The Bolivianization of Arizona: a guest opinion by Mark Dayby Marc Severson on Dec. 11, 2011, under Education
Today I offer an opinion piece written by a fellow educator, Mark Day. He has granted me permission to publish it and although I agree with many of them, the opinions expressed herein, are his:
If you want a hint of what’s to become of our beautiful state under
the rule of our Republican State House majority caucus, who don’t
appear to care what happens to constitutionally-mandated public
education, consider the situation in a starkly beautiful place called
Bolivia. Since the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire, this Andean
nation, with great mineral wealth and awesome natural beauty, has been
subject to a two-class society with famously unstable democratic and
military governments. I make the comparison with Arizona because it
appears that the ideological struggle between the caucus that favors
everything private, and the minority who support public education and
other community-building initiatives, now seems paramount. The caucus
seems to be holding all the cards, and the teachers appear to have
only the joker, at this point. Soon the public schools will be bled
dry and charter/private schools will be all that survive.
Neighborhood schools that are expensive to operate, and convenient to
local residents, will be crumbling monuments to a by-gone era… when the
American ideal of a free education for all was clearly fulfilled.
Consequently, we will be several significant steps down the road to
bolivianization, which is a byword for political and social
Unlike Bolivia itself, or its people, bolivianization is not pretty.
Imagine libraries where books cannot be checked out, assuming they’re
even there. Imagine schools without books (public or private).
Imagine multimillion dollar mansions, surrounded by walls, but having
streets with pavement decayed to mud. Imagine utility poles with live
support cables which electrocute children who touch them. Imagine
eating a salad in the most elegant hotel in the city, then spending
six weeks hospitalized because the uninspected lettuce had botulism.
Imagine having to pay bribes to police so you can drive from one city
to another, because the police need to supplement their income.
Just imagine, you too can live in a state where everyone, rich or poor, has
to endure these conditions, because there is a fundamental
unwillingness to support the community. There is no solid
middle-class which values education for all — so all will be educated
to share the same core values, which are needed for a successful state
I have no illusions that the United States of America is a perfect
society. Our nation has many short-comings, and it probably always
will. But a visit to Bolivia set me straight on a few things that I
may have failed to appreciate about our nation. Our problems are
generally minor compared to those endured in Bolivia, mainly because
we have a general level of common respect among our people. This is
due largely to our belief that we all came from somewhere else to
better ourselves, and we understand that an educated population is the
basis of democracy and a strong community. We’ve had some great
thinkers, like Ben Franklin, who saw that our nation could do better
to help itself by investing in community-based organizations, like
volunteer fire departments, libraries, and even insurance plans. He
no doubt appreciated the public education system established by the
Puritan forefathers. They believed all should be able to read the
Bible, and be informed enough to govern themselves.
What the Republican caucus seems to be pushing is an agenda where any
of these American institutions which can’t operate as a self-funding,
private organization is suspect — if not an outright impediment to our
way of life. This is a recipe for bolivianization, the eventual
disappearance of the middle-class, and a two-class society. This
route to societal poverty comes not from overinvestment in the pubic
institutions, but from a fundamental lack of the public goods on which
the universal health and well-being depend. Those whose basic needs
are unmet will not be able to create much prosperity for themselves or
others; they won’t start businesses that create wealth and employment
for their communities. Also, this state of affairs is not attractive
to firms that might consider locating in Arizona.
One choice the Caucus somehow made to better our stake was to
allow the property equalization tax suspension to expire. Our
state property tax burden is well below average; we over-rely on our
sales tax, which is recession-sensitive, regressive and unreliable.
Allowing this suspension to expire directly benefited public
education by about $260 million. It seemed like the very least the
Caucus could do for our state, our children, and our future!
Considering tax burdens among the 50 United States, according to
The Tax Foundation, Arizona ranks 41st for total tax burden (only
nine states have a lower overall tax rate), and 35th for per capita income
(only 14 have lower income). So, Arizona is a low income state that taxes
that modest income at a low rate. These rankings point to how the
bolivianization of our state is being (un)funded. We can see that funding
for education is certainly not the only area for concern. Consider this,
of all other states, only Tennessee has both lower income and a lower
tax burden! These figures are from 2008, which is the most recent
year available. Based on more recent economic events, and budget
decisions by the Caucus, it is probable that Arizona’s rankings are lower
yet in 2011.
We, as a state, and, to a degree, as a nation, stand at a crossroad.
Which way will be go? We have a budget crisis in the midst of an
economic meltdown of global proportions. Will we choose now to eat
our children – metaphorically, of course – by stripping them of the
free, public education they require to prosper themselves and our
nation, or will we invest in them, our communities, our nation, and
If our choices promote and perpetuate a permanent underclass in
Arizona, then our long-term outlook will suffer. We will look about us
to see the beautiful mountains, and know, in our hearts, that we are Bolivians.
(… who visited Bolivia with his wife and children in 1999)