Superintendent Dustin Williams Sounds Alarm on Republican Attacks Against AZ Education

Pima Schools Superintendent Dustin Williams decried the “full-on assault” on education by Republican legislators. He spoke at the March 14, 2022 meeting of Democrats of Greater Tucson.

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“Between January and April, you’re going to have about 1,500 to 1,700 bills flow through Arizona. And the big picture, from what we see happening and from my expertise of what I’ve observed, is you do have a full-on assault in some big areas happening at the state legislature. And you’ve got it in the forms of education and really, suppressing students, penalization of teachers, big fear tactics,” he started off.

Williams is a lifelong native to Tucson who was elected as the Pima County Schools Superintendent in 2016 and reelected in 2020.

Williams can be very well informed about what legislation is coming down the pipeline. Outside of his position as Superintendent, he sits on multiple boards, including the Arizona Association of Counties (AACO), which meets regularly to go over any new bills. “You’re seeing two huge shifts really starting to take place. One is education, and the first shift in that is the privatization of vouchers,” he explained.

Vouchers are not a new issue by any means, but they’ve become a heavy weapon in Republican hands within the past few years. “You’re seeing that the majority here in Arizona of the state legislature, that body controls the entire state. There is no way around it, and you’ll see that these party line votes – those have been dictating 100% of everything that is egregious, is dismantling education.”

“And it’s a party line vote,” he made clear. “We need the state House, or we need a chamber. We can’t continue to maintain some of the areas of education without getting one of these chambers, because what’s happening is they’re having free will to pass some of the craziest things that I never even thought we’d see. They very simply have just piecemealed vouchers all the way around. We’re even paying for private vouchers that go across Arizona boundaries. If that makes any sense, our actual dollars are going across those lines. That was as of, I believe, two years ago, and now you’re seeing a full-on assault.”

“The other shift is in the tactics of fear,” he continued. “What can you teach and what can you not teach? And what will you do to the teacher? And how much will you penalize the teacher or can a parent file suit against a teacher?”

“Fear is a nasty animal,” he warned. “And that’s the scariest part of these fear factor bills, what you’re going to do with teachers, down to gender and race and curriculum and policy.”

“An inviting classroom and a positive classroom, hands down, is an area where students are allowed and are taught to take risks. And that means that they can ask questions and feel safe and make mistakes. If you have your leader of that classroom, that championed that classroom, being scrutinized or penalized or potentially sued, we have major issues. This also means a student’s not learning.”

“Those are the two forefronts that I see as battle areas for where our advocacy most importantly needs to have that attention,” he stated.

But these aren’t the only threats schools and educators are facing from their Republican representatives. Battles over critical race theory and cuts to school funding have become ubiquitous across the country, and Arizona is no exception. He stressed the importance of being aware of what’s happening in the legislature, and the urgency of working to ensure Republicans can’t keep attacking our educational system unchallenged and unopposed. “It’s just mind boggling some of the stuff that’s coming out…I’ve never seen anything like this last year. I’ve talked to other people. They said they’d never seen anything like this.”

“And then how do we attack it? That’s the big question and yes, calling your senator works and yes, emails to your senator help. Request to Speak helps, being in the know, it all helps, nothing doesn’t work, but the ultimate fix at the end of the day is the balance of power.”

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