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And the beat goes on…

Yesterday, the Arizona House Education Committee moved the state one step closer to fully privatized K-12 education with their passage of HB 2174 (empowerment scholarship accounts; grandchildren) on a 4-3 vote. This bill expands eligibility of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) or “vouchers” to grandchildren being raised by their grandparents. An amendment was adopted that removed the requirement that the grandchild meets the free and reduced price lunch eligibility requirements.

This removal of the requirement for the grandchild to meet the free and reduced price lunch eligibility requirements is significant. Let’s face it. The overall intention of this American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) promoted legislation is to provide for K-12 education via vouchers (taxpayer dollars intended for public education) given to parents to pay for private schools. The Arizona Legislature has been moving us down this road for several years.

In 2009, the Arizona Supreme Court found two similar school voucher programs violated the Arizona Constitution’s ban on aid for religious or private schools. The Goldwater Institute however, which had first proposed the idea in 2005, offered educational savings accounts as an alternative. In April 2011, Governor Brewer approved SB 15523 authorizing Arizona Empowerment Accounts (first state to do this) to give parents of eligible special-education students the opportunity to receive ESAs. Funds could be used for curriculum, testing, private school tuition, tutors, special needs services or therapies, or even seed money for college. According to the Arizona Department of Education, parents spent a total of $198,764 in scholarship funds in the first quarter of fiscal 2012. About 92 percent went to private schools.

The Arizona School Boards Association, the Arizona Education Association, and others filed a lawsuit, claiming the program unconstitutional. The Goldwater Institute, the Arizona Attorney General’s office, and the Institute for Justice defended the program. In January 2012, a Superior Court Judge ruled the savings accounts were constitutional. Her opinion was: “The exercise of parental choice among education options makes the program constitutional.” Education advocates continued to appeal this decision, but in October 2013, the Arizona Court of Appeals also ruled in favor of the accounts.”

In 2012, Gov. Jan Brewer signed HB 2622, expanding the program to include children from failing schools, children in active-duty military families, and children adopted from the state foster care system.2 These families began applying for accounts in 2013, and students began using the accounts in the 2013–14 school year. The legislature also expanded the program in 2013 to include incoming kindergarten students that meet the existing eligibility criteria, and increased the funding amount for each account award.3 More than 200,000 Arizona children are now eligible, or 1 in 5 public school students. New applicants must have attended a public school for at least 100 days in the prior school year.

The education profiteers won’t be happy until the public school districts are sucked dry of funding and private school and for-profit charter operators maximize profits on the backs of taxpayers. Shifting money from our public district schools to private schools and charters will not by and large pull disadvantaged children out of their situations and fix America’s education problems. Rather, it will continue to drive the highest level of segregation since the mid-1960s and ensure the advantaged continue to succeed and the disadvantaged fall further behind. Can’t help but wonder what the new Arizona College and Career Ready Standards and the accompanying AZ-Merits test will do to school performance grades and widening eligibility for these vouchers. Know this…I’ll be watching.

Disingenuous Ducey

Governor Ducey called for a 5 percent reduction in non-classroom spending for district schools and a 3.5 percent reduction in additional assistance for charters . He claims the goals of the reduction are to 1) reduce the size of school administration and 2) refocus on students and teachers.

Politicians know a call to “cut administration costs and ensure more money ends up in the classroom” sells to the masses because “administration costs” is often heard as “salaries for superintendents, principals and office staffs.” In reality, these “nonclassroom dollars” refer to administration, plant operations, food service, transportation, student support, and instruction support.

Ducey realizes these are critical functions and that’s why he recommends requiring superintendents (or CEOs) and the school finance officer to certify the reductions will not affect the classroom. I can’t imagine how a superintendent in good conscience could do this since counselors, transportation, librarians, food service, and speech therapists are critical to a teacher’s ability to teach. One in four children in Arizona live in poverty and they bring a host of challenges with them to school. Challenges teachers can’t deal with on their own, especially with larger classes.

As a 22-year Air Force (AF) veteran, I know that flying operations are generally considered the premier “mission essential” functions. But, AF leaders recognized flying operations couldn’t happen without support functions like food service, personnel, security, transportation, etc. Ultimately, the airman fueling the plane is just as critical to mission accomplishment as the pilot flying it. Yes, classrooms are where the main learning occurs, but classroom teachers can’t do their magic without the right kind of support. When the Governor talks about cutting non-classroom funds by five percent, no mater how he spins it, that equates to cutting K-12 education by five percent.

The Governor’s also wants to take $23.9M from the Student Success Fund to create the “Access Our Best Public Schools Fund” to expand existing charter facilities/construct new ones. He claims this is because of the high waiting lists at best performing charters. Unfortunately these waiting lists are virtually impossible to validate because their for-profit corporations refuse to provide the transparency required of district schools.

Is there a correlation between Arizona’s bottom ten in funding for K-12 education , and 47th in performance ? I am of the thought that to a certain extent, you get what you pay for. Close to 90 percent of Arizona’s students still attend community district schools and yet our state leadership continues to focus on creating more opportunities for profit on the backs of our children, to include making it easier and easier to funnel tax payer dollars to private schools. If Governor Ducey really cared about K-12 education, he would focus on the schools we already have versus building new ones and he’d provide our schools real funding versus just reallocation via a shell game. In the end, claiming charter and private schools do better (a stretch), while starving our district schools of funding, becomes a self-licking ice cream cone which serves those best who don’t need the help to begin with. Maybe that’s the plan.

RE: Dem’s criticism of AZ schools called harmful

Wow! Is AZ Senate President Andy Biggs for real? He says the state is now spending more on education than it ever has, but fails to mention that 3 percent increase amounts to 13 percent less because of inflation. He claims AZ provides “a good education,” even though we are ranked 46th in the nation.

He does acknowledge that education “is the first and most legitimate function of government”, but then says the Legislature has lived up to the extent possible given the recession and drop in state revenue.”

Sorry, but you don’t get to have it both ways Andy! Your words make education a “must fund” expense. If education is the first and most legitimate, then it should be fully funded first before other priorities. If there is insufficient revenue to ensure that is possible, then revenue must be raised via any/all means available.

Of course you have not only vowed to not raise taxes, but you and your buddies have repeatedly lowered corporate taxes, many of which haven’t even kicked in yet.

‘Best performing schools’ play by different rules

Gov. Doug Ducey recently pledged to expand school choice, vowing “serious reform” to ensure “equal access” to the state’s best-performing schools by eliminating waiting lists, such as the 10,000-student list at the Great Hearts Academies.

Choice won’t ensure equal access, there are too many barriers. These “best performing schools” achieve because they play by different rules — cherry-picking students, unlike district schools who educate all.

Charter schools are notorious for padding their waiting lists. The Arizona Charter Schools Association claims their schools were hit harder during the recession because they can’t ask taxpayers for overrides and bonds. Give me a break.

Charters receive $1,100 more per student than the district schools because they don’t have access to override and bond monies. The recession made it tough for district schools to get additional monies passed, but charter schools never missed a beat.

— Linda Lyon, Tucson

Is the NRA America’s Taliban?

Six Taliban militants killed 145 people and injured another 100 on December 16th in a school in Peshawar, Pakistan.  The dead included 132 children, 10 staff school members and three soldiers.  CNN.com reported:

“Seventh-grader Mohammad Bilal said he was sitting outside his classroom taking a math test when the gunfire erupted. He fell into bushes before running to the school’s gates to safety.  Ahmed, the 14-year-old student, remembered being in the school’s auditorium when four or five people burst in through a back door “and started rapidly firing.” After getting shot in his left shoulder, the ninth-grader lay under a bench.

Bajwa told reporters that Pakistani security forces reached the school 15 minutes after the attack began.

They found, he said, “the children … drenched in blood, with their bodies on top of each other.”

As horrific as this story is, it really shouldn’t surprise Americans.  After all, we had 26 children gunned down at Sandy Hook and yet our leaders were unable to enact any sort of meaningful legislation to ensure more gun safety.  Since the tragedy in Newtown, there have been 74 more school shootings resulting in 38 deaths and 53 injuries.  In general, 282 people are shot each day in the U.S. – that’s almost 12 an hour.

The fact that not even the Sandy Hook tragedy lessened the seemingly stranglehold the National Rifle Association (NRA) has on our leaders at all levels, has led me to begin to think of the NRA as the American Taliban.  I’m quite sure that just as we look at the Taliban in Pakistan with total dismay for the killing of 145 innocents, other countries around the world look at us and think how crazy we are to continue to accept death after preventable death. After all, per the Brady Campaign, “our firearm homicide rate is 20 times higher than the combined rates of 22 countries that are our peers in wealth and population.”

I’m okay with gun ownership, but believe your right to own, carry and use does not trump my right to feel safe.  Truth is, I don’t feel safe in a public place with civilians openly carrying guns.  I know how to use guns, and I qualified as “Expert” during my 22 years in the Air Force.  There is a time and place for guns however and I don’t think that includes the grocery store, library, school, etc.  It also doesn’t include automatic weapons with extended clips.  And it surely doesn’t include allowing nine year olds to fire weapons they are not equipped to handle.

We know what we need to do to improve gun safety.  Many Americans want it done.  Those who don’t, have been convinced by the NRA that ANY safeguards put in place are just a toe in the door to ban guns all together.  That’s just B.S.  Gun ownership is a constitutional right.  But, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are also important principals to Americans.  Unfortunately, until we realize the NRA is out to protect their own interests (money and power) versus those of American citizens, they will continue to be major players.

I often see NRA stickers on people’s cars indicating they are proud of their membership in this organization.  Along with the NRA stickers, will often be military stickers, or US flags or something about patriotism.  I’ve got news for those folks.  Being a member of the NRA does not make them patriots.  It is more akin to their worshipping a false idol.  I view the NRA organization as domestic terrorists.  Just like the Taliban, they build their power base through fear and intimidation.  Just like the Taliban, they claim they have a higher purpose, but the truth is, they want power and money.  Just like the Taliban, there is probably no negotiating with them because they don’t ever operate in good faith.  And just like the Taliban, they don’t care how many innocent people are killed to maintain their power base and achieve their goals.

I urge patriotic Americans to drop their membership in the NRA.  Take a stand today that the status quo they’ve been perpetuating is unacceptable and we want common sense gun safety enacted.  Do it for yourself, for your family and for your country!

Angry About the Apathy

Ever since election day, I’ve been very frustrated about the low voter turnout. After working very hard on two state legislative campaigns for the better part of a year, it is very disheartening to see how few people really care.  This is somewhat understandable when times are good. But how can the average Arizonan be happy with our current state of affairs?

I have to believe people voted or not based on their perceptions of who can deliver a better result.  “Perceptions” is the key word here.  I just have to say that the Regressives may have their own opinions, but they don’t get to have their own facts. Let’s just take a look at a few the myths they work hard to make us believe:

1. Trickle down hasn’t worked and doesn’t work.  The stats are clear, we have the biggest divide between the rich and poor we’ve ever seen.

2. Today’s wealthiest aren’t by and large job creators.   Hedge fund managers don’t contribute to our country’s economic well-being the way Henry Ford did.

3.  Charter schools and private school vouchers aren’t for the disadvantage children.  The vast majority of them won’t be able to go to them.

4.  Tax cutting our way to success just won’t work. Kansas anyone?

5.  The economy is recovering, but not for the average American and not at the pace it should.  With the wealthiest 40 Americans having more wealth than the bottom half of our population, the few richest just can’t buy enough houses, cars and appliances to move our economic engine forward.

We’ve all heard the saying “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”  Sounds like the AZ legislature in recent years.

But, I place the real blame for our current state of affairs on all those people who didn’t vote.  Many of these same people have the most reason to vote because they are most adversely affected by the trickle down philosophy the Regressives continue to push.  How anyone can believe voting can’t make a difference is beyond me.  Just think if Ron Barber had been successful in convincing only 167 more Democrats in two counties to get up off their butts and vote for him.

Yes, money in politics has always been an issue and now is a very mega major player in our electoral system.  At the end of the day though, each voter owns their own vote to use how they see fit.  If the rich and powerful exert undue influence on any of us, it is our own fault.

 

 

 

 

No, Spending Alone Won’t Fix Education. But…

No, money alone won’t fix education, but neither will starving public schools of resources and vilifying teachers. The US leads the developed world in children living in poverty. That is a problem our teachers can’t solve.

If money isn’t at least part of the solution, why is it that wealthy people spend thousands of dollars to send their children to costly private schools with small class sizes and highly qualified teachers? Those schools also have the advantage of picking and choosing what children they accept, unlike public schools, which must help every child who comes through their doors.

From 2008 to 2013, Arizona led the nation in per pupil cuts to K-12 education. Maybe that’s why the Kids Count Data Book shows Arizona as 46th in education performance and even the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) shows us at 36th?

It is beyond time to quit blaming each other and work together to solve our problems. Our kids deserve nothing less!

Trickle-Down Bills

In a recent op-ed in our local paper, two local education experts wrote, “classroom spending has taken a hit” because the state Legislature “slashed funding” while “adding unfunded mandates.”

Insufficient funding, NOT improper management, is why school districts are asking voters for locally controlled funding via overrides and bonds. Arizona Legislators brag about balancing the budget, without mentioning they did it on the backs of our children.

Over half-a-million students have never had the opportunity to learn in a classroom funded in the manner voters intended when they passed Prop 301 in 2000. No, money alone won’t make our schools great. But, are great teachers, small class sizes, and a complete curriculum really something we can’t afford?

Arizona has led the nation in cuts to per pupil spending. Does that sound like a recipe for success? It’s time politicians obey the courts and will of the people. It’s time to invest in Arizona’s future.

Socially Liberal, but Fiscally Conservative

If I had a dime for every time someone has said to me: “I’m socially liberal, but fiscally conservative”, I would almost qualify for the 1% club. I know the person who makes that statement thinks it proves they are enlightened and responsible, but I find it somewhat insulting.

A big part of the problem is labels. Labels we are marked with it seems, increasingly define us. All one must say is that they are a Republican, Democrat. Tea Party type, Libertarian, or Green Party, and we think we know everything we need to know about them. If they are Republican, they are for guns, God, and limited government. If they are Democrats, they are for gays, giveaways, and the environment. This stereotypical labeling prevents people from finding middle ground as both sides retreat to their highly partisan corners.

Typically, the conversations that cause non-Liberals to claim they are socially liberal have to do with sensitive issues such as gay marriage rights. The non-Liberal wants to make it clear they are not bigoted, but as tolerant as the next guy. At the same time though, they want to make it clear they are not real liberals because they are don’t believe in wasting money.

That’s the point at which I get a little peeved. After all, I was a Colonel in the Air Force. I grew up in a family that never owed any money; my parents paid cash for everything. I know how to maintain a budget, I believe in not spending more than I have, and I learned a long time ago to take care of my belongings. I don’t believe it is anymore appropriate for conservatives to claim fiscal restraint than it is for them to claim patriotism and religion as their own. After all, since World War II, Democratic presidencies have created more than twice the number of jobs than Republican presidencies. As for deficits, they have been more than twice as large under Republican presidencies, contributing early $4 trillion more to the national debt than their Democratic counterparts. Growth has also excelled under Democratic presidencies with business investment growth 165% higher and GDP growth 52% higher than under Republican presidencies. Finally, the need for social welfare programs has been higher under Republican presidencies with unemployment 23% higher than under Democratic ones.

I know, I know, don’t confuse us with the facts. It is so much easier just to listen to the talking heads spewing forth rhetoric that incites fear and hate. The problem is, that those who do not remember the past are destined to repeat it. If we ever want to move beyond extreme partisanship and failed policies of the past we must know the truth, look beyond labels, and be willing to make the tough calls. We must model this behavior ourselves and demand it from our leaders.

At the table, or on the menu?

I don’t think the average American begrudges wealth, not even great wealth. What we don’t like is when the wealthy get that way by ignoring the rules and playing unfairly. After all, the American Dream said that if you worked hard and played by the rules, you could end up better than where you started. With the deck increasingly stacked against the average Joe though, that dream is no longer a reality for most.

One example of the deck being stacked is the full-steam-ahead drive to privatize public education in Arizona. Oh sure. The “reformers” try to claim this is about giving parents choice and helping the most disadvantaged children. Just a little digging though uncovers it is really about helping the rich get richer.

Arizona has been a leader in school privatization since 1997 when the legislature first began pushing personal tax credits and “voucher” workarounds. Now, there are Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs), Student Tuition Organizations (STOs), and individual tax credits. An attempt to expand ESA eligibility from approximately 20 percent to over 70 percent last year was thwarted at the last minute, but you can bet the proponents will be pushing it again this year.

Why the big push for privatization in Arizona? Mostly, because Arizona is one of the leading water carriers for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC.) ALEC is comprised of both corporate and legislative members who work in tandem to create and then legislate laws favorable to business. ESAs are an ALEC sponsored initiative, as are STOs. “ALEC-member legislators are unabashedly continuing to push legislation straight from corporate headquarters to Arizona’s law books,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President at People For the American Way Foundation. “Well-heeled special interests are circumventing the democratic system and bypassing Arizona’s citizens, who can’t match the level of access that ALEC provides. As a result, Arizonans are facing an endless assault from laws that serve the interests of the rich and powerful instead of everyday people.”

As Paul Horton writes in Blogs.EdWeek.org, “toward this end, public schools and public teachers have been subjected to a relentless barrage of negative propaganda for almost thirty years. Many corporations want to force open education markets, Microsoft and Pearson Education to name two of the largest, demand “free markets,” “choice,” and “free enterprise.” Public schools are defunded and closed, so that parents can choose among competing charter schools supported by city, state, and Federal policies. Politicians of both parties at every level are funneled campaign contributions from charter school investors for their support of “school choice.””

Of course, it all comes down to money. Money to be saved by the state, and money to be made by profiteers. Unfortunately, when profit becomes the driving factor, children become collateral damage. Already in the United States, students in the top quartile of family income have an 85% chance of going to college, compared to 8% of those in the bottom quartile. Although it used to be true in America that your children would likely end up better off than you had been, that is no longer the case. In Arizona, children have an uphill battle as evidenced by the state’s ranking of 46th in child well-being by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in its 2014 Kids Count Data Book. On top of that, Arizona has seen the nation’s highest percentage increase (77 percent) in college costs in the past five years, brought about by the most drastic cuts to higher-education funding.

Now, ALEC is poised to muddy the water even more with an assault on public universities in the form of their Affordable Baccalaureate Degree Act. This model legislation will require all four-year public universities to offer bachelor’s degrees costing no more than $10,000. To get there, the universities would need to capitalize on efficiencies provide by web-based technology and competency-based programs. If ALEC members endorse the bill, they will begin circulating and promoting it in state legislatures while, no doubt, continuing to starve the schools of funding.

These policy directions aren’t about making things work better for the citizens of Arizona and other states, they are about making money for corporations. In fact, “deep cuts in funding for schools undermine school quality in part because they limit and stymie the ability of states to implement reforms that have been shown to result in better outcomes for students, including recruiting better teachers, reducing class sizes, and extending student learning time.”

Out of one side of their mouth, the politicians say we must send everyone to college so we can be “globally competitive,” but out of the other, they vote for continued cuts in education funding which almost assuredly ensure only advantaged kids will get there. Diane Ravitch asks: “How will we compete with nations that pay workers and professionals only a fraction of what Americans expect to be paid and need to be paid to have a middle-class life? How can we expect more students to finish college when states are shifting college costs onto individuals and burdening them with huge debt? How can we motivate students to stay in college when so many new jobs in the next decade–retail clerks, fast-food workers, home health aides, janitors, construction workers, truck drivers, etc.–do not require a college degree? (The only job in the top ten fastest growing occupations that requires a college degree is registered nurse.)”

These are big questions that demand serious solutions, not single dimensional responses designed to benefit a fortunate few. The only way to ensure the right outcome, is to ensure the right players are in the game. Educators, administrators, school board members, parents, community leaders, and business people must all engage to help us change course before the promise of education as a great equalizer becomes ancient history. As Michael Enzi , senior U.S. Senator from Wyoming once said, “if you’re not on the table, you’re on the menu.

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