Dear Governor Ducey,

Hello from windy and cold Flagstaff! I know. It’s May. I shouldn’t expect anything different, but I swear I can usually write outside on the deck by this time of year. I’m probably lying to myself, though. I have these images of me, sitting outside, Mason jar full of water, geraniums abounding, me, type type typing all the words that will one day be that great book I will write that is so moving that everyone gives it five stars. Like Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping. Or Toni Morrison’s Beloved. But as much as I vow to work on long, narrative projects, the world keeps jumping in. Or I jump out of Word Docs because I am on alert. Things are happening. I have to stay on top of it.

I often wonder what it is about long narratives that people consider most important. I love short poems. I quote Gerard Manley Hopkins to myself every day: “Oh my chevalier!” His love of exclamation points. His love of “ands” and birds. I love Facebook posts. But, as I think about the thing people want from books, characters that transform, I wonder if it takes a long narrative to change one’s perception of things.

Do these many letters constitute a long narrative? I wonder who has changed more, me or you over these past four years of letter writing. Some days, I’m as ever disappointed in you and the way you pretend to be pro-education and then turn your back on Arizona students. Some days, I’m surprised to find you may actually be changing your story. The budget you released in January, the state houses zeroed out your commitment to restore, possibly even build, funding for education. But the GOP senate is not on board. Tucson Weekly reported that the current budget shows a big difference between what you and the Senate Republicans propose. Here are just a couple examples:

 • Money for counselors and student resource officers: Ducey, $20 million; Senate Republicans, $10 million. 

• Career and Technical Education incentive program: Ducey, $10 million; Senate Republicans, zero.

• Advanced funding for school construction: Ducey, $98.8 million; Senate Republicans, zero.

• Building renewal funding: Ducey, $62.8 million; Senate Republicans, $46 million.

• Results-based funding: Ducey, $59.7 million; Senate Republicans, zero.

• Teacher's Academy: Ducey, $21 million; Senate Republicans, $5 million.

• NAU one-time funding: Ducey, $6.7 million, Senate Republicans, zero.

“Zero” seems to be the number Senate Republicans want to commit to education. Probably because they have zero interest in students unless they’re in private schools. “Regular children” don’t need school funding. We’ll charter out some prisons instead seems to be the approach even though it does cost substantially more to house prisoners than school children. But I think some senators, with ties to private prisons, make even more from the private prison racket than they do from the private and charter school one.

I wonder, too, if you, dear Governor, were relying on the Senate Republicans to zero out your initiatives. Now, you look like the good guy and can still call yourself pro-education even though “zero” is the amount of funding you, in the long run, in this long novel of a governorship, really want to give.

Your Senate Republican friends aren’t entirely stingy though. They’re all set to give NAU $500,000 to start a Freedom School like those at U of A and ASU. These Freedom Schools are meant to protect the freedoms of the Senate Republicans. The Koch Brothers, who donate mega millions to the Republican Party, believe that the universities are where liberalism is born. They want to counter it with schools of their own where students read only conservative materials.

The funny thing about a “liberal” education is that you’re invited to read everything. Liberal, conservative, in the middle. Heck, half of the time, you can’t even define it—like you, Ducey, who we have a hard time knowing if you’re 100 percent anti-education or just 90 percent. No one at NAU who I’ve talked to wants the Freedom School. What we want is the chance to read everything and write about everything and to finally finish the semester so we can go outside and sit on the deck and write the long thing. That’s what a real Freedom School would be. A long story about how somebody changed over time, while sitting by geraniums. Perhaps that story, if you really want to win this budget fight, could be yours.  

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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 www.nikwalk.blogspot.com



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