I live in Phoenix, Arizona. Sunny Phoenix. I live here by choice at this time, being beckoned back 8 years ago by Love after surviving a cancer diagnosis and a year long intensive treatment regime. I live in the upper reaches of the Sonoran desert, the only home for the saguaro cactus. I live where some southwest Indians known as the Hohokam, the canal people, once lived. Digging in my garden, I have found a couple of mysterious-looking broken pieces of pottery. I display the brown and beige shards on the old pie-crust table in my living room, pausing regularly to remember the brown-skinned human ancestor spirits who had been on this land before me. I am connected to these canal people. They left—it is said—because of drought.
Arizona as a state is remembered for its economic 5 Cs: cotton, citrus, cattle, copper, and climate. Yet the Phoenix metro area would never be here if it weren’t for water reclamation. Industrial economics has powered Phoenix for the past 100 + years, with water ruling its oasis of a landscape. Now that the Central Arizona Project has claimed water from the Colorado River, the draw to Phoenix is climate, climate, climate, climate, climate. Businesses and retirees come here for the weather and the revenues it generates and supports.
I grew up in Phoenix in the fifties and sixties. I went to such a stellar public school that I placed first on the entrance exam at the local parochial high school in 1965. At the time, no taxes were used to for me to attend that private school. It was a privilege, not a right. Today, skimmed right off the top, individual taxpayers are allowed to give a greater share of their Arizona tax burden to private schools than to public schools—in fact, 5 times as much. In other words, Arizona’s state legislators have diverted most of the water (money) to the private schools while the poorer public schools get the dregs. These are funds that only taxpayers rich enough can afford to donate. Meanwhile, public funds are drying up both for staff and students of public school, seen in cut positions for support services, larger class sizes, stagnant wages, and a reduction in benefits.
I have a husband who is a public school counselor, a step-son who is a public school teacher, a sister who is a special education aide, and many friends who are and have been involved in the public school system. What I know is that living wages are no longer being returned to our real public servants, the teachers, counselors, aides and other support people who work in the public sector, caring about quality education for all the children of Arizona. Staff positions are being cut year after year while wages stagnate.
America’s educational reformers of over a century ago wanted all children to go to a good school. That was to be our sacred contract for our children. Arizona’s legislators need to divert the water back to the general tax revenue fund—for the vulnerable who are our children and who are our future. This means adequate staffing, as well as living wages, for the people who serve them.
The talking point/battle cry seems to be about choice. But choice for whom? Choice is not choice when you are poor or when your parents are clueless about what it means to have a good education. Choice then becomes the luck of the innocents. Where there is no water (money), there is no life.
Let us care about our children, for they have a long way to go.
Let us care about our elders, for they have come a long way.
Let us care about those who are in between, for they are doing the work.