Both Sheila Stolov’s letter to the AJP (“Cohon right on public education,” 5/7/10) and Rabbi Cohon’s article (“Support for Arizona public education a must,” AJP 4/9/10) deal with the severe budgetary crisis in Arizona’s public education system; and as such, they also talk to the referendum to temporarily increase the state’s sales tax in order to fix the problems that our legislators, our governor and our school districts have been incapable of fixing.
I was disappointed in Ms. Stolov’s failure to make any coherent suggestion about what our school districts can do to improve their efficiency in the face of the state’s declining revenue and the expected shortfall in the educational budget. Frankly, her references to the educational philosophy of Maria Montessori and the suggestion that research in neuroscience might somehow improve the educational environment — leading to the “daily practice of tikkun olam” bewildered me. My conclusion is that she does not have a clue as to what the schools can do if the state doesn’t come forth with money that it doesn’t appear to have at this time.
For reasons that are also unclear to me, Ms. Stolov seems to have found some comfort in Rabbi Cohon’s article, wherein he reminds us — as if we need to be reminded — that Arizona’s public school system is broken. Further, it suggests that Jews must fix it because it was we who invented public education in the days of Ezra, 2,500 years ago. Indeed, Arizona has been in last place in education for a very long time; nothing that Ezra had to say deals with our revenue crunch in the desert southwest today. Rabbi Cohon seems to confuse public education for Jews two and a half millennia ago with public education for the public, today. Perhaps more important, he is silent about what Tucson’s Jewish community can or should do about our state’s predicament — except to say that we will need to talk about it and to support it with “our own funds” although that idea is not further defined except to add “… and that’s no joke.”
Notably, Rabbi Cohon does not call upon his congregation to be “a light unto the nations” by donating from its own coffers. Nor does he call for the repeal of the Arizona tax code that gives a state tax credit for contributions made to private and parochial educational organizations — a device promoted very aggressively by local Jewish educational organizations to the obvious disadvantage of public education. While I don’t think that either alone will solve our current crisis, these or similar suggestions would qualify as a sincere leadership gesture and a constructive suggestion — and that’s no joke. As for Ms. Stolov, I would have responded to her letter more favorably if she had discussed how schools could tighten their belts during these times — perhaps sharing with AJP’s readers which programs are core and which can be cut, if necessary, and which programs could be made more efficient, in the interest of saving funds needed by other budgetary priorities.
For me neither piece made a passing grade.
—Joel W. Novak