Lakes of money: To drown or drain

Lakes of money: To drown or drain

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Dear Governor Ducey,

My last letter to you was written a week ahead of publishing because I was going backpacking. Since then, the world has changed. It’s worse, in most ways. Once again, Arizona comes in first. Usually, we just get to claim one of the worst funded school systems in the nation, but now we get to combine that worst with the biggest increase in coronavirus cases. Superlatives for the win.

The best news is that we get to combine the spread of COVID-19 with the state cutting funding out from under us so now the schools can suffer more. Betsy DeVos diverted millions of dollars away from public schools to private and charter schools based on the same logic that you use to justify those schools—people with more should get more.  

“School choice” are the sacred words you and DeVos use as dams in a river. The river of money piles up behind those dams but, in the middle of the night, you divert that water to your own secret lake full of investors and business partners. No one but your people deserve water anyway, right? I mean, if we deserved water, we would have purchased our own lakebed a while ago. It’s the schools’ fault for not laying better ground.

I get it, universities and schools aren’t the only workplaces that are taking a hit. But I’ve seen the stock market. I read that retail sales are up 17.7 percent today. Ever since you’ve been governor, you’ve asked schools and universities to do more with less, to recognize that austerity is now the name of the game. You’ve given us rocks and said, “See what you can squeeze out of that.”

They say if you lick a rock and leave it out all night, the rain will come. We lick rocks and the rainy day fund fills with rain, but for education, the rain never falls itself. Rain falls on the roof of public schools and gathers in the gutters that detour toward DeVos’s private and charter schools.

Here’s another cliché—death by a thousand cuts. At my university alone I’ve lost two of my dearest friends, a chunk of my paycheck, the autonomy over my own courses and the prospect of these bloodless stones becoming permanent.

Your dream project is working. Defund public schools. Defund universities. Defund social services. Defund the postal office. Defund environmental protections. Defund the arts. Defund scientific research. Pump the money from the river that promises a better, more equal future into private prisons and oil companies. Your suit is getting wet, Governor Ducey, with all this extra water. Since you refuse to wear a mask to protect others from the chance of you spreading coronavirus, you can don a scuba mask for when the water reaches your chin.

I think the difference between you and me is that I believe it doesn’t have to be this way. You follow your training well, believing that “tax cuts work” and the private sector can take up where the public sector has been drained. Your social Darwinism works for those who were born with pools in their backyard.

But as the Black Lives Matter movement makes clear, not everyone was born with pools in their backyard. In fact, some people were born into a heritage where their ancestors had to dig pools for people but were never allowed to swim in them. Then, when they were told they could technically dig their own pools, people took their shovels away, their concrete. Sometimes, they dug it just deep enough to be drowned by people who thought there wasn’t enough water to go around, who didn’t really think their lives mattered as much as their own. And the police looked the other way. And some of the police did the drowning.

So many people are drowning—in their neighborhoods, their streets, their nursing homes, their own lung fluids. You without a mask say, no lives matter, especially not those of Black and Indigenous peoples who die disproportionately of the virus, as they disproportionately die of police violence.

Since you, Governor Ducey, are so adept at defunding those social systems that would make it possible for everyone to have a pool, perhaps it’s time to defund the police systems that make it impossible for the water to flow equitably. Perhaps it’s time for you and the people who don’t think Black Lives Matter to take down the dams and let the water run free.

Nicole Walker is a professor at Northern Arizona University, and is the author of Quench Your Thirst with Salt and a collection of poems, This Noisy Egg. She edited, with Margot Singer, Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction, and is the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment from the Arts. The thoughts expressed here are hers alone and not necessarily those of her employer. For more letters, visit


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