Rep. Judy Schwiebert talks education, family, and what it takes to change the system

Rep. Judy Schwiebert talks education, family, and what it takes to change the system

State Representative Judy Schwiebert speaking with an attendee at a press conference for Moms Demand Action at the Arizona State Capitol building in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

By Elizabeth Sloan

July 3, 2024

Judy Schwiebert remembers when she decided to stop being frustrated by the system and start changing it from the inside.

“I was volunteering in a second-grade classroom,” says Schwiebert, who taught high school for 27 years and raised her two boys in the Northwest Valley. “One day, the masterful teacher I was working for—whom all the students adored—announced that this would be her last year.”

The reason?

“She was working four jobs to make ends meet,” Schwiebert recalled. “Even worse, I learned that one in three students in Arizona no longer had a permanent classroom teacher. I remember thinking: ‘That is horrifying! How are we tolerating this?’”

@coppercourier Teacher and Arizona Rep. Judy Schwiebert voted no on Senate Bill 1166, which would require parents to be notified no more than five days after their child starts using a pronoun different from their biological sex or if their child starts using a name that is not their legal first, middle, or a commonly used nickname. “For a party that is so concerned about government overreach, it seems strange to hear you all advocating for a teacher, who you see as a representative of the #government, to be intruding themselves into a students home and family. That’s government overreach!” #trans #transbills #pronouns #az #arizona #arizonacheck #azpol #arizonapolitics #everythingarizona #supportstudents #supporttranspeople #supporttranskids #transrights #transrightsarehumanrights #transrights🏳️‍⚧️ ♬ original sound – Copper Courier

Making a change

At the urging of friends, in 2020 Schwiebert ran for the Arizona State House of Representatives. She won.

“I never imagined this would be me,” she laughed. “I was a mom, a teacher, a lifelong resident. I was concerned about the state of our country. But when I decided to get involved, I realized that right here in Arizona is where we need to be making a difference. I have spent my life in this district. I raised my kids in this district. I’ve taught in this district. I go to church in this district. I have a unique opportunity here.”

Now running for the State Senate in Arizona’s 2nd Legislative District, Schwiebert talked with The Copper Courier about how she sees her responsibilities as a public servant and what she most wants for the people of Arizona.

 

Copper Courier: What led you to teaching, originally? 

Judy Schwiebert: It is so exciting to be a part of a student’s journey—helping them grow and learn and figure out who they want to be. Nobody goes into teaching to become wealthy. But when I did it, I could afford it, even when I became a single mom. That’s not true now. We’re 49th in the country in per-pupil spending!

 

CC: How would you address it? 

JS: We have to look at the ESA (Empowerment Scholarship Account) voucher system and what it is costing us. Arizona is already a beacon of choice for parents. They can choose a school in their neighborhood or one across town. They can choose a charter that specializes in art, sports, or traditional learning. They can homeschool. They can choose private school.

What we cannot afford is to create an entirely separate private school system—funded by taxpayer money—that siphons almost a billion dollars a year out of the state budget. That’s what the universal ESA voucher program is doing. It is creating huge deficits. It is preventing us from investing in all kinds of things that Arizonans urgently need.

 

CC: Like what? What other priorities need funding? 

JS: Affordable housing, for one. Arizona is facing a severe housing shortage—about 270,000 units—and teachers, firefighters, and police can no longer afford to live in the neighborhoods where they work.

There is an explosion of homelessness, and short-term rentals are contributing to the problem. In addition, there is a rise in evictions. Not long ago, some neighbors came to me and told me their condo complex was being bought up, unit by unit, by a large out-of-state corporation. Once the company owns 80 percent of the building, it can force the rest of the residents out, pressuring them to sell at lowball prices. Most of these people are senior citizens on fixed incomes. There is nowhere for them to go. So I’m running bills focused on protecting these people. Last year, the legislature created a $150 million Housing Trust Fund to stop people from being evicted from their homes. We spent another $60 million to get unhoused people into shelters.

 

CC: What else is on your radar?

JS: Partnerships with the business community and job training. Right now, the Arizona state budget does not invest in its community colleges. Those colleges are doing yeoman’s work in training people for tech manufacturing, like the TSMC plant here in Phoenix [this Taiwanese-owned semiconductor fabrication facility, created through the Biden administration’s CHIPS and Science Act, is expected to bring 6000 new tech manufacturing jobs to Phoenix.] We don’t want to have to wait for those chips from overseas! Let’s train people so we can do the manufacturing here!

 

CC: It seems like your priorities often come from personal encounters. 

JS: It’s true. I met one man who lost his wife to cancer; they didn’t know she had a genetic predisposition to it. Had they known, they could have taken preventative action. All the pain and suffering that cancer patients go through; all the expense. Instead of treating that disease, what if we could prevent it?

So health care is another priority—good, affordable, accessible health care. I’d like to make sure we are taking care of our seniors, our disabled citizens, our kids, our families. I’d like to bring down prescription drug prices.

 

CC: Reproductive rights have been a wild ride in Arizona the past year. What is it like for you, a strong pro-choice voice, to be in the middle of that issue? 

JS: Well, it’s not easy. It’s disturbing to have people yell “baby killer” at you as you’re walking into your place of work. In my own family, there was a desperately longed-for pregnancy that was unviable—the baby had a heartbeat but no head. The mother urgently needed medical treatment that now—under our current law—could send her and her doctor to jail. Termination was a wrenching decision, and one that belonged to her, her family, and her doctor. No politician should have any place in such a decision.

 

CC: Do you think the state constitutional amendment to protect reproductive rights will pass in November? 

I am concerned that, with the repeal of the 1864 ban [by the state legislature in May], voters may think we’re safe. We’re not. The 15-week ban is still in place. And some of my anti-abortion colleagues are introducing ballot resolutions designed to confuse voters. These resolutions have misleading names like “Protecting Pregnant Women and Safe Abortions Act,” but what they really do is create hurdles to access. Without the constitutional amendment, these attacks on our most personal bodily autonomy and freedom will continue.

 

CC: Are you discouraged? Hopeful? Both? 

JS: I’m hopeful. When I walk my neighborhoods, I cannot tell you how much enthusiasm I see for the constitutional amendment across the board: Republicans, Democrats, Independents—doesn’t matter. They all ask: “Can I sign that petition?” The majority of Arizonans want this.  They see reproductive rights as civil rights.

 

CC: Arizonans are proud of their individual freedoms. What else should Arizonans be proud of?

JS: So many things. I just came from a talk by Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, who spoke about all the technology coming to Arizona. The job growth. The transportation innovations; those Waymo cars that are already on the road. We have a gorgeous state that is unique compared to almost any other place in the world: the desert, the mountains, the skiing. There’s a lot of freedom here.

 

CC: Its been a big year, with a tumultuous legislative session and the November election coming up. What are you going to do with your first day off?

 JS:  (laughs) I know I’m running for election, but as soon as this session is over I’m going to New York to see Suffs, a play about 1913 suffragettes fighting for the right to vote. I’m a complete theater geek, and I have to see this show! It’s all about how we’ve got to keep on marching, keep on marching. Keep standing up for our civil rights.

 

CC: That speaks to you?

JS: It does! I’m not a professional politician. I’m a mom and a teacher and a wife and a volunteer and a listener and a leader. I have spent my life working with my neighbors to get things done. I want to work with everyday people to make sure that Arizona works for all of us. I want to make sure that I am standing on the right side of history.

I think that’s what Arizonans want. It’s the way democracy is supposed to work.

 

@coppercourier Phoenix Rep. Judy Schwiebert breaks down why posting religious text in classrooms could trivialize and demean the beliefs of students. #azleg #azpol #1A #10commandments #everythingarizona ♬ original sound – Copper Courier

Author

  • Elizabeth Sloan

    Elizabeth Sloan is a writer, speaker and public presentation coach. She specializes in medicine, education and the environment.

CATEGORIES: STATE LEGISLATURE
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