Transcript of the episode “Doing democracy: School participatory budgeting”

[00:00:15] Jon M: Hi. I’m Jon Moscow. 

[00:00:16] Amy H-L: And I’m Amy Halpern-Laff. Welcome to Ethical Schools. We have three guests today. Dr. Daniel Schugurensky is a professor in the School of Public Affairs and the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University, where he is co-director of the Participatory Governance Initiative, coordinator of the graduate certificate in social transformation, the undergraduate certificate in human rights, and the master’s in social and cultural pedagogy. Tara Bartlett is a doctoral student in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at ASU. And Madison Rock is Senior Program Coordinator, Civic Health Initiatives at the Center for the Future of Arizona. Welcome Daniel, Tara, and Madison. 

[00:01:00] Madison R: Thank you. 

[00:01:01] Daniel S: Thank you for inviting us.

[00:01:04] Jon M: Daniel, perhaps you could begin by giving us an overview of school participatory budgeting, or SPB.

[00:01:11] Daniel S: School participatory budgeting, that we call for short “School PB,” is an offspring of municipal participatory budgeting that started in Brazil, in the southern part of Brazil, in Puerto Negro, in 1989, three decades ago. And it’s now being implemented in over 11,000 cities all around the world. So participatory budgeting is a democratic process in which the community decides how to allocate public funds. School participatory budgeting is the educational version of participatory budgeting that is implemented in educational institutions. And it includes a moment of deliberation and a moment of decision making. It has similar spaces that we want to talk about in a moment, but basically it’s a process of identifying needs, refining those needs into feasible projects, deliberating on the pros and cons of the different proposals, and then deciding together how to allocate those funds to improve the school community. The way we conceptualize school participatory budgeting is a combination of civic education, civic engagement, and school democracy. So school participatory budgeting brings together these three areas or these three themes. And it’s main purpose is to nurture capacities among students to make decisions together based on their values and their priorities, because budgets are policies without rhetoric.

So it’s in the budget where you see the priorities of a given community or a given organization. Students have to think deeply about their values, their priorities. They learn how to make decisions together in an age of polarization and limited capacities to come together to make decisions. It is an important tool for a) nurturing deliberative capacities and b) giving students a sense of agency in the sense that this is not a simulation, these are real resources, real power for students to make decisions. The research tells us that when students learn at an early age, have opportunities to become civically engaged or to participate in this type of learning opportunities, they are more likely to engage later in civic and political life as adults

[00:03:53] Jon M: Tara, Madison, would you like to add to Daniel’s description? 

[00:03:56] Madison R: I think that was a lovely description. I don’t know if I would add to that. 

[00:04:00] Daniel S: One thing I would add is that school participatory budgeting is being done in many, many countries around the world, too. In the US, we are doing it in Arizona. We can talk mostly about Arizona. But it is being done also in New York. It is being done in California, in Chicago, many places. And also, in countries like in Portugal, it is implemented in all the schools in the country. It is also implemented in Spain, in France, in South Korea, many countries in Latin America, Canada. So this is not unique to Arizona. This is a worldwide experiment with democracy.. 

[00:04:38] Jon M: How did ASU become involved specifically in the School PB?

[00:04:43] Daniel S: Well, ASU is working with a participatory governance initiative, which is based in the School of Public Affairs and the Center for the Future of Arizona, a nonprofit loosely affiliated with ASU and the Mary Lou Fulton School of Education. So the three units collaborate together with the schools. Different districts, we are working now in six different districts in Arizona, with almost 50 schools, that are implementing School PB. We help with capacity building, and we help with research and evaluation.

[00:05:17] Amy H-L: What roles do teachers or administrators play in the SPB process?

[00:05:23] Madison R: Educators and administrators in the school community are really integral to the entire school participatory budgeting. First, in order to get the School PB process started on a campus, we need the buy-in and interest of administration, either at the district level or at the school level. And that’s really because they’re the ones that are going to be allocating that budget to the students, right. They’re the ones that hold that initial decision-making power over those budgets in those communities and are the ones that are, quite frankly, relinquishing that power to the student body to make decisions over how those dollars are allocated. 

They also play a really critical role in getting educators involved on the campus. So teachers play a role that we call teacher sponsors, and those educators are really charged with 1) bringing in the students to serve on the steering committee that really guides and shepherds the process along the academic year. So they are being trained on each phase of the process, and they’re really the ones that are then mentoring and guiding those students through outreach, getting the word out about school participatory budgeting to their fellow students. They are helping their students on this steering committee to then collect ideas from the student body on how those dollars are spent. They’re working as liaison between the students and the decision makers at the school or district level, connecting them in with folks in the purchasing department to understand how different projects can be funded and which vendors to approach to get quotes for different types of projects. They’re connecting them with campus facilities advisors to look at what is the current infrastructure in the school and might it support a new water filtration system if that’s one of their projects that are coming up through the process. So making sure that all of the logistics are in place so that the school community comes together and votes on which projects they want to fund it on that campus. The process wouldn’t be possible without administrators’ and educators’ full buy-in and support of the program. 

[00:07:29] Tara B: And I’ll certainly add on to that, in terms of getting the process started in the school. And I know, Madison, as you stated, the administration kind of holds those purse strings, but there’s also been cases where it’s ultimately a teacher, or we call them a teacher champion, who really talks to their administration and gets that administrative buy-in. And I’m speaking from my own experience, having been a teacher prior to starting my doctoral studies. And that’s really how that came to be, as well as having a teacher who’s interested and appreciates this modality of civic education and civic engagement within a school, because it does stand apart from many other programs and civic education learning opportunities. And so having a teacher sometimes be that champion to get that process started from the beginning. 

[00:08:15] Daniel S: Let me add one more angle to the teachers question, Amy, the empowerment, the sense of empowerment and agency through this process is not only for students, but also teachers feel empowered because this is learning democracy by doing, you know, John Dewey 1 01, and the learning democracy by doing is not only for the students, but for the teachers. So with so many cases of teachers who have been involved in the school participatory budgeting process, and then after that, they started to aspire to leadership positions in the school and they became vice-principals and eventually principals. So it does empower the teachers to start playing a bigger role in school governance. 

[00:08:58] Jon M: In general, how much money is involved in the budgeting process? And does it work on a class by class basis or on a whole school basis? Is there one particular pattern? 

[00:09:12] Daniel S: No, there is no pattern. In Spain, for example, they do it at a classroom level, so they choose randomly schools and they work in one school in one class in each school. So the whole process is constrained to the classroom in elementary schools. In Portugal, it’s federal money to all the students in the country, one Euro per student. In Arizona, we have different models and Madison and Tara can talk about that. But I will tell you [inaudible] two or three of those. In Phoenix, they do $4,000 for a small school and $7,000 for large schools. Although this year they have a huge process of $1.2 million for the whole district on school safety. We can talk about that [inaudible], in the field of school participatory budgeting, but it’s something that is happening. In another district, they did $20,000 per school. 

There is a ranch in California. They’re having School PB with $50,000 in a school. So depending on the revenue, on the funds, there are different opportunities to use different pots of money. And in Providence, Rhode Island, I think they have now come $20,000 from federal money into a School PB in a district. So like Madison and Tara would like to have anything else on the [inaudible]?

[00:10:37] Amy H-L: I’m sure there’s a wide range of models that are used, but in general, how do students participate in school PB? 

[00:10:48] Madison R: Yeah. So typically, I’ll speak to the experience here in Arizona specifically, but I would say the vast majority of the schools that we are partnered with on this process are implementing the program as an extra curricular activity. So the students that are serving on the student steering committee then are coming together either before school or after school, or sometimes during like a homeroom or advisory period, to meet on a weekly basis with their teacher sponsor to facilitate the process throughout the academic year. We do have that some cases in which the steering committee is kind of formulated by like an 11th grade social studies class. That has taken place at a few schools here in Arizona. Some cases in which the student government in a school is really serving in that steering committee role, but most often, you know, the kind of general basis that we are encouraging our school partners to follow is really using this opportunity of student engagement through the steering committee to reach students who might not normally be tapped for leadership positions on campus.

So how can we use this opportunity? Not necessarily to attract what we would refer to in the civic engagement world as the usual suspects, but how can we really look to engage students who can really benefit from this type of leadership position? So, Tara, would you add anything to that in terms of how to engage students?

[00:12:17] Tara B: Certainly. And I think this also speaks back to even the allocation of budget amounts and even where those funds come from and how those funds can be spent is that this process is really malleable. It’s contextual, and it can be catered to whatever that school possibly might need or want in terms of students being engaged. You can see that kind of range in terms of the students’ steering committee representation, but then also different innovations and iterations that we’ve seen among schools here in Arizona. So one example being, and this was something that Madison had implemented at a school in 2019 was a primary vote, instead of just only having the final vote, to gauge greater student engagement, but then also collaboration around ideas and deliberation. 

And then also we’ve seen it embedded in social studies classes within the entire school. So oftentimes those classes are very inclusive, where you might have students that have some type of IEP that might not be in a reading class or a math class with the rest of their peers, but oftentimes you’ll see those students still be in the social studies class. And that’s really the, you know, the pathway to reach all the students within the schools, having it embedded within some type of core curriculum or class. And so that’s what we’ve seen in terms of being able to engage students is that it’s really different within each school, and there’s lots of creative ways to do so. 

[00:13:38] Daniel S: And just to complement that. Madison and Tara talked about the steering committee. So the steering committee is a group of students, about 20 to 36 students, who are the stewards of the process from beginning to end. They develop the guides and the principles, and they communicate the process to the rest of the school community. They collect ideas. They help to translate those ideas into physical proposals and they organize the deliberation on the proposals and the final vote,. But all students can participate in different ways, according to their time and interest. So the rest of the students could propose ideas, attend these meetings of the steering committee and participate in the meetings of the steering committee. They can participate in the deliberation about the strengths and weaknesses of the different projects. And of course, they vote. And we have very high turnout rates for voting, over 80%, some schools over 90%, which is much higher than the municipal turnout rate, which is about 20 to 25%. And the other thing that we’re trying to do is, to make, as Madison said, this process as inclusive as possible, working with students who usually have less opportunities for these types of civic learning and civic engagement, so we work mainly with Title One schools with a high proportion of minority students, many Latinos, Native Americans, African-Americans, and also we try to make the steering committee as inclusive as possible, to represent the demographics of the school.. So if let’s say in the school, 15% of the students have a disability, we try to have at least 15% of the students with disabilities on the student committee. And then we have equal representation by gender, and we have a representation by ethnicity, race, et cetera, et cetera. So they do a mini public so that the steering committee represents the demographics of the school. That’s what we do.

In other countries, for example, they work with student government only. We take a different approach. We try to avoid working with student government, because student government students, the student government participants, have already many opportunity to develop their leadership capacities. So we’re trying to redistribute opportunities within the school to try to. bridge what we call the civic engagement gap.

[00:16:20] Amy H-L: Could you give us some idea of the school day and what happens after school? 

[00:16:25] Madison R: Well, it really depends on which school you would be talking to. I think that’s kind of the theme of the school in participatory budgeting model is that it depends, As Tara said, it’s really malleable and is able to really fit. Kind of, I guess I would say it’s really able to meet schools where they are. So whatever objectives they have, wherever, whenever they’re able to kind of integrate this type of model into their own school day, it’s able to kind of fit within that framework. 

But to answer your question more pointedly, I’d say during the school day are really opportunities for the steering committee to be connecting with the broader student body. So throughout the process, whether it’s through the idea of collection phase, the proposal development phase to the campaign and vote, those are really the opportunities during the school day for the larger student body to kind of weigh in on the process, right. So ideas are being collected, as Tara said, maybe they’re being done through social studies classes. Maybe they’re are being done through tabling at lunch, right. Maybe the steering committee is out with a table and a drop box, and they’re encouraging students to come up and fill out their ideas for how they want to spend the dollars and put it into a box.

You know, in the proposal development phase, this might be an opportunity during the school day where the students on the steering committee are going out to classrooms and saying, these are the top ideas. Can you weigh in on which ideas should advance to the next phase, right? Which ideas should we elevate to be turned into project proposals? What are the pros and cons of different ideas? And they can kind of weigh in in that way. During the campaign and deliberation phase, students, during the school day are learning about the different projects that are on the ballot. They’re learning how they’re going to cast their vote on the big vote day, learning where the location is, how to fill out their ballot, asking key questions so that they can be prepared and informed voters when their school vote day comes around. And then of course, on that big day, we really try to make it a celebration for those campuses. We try to make it 1) mirror the actual election process as close as possible, but to make it celebratory and fun. Something that’s been really exciting about the work here in Arizona has been partnerships with voter engagement and electoral institutions in our state, where on student PB vote days, students that are eligible to do so can register to vote for future elections. So since 2016, we’ve actually been able to register 5,000 new voters for Arizona elections. And it’s just been really incredible when we think about those students being able to have hands-on experience with the democratic process, then get registered to vote. When we think about their propensity for civic engagement long-term, it really can be transformational, which is part of the reason why CFA has been so excited. I know Daniel and Tara, too, have been really excited about that. 

[00:19:21] Daniel S: The recorder’s office brings the actual official machines, the real machines, that are used in the real voting. 

[00:19:29] Jon M: It sounds as though your work really includes a lot of working on changing the culture of a school, especially when you’re talking in terms of being sure to engage students who frequently aren’t engaged or as you put it, who aren’t the usual suspects. So what does that look like in terms of the external involvement of your organizations in terms of going into the school and working with the students? What kind of time does that take? What kind of professional development, if you will, both of teachers and students, what does it look like? 

[00:20:06] Daniel S: Professional development is one area that we can talk about. We do workshops. We start by working with teachers from the beginning to the end of the process in schools that are starting PB for the first time. And after two or three years, the schools usually take off, and they don’t need us anymore. And we move to the next school or the next district. So the capacity-building usually takes place in the first two years, two to three years, we go to the schools relatively often to help assist with the process, but we also have professional development workshops for teachers who have not yet been involved in school PB or teachers who want to continue developing their capacities. And then there are activities that take place on Saturdays sometimes with workshops or different seminars. So, after school programs. There are different ways in which activities take place for meetings related to School PB in school and outside of school.

The outside partners are mainly the Center for the Future of Arizona, the Participatory Governance Initiative, and the partners that Madison mentioned before, the non-profits that help with voter registration and the recorders’ officers. Literally, they come at the beginning of the process to give inspirational speeches about democracy and participatory democracy and at the end to help with the voting. And then we are more active in the middle. I don’t know if Madison or Tara want to add anything on this. 

[00:21:52] Madison R: Yeah, I’ll speak to the part of the question that was about time. The time that it takes to kind of implement this process, really the time that’s invested from an educator’s, student’s, or administrator’s perspective depends kind of on the depth of the process. So we’ve described many different interventions to the School PB process where you can implement a primary vote, you can implement different opportunities for dialogue and deliberation along the way. The more touch points that you build into the process, the more investment of time it is going to require, but this kind of work can certainly be done on a shorter timeline, right.

We’ve seen processes be successful, you know, not just spanning the entire academic year, but also on a shorter timeline, maybe three or four months in the academic year, a process can still be successful. So it really can be done again to that point about malleability of the process. It really can be done in a variety of different contexts and a variety of different depths of engagement throughout the process. It really is accessible.

[00:23:00] Daniel S: Jon’s question about the changes in the school. That is an interesting question because in the past week I’ve been more focused on exploring the impact on participants, so we’re looking at the most significant learning and most significant change in terms of civic and political knowledge, civic and political attitudes and values, civic and political skills, and civic and political practices. We call it KASP. So we have 14 indicators of learning and change in civic and political activities and learning, but then we realized that the school is also changing. So we have this question that Jon was asking. Is the school becoming more open? Is the school becoming more democratic? Is the school becoming more respectful of students and teachers? And so on. So we have now 10 additional indicators to look at school climate, that is school climate change as a result of this. So we are at the beginning of analyzing the rate of school climate, but so far the results seem to be promising. It seems that not only participants change, but the school as an organization also changes.

[00:24:21] Jon M: What are some of the factors that you find are most effective, the design factors to have the greatest impact, both on participating students and, as you were just sort of referring to, to school climate? When you go into a school, what would be your ideal allocations of time and various forms of participation? What’s a good model that people should be looking at? 

[00:24:47] Madison R: Well, it’s a little bit difficult to answer that question about what the ideal model might be. I think for sure, buy-in is really important. Being able to have district school leaders, administrators who are really bought in to the process, I think is one design factor that is critical to the program. Also having educators that have really bought into the model and excited about the process is really important. 

I’d say, you know, some of the different design factors that I think are really important to kind of the success of the model are the mini public. I think that that’s something that we’ve been really excited about in terms of design, making sure that the student steering committee is representative of the broader student body demographics. I think that we have found the ideas that are collected are more responsive to the broader student body needs when the school demographics are represented on that student steering committee and another design element in terms of teacher engagement and something that we really encourage our school district partners to do is to compensate those teachers who are serving in those leadership roles for their time. So, very similar to how a club or a sport would operate on a campus. How can we offer a one time stipend to the educators who are leading this work and really compensate them for the time that they’re investing in this process? So I think that those are some design elements.

Other things that really make the process successful are having a really clear picture of what is needed in order for project proposals to be funded. So from the outset of a PD process, working with those school district leaders to understand how can this budget actually be… so, for example, in Arizona, we’re typically working with capital budgets and capital investments through this process. So what does that mean as students are submitting ideas or they’re brainstorming ideas on how to spend the budget? What does it mean for the steering committee as they’re prioritizing and categorizing ideas and their project proposals? What types of things can the dollars be used for and what types of things can they not be used for? So making sure that those lines of communication and those parameters are really clear from the outset, that’s really, really important so that we don’t create a sense of apathy with these students, right, who are putting all of this work into creating project proposals and then way too late down the line, maybe finding out that the project that they were really excited about and invested in isn’t going to be able to be funded through this process. So I think that that’s something that’s really important as well.

[00:27:41] Daniel S: Yeah. A few more things on the side. One other thing, in addition to what Madison said. Back to the primary vote is important because it allows the entire school community to decide which proposals from a long list go to the short list that goes to the final vote. So that’s an important design innovation that we have been studying here in Arizona.

Another one is trying to make a connection with the curriculum. The connection with the curriculum can be done in social studies and government, which is very easy to make in terms of democracy, governance, and so on, but also with language and communication, math, financial literacy, arts, and so on and so forth. So making a more clear connection with the curriculum. So we identify the standards in the different subject matters in K-12 that connect with a School PB and try to encourage teachers to make those connections. The other thing is try to be as inclusive as possible in terms of the design, because that matters, too.

The other thing that the School PB is a catalyzer for the conversation on finding solutions about finding solutions to problems in the school. So some of these solutions do not fit the exact budget allocated to that process. Some ideas require more funding, some ideas require no funding at all, but there are no channels now within the school for ordinary students to elevate those ideas to the school leadership. So a good process will allow also ideas that are requiring more money to go through the leadership of the school or the district and be considered. And some ideas do not require any money at all. Like for example, long lines in the cafeteria. The students solved that problem by suggesting different shifts to go to the cafeteria for lunch. Problem solved with zero money. So there can be creative solutions to problems that do not require any funding at all. So the School PB opens that conversation to solve problems collectively, to use the associative intelligence of the school community to solve their problems and to improve the community.

[00:30:11] Tara B: Yeah. I would like to add on to this kind of list of all these different design options and possibilities. And I know we talked about the inclusion of students from various backgrounds, but also teachers. And I think that’s what we’ve seen most recently is not just having, you know, maybe that usual suspect of a social studies teacher spearheading this project, but creating kind of a campus coalition of teachers. And specifically what we’ve done here in Arizona is ensuring that there’s representation from the special education department on school campuses. But even in a most recent iteration, we have, you know, a representative that serves at the district level in the Native American liaison department and having someone that’s, you know, part of the process in terms of representation for students of that demographic. And so just ensuring across the board that we have, the teachers represented in terms of inclusivity as well.

[00:31:05] Amy H-L: Has there been any study on how School PB impacts student engagement over time, either in Arizona or in other places in the US or other countries?

[00:31:18] Daniel S: When you say over time, you mean how long…

[00:31:21] Amy H-L: During and after the School PB.

[00:31:27] Daniel S: Yes, we notice, in our own research, impacts on different indicators of civic and political knowledge, attitude, skills, and practices, but in other districts, in other parts of the world, other researchers have a found out similar findings from self-confidence and political efficacy to listening capacities to different deliverable capacities, to the dispositions, to the common goal within the self-interest to the common good, intention to participate in the future in a civic and political life.

And in Spain, they did a study that found the impact was higher after the second year of implementation. So they followed the cohort for three years and they found that the longer the exposure to this process, the higher the impact. And then of course there is lots of research in the field of citizenship education, that participation in this civic education and civic learning programs is a strong predictor of high levels of civic involvement in other schools. So those findings apply also to School PD.

[00:32:46] Tara B: Certainly seen the research happening in schools here in terms of the KASP survey that Daniel had spoken to, which again, measures those knowledge, attitudes, skills and practices. And we’ve seen across the board increases in every one of those indicators that we survey the students on in terms of pre and post of the School PB. And really some of the more standout ones is this increased trust amongst students and the greater school community. And then also, of course, the skills. So what Daniel spoke to, in terms of deliberation and public speaking, and being able to critically think about some of these, you know, project ideas, but then also the participatory democracy. So that in of itself is a question that we’ve seen students have a great increase in terms of their knowledge and what goes into a participatory democracy. And then also the propensity to vote. I think one of our most marked outcomes was specifically with one special education class that implemented the process last year during COVID in a hybrid manner. And of that student class, there was an increase across the board from 20% to 90% of students saying that they would be more likely to vote after high school. And so we have seen in our own processes and evaluations here in Arizona, a great increase across the board of all civic behaviors. 

[00:34:10] Daniel S: Yeah. And we have also anecdotal information from teachers and from parents who tell us about the changes that they see in the kids by observing their behavior over the time of the process. And the other thing that is very important, I want to emphasize the trust issue that they mentioned, because usually at the beginning of a process, the school leadership and the teachers do not trust that the children are going to make wise decisions. They say, are we going to give students the power over real money, to make decisions of real money when they are all the time on social media playing video games, they’re not going to probably come up with good ideas and there may be a waste of resources and the students do not trust the teacher. Because they say, oh, it’s another, you know, talk an exercise of the grownups will be a waste of time, will be another consultation. Nothing will happen at the end. And what we have at the end of the process, these evaluations with the teachers and the students though, they both talk about that. The teachers said we didn’t trust you to make good decisions and you surprised us. We are so impressed by your level of responsibility to come up with great ideas that we never thought about the school.

So we really trust you now. And the students said also the same thing. We didn’t trust you that it was for real. We thought it was fake, that this was going to be another simulation exercise. And then we were really impressed that you followed up, and these are real resources and the project is really implemented in the school.

So trust is an issue. Yeah. And what we’ve seen in schools, I think, has us excited to extend this evaluation and follow cohorts of students who have participated in School PB post high school. So that is on our radar in terms of future research, especially here in Arizona. And I know that we’ve been even more excited in what we’ve seen in terms of like voter turnout rates being increased.

[00:36:23] Tara B: And so we would really like to explore, you know, if School PB had any type of, you know, favor in making those increase from 2016 to 2020 with just the spread of School PB throughout the state and various school districts. So that’s definitely on our radar as future research. 

[00:36:41] Jon M: I just wanted to go back quickly to a mechanical question. How, for example, in terms of making sure that the steering committee is genuinely representative, do you do that by sort of laying out from the beginning that there’s like a mandate, that this has to happen and you or somebody has to approve the final product, but how does that actually work to change people’s headsets from what the usual is?

[00:37:07] Daniel S: Well, it is not a mandate. It is a suggestion that we make to the schools, and most schools that we work with follow the suggestion, but it’s not a mandate. It’s a suggestion. Madison, do you want to talk about the process, how we do this? 

[00:37:24] Tara B: This was something that we implemented first in the school that I had last taught at before starting my doctoral degree. And what we did is we took on the school’s overall demographics and looked at those percentages in terms of race, gender, and Title One status. And then we went ahead and looked at our student population in terms of who possibly could be that student leader that’s not already engaged in terms of being in, you know, school government, of already being in the student council. And so looking at those demographics and matching those, we went ahead and reached out to teachers. And from there we asked teachers, you know, we would like our student steering committee, you know, for example, to be at least 14 to 15% of students with an IEP, or at least, you know, 40% of students that identify as Hispanic or Latino/ Latina. And we went ahead and from there kind of gave it up to the teacher. So like Daniel said, it’s a suggestion. But I think that that mini representation or mini public of what that greater demographic is is an easy buy-in. Especially when we talk about, in terms of the long-term impacts of engaging students who normally wouldn’t have that opportunity and those implications overall for, you know, future voter turnout rates, but also our democracy in general. 

[00:38:42] Jon M: Thanks. That was, that was really. Informative. I did want to ask Daniel, you mentioned, I think towards the beginning, that now the Phoenix Union High School District is involved in an overall participatory budgeting process. Could somebody talk about what that looks like?

[00:38:59] Daniel S: Last year, the Phoenix Union High School District decided not to renew the contract with the Phoenix police for school resource officers in the Phoenix Union High School District, about 20 schools and close to 30,000 students. That contract amounts to $1.2 million per year. So the leadership of Phoenix Union High School District decided to reallocate those funds to the school community to decide how to use these funds to promote school safety in the 20 schools. So as we speak now, the representatives from these 20 schools are meeting in three different processes, one with students, one with staff, teaching and non-teaching staff, and one with parents, evaluating different alternatives to police on campus to school resource officers. So they are considering alternatives like restorative justice or peer mediation, or mindfulness, mental health counselors, different alternatives. And there are, we noticed in the literature there are more than 20 alternatives that they can choose from. So at this moment, they are in the idea collection and the proposal development of the different ideas that they hope to start implementing in fall 2022. But the one thing I would say. It is because of the experimentation that the Phoenix Union has had with since 2013 with the school by school process, they started in one school in 2013. After three years of experimenting as a pilot in this school, they decided to adopt it in, pilot in five schools. Then the following year, we did 10 schools, 10, 15, and then the next year, all the 20 schools. So this slow process of experimentation, learning by doing, trial and error, and then scaling up led to the confidence that at some point they will allocate $1.2 million to this process, but this would not have happened without the previous six years of small projects. So basically it builds up over time and I’m very happy to see that the leadership of the Phoenix Union trusts that the community, if they have a good process, if they have good information, and the process is inclusive, eventually the associative intelligence of the participants within that bring good ideas.

[00:41:54] Amy H-L: Are they using a mini public model for that steering committee as well? 

[00:41:58] Tara B: Yeah. So each school actually started this idea collection and kind of researching the paradigm of school safety beyond school resource officers last year during COVID. Some of those students that were part of that initial process design and evaluation school safety have graduated. And so they did bring in some new students this year, so there has been some, you know, efflux and influx in terms of that steering committee. But overall it’s been students who have taken up an interest in both the process, but then also the focus of the process. And I think that that’s where we’re really seeing that representation across the district of students, who have been historically marginalized in terms of school discipline, across the ideas of race, gender identity, sexual orientation. And so students that have taken up the interest in that process have done so simply because of this idea to reimagine school safety. There is also that the steering committee has students from all the all different grades and different ages of course.

[00:42:58] Amy H-L: School security is, it’s a sensitive subject. Has there been any community opposition to the project? 

[00:43:04] Tara B: There has been a bit, we had focus groups last year that were online, with the mainly parent community that I think stemming from their own experiences in schools and having been apart from being within a school for several years, having to really understand what school policing looks like, because it has markedly changed over the past two decades. I mean, we can trace it back really to that Columbine incident and having this, you know, greater increase of policing within the school system. And so parents were approaching this topic more out of a concern that if police are taken out of schools, what does that look like in terms of their child’s own safety? So that really came back to those concerns being shared. And since then we have met, and again, it’s mainly the parent group in terms of providing them information and resources around, as Daniel had alluded to, some of these school safety alternatives.

But then also data around police in schools. And we will say that it is overly inconclusive because that is also something that is very contextualized within communities and different schools do employ school resource officers based off of, you know, different grants and different state requirements that certain districts take up to have police in schools. But overall, this is something that parents didn’t really have a lot of background information on. And so that I think was our biggest hurdle in talking about what that looks like in terms of re-imagining school safety. If there are not police on campus, and that’s not to say that there isn’t the District security and other safety measures such as, you know, cameras or sometimes metal detectors on campuses, but just really thinking about what that means for students to be surrounded by police within the school system.

[00:44:49] Daniel S: Yeah. And of course the schools still have a relationship with the Phoenix police and they have to report cases to the police. It’s not that the communication channels are broken. Of course they continue their relationship.

[00:45:03] Amy H-L: This has been fascinating. Thank you so much, Dr. Daniel Schugurensky and Tara Bartlett of ASU and Madison Rock from the Center for the Future of Arizona. Thank you. 

[00:45:15] Jon M: Thank you listeners as well. If you enjoyed this podcast, please share it with a friend or colleague. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and give us a rating or a review. This helps other people to find the show. Check out our website,, for more episodes and articles and to subscribe to our monthly emails. We post annotated transcripts of our interviews to make them easy to use in workshops or classes. We work with consultants to offer customized social emotional learning programs, with a focus on ethics, for schools and youth programs in the New York City and San Francisco Bay areas.

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