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Water…an issue ALMOST as important as public education

I just finished reading a novel called The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi. The premise of the book is that the American Southwest has been decimated by drought. Nevada and Arizona are fighting over dwindling resources while California gets ready to take the entire Colorado River for itself.   Although a work of fiction, the book really hits home because most of the story takes place in Phoenix, about two hours north of where I live. In the novel, Phoenix has become one large dustbowl where the average person’s biggest concern each day is finding drinking water. Times are so desperate, that people use a product called “Clearsacs” into which they urinate. These Clearsacs have a filtering capability that once again makes the water drinkable.   The entire premise is just too plausible to not be scary.

Living in Arizona, you can’t but help wonder how long the water will last and why we aren’t doing more to conserve it. The average Arizonan uses about 100 gallons per day, with about 70% of that used outdoors (watering plants, swimming pools, washing cars), especially in the summer.[i] One of the driest states in the Nation, Arizona receives a statewide average of only 12.5 inches per year. It is also one of the fastest growing with a population of over 6 million in 2010, which is projected to grow to 9.5 million by 2025. Municipal (including residences) needs account for 25 percent of our water usage with industrial accounting for another six percent and agricultural accounting for 69 percent. We get our water from three major sources: surface water (including the Colorado River), groundwater and reclaimed water. Approximately 43 percent of our water comes from groundwater sources, or aquifers. Unfortunately, we’ve been pumping out these aquifers faster than the water is replenished, creating a condition called overdraft. Although many smart people are working to solve this problem, it won’t be easy or cheap and we haven’t yet found the solution.[ii]

Most people however, are probably insufficiently incentivized to take appropriate action.   After all, the price of water does not correlate to its replacement cost. Rather, rates vary because the cost to provide the water varies, since water rates are set to be revenue neutral.[iii] According to the American Society of Civil Engineers in their 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, Arizona’s approximately 800 community water systems will need $7.4 billion for upgrades over the next 20 years including: $5 billion to replace or rehabilitate deteriorating water lines, $1.4 billion to construct, expand, and rehabilitate treatment infrastructure, $684 million to construct or rehabilitate water storage reservoirs, and $334 million to construct or rehabilitate wells or surface water intake structures. As the infrastructure ages, pipes deteriorate and break causing street and property damage and leak. In addition, valuable treated water is wasted and steel water storage tanks need to be sand blasted and recoated to prevent rust and deterioration. Equipment such as pumps and motors also wear out and require replacement. In Arizona, that translates to over 2,600 miles of transmission and distribution mains that currently need rehabilitation or replacement.[iv]

Fortunately, (or unfortunately, depending on where you live), the current system of pricing water results in widely different costs to the consumer. For example, in Phoenix’s East Valley, prices for water vary from $33.79 for 9,000 gallons of water a month in Surprise, to $66.57 in El Mirage according to a Surprise study.[v] In SaddleBrooke, an active adult community 25 miles north of Tucson, that same amount would result in charges of approximately $25.[vi]

With only one percent of the Earth’s water being fresh water, it is clear water is a valuable resource. Thomas Fuller, a physician, preacher and intellectual, was certainly prescient when he said back in 1732: “We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.”[vii] Why then, do we not charge accordingly for it? The price should certainly include the cost of providing the water and maintaining the infrastructure to deliver it. It also though, should include a value for the water itself. That is the only way most people will come to value it as an important resource.

Unlike the Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers haven’t done much to ensure future sustainability. It is time we stepped up to continue what our parents, and their parents, started. It is time we stopped just “eating the bread” but started “making it” as well.

[i] http://www.azwater.gov/AzDWR/StatewidePlanning/Conservation2/Residential/Residential_Home2.htm

[ii] http://arizonaexperience.org/people/arizonas-water-uses-and-sources

[iii] http://www.slate.com/blogs/business_insider/2013/07/12/cost_of_bottled_water_vs_tap_water_the_difference_will_shock_you.html

[iv] http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/arizona/arizona-overview/

[v] http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/surprise/2014/04/16/water-rates-vary-phoenix-metro-area/7751735/

[vi] SaddleBrooke Yahoo Group, Sat Jul 11, 2015 5:42 pm (PDT) . Posted by: “Duncan Fletcher” drfletcher1

[vii] http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/43481-we-never-know-the-worth-of-water-till-the-well

Competition hurts money in the classroom

Corporate reformers of public education claim schools should operate more like businesses and although that mindset may bring some efficiencies, it can also result in less money in the classroom.

One example is the latest effort by the Education Finance Reform Group who has hired Jonathan Paton to “educate stakeholders” on behalf of participating districts.  Educating stakeholders is not new, the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) has been doing it for a long time.  A private, non-profit, non-partisan organization, ASBA provides training, leadership, and essential services to more than 240 governing boards representing nearly 1 million students in Arizona.

What is new however, is the competition for students that both corporate reformers and open enrollment have driven.  Competition in business helps ensure only the strong survive.  Competition in public education pits district schools against charters, private schools, home schools, and even against each other.  It drives the need for districts to include marketing line-items in their budgets such as the $54,000 per year Phoenix Union High School District spends.  It also lures away the very students and parents who if they stayed, could help make a difference for all.

I’m not advocating parents shouldn’t put their children first and foremost.  I understand they want the best for their own children.  But, I also agree with what John Dewey said over a century ago:  “What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.”  It is natural for parents to care the most about their own children.  But, we’ll all have to live with these children when they become adults, whether or not they are well-educated, productive citizens.

There is a better way.  Arizona lawmakers could acknowledge that: 1) our K-12 per pupil spending (50th in the nation) is linked to our subsequent education performance (49th in the nation), 2) our teacher shortage is a crisis caused by low pay and even lower morale, 3) quality businesses looking to relocate to Arizona care more about an educated workforce than they do about tax breaks, and 4) all schools accepting taxpayer dollars should operate under the same rules for transparency and accountability. Finally, they could acknowledge that despite having open enrollment since 1994 and leading the nation in the number of charter schools, their formula isn’t working for our children!

There are some business practices that make sense for schools to adopt.  Public community schools however, are in the business of educating our children, not turning a profit.  Until we focus our efforts on ensuring all Arizona’s children have every opportunity to succeed, we haven’t addressed the problem.  And, until lawmakers step up to this reality and tackle it head-on, it’s all just smoke and mirrors.

1 http://azcapitoltimes.com/news/2015/07/06/group-seeks-funds-to-market-positives-of-public-schools/

2 http://azcapitoltimes.com/news/2015/07/06/group-seeks-funds-to-market-positives-of-public-schools/

No New Taxes? Think Again

Governor Ducey continues to stick to his no new taxes mantra but he and his ilk are being disingenuous. While touting lower taxes as the solution to attract business and jobs, he has continued to push costs down to the local levels so corporate tax breaks can continue to be handed out like candy.

One example of this is how the Legislature shifted $47 million of state budget costs to the counties. Pima County was stuck with $23.3 million (49%) of the cost, even though it only has 17% of the state’s population.[i] This is of course, is nothing new, but the scope of shift has been growing.

You may have heard that the legislature has, for some time now, been diverting Highway User Revenue Fund (HURF) monies to other purposes while our roads fall into further disrepair. Collected by the state via taxes on motor fuels, and fees and charges relating to the registration and operation of motor vehicles, these revenues are deposited intended for use by the state for highway construction, improvements and other related expenses.[ii] When it is diverted however, taxpayers end up paying the original tax intended to maintain our roads, then are hit again when the money is diverted, leaving them with bad roads which damage their cars and require them to pay for repairs. A double tax anyway you look at it.

The $99 million in cuts to Arizona’s three universities are another example of the Governor’s cost shifts. On top of yearly reductions in state funding, these cuts add to the already 48.3 percent cuts to state spending per higher education students (highest in the Nation) from 2008 to 2014.[iii]  Make no mistake, these students and those of their parents have not decreased, but now, they are also now forced to pay more again for their tuition.

The assault hasn’t only been visited upon higher education, but on K-12 education as well.   The governor and our legislators have cut funding for public education, forcing school districts to make choices that have negative impacts on our children and our future. Budget cuts have caused forty-three Arizona school districts to move from the traditional five-day school week to a four-day week in an effort to cut costs as state support for public education has decreased in the past several years. Today, Arizona districts make up one-third of all the four-day week districts in the nation.[iv] Whatever advantages a four-day school week may offer districts and their employees, it must be recognized that when children are not in school one day per week, their working parents must arrange for child care; another tax of sorts.

The no new taxes pledge sells well; it has popular appeal. It isn’t however, reality and the public needs to wake up and smell the garbage. The slight of hand trick has been working – how much longer it works is up to us.

[i] http://tucson.com/news/opinion/column/guest/state-forced-county-to-raise-your-taxes/article_0e28a776-d1a4-5e2f-b81e-8e08b27f6430.html

[ii] http://azdot.gov/about/FinancialManagementServices/transportation-funding/highway-user-revenue-fund

[iii] http://www.cbpp.org/research/states-are-still-funding-higher-education-below-pre-recession-levels

[iv] http://azednews.com/2015/05/21/four-day-school-weeks-who-uses-them-and-why/

Why I have hope for Arizona’s students

Honestly, I’m not naturally the most optimistic person. And let’s face it; there hasn’t been much to be optimistic about in Arizona’s approach to education. After all, we are last in the Nation in per pupil funding and almost as bad in performance. We are also hemorrhaging teachers with no fix in sight.

But, yesterday I attended an Arizona Parent Network Summit in Phoenix organized by Support Our Schools AZ. There were at least 75 people attending, including parents, teachers, school administrators, business people, a legislator and concerned citizens. Many in the room were Phoenix residents but some traveled from as far as Safford, Tucson, and Flagstaff.

We discussed what must happen to put Arizona K-12 education back on track. We talked about valuing teachers, ensuring transparency and accountability for tax payer dollars spent for education, ensuring the right type of measurements and that the results of those measurements are used properly to produce the right results. Yes, we also talked about the need for more funding.

None of these ideas were new, but the collaborative light in the room was bright. We talked about the need for a new plan, a new approach and new commitment to doing whatever it takes to forge a new course. We talked about joining forces and leveraging capability.

I can’t begin to guess at the number of combined years of K-12 education experience that was in that room, but let’s just say that these folks know what we are up against; it isn’t there first rodeo. I am sure there are some that are dubious of what we can achieve because they’ve seen similar efforts get derailed.

What is different now though, is that people are beginning to wake up to the fact that if education for Arizona’s students is to improve, it is up to us. We must serve on school boards and run for the legislature. We must advocate and get others to do the same. We must be the force multiplier that brings change.

The tipping point is near and there truly is nowhere for us to go but up. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Yes, I have hope. I have hope not only because as Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” I also have hope because to have none would admit defeat and for our students and for our future, failure is not an option.

Teachers: Who’s on your side? Where can you go for people dedicated to truth-telling for democracy?

lindathomas724:

I am a part of the Education Bloggers Network, albeit probably one of the least knowledgable writers. If you want some unfiltered truth about what’s going on in education, this is a great place to go!

Originally posted on Reclaim Reform:

There are times when a teacher needs to have the facts, simple or complex. For complex information, very often there are multiple facets that need to be examined from different points of view. Who can you turn to when faced with the overwhelming problems that surround you? Who has no personal power base or money to gain from the information? What group of people will offer you unbiased facts and their experienced perspectives for you to consider?

EdBlogNet

The EduBloggersNetwork, a group of over 200 individual bloggers with solid education backgrounds and unique perspectives from schools across the country, are respected for their varied experiences and focus. They do not march in lock-step nor are they paid by billionaires and their tax-free mega-wealthy foundations which are heavily invested (for profit) in corporate education reform.

During one of the online conversations that questioned each blogger’s reasoning for blogging in support of…

View original 547 more words

From the K-12 Public Education War Front in Arizona

The war on public education has been waging for several years in Arizona, but this year has seen some especially heavy fighting. The attacks on public education by the first session of the 52nd Legislature (hereafter referred to as the ENEMY) have been asymmetrical and relentless. Recognizing that K-12 public education (hereafter referred to as FRIENDLY FORCES) can’t accomplish the mission unless well-resourced, General (Governor) Ducey has already signed a budget cutting $113M more from their budget. This, on top of the ENEMY’S continuing battle to deny FRIENDLY FORCES the people’s mandated and court adjudicated inflationary funding ($317M definitely owed with another $1.6B in question.) The ENEMY is also continuing the assault on the FRIENDLY FORCES’ supply lines with their attempts to exponentially expand vouchers, (Empowerment Scholarship Accounts) and corporate tax breaks for donations to private schools (Student Tuition Organization scholarships.) And, just to be sure it is as difficult as possible for the FRIENDLY FORCES to communicate their resource needs to the public (hereafter referred to as ALLIES), the ENEMY continues to try to mandate additional language in bond and override descriptions to obfuscate and in fact, mislead the ALLIES. Of course, there are also bills to dump Common Core since renaming the controversial standards the Arizona College and Career Standards didn’t really fool the ALLIES. The ENEMY believes this is an important battle to fight so they can keep the FRIENDLY FORCES in a constant state of instability and uncertainty and continue to win the hearts and minds of the fringe that supports them.

Up until recently however, FRIENDLY FORCES were able to communicate to their ALLIES ramifications of the ENEMY’S strategy and intent. Now though, the ENEMY has countered with Senate Bill 1172 to totally cut the FRIENDLY FORCES’ lines of communication. Initially, this bill was written to prohibit school districts and charters from releasing directory information for the purpose of political activity, which would limit the ability of local parent and community organizations from engaging other parents on district bond or override issues. In a last minute change to their strategy, the bill has now been amended to also fine an employee of a school district or charter school $5,000 for distributing written or electronic materials to influence the outcome of an election or to advocate support for or opposition to pending or proposed legislation.

On one level, this tells me the FRIENDLY FORCES are gaining ground in this war on public education. Surely, if the ENEMY feels the need to “gag” the FRIENDLY FORCES, they must be making headway. Perhaps the showing of over 1,000 FRIENDLY FORCES and ALLIES at the Capitol in early March to protest General Ducey’s cuts to public education gave the ENEMY pause. The FRIENDLY FORCES cannot however, underestimate the ENEMY’S objective to seize, retain, and exploit their initiative to kill public education and turn it over to private profiteers. They will not be happy until all the FRIENDLY FORCES are subdued and the economically safe (largely white) students are safely ensconced in private schools and the socio-economically disadvantaged students (largely students of color) are stuck in pathetically underfunded and therefore underperforming schools.

Make no mistake. This isn’t a matter of the ENEMY not understanding the needs of the FRIENDLY FORCES and those they are charged to protect and serve. This is a matter of not caring about them. The ENEMY is backed by the AXIS OF EVIL (corporate money, American Legislative Exchange Council, and ideological fanatics) and is committed to victory in this fight. FRIENDLY FORCES must recognize we are at war and employ the strategies and principles thereof to win the fight.

Is Governor Ducey Lying?

Okay, so far I’ve tried to be civil. But, sometimes you just have to call it like it is. Governor Ducey visited Tucson yesterday and was quoted by the Arizona Star as saying: “We feel really good we were able to protect K-12, that we got more dollars than any other time in the history of our state.”[i] No matter how I look at it, I can’t find it to be true.

The Arizona Legislature’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee shows that FY2008 had the highest education funding in state history. The total education budget for that year was almost $5.7 billion[ii] dollars and in the 2016 budget, the amount is just over $4.8 billion[iii]. Since he referred to K-12, I looked at just the DOE, State Board of Education, Schools Facility Board, and Charter Board amounts, I still show the state spent $319.1 million more in 2008. The moniker “Dicey Ducey” seems more appropriate all the time.

[i] http://tucson.com/news/misguided-federal-regulations-hurt-disabled-people-ducey-says/article_74d0633c-5e5d-533f-b5e5-9e0320c42377.html

[ii] http://www.azleg.gov/jlbc/gfhistoricalspending.pdf

[iii] http://www.azleg.gov/jlbc/MarchPlanEngrossed030915.pdf

Our Vote is The Only Power We Have Left

I was privileged to spend some quality time yesterday with Rebecca, a middle school teacher in southern Arizona.   She had taken the afternoon off from teaching to go to the state Capitol to protest proposed funding cuts to public education. In the past, she admitted to being careful about advocating, but she felt she just couldn’t stay silent any longer. She commented that if she didn’t speak up now, there might not any job to protect.

This teacher has been teaching in the same school district for 16 years, and brings home only $900 every two weeks, despite normally working about 10 hours per day. Her husband is also a teacher and between the two of them, they barely make it. They have two children, an 11 year-old girl and an 8 year-old boy. I asked her what her daughter wants to be when she grows up. She said she has talked about being a veterinarian, but time will tell. But, she did tell her daughter that if she chooses to be a teacher, Rebecca wouldn’t pay for her college. This surprised me so I asked her why. Rebecca’s response was should make all of us sad. She said she didn’t want her daughter to have to deal with the lack of respect, low pay and insufficient resources that come with being a teacher.

This teacher confirmed my suspicions that what is driving teachers out is not the low pay, but the lack of respect for the profession and the continual changes that don’t result in positive outcomes. As much as Rebecca loves teaching and loves her students, she doesn’t want her daughter to work in a profession that is undervalued, underpaid, and overwhelmed. How sad.

But, Rebecca hasn’t given up. She wants to fight for her kids, her school, and our future. Problem is, she is just one person and just one vote.

The job of a teacher is not to advocate for resources for their students. The job of teachers is to teach their students. They need the rest of us to step up and speak out. Many credit Albert Einstein with saying “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If the greater “we” doesn’t get out and vote, we can’t expect anything other than what we’ve got in our elected representatives. Our vote is likely the only power any of us has left and if we abdicate that, we’ve given up. Get motivated, get registered, get informed and VOTE! It is the only way we’ll make a real change for the better!!

Democracy in Action in Phoenix

Arizona saw democracy in action yesterday afternoon when close to 2,000 citizens showed up at the State Capitol to protest the Governor’s proposed budget. The crowd included ASU students who marched in from their campus, younger children, parents, teachers, union members, and numerous other public education supporters.

A few legislators came out of their offices to listen to the public, but the vast majority of GOP representatives stayed hunkered down inside. In the end, they once again demonstrated they don’t care what the people of Arizona want, as the proposed $9.1 billion spending plan passed the Appropriations Committee five votes to three along party lines, with Republicans in favor.  The proposal cuts $98 million from K-12 education, $104 million from the state’s three public universities, and the entire $19 million in state funding that us currently allocated to community colleges.[i]

One GOP Representative blamed the need for the cuts to public education on the voters’ 2012 failure not to extend the temporary one-cent sales tax, which generated about one billion per year in revenue. The House Minority Leader, Eric Meyer, said that’s only half the story since during the time those funds were being collected, the Republican controlled Legislature gave away $538 million in tax cuts.

Unfortunately, Arizona’s Governor and Legislature seem hell bent on taking Arizona down the same road Kansas has gone in recent years. This, despite all the proof that this strategy isn’t working for Kansas and, all the opposition the plan has seen in our own state.

Among the opposition over the last few weeks, were 220 school superintendents who wrote the Legislature that: “The proposed reductions, if enacted, will affect student achievement, student health, and campus security. By any measure, the proposed cuts will have an overall detrimental impact on student success, making the mission of educating Arizona’s youth even more challenging.[ii]

Michael Crow, President of ASU, sent an email to alumni in which he wrote “it is certainly time for the State of Arizona to recognize higher education as a priority investment that should be made in human capital to help Arizona, its economy and its people move forward.”[iii]

Michael Varney, the Tucson Chamber of Commerce President and CEO called the proposed budget “disappointing at best and devastating at worst.” He went on to say, “there is a point beyond which you cannot come back. You can cut to that point but not beyond it or your organization or company will fail.”

One aspect of Ducey’s budget that has many Arizonans very upset is that he seems to value private prisons over public education. TUSD Governing Board Clerk, Kristel Foster said, “I am not ok with having 3,000 more prison beds. I’m not ok as a citizen of Arizona in investing in that and having a goal of keeping our prisons 90 percent occupied and not having a literacy rate of 90 percent in our schools.”[iv]   In fact, many of the protestors yesterday had signs referring to the prioritization of prisons over schools such as: “Education, Not Incarceration”, “Schools, Not Jails”, “Fund Schools, Not for Profit #ALEC Prisons.”

Arizonans are angry and they are tired of not being heard by our legislators and Governor. They still owe us $317 million in inflation funding voters mandated and a judge ordered be paid, yet they claim they can’t do it while continuing to give huge corporate tax breaks.  One has to wonder where this will end and when we will hit rock bottom. The sad part is there is no doubt our children will pay the highest price.

[i] http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/arizona/politics/2015/03/04/ducey-gop-leaders-reach-state-budget-accord/24382611/

[ii] http://azednews.com/2015/02/18/233-arizona-superintendents-ask-legislators-to-adopt-a-budget-that-does-not-cut-k-12-school-funding/

[iii] http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/arizona/politics/2015/02/26/crow-rips-duceys-higher-ed-budget-mail-alumni/24095385/

[iv] Arizona Daily Star, March 6, 2015

Teach for America is NOT the Answer!

Arizona Legislators think spending $2 million on Teach for America (TFA) recruits is a solution for “supporting our teachers?” Get real. You don’t support teachers by bringing in “scabs” to take their jobs or, by claiming that young college graduates, with five weeks of training are “highly qualified teachers.” You support teachers by providing them what they need to do their jobs and paying them equitably.

I get that politicians want quick wins to show their constituents. But as the saying goes, politicians think of the next election, leaders think of the next generation. We need more leaders who understand sound bites don’t equal solutions. Using TFA corps members to supplant much more qualified teachers in an attempt to save long-term costs (such as earned retirement entitlements) is a short-term outlook that only hurts our children in the long run.

TFA recruits have shown some slightly higher gains on students’ assessments over comparable new teachers, but these “wunderkids” are far from the solution to our teacher shortage. Turnover, always a challenge with new teachers, is much higher with TFA recruits with 56% of them leaving after their initial commitment is up and a full 85% leaving by their fifth year.[i] TFA founder Wendy Kopp’s description of the organization as a “leadership development organization, not a teaching organization” is likely part of the problem.[ii] Corps members aren’t usually drawn to the program because they want to become teaching professionals. Their “gig” in the classroom is a jumping stone to more.

The real problem with using TFA corps members in place of teaching professionals though, is that it reinforces the thought that “if you can, you do…if you can’t, you teach.” Until we recognize that teaching is a critically important profession and invest in the education and retention of these valuable professionals, our country will never move the needle forward on education achievement. I wouldn’t consider five weeks of training sufficient for my doctor, lawyer, or accountant and I don’t consider it enough for our teachers.

Helping our schools succeed isn’t rocket science, but neither will it be easy. Money isn’t the total answer, but it is part of the equation. Yes, we have a teacher shortage in Arizona, but we can’t succumb to the quick fix. The solution lies in: 1) paying our teachers equitably so we can attract and retain the best, 2) keeping classroom sizes moderate so teachers can give each child the attention they deserve, 3) providing well-rounded curriculums that allow our children to explore their interests and fortify their strengths (since we never know where the next Einstein or Maya Angelou will come from) and 4) providing stability for our schools, staffs and students so they can focus on quality and growth, not churn and burn.

Diane Ravitch, our nations’ leading public education advocate, said recently at Lehigh University that: “public schools are the people’s schools, their doors are open to all…public education must be, as we once hoped, a bastion of equal opportunity. Public education is a public trust. It is not a business opportunity.”[iii] When a politician claims they support education, listen for the word “public” as part of their claim. If they don’t say it, they don’t mean it and don’t truly support quality education for everyone. It really is that simple.

[i] http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/10/04/kappan_donaldson.html

[ii] http://www.thenation.com/article/179363/teachers-are-losing-their-jobs-teach-americas-expanding-whats-wrong?page=0,1

[iii]https://www1.lehigh.edu/news/case-public-education

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