At the conclusion of a two-hour pro-education rally in Oro Valley on Sunday, about 150 people joined hands in a circle while Riley Redhair, a fourth-grade student at Harelson Elementary School, sang "The Greatest Love of All."
Organizers of a rally for education at CDO Riverfront Park in Oro Valley hoped for at least 100 to attend, Concerned Arizona Residents for Education co-founder Melissa Megna said. An estimated 300 took part in some part of the day.
"Join Hands for Public Education" was intended to allow "parents and people who work, students, retirees … to come out and show they really do support public education, and believe we should be investing in that," Megna said.
"Ultimately, we'd like the legislators in our district to see how much public education means to us," she added.
More than 200 notes on behalf of public school funding were written on construction paper cut out in the shape of hands to be sent to Phoenix.
"It's something you can do at home," Megna said. "Write a message to the governor about why you support public education." Postcards addressed to Brewer, asking her not to "pink slip our future," were also available.
Carolyn Badger, a retired career educator and CARE co-founder, is surprised to see K-12 school funding in its current circumstance.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I would be standing in front of a group of people defending the very existence of public education," she said. "Public education at all levels must be supported and funded."
Badger disagrees with the belief that "older citizens don't care about schools, and they don't want to pay for it." In fact, she countered, "there are thousands of us older folks who support" public education.
"My 8-year-old is in danger of getting a worse education than the generation before," said Ann-Eve Pedersen, a Tucson Unified School District parent and member of the Arizona Education Network. "In difficult economic times, we do not abandon our children."
Pedersen said a groundswell of support for school funding may represent the "silver lining" in the debate. She called for "change in the political attitude toward education," and told legislators "if you jeopardize our hope for our children, you jeopardize your whole political career."
There were legislators – Rep. Nancy Young Wright and Sen. Paula Aboud – in the crowd, along with legislative hopeful Cheryl Cage, and Oro Valley Town Councilwoman Paula Abbott. Legislators from districts 25, 26 and 28 were invited, CARE co-founder Lisa Ferko said.
Mallory Kimble, a sixth-grade student at Wilson K-8 school, asked state government "to fund education for our future. … Extend your hand to us, Governor Brewer. Our education is in everyone's best interest."
Ironwood Ridge High School junior Stephen Warner believes music and related enrichment activities will be lost if school funds are cut.
"I'm scared," Warner said. "I'm scared for our future. We want to have a future, we want to become the leadership of this country, but we can't when our education is cut."
"All of these children are products of public education," Megna said. "We're trying to provide a well-rounded education to make good citizens for the future. We're doing a good job, and we want to keep doing a good job."
Michael Slugocki, chair of the Arizona Student Association, made the case for higher education, and called on legislators to ensure Arizona universities are "affordable and accessible.
"Explain to me how cutting teachers and larger class sizes is going to move our state forward," he asked.
Andrew Morrill, vice president of the Arizona Education Association and a former teacher at Mountain View High School, said the association of people in support of education "really is a social pact forming, a sacred social pact. It is absolutely about our students." He labeled the circumstance "a manufactured crisis" by the Legislature. "Arizona has the resources" to adequately fund education, he believes. "We can start as soon as the Legislature is ready to get serious."
"What will you do next?" Morrill asked the crowd. "The first answer is to put the right people in office. We've got some of them. We don't have enough. Tell the Legislature and the governor, in no uncertain terms, that public education is Arizona's priority."
CARE is approaching 1,500 members. A nice thing about the organization, Badger said, is that there are "no dues and no meetings."
Signs from Sunday's Rally in the Park for Public Education:
"No cuts. We ARE the People."
"Arizona Rank in Spending — #4, Prisons, #50, Education. Are those your priorities?"
"Give a pink slip to Gov. Jan Brewer and friends. Vote for public education in 2010."