BE ENGAGED! The Politics of Education

If you haven’t said it, you’ve heard it said. 

“I don’t get into politics” 

I understand, REALLY. I’ve never been openly political in my entire life. That is until 2018.

I generally keep my opinions to myself, research candidates and issues, vote regularly and expect that my representatives would vote based on the needs of the people they represented. I perceived that practice to work, but I’m not really sure that it did.

I moved to Arizona in the summer of 2016 from a state that is typically at the bottom in education spending and has been for a very long time. I have never worked in a classroom that was fully funded. I have always had to write grants, seek donations from community sources, engage in fundraising, and hope that my program (music) would not be next on the chopping block of budget cuts.

When I moved to Arizona, I was intentional about learning the laws and policies that shape public education. The more I learn about how policymakers have voted and its effects on public education funding, the more I realize that many elected officials DO NOT vote based on the needs of their constituency. 

As educators, we have to stand up for our students. For their academic, social, emotional, and cognitive needs. We have to learn how to articulate those needs to people who do not know the intimate details of our classrooms and schools. 

That means that we have to be political on some level. We have to be political because public education is funded with public money, and that money is allocated by politicians that we elect to represent us. 

You must decide how to act based on your own comfort level. Some people are very comfortable canvassing neighborhoods, making phone calls, posting on social media, etc. That’s not for every person though, in fact, it is WAY out of most people’s comfort zone. That doesn’t mean that there is nothing to do within or even close to your comfort zone.

First: Every person should learn his/her voter status. A simple virtual trip on the internet to ServiceArizona.com will clarify your voter status and allow you to change that status or register if needed. 

Next, you need to research the candidates who will be on your ballot: school board, city council, sheriff, state and federal legislators, statewide offices such as governor, superintendent of public instruction, corporation commission, etc. For the incumbent, find out their voting record and public statements on issues. For other candidates, read their website for their platform, send them specific questions on topics that are important to you, look at their involvements as they campaign. Read the initiatives that will be on the ballot. Read the arguments for and against those initiatives. If sources are cited in arguments, look those up. Primary sources are always the most accurate.

Also, look at who is making financial contributions to the campaigns. Large sums of money rarely are given without an agenda attached. Those who fund a candidate’s campaign often have a significant influence on his/her future voting record. 

When researching people and topics, I often think of a friend who was training for a job as a bank teller. He was learning how to identify counterfeit currency. With today’s technology, counterfeit bills can be very difficult to spot. His training did not ever touch on how counterfeiters printed currency, telltale signs of a counterfeit bill or any of the things he might see on a counterfeit bill. His training was laser-focused on what the authentic currency looked like. The philosophy is that if you are intimately familiar with the authentic item, any deviation from that will jump out at you.

Know the facts so completely that when they are bent or misrepresented, you know immediately the message is false. Help spread that authentic, factual information to people you know. Quiet conversations or simply speaking up in a discussion by stating facts can help others discover those facts for themselves.

Regardless of who or what you support in the upcoming election, know your facts and hold those elected officials accountable for voting the way they promised to vote.  

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