Arizona Leaders Should Champion Our Children

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Some residents of Payson may wonder why the big deal (all the extended media coverage) over a high school football game, even if it was for the state championship.

And, unless you are a Longhorn fan or were there at the game, it probably is difficult to grasp the significance of what took place in the NAU dome when Coach Anderson’s Longhorns faced Blue Ridge.

What I can say is that this was not simply a game or a contest between longtime rivals. This was a display of collective will, where a group of young men facing exhaustion and defeat, transformed themselves into champions.

They had the talent and physical strength to win, but with their backs against the wall, found the strength of heart to come together and refuse defeat as an option. The victory was phenomenal, but what made this game absolutely awe-inspiring, was to witness the power of faith and determination by these young men and their coaches. They turned adversity into opportunity and attained a remarkable goal. I take joy in celebrating our Longhorns’ state championship.

We, too, are facing a time of real adversity in our community and district. It will not take away our team’s accomplishment, but may, in the months to come, cast a shadow over the celebration. There’s the question whether our community and our elected leaders will step up to support future champions; whether they are on the field or in the classroom; the band room or the kindergarten playground.

We all know that the economy is on its back and will take time to recover. Yet, where are the leaders in Arizona who will champion our children? The next president of the Arizona Senate believes that we have “overspent, obviously significantly overspent” on K-12 education in recent years. Although we rank 49th in per-pupil funding nationally, this sounds like the legislature has a bead on 50th.

With the ballots from November having so recently been tallied, our legislature seems already set that the first place to cut spending is on schools and children. I certainly don’t pretend to have the solution for an easy way out of our huge state deficit, but I can’t believe we will have victory with honor in surmounting this problem by targeting programs that support our children’s future. Should education funding not be the last place we look, even in this crisis?

Educators tend to be optimists, and one ray of hope in this dilemma is the federal money that’s slated to go to some of the rural counties in Arizona. This Secure Rural Schools Act funding was attached as part of the bailout of some of our large financial institutions. There is no money in the bank yet, but some financial relief to Gila County school districts may be forthcoming. I believe we’re fortunate to have a county supervisor like Tommie Martin, who recognizes the importance of public education in Gila County and genuinely cares about our kids’ future. My superintendent colleagues in Gila and I look forward to working with the county in the weeks to come to provide input on how we believe these funds can be best apportioned.

I have faith we will get through these tough times a better district.

Our new governor and legislature could sure make things less troubling for schools by perhaps, in the spirit of our Longhorns, taking a stand to be champions for those most deserving: our children.

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