Like most Arizonans, I was born outside the state, the place I have loved and called home since I was five years old.
Just a generation ago, my family made its way to the U.S. from China and, like most children of immigrants, I watched my family work hard to create opportunity for their children. I listened when they taught me to love this country, work hard in school, take risks, and pursue a meaningful life.
I was lucky enough to be of the first generation born here, affording me the ability to attend one of our amazing public universities with the help of scholarship and in-state tuition; supports available to the majority of Arizona residents should they want to pursue higher education.
Those of us fortunate enough to have earned a college degree know how life-changing such a milestone can be. For me, it opened opportunities that have been more rewarding than I could have imagined.
After completing an undergrad degree in business and economics, I decided to start my career by teaching elementary and middle school in west Phoenix through the Teach For America program. Spending the majority of each day with my students, I got to know them deeply and it changed my life for the better.
Cultivating qualities in young leaders
Many of my students were Dreamers, born in another country but who had spent most of their lives here in Arizona. They’d grown up, made friends, worked hard in school, and dreamed of going to college, making a living and raising families here. All of them had undeniable purpose and potential. And as their teacher, I was responsible for helping them grow into that.
Being their teacher also gave me the privilege of seeing up close how bright, motivated, curious and creative my students were – the exact qualities we should encourage and cultivate in our young people, our future leaders. Instead, current tuition inequalities stunt the talent and potential of thousands of Dreamers who are asked to pay 150% of the in-state tuition rate at our public universities and 300% at our community colleges.
These are Arizona kids. Their parents are working in Arizona neighborhoods, office buildings and local shops. They are going to Arizona schools where we are investing in them every day. Yet we are cutting off opportunities that would benefit them and our entire state. Do we really think our society will be worse off if more students who have a deep desire to learn and grow go to college?
Develop the potential of all Arizona students
I believe our society will be better when we provide college access to more Arizona kids. We can take a significant step towards this in November by voting ‘Yes’ on Prop 308, which would grant in-state tuition to any student who has lived here for at least two years and graduated from an Arizona high school. A ‘Yes’ vote simply asks our state to grant Dreamers access to the same in-state tuition rates that any other college-bound Arizonan can currently access.
While leading Teach For America in Phoenix, I have the privilege of working alongside a large network of current and former educators, who, like me, have taught Dreamers. We know that when given the chance, our students will fully pursue opportunities to learn and to thrive. We’ve seen it firsthand. This is why hundreds of Teach For America alumni have signed a letter agreeing to join me to support Prop 308. They too believe so deeply in the potential of their students and know what tremendous impact they can have in our community.
This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. This is an Arizona opportunity. In November, join me and hundreds of other Teach For America alumni in voting ‘Yes’ for Prop 308. Do it because it’s good – no, great – for our local economy. Do it because our future workforce depends on it. Do it because it will make us all more prosperous. Do it because we as Arizonans take care of our own, especially our kids. All of our kids.
Steve Erickson is executive director of Teach For America Phoenix