Hundreds of students from Tucson High Magnet School packed the auditorium on Thursday to hear from leaders about a state budget that contains deep cuts to education and the career and technical education classes that are an important part of their lives.
The forum came about after students voiced their concerns about cuts and wanted to be heard. Tucson Unified School District leaders, along with Rep. Raul Grijalva, moved quickly to schedule the forum to support the students and answer questions.
Dr. H.T. Sánchez praised the students for speaking out. "The first thing I want to say is how impressed I am as superintendent of TUSD that you, the student body of Tucson High School, along with our guests from Pueblo and Cholla who are here, have decided to that, as opposed to sitting and doing nothing or walking out and sending a message that might be unclear for people who don't understand why you're walking out, that you decided to come in here, sit down, get the information, be informed and act."
Dr. Sánchez talked about provisions of the budget that fund prison beds and corporate tax cuts while reducing school budgets by millions of dollars.
"You are the future of Arizona. There's a choice. We can all sit and allow legislature in Phoenix to continue to fund prisons or to fund you," he said. "My personal preference is that you are supported, my personal preference is that you are educated, my personal preference for a better Arizona, a better Tucson is for you to take hold of this state because it's your state, it's your future and it's your responsibility."
The proposed budget calls for a reduction in spending for career and technology education through schools and ultimately could cripple CTE/JTED classes.
This does not sit well with the Tucson High student body. When asked to raise their hands if they take CTE/JTED classes, nearly every student raised a hand—some raised both hands.
Jessica Gallegos, a sophomore at Tucson High said she never thought her journalism class through CTE would have such a big impact on her life.
"I have always had very bad stage fright," she said as she addressed the standing-room only crowd. "Yearbook has helped me feel more comfortable with public speaking due to interviewing students, staff and attending many school events. A couple of years ago, I would never have been able to get up here on this stage and give this speech to all of you here."
She said the CTE journalism class has helped her come out of her comfort zone.
Morgan Darby, a Tucson High junior, along with friends, helped kick off the movement that led to the forum. She said CTE and JTED have had a profound effect on her life. She has found a potential career as a marine veterinarian and has competed in statewide competitions. She has taken biotechnology classes, journalism classes and other JTED classes. She knows that she is one of thousands of students whose minds are opened by these educational opportunities.
"Students here at Tucson High are encouraged to do the best they can and to pursue their dreams. That's what we are doing. But how can we do that if we are robbed from our JTED and CTE classes?"
She said students give up their free time to take career and technology classes. "We choose to learn instead of play. We choose to follow our dreams of becoming nurses, firemen, EMTs, cosmetologists, vet techs and welders."
Chuck McCollum, who oversees the technology education program for TUSD, explained how the budget impacts the CTE/JTED programs. For a detailed explanation of the funding changes, you can watch Mr. McCollum's presentation on Livestream at about the 35-minute mark.
Some basic info:
To close out the forum, Dr. Sánchez took questions submitted via Twitter.
One of the questioners asked how students can fight against educational budget cuts. Dr. Sánchez said students who are old enough can make their voices heard in the ballot box. Those who are not yet 18 can educate their parents and ask them and other adults to call Gov. Ducey and legislators, write letters and support education when they go to the polls.
A question that got a roar of applause: "Do you think Gov. Ducey would be where he is today if cuts were made to his education?"
Dr. Sánchez suggested students contact Gov. Ducey to ask him that question.
The final question: How can we contribute to society if we are robbed of our opportunity to do so?
Dr. Sánchez's answer was to explain that the hardest cuts take place in 2016-2017, so it's not too late to fight for students to fight for what they believe in.
"We have a year. And if you're really passionate about this, you have what you need," he said. "We'll work with you."