My Advice for Newly Elected Arizona Leaders

I am a proud product of Arizona’s public schools.  I am a native born Arizonan who spent her formative years in the Paradise Valley School District.  I earned a degree from Northern Arizona University and have worked in schools both in the Valley and in rural Arizona.  My husband graduated from the same AZ high school where my daughter graduated from and where my son currently attends. My husband attended ASU and now my daughter is now a sophomore there; my son will likely follow in her footsteps. Even my mother has taught for Rio Salado College for the past 20 years. We stand by Arizona’s public schools at all levels.

Because of these connections, I feel that I am in a position to give a bit of advice in the field of education to whoever is elected today as our governor, legislators, state superintendent, and local school board members.  

Teachers are in need of autonomy.  I started my career right as accountability was really gaining momentum and it has not improved education one bit.  It has handcuffed the professional choices teachers make for their individual students and has pushed a one-size-fits-all model down our throats.  We want desperately for our schools to be successful, but that can not come from a letter grade based on one test that may not even be an accurate assessment of what students know and can do.  Teachers should be free to work collaboratively with one another and the community to decide what is best for kids. Although community members have gone to school and may even read about school, it does not make them educational experts.  Trust teachers and build coalitions: do not belittle and undermine.

Kids are spending way to much time preparing for and taking standardized tests.  What is that preparing them for? As colleges are moving away from SAT and ACT, there is no reason for students to be tied down for testing so we can rate and rank our schools.  It is poor policy. While it is a mandate of ESSA, we need to find a strategy that provides a snapshot and not the whole story.

The Arizona Department of Education has to return to the service providing agency it once was.  For years, whether led by a Republican or Democrat, the ADE could be counted on as an agency that provided support to schools as they developed everything from evaluation systems to leadership initiatives.  Many of us come from rural areas and do not have the team make up or funding to develop our own school-based systems. The ADE should be a resource to help us as we work on those initiatives. Listening to rural voices must remain a primary focus of ADE.

As a taxpayer and citizen, I demand accountability for charters and schools who accept vouchers.  There is an unfair playing field that is destroying schools in Arizona. I was around when charters were started and they were designed to be laboratories of excellence.  They were overseen by local school districts. As long as this state is committed to choice, it should be committed to ensuring that all kids receive an excellent education and tax dollars are spent to support students, not line the pockets of charter operators.  Charter boards should be elected and should not be able to take payment. Charters should receive the same per pupil funding as traditional schools. They were meant to do more with less because of the lack of bureaucracy, but as of now, they are definitely getting more and the results are mixed.  While traditional public schools bend over backward to pass overrides and bonds, charters are just given those funds in the base. Charter salaries should be made public and the same rules should apply to them as everyone else. The fact that the legislature made exceptions for charters to use the same auditor after three years, while disallowing traditional publics to do so (ARS-213) is one more example of tipping the field.

We must stop slashing funding to the universities and community colleges.  According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Arizona has had the second highest cut in post-secondary funding and the highest tuition rise.  Arizona’s post-secondary public postsecondary institutions are gaining traction and serving the state well. They are essential economic boosters for the state and the citizens and should be treated as such.  

Just as important as postsecondary education is early education.  I get it, education takes a lot of resources, but this is an investment.  I have to ask, why, according to CNN, is Arizona in the top half of states in per prisoner spending?  Unless we are doing some amazing rehabilitation that has not been advertised, I feel like the return on investment in prisoner spending is not giving us any bang for the buck.

Lastly, and possibly most importantly.  Tax credits have to go. Why are we really giving full tax credits to people of all income levels that allow for students to attend private schools?  I spoke to a parent who has a child at a private Christian school the other day and she is considering transferring her child back to the local district, but then added she had enough tax credit scholarships coming her way to support her child through 8th grade.  Is this the point? Years of tax credits lined up? School tuition organizations that take a cut of the credit? This is absurd and draining money for public schools. My dad attended Catholic school and his parents worked hard for paying for it. We are all paying for these children to go to private school and for a tuition organization to take a cut.  Although my district benefits greatly from the public school tax credit – in fact we are actually one of the highest collectors in the state – at the end of the day, this has to be examined. All these tax credit funds need to go back into the general fund for all public schools so they can go back to funding everything they now depend on tax credits for. We have created a circle of dependency on what was once just funded in base level funding.  Public schools should not be chasing their tails to pay for extracurricular activities. And private schools should be PRIVATE and paid from private entities. It is a rook.

Congratulations to whoever wins.  I am hopeful you serve Arizona’s families and children well.  Community schools are the backbone of our neighborhoods and the destruction that has been brought to them in the past 20 years have not changed Arizona for the better.  This is a state I love with schools I love. Protect them, do not use them for political and personal gain.




Jaime Festa-Daigle

My name is Jaime Festa-Daigle and I was born here in Arizona. I work as the Director of Personnel and Technology at Lake Havasu Unified School District. I’ve taught everything from ELL to 8th grade English to student council to college level government and economics. I was recognized as the American Civic Educator of the Year in 2012. I am fully focused on ensuring rural students have equal access to educational opportunities as their metropolitan counterparts. My current passion is the development of mentor and induction programs for novice school leaders in rural communities.

I am an NBCT, Arizona Master Teacher, and an Arizona Rural Schools Association board member. During the small moments where I am not focused on how to make Lake Havasu Unified School District the best district in AZ, I am usually nerding out on politics, fretting about my children and pugs, or working up a sweat at Cross Fit.

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