by Stacy Winstryg, Vail Parent Network and Travis Newton, Middle School Teacher

The deficiencies in Arizona’s funding of public education are widely known, and until this year, seemed to advocates of our schools to be very difficult to change in any meaningful way.  Enter the “Red for Ed” movement in early March.

What started out as a Facebook group called “Arizona Educators United,” blossomed into a movement that resulted in an additional amount of roughly $270 million in funding for Arizona’s public schools.  This money was intended to go towards a 10% teacher pay increase, which is how it will be used in Vail for the 2018/19 school year.  A simple idea to ask Arizonans to wear the color red in support of public schools took the state and Vail by storm.  In total, more than $500 million in new money is slated to go to Arizona’s K-12 public schools.

Prior to the “Red for Ed” movement, advocacy groups such as the Vail Parent Network successfully fought for and secured agreement from the governor to restore capital funding (known as District Additional Assistance or “DAA”) over a five year period.  This made an additional $100 million available to public schools this coming year to use on a variety of capital needs.  In addition to the DAA money, fiscal year 2019 marks the first installment of districts being provided an inflation increase of 1.77% as directed by the voters when Prop 123 passed in 2016.

After the much-publicized walkouts across the state, and heated budget negotiations in Phoenix, the question on every supporter of public education’s mind is, “Where do we go from here?”

While there is unquestionably plenty to celebrate in the wake of “Red for Ed,” the energy of such a movement is incredibly difficult to maintain.  Politics have always been about people, and there is no doubt that future success in the fight to restore cuts to public education funding will depend on which people sit in the capitol in Phoenix.

Education funding is a state government issue, yet it seems that most folks are not nearly as familiar with who represents them at this level than they are about what happens in Washington, D.C.  The best way for individuals concerned about the future of our kids’ schools to maximize their voice is to:

  1. Register to vote via the Secretary of State’s office/website.
  2. Attend community forums in your neighborhood to learn about candidates and issues.
  3. Vote in the primaries, where many elections are actually decided.
  4. Find an advocacy group (such as the Vail Parent Network) to follow on social media for a time efficient way to stay informed on current events and legislators’ voting records.
  5. Make your voice heard by contacting your elected officials prior to education votes to share your informed opinion on proposed legislation.

Knowledge is power in politics.  The “Red for Ed” movement kicked in the doors of the capitol, but long-term advocacy will require a committed group of concerned parents, educators, and citizens to help put the right folks in office, then hold them accountable for what they do while there.  Never underestimate the change that can come from a small group of devoted and knowledgeable community members.

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