money in politics

Voting is a privilege. It also takes time. Even when voting by mail, there is the act of drawing a line in ink and driving or walking to a post box. When the Peoria Unified School District budget override ballot came to my house, I did not hesitate. I mailed mine, and my Yes vote came with much contemplation and it will continue to, even when I am retired and don’t have kids attending the schools I live close enough to have an impact on with my little pen mark on a very important ballot.

I want to see funding supported for my schools to ensure our community’s children maintain the best possible educational experience this state can seem to muster. But - and here comes the hard truth - there are selfish residents out there who traded a $2 to $6 per month increase on property taxes with the band-aid faulty logic that “this doesn’t impact them so why should they pay for it.”

It’s a fair question, I guess. Especially when you might have to dial back once a month on that $6 beer you get from the cart girl during your daily outing on that par-3 golf course you live by. Why would you care if the young people who may, one day, be your doctor, your lawyer, your utility and civil engineers, mechanics, pilots, financial planners, etc. have a solid and thoughtful early education? Sure, you walked 10 miles in the snow to get to your school back in your day. Today’s kids should feel the struggles of over-crowded classrooms that let students slip through the cracks. And teachers…I mean, we all know they make way too much already, right? What’s a few less of them in the system…and it’s not like they need to afford a $6 beer on the course. 

Did you know that quality public education is one of the leading factors when considering economic investment in a community? A company is more likely to locate to a community that places a priority on its educational system. Employees want to live in communities with good schools—so do CEOs. And they bring jobs, which brings more money into the coffers which take some of the burdens off of those very voters who were inclined to say NO to things on the ballot. Good schools also have a direct correlation to lower crime. Still…that $6 beer is awfully good. (Yeah, that was an eye roll you felt in those words.)

I ask all of this rhetorically because any vote other than a YES on our recent district override was just foolish. And I acknowledge that there are some residents whose income is so very rigid that any change carries a consequence. But any state that somehow puts truly desperate citizens on fixed incomes with zero wiggle room in a situation where they have to make a choice on school funding is heartless.

And now the personal hard truth I must admit to myself: I should have done more. I was naïve and thought that casting my vote was enough. I had faith in the greater good, in a mass understanding of what a Yes and No on this measure meant. I believed that the greater good would win on my vote alone. I was wrong. But I have learned from this, and we all can. The good news is nothing in the world of budget funding and politics is ever permanent. There is an opportunity for us to right this wrong. In 2020, the measure can be on the ballot again. It may be more difficult to inform every voter next year as presidential elections increase turnout, but it’s a task I’m willing to take on, and my optimism leads me to believe there are others willing to take it on with me. I (we) will inform the voting masses here in Peoria’s District of the real facts. 

We also don’t have to wait for an election to get started. The funding issues, of course, start at the state. Yes, this quagmire has not been solved for years, but it doesn’t mean we stop trying. It doesn’t mean we sit quietly. It doesn’t mean that the pressure and sense of urgency don’t have to be felt by all. This op-ed I’m writing will go to a lot of places, along with my personal and passionate plea that the people we, as a whole, have elected to positions to do something, in fact, do just that—something. Something that makes a positive change, that eliminates the anxieties my son has to feel knowing his education is a constant political game resting in the hands of the often uninformed. 

Contact the PUSD board at peoriaunified.org/domain/60. Contact your state legislator at azleg.gov/memberroster. And when the opportunity presents itself to share the facts, don’t be shy. The fate of a really big list of important stuff rests at the tip of someone’s ball-point pen.