed or depressed. Tomorrow though, is a new day and the work to support our district students and all those who work so hard to educate them, must continue. Buckle up; it’s got to be a hell of a ride because failure is not an option.