After a quarter of a century in the classrooms of Scottsdale Unified School District, I decided to run for the State Legislature in 2018.
It should come as no surprise that the defining issue for my campaign is our woefully underfunded schools.
What may come as a surprise is that I have wrestled with my vote on the SUSD override.
In my 25 years in education, we have moved from 32nd in state funding down to 49th. It’s been a steady descent to the bottom of the barrel. Education funding is not only a moral necessity but an economic imperative.
Teaching is truly a calling, a vocation. Across our state, these professionals – the lowest paid in the nation – dedicate their working careers to helping students reach their full potential.
Nearly a quarter of Arizona’s children are growing up in poverty. For our state to thrive we must produce an educated workforce.
We need these students to grow up to contribute to the communities around us, not just by creating a source of tax revenue that sustains our retirees but that, also, draws new business.
As a state, we have failed to invest in our future. For far too long our Legislature has slashed funding to our schools, our community colleges, and our public universities.
Now we are starting to see the shameful dividends of the divestment in our children. Arizona is headed for economic calamity, an unfortunate result of our education policies.
This couldn’t come at a worse time as Arizona has the third-highest unemployment of any state (Bureau of Labor Statistics).
We have children exiting school and entering the job market with no technical training or clear pathway to college, leaving them competing with experienced people already looking for work.
This sets the conditions for a dangerous spiral where young adults lack the skills and education to secure prosperous jobs, which in turn will force a higher percentage of them to rely on public assistance, and thus leaving fewer tax dollars to fund those last resort programs.
Businesses will choose to locate here in our community because of the educated workforce we can and should provide, not because they’ve been bought by some back-room tax incentive deal.
Our community has supported overrides in the past which tells me our neighbors value education and understand its economic implications.
And, yet, voters return the same politicians to office who keep putting our children behind the eight ball.
Part of me wonders if a “yes” vote on the override gives voters a false sense that our money problems are solved.
But, make no mistake, this is no way to properly fund education. Forcing each district to go hat in hand to the community every five years for “more porridge please, sir.”
And yet in spite of all that, I will vote YES on the budget renewal. And I am asking that you join me in voting YES. Our community and our children cannot afford to have a budget cut.
We cannot afford to sacrifice any child’s education to make a point, however valid. But here is my pledge. I will work with every fiber in my body to change this system; to get appropriate long-term funding to our schools.
Then, maybe, we can get rid of this rigged system where the haves and have-nots get further and further apart; where we fundamentally change how we fund education in a way that is sustainable, equitable and economical.
Until we elect people to change the rules, these are the ones we play. Please join me in voting “Yes” on the SUSD override and then join me in 2020 as we unapologetically move our schools and Arizona businesses into the future where we can all compete.
–Eric Kurland is a candidate for the Arizona House of Representatives from District 23