It was a wonder to behold. More than 50,000 teachers and educational supporters came together to make Arizona’s educational needs known. On the capitol grounds, speeches were made and 200 hundred music teachers formed a band and played stirring music. RedForEd made its presence known and the legislature responded (albeit reluctantly) and passed the most significant education bill in Arizona’s recent history.
The bill is actually a bit mixed, a real change of direction with dependence on Arizona’s future economic growth and the largesse of future legislatures. The purported 20 percent growth over five years includes only one percent for the first year and, after the second year, only promises if the money is available. Still, I salute the legislature for finally responding not only to the teachers but to the desires of the citizens of Arizona.
This is the first educational victory for Arizona since Arizona was a rural state. Rural state? Yes, Arizona was mostly rural until the 70s. In 1950, Phoenix had only 106,618 people. The hitching posts for horses in tiny Scottsdale were real.
Arizona was known for its good schools, largely owing to the influence of one man, Grady Gammage. Born in 1892, Gammage moved to Arizona as a child because of his tuberculosis. He enrolled in the University of Arizona in Tucson and began graduate studies in 1916. Right out of college, he became superintendent of public schools in Winslow, Arizona. Two of the teachers he hired were the most respected teachers whom I had in the 1960s, when I went to high school there. In 1925, Gammage went to Northern Arizona State Teachers College (now NAU) in Flagstaff as vice-president, becoming president but a year later. He led the college into an era of high achievement for both students and faculty. In 1928 the school received recognition as a Class A four-year institution and, in 1930, it was the first school in the whole Southwest to receive full accreditation.
Then came the crash and the Depression. Gammage inserted himself personally into Arizona’s educational needs. He worked closely with the small rural schools, recruiting students for the college and helping them secure positions after graduation. When students could not come up with tuition money, Gammage helped them by accepting barter. Dairy cows, corn, and potatoes financed many of the students.
The result was a boost in education in Arizona, even during the worst of the Depression. The small towns rallied around their teachers, and they became important and respected people. The whole of Arizona became deeply indebted to the little college in Flagstaff.
In 1933, Gammage became president of Arizona State College at Tempe (later ASU), He anticipated Arizona’s education needs and, during World War II, helped Senator Ernest MacFarland in developing the GI bill, which assisted returning veterans and contributed to the educational boom of the1950s.
Arizona schools were at their height. Complicated economic and social factors, including population growth and tax policies pleasing to corporations, brought different interests into government. Money was still spent on schools, but mostly for buildings in the metropolitan areas. The rural areas were hit the hardest, for funding still comes largely from property taxes, the most inequitable way to develop a level playing field for schools.
Yes, I know this column is long and preachy. I owe large thanks to Arizona, which provided my elementary, high school and university education. Right now I owe large thanks to the teachers, staff, school boards and administrators of Arizona, who have chosen to make local public education a priority once again. Thank you too, legislators, for beginning to overcome your reluctance. There is a flush of victory, but we still have to climb our way back from the bottom.
On to other things… such as the Second Saturday Dump Day at the transfer station near Kearny on May 12. Volunteers make this service from the town and Pinal County possible.
The Ray High School awards banquet will be held on Wednesday, May 16, at the General Kearny Inn. And plan to have dinner at Old Time Pizza on Thursday, May 17. From 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., 20 percent of all purchases made will be given to the band uniform fund. The band will be playing beginning at 6 p.m., and Neal Wood is donating his musical talents from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Let’s see how much we can raise.