With education playing a prominent role in the election, we revisited Red for Ed, which saw teachers all over the state walkout to demand increased education funding. The historic movement led Arizona lawmakers to approve more money for teacher pay raises. Arizona 360 assembled a panel of five educators from Southern Arizona to ask what challenges remain in the classroom. Combined, their experience totals nearly a century. They teach in major districts in the Tucson metro area, along with a charter school and the Tohono O'odham Nation.
After hearing from educators, Arizona 360 wanted a clearer picture of what it's like to run a district post-Red for Ed. Gabriel Trujillo is in his second year as superintendent of the state's second-largest school district. The Tucson Unified School District serves more than 40,000 students and has nearly 90 schools and programs. Trujillo said his administration has made systemic changes to address ongoing issues within the district, such as teacher retention and AzMerit scores. TUSD also has plans to meet all requirements of a court order that would bring an end to a desegregation case that has loomed over the district for more than 40 years.
"We have an aggressive commitment to compliance," Trujillo said of a judge's recent ruling that the district was in partial compliance with its court order.
Other persisting challenges include declining enrollment for the 11th consecutive year. Between 700 and 1,200 students leave each year, according to Trujillo. Ultimately the district loses out on tax dollars that would have followed them into the classroom. TUSD also struggles with funding shortfalls needed to maintain its campuses and facilities.
This November, voters will get the chance to weigh in on a state law expanding Arizona's voucher program. The law, passed in 2017, gradually gives more students access to Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA). It allows students to use public funds for education-related expenses. Approval of Proposition 305 would allow the law to take effect, whereas a "no" vote voids the law and maintains existing requirements. Arizona Daily Star education reporter Hank Stephenson explained the pushback surrounding the law.
"I think most people are looking at the Empower Scholarship Account expansion as just fewer dollars available for public schools, and that's the real concern," Stephenson said. He added that neither Democrats nor Republicans want to see the program go away entirely. Currently, children with disabilities or military families are among the groups eligible for ESAs.
Races for governor and the U.S. House and Senate have soaked up attention in recent weeks. However, all seats in the Arizona Legislature are also up for a vote. Arizona Capitol Times reporter Ben Giles highlighted some districts that Democrats could flip.
Giles told Christopher Conover only a few districts are competitive, including the 10th Legislative District in Tucson. Giles said Democrats have a chance to reclaim a seat held by Republican Todd Clodfelter, who is running for re-election. However, he was less certain a "blue wave" could sweep the Legislature.
"I will believe it when I see it. This has been the narrative in every election cycle," Giles said. "[Democrats] haven't even split the chamber since 2001, 2002."