Hey Ducey: 19% of what is already owed, isn’t “new” money

When I went to bed last night, I intended to write a post in the morning about Governor Ducey’s unveiling of his school safety plan yesterday. Now, as I sit down to write, I learn of yet another school shooting, this one in Maryland. As of March 8th according to CNN, there had already been 14 school shootings in 2018 which averaged out to 1.5 per week. Delving into the numbers, only 2 of those are what I would call “mass shootings”. The rest of them, although they all occurred on school grounds, (grades K through university level), were either a result of gang violence, fights and domestic violence or accidental discharge where someone besides the shooter was shot.

I present this information not to minimize the other shootings but because yesterday someone shared with me that they heard some gun violence statistics that turned out to be misleading. Let’s face it, numbers can be sliced and diced to prove just about any narrative. In the end though, I say what does it matter and why focus on that? America’s school children feel unsafe in their schools…what are we doing about it?

Yesterday, Governor Ducey unveiled his school safety plan. My fellow blogger on Blog for AZ, “AZBlueMeanie”, again scooped me to the story and as usual, his writing is much better than mine. Basically, he writes, Ducey’s plan is to ’“harden” schools with more people armed with guns on campus – exactly the opposite of what student activists are calling for – and to throw a little bit more money at school counselors.’

What money will be allocated to all this is unclear. Ducey’s plan commits “$1.8 million over three years to modernize the reporting system law enforcement uses for criminal records and to populate the state’s background check system.” This, because law enforcement in the state has called the background system “ineffective” and only 63.6% complete according to a 2015 review by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission. The hope is that a shift from the current paper-based model to computerized, will enable law enforcement to enter new records into the database within 24 hours versus the current standard of 40 days. This, says Ducey’s staff, could become a “model for other states to follow”.

The plan also includes $8 million from AHCCCS for increased mental health resources in schools. This funding will be available to schools for students whose families fall below 200% of the federal poverty level or, are covered by AHCCS or KidsCare. Schools that don’t qualify for this funding can use “new district additional assistance funding.”

I love this last line. You see…there is no “new” district additional funding (or really, much of any new funding). There is only district additional funding (or capital funding as it used to be called), that has been sucked out of our district schools. Over $2 billion since 2009 to be exact, leaving these schools with only 15% to maintain and repair their facilities and buy new busses, technology and other high cost items. The “new” district additional funding Governor Ducey refers to, is just his proposal to return some of that funding, $371 million (split between districts and charters) over five years. Please let this soak in. Governor Ducey is proposing that part of the solution to make our schools more safe, is to take some “new” proposed funding, (only 19% of what our schools need just to get back to where we were in 2009), and use this to help provide more mental health help for our students versus fix our crumbling facilities and unsafe busses. Although gun violence in our schools is deservedly getting the most attention right now, it isn’t the only critical safety issue our schools are facing.

I do want though, to give credit to Governor Ducey in two areas. First of all, he says he does not want to arm teachers. Hallelujah!! In my opinion, arming teachers is the stupidest idea I’ve heard in a very long time. I spoke recently with a teacher who was a Marine security policeman. He said if teachers are armed in the school where his children are enrolled, he will pull them out of that school. If I had kids, I would too. Arming teachers will not make our schools more safe.

Secondly, Ducey evidently also wants our state to be able to seize guns from those who are a danger to themselves and others. His plan includes “an emergency STOP (Severe Threat Order of Protection) order, in which law enforcement can petition the court to seize firearms”, an ex parte STOP order, allowing family members, guardians, school workers and others to do the same, and an extension providision for up to six months.

Governor Ducey’s plan does not however, address the “gun show loophole” allowing person-to-person sales of firearms to evade background checks. His failure to do so could negate the value of STOP orders, and it calls into question the ability to pass his legislation in a bi-partisan manner with House Dems calling his current plan a “missed opportunity”.

For their part, the Arizona School Boards Association released a school safety resolution to the state’s 1,200 school board members recommending each governing board considering passing such to call on our Legislature to take action to make our schools safer. The resolution calls upon “local, county and state public safety agencies to prioritize collaborative threat assessment and crisis planning with school districts and for Congress and state legislatures to pass legislation that: more effectively regulates access to firearms, provides funds above those needed for basic building maintenance and improvement for capital improvements shown to increase safety and security, funds public health research on issues related to gun violence, and advances mental health supports.” Association leadership was also in discussions with Governor Ducey prior to his releasing his plan.

I don’t know which of these ideas will eventually see the light of day and which ones will make a real difference. What I do know is that if we cannot begin to talk to each other about this problem (and it is a problem no matter how much of an ostrich anyone wants to be), and look for common ground, our children will continue to die violent deaths in our schools. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want our schools to become fortresses, just safe places where our children can learn. Maybe that is the starting point.


Preventing mass shootings – What America must do and models for doing it

Cross posted from SkyIslandScriber

Let me start with a road map for what follows in this post. The general theme is what we as a nation must do to prevent more mass shootings, especially those in schools and those using assault weapons. The first two following sections offer models for how we might accomplish that goal. Australia implemented a ban and a buy-back program. New Zealand has very stringent procedures designed to greatly restrict who can own handguns and semi-automatic rifles. Comparing these two countries makes it difficult to argue that the idiosyncrasies of any one country invalidates it as a model for the USA. The third section reports on the logical case for banning assault weapons in which elements from both Australia and New Zealand politicies and practices are included. In the fourth, last section, I give voice to some of my thoughts about what should be done and how.

AUSTRALIA stopped mass shootings with national gun control legislation

Pacific Standard Magazine has a summary of Australia’s strict gun laws noting that the number of mass shootings has gone from many to none. However, Australia’s Ambassador Says His Country’s Gun Laws Can’t Save America. Gun control advocates point to Australia for inspiration in ending gun violence. Australian Ambassador to the United States Joe Hockey thinks they should stop. Here are snippets.

After each mass shooting in the United States, many gun control advocates point to Australia, where a bipartisan coalition passed sweeping gun legislation that effectively ended mass shootings and dramatically reduced gun violence nationwide.

More than 20 years ago, Australia had its own mass shooting, a devastating massacre in which a man with a semi-automatic rifle opened fire at a tourist destination on the Tasmanian peninsula, killing 35 and injuring 23. Twelve days later, a conservative prime minister introduced the National Firearms Act, which banned the sale and importation of all automatic and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, forced people to produce a legitimate reason for wanting to buy a weapon, and installed a 28-day waiting period. Perhaps most controversially, the law called for a massive mandatory gun buyback during which the government confiscated and destroyed 700,000 firearms, effectively reducing gun-owning households by half. The bill required bipartisan support, passed within six weeks, and is still reviewed every six months for any updates, to which all parties must agree before any changes can be made.

In the 20 years since the law was passed, there have been zero mass shootings in Australia.

In September of 2017, the Australian government held another gun amnesty program, its first in 20 years, and collected 26,000 unregistered firearms. Under the amnesty program, Australians surrendering unregistered firearms were able to drop them off without providing any personal information.

It’s almost unfathomable from an American viewpoint, which is perhaps why it’s become such a popular talking point for politicians, advocates, and late-night show hosts alike. Even President Barack Obama referenced Australia’s laws during a memorial following a mass shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.

Since 1996, U.S. has experienced a series of mass shootings: There was Las Vegas, which saw 59 killed and more than 500 injured; Orlando, where 49 people were killed and 58 were injured; Columbine, which left 13 dead and 24 injured. There was Virginia Tech; there was Sandy Hook. There were so many more. After each, gun control advocates in the U.S. inevitably point to Australia’s success in curbing mass shootings as something that could be replicated here.

The Ambassador disagrees with the last point. Here’s why – in excerpts from the PSmag interview.

Australia and the United States are completely different situations, and it goes back to each of our foundings. America was born from a culture of self-defense. Australia was born from a culture of “the government will protect me.” Australia wasn’t born as a result of a brutal war. We weren’t invaded. We weren’t attacked. We weren’t occupied. That makes an incredible difference, even today.

… our histories are completely different. The U.S. had a horrendous civil war, with more casualties than every other war combined. We didn’t have that history. It really went to the core of what it means to defend your people. And so you have a second amendment based on an antiquated view of what it means to be occupied.

But the gun culture is so ingrained in America. I can’t wrap my brain around impulsive buys, no cooling off period, no mental-health checks. I’m stunned there’s not more road rage here given the number of guns.

The Ambassador listed challenges in implementing the National Firearms Act.

I was a fierce critic of existing gun laws in 1996, but I represented an urban district that’s 32 square miles, and I couldn’t understand why anyone would have guns in their homes. To this day I don’t know why anyone would have semi-automatic or automatic weapons in the middle of the city. My colleagues in rural areas had a different perspective.

Being center-right, we had to stand against our base. But there was such collective grief after Tasmania that we were able to put aside our differences.

The right wing had previously lobbied fairly hard against changes to the gun laws. The National Rifle Association sent people and money to campaign in Australia.

… There’s really no NRA equivalent in Australia, not like you have here. And it backfired. People saw it as American intervention in our elections. They haven’t tried it again.

One might even think that the NRA is an intervention in our own elections – and to wish that they would not try it again.

What was in the law and what was the result?

Gun and ammunition must be locked separately. Cooling off periods, not pick up right away, gun lockers at gun clubs, spot checks for enforcement. The amnesty buyback program was the most controversial.

Fifteen years before the laws, we had 13 mass shootings. In two decades since, none. Gun homicides decreased by 60 percent. Where it hurts the most are unreported suicides, and threats against women.

So what do we make of this argument, that the two countries are so culturally different that we here in America can learn nothing from the Australian experience?

NEW ZEALAND – A frontier culture with strict gun control laws …

… and their bipartisan support. The Kiwi experience is relevant and informative especially because what they are doing works, is supported by both major political parties, and has support inspite of New Zealand’s national character: “the country has a similar frontier mentality and outdoorsy culture to the US.”

A few years back the Seattle Globalist published a report on gun laws in New Zealand written by an ex-Washingtonian who moved there titled Getting strapped in New Zealand, Americans learn ropes of gun control. Here are some excerpts.

You might be surprised to find out that New Zealand is not unfamiliar with gun violence. In 1990, a 33 year old mentally unstable man in Aramoana, NZ shot and killed thirteen people including a police officer using a semi-automatic rifle. (The events have been dramatized in the New Zealand film Out of the Blue)

But unlike shootings in the US, the incident directly resulted in changes to New Zealand firearms laws. A special category of “Military Style Semi-Automatic” weapons was created; the sales and ownership of which are now severely restricted. Purchase or import of military style semi-automatics and all handguns must be individually approved by, and registered with, the New Zealand police.

Without a valid and current firearms license, you cannot legally purchase any firearm other than a pellet gun anywhere in New Zealand. There is probably a black market or some other means of acquiring a firearm illegally, but firearms recovered from drug busts or other organised criminal activities typically amount to hunting rifles or pump action shot guns. Handguns and military style semi-automatics are rare, difficult to obtain, and very expensive.

So how do Kiwis go about getting their hands on guns?

That’s a very long story with details that I leave to you to read about in the Globalist article. Here’s the essence.

The process for obtaining a basic firearms license is long, complicated and expensive. In other words, designed to weed out a broad portion of the population that the law deems unsuitable to possess a firearm.

If you wanted a pistol, for example, you would have to apply for a license, take a firearms safety course, submit to an in-home interview, recruit a character witness who has known you for 2 years (and who also is interviewed). The Arms Officer doing the interview “also asked what we intended to use firearms for. Hint: personal or home protection is not an accepted rationale and would likely get you rejected – acceptable reasons are limited to hunting and/or target shooting.” You need to demonstrate that you have separate lockers for the gun and ammunition. And you have to be affiliated with shooting club and be an active, regular participant.

So a firearms license in New Zealand is difficult to obtain. It’s also easy to lose: “Violation of any gun laws, including those relating to storage, transport or sales can easily result in a loss of your endorsement, your full license or even criminal conviction.”

Does it work? It appears so.

NZ has a firearm-related death rate of 2.66 per 100,000 people, per year. The rate in the US is almost 5 times that.

And unlike in the States, gun legislation rarely becomes mired in the political fog, despite the fact that the country has a similar frontier mentality and outdoorsy culture to the US.

The two main political parties, Labour and National (there are 8 active parties in NZ parliament) both treat gun control as a bi-partisan issue.

Some could argue that the sheer number of firearms available in the US (almost one for every person) render effective control of those firearms impossible. By comparison, New Zealand is estimated to have just over 1 million firearms in a country of 4.4 million. By and large, the level of scrutiny and control on possession and transfer of firearms, especially the types of weapons capable of mass killings, seems like an alternate universe when compared to the United States.

Between the application fees, membership dues, club activities and special safes required, the financial obligations alone could be a barrier to anyone looking to obtain a firearm for frivolous or reactionary reasons. To get a gun in New Zealand you have to plan ahead, have a clean record, and have the money to spend on it.

In other words, it’s a tremendous pain in the ass. But it’s a pain in the ass that appears to be saving lives.

The fact that New Zealand has “a similar frontier mentality and outdoorsy culture to the US” counters the cultural difference cited by the Australian Ambassador to the US. Regardless of history and current norms, both New Zealand and Australia have reduced the rates of mass shootings to zero and greatly reduced firearms deaths. As an interim conclusion, consider that if we want to reduce the number of firearm deaths we should reduce the number of firearms. Reinstating a stronger version of the assault weapons ban would be a good place to start. That case is made next.

AMERICA – the case for ban-and-buy assault weapons

We could start by asking why anyone would have a need for an AR–15 and high-capacity magazines. And then we could – and will here – feature an op-ed with the answer.

This Saturday (March 10) the Daily Star published an article by Michael T. Hertz, retired lawyer and law professor, titled Ban assault weapons altogether. Here it is.

Twelve days before the Parkland school massacre, my friend and I were driving near Orlando, Florida, and saw a sign. It pictured a woman shooting a machine gun and said, “Live Life Full Auto” above the words “Machine Gun America.” A few miles later, we passed the store, which sold semi-automatic guns and ammunition.

In the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting, Florida Gov. Rick Scott proposed a number of measures to improve safety, and on March 7 the state’s Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill to toughen gun laws. This included banning “bump stock” devices that turn semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic ones, raising the buying age for rifles to 21, and requiring a three-day waiting period for all firearm purchases. Scott signed the bill Friday.

These are all good ideas. But why not go further and restore the ban on assault weapons? This was the type of weapon used to kill 17 people in Parkland. It was the kind used in Las Vegas, where a shooter was able to “live life full auto” and fire 1,100 rounds of ammunition in 10 minutes, killing 58 people and wounding 851.

Yes, getting rid of these weapons would take real political effort. The people who make money off businesses like Machine Gun America, backed by the NRA, would fight this tooth and nail. But at this moment in our history, our country is ready for this.

The federal assault weapons ban was passed September 1994, following a close 52–48 vote in the Senate. President Clinton signed it into law the same day. The ban didn’t apply to guns in existence at the time it was enacted, and it contained a sunset provision allowed it to expire after 10 years, in 2004, which is what happened.

We need to revive this ban today. It should apply to all semi-automatic assault weapons, including the AR–15. It should also remove ammunition for such weapons from the market. It should apply to all persons in the United States except members of the military and police forces while they are on the job. There should be no sunset provision.

The government should offer to buy all such weapons in the year after the ban is enacted, given that the weapons could no longer be used.

The U.S. Supreme Court has already expressly affirmed the ability of government to ban certain weapons.

“Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose,” declared conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority in a 2008 case, District of Columbia v. Heller. He noted prohibitions against concealed weapons, firearm possession by felons and the mentally ill, bringing firearms into schools and government buildings and “the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.”

An absolute ban on these weapons, coupled with an offer by the government to buy them, would be completely congruent with this decision. Putting a heavy punishment on possession would give police forces good reason to look for such weapons and get rid of any in illegal possession.

If we really want to end large-scale massacres, we cannot flinch at banning the means by which they are accomplished.

SCRIBER- Time for a change

There you have it. We can reduce the number of deaths, notably those in schools. We have evidence from other countries that assault weapons bans, buy-backs, strict licensing, safety training, and rigorous background and character checks are components of an effective gun control program. We’re not talking hunting rifles or shotguns; in no way would such a program infringe on legitimate gun ownership by responsible individuals. Such folks do not go around shooting school children and thus have little to fear from the actions advocated by Michael Hertz.

This will not be easy. You have a vocal minority consisting of mainly white males led by the NRA opposing any attempts at gun control. Having a gun is a symbol reinforcing their identity, we are told. Some of them, at least, fear a government gone amok and so a citizen militia armed with AR–15s would protect us against government control. That’s silly, argues a writer of a letter to the editor in this morning’s Green Valley News titled “frontier thinking.” The author, a retired military type, observes “Unfortunately, there is a frontier mentality among many who truly believe that assault weapons are insurance against our government somehow going awry. If you have ever watched a Marine Corps exercise you readily appreciate how ludicrous this idea is. If all the able-bodied males in Green Valley and Sahuarita were armed with these weapons, they wouldn’t hold off one Marine platoon for 10 minutes.” Moreover, contributing to our collective inaction, there is the cowardice of our elected officials exhibited in their groveling subservience to the NRA.

So what to do? Recognize that most Americans favor the program advocated by Hertz and its components in place in Australia and New Zealand. We are in the majority. We have a voice and should use it. Call out, publicly, our legislators and demand a public commitment to gun control. Demand that they choose between unlimited access to assault weapons and dead school kids. And if they complain about gun control being a heavy lift, as one ex-congressman expressed it to me, use our vote and vote them out of office. Finally, be prepared for a long struggle. When it comes to societal change nothing comes easy or early. The civil rights movement is a case study. It took decades to arm America with a gun for every single person. We should be prepared for a struggle just as long to come to grips with America as a post-frontier country that values right to life for the many more than a phallic symbol for the few.

At the end of all arguments about gun control, it comes down to a single question. Is it the de facto policy of the United States of America that the murder of our children is an acceptable price to pay for unlimited access to assault weapons? How you answer that question defines your humanity – or lack of it.

Yet Another Scheme to Raid School Funding

An article titled, “Proposed GI Bill Model For K–12 Schools Would Impact Arizona Education Funding” by Claire Caufield on KZJJ.org recently caught my attention. Ah…coming to a state near us I thought, the latest school privatization effort to be shoved down our throats. Evidently, the conservative Heritage Foundation has written policy that would make all children of active-duty military members eligible to receive education savings accounts (ESAs) to attend private schools. These ESA would provide “from $2,500 to $4,500 annually to help parents send their child to a private or online school or to pay for tutoring and special education services.”

The idea of ESAs for military children is not new, we already have that in Arizona. What is new, is that the proposal calls for the funding to come from Impact Aid, a fund established by Congress in 1950 to assist districts with the cost of educating children who live on federal lands, and therefore don’t pay local taxes that support the districts. “Today, Impact Aid is disbursed to schools connected to tribal lands, military bases, low-rent housing and other federal properties.”

“Because of the state’s high number of students on tribal lands, Arizona districts received $169 million last year in Impact Aid, the highest total in the country. Over $11 million was for children of military and uniformed services families, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education.”

This initiative shouldn’t surprise us, as when there is money to be had, you can bet the school privatizers will be bellying up to the trough. Of course, Lindsey Burke, director of education policy at Heritage said, “We need to ensure we are providing the children of our armed services with an education option that serves them, as well as their parents who are serving the United States.” In other words, it’s “all about the kids.”

Eileen Huck, government relations deputy director for the National Military Family Association, said, “This kind of proposal would disadvantage far more military kids and families than could benefit from it” and pointed out that about 80% of military children attend their local district school. Huck also made the point that “Public schools offer a great way for military families to become connected to their communities.” Having grown up in an Army family and then serving for 22 years in the Air Force myself, I can personally attest to the value of both military children attending local community schools and, in military families establishing ties to their local communities.

The solution to underperforming public schools isn’t to subsidize attendance at private schools, but rather, to get these underperforming schools the resources and support they need to do better. After all, if the local community schools are inadequate for military children to attend, they shouldn’t be considered adequate for any of our children to attend. Fixing these schools though, is much easier to say, than do. That’s because, as public school proponents know, underperforming schools are often schools in high poverty areas. It is hard enough for schools to address factors they actually have control over, let alone get saddled with trying to fix overarching societal issues like poverty.

Privatizers of course, recognize they can profit from our lack of political and societal will to address these problems. Rather, they are intent on selling us Trojan horses that look like solutions, but in the end, just exacerbate the real problem. An example of this is the fact that segregation in our schools is now as high as it was in the mid–1960s and plenty of research shows this segregation doesn’t help either children of color, or white ones, achieve to their fullest.

Nonetheless, Heritage’s Burke supports her organization’s desire to provide military families options by citing a Military Times survey that found “35 percent of respondents said dissatisfaction with their child’s education was a “significant factor” in their decision to continue or end their military career.” Guess what? During Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) reviews, the military looks closely at the quality of local schools in determining whether or not to keep a base open in a certain area. Quality corporations also look at the schools in a community when they consider locating there. In fact, back in 2011, the former CEO of Intel, Craig Barrett said, “The educational system in the United States and in Arizona in particular is not particularly attractive”, indicating that Arizona won’t be a real magnet for new business until it turns out more qualified high school and college graduates. That’s why I believe investing in our district schools is often a much better incentive to bring quality businesses to Arizona, than offering tax incentives. At least this is true for those businesses we really want…those that invest in our people and our local communities.

Burke goes on to say, “It is a national security issue, it’s a retention issue, it’s a recruitment issue for the U.S. armed services.” To that I respond with, ensuring a quality public education for ALL of America’s children is a more critical national security issue and is not getting the attention it deserves. Yes, there are likely some children who can be better served in non-traditional public education environments. But, the only way to ensure ALL children have equal opportunity to be all they can be, is in our public district schools.

I suspect Arizona lawmakers are all for this effort as in our state, both children of military families and children on tribal lands were already eligible for vouchers or, as we call them here, “Empowerment Scholarship Accounts”, even before the 2017 expansion. I assume that if Impact Aid is made available for these ESAs, that will relieve the state from having to fund the accounts. It doesn’t hurt that Secretary Devos, whose “American Federation for Children” contributed $275K to AZ Republican candidates in 2016 alone, has also expressed support for the proposal.

Never mind, that at least in Arizona, the majority of children attending private school on vouchers could have afforded to do so without taxpayer help. After all, the average basic voucher is worth around $5K and the average private elementary school tuition is $6K and the high school $18K. Vouchers alone are not going to get disadvantaged students in these private schools.

Impact aid is designed to ensure school districts on federal lands are not negatively impacted by the lack of property tax that support other districts. It is designed, to ensure adequate funding for all the students in the affected district, not to be doled out for just a few who can take advantage of it.

It all gets back to a couple of key fundamental questions. One, do we still believe in the common good and thereby recognize the role each of us plays to make it possible? Two, who do taxpayer dollars belong to? I fervently believe in the need for the common good and our responsibility toward it. I also believe that taxpayer dollars, both those that have actually already been paid, and those still owed, belong to all of us.

That’s why I will continue to fight for full transparency and accountability anytime our tax dollars are expended. As I’ve said many times, your right to send your child to the school of your choice, doesn’t trump my right to know the return on my investment. And, your right to ensure a quality education for your child, doesn’t abrogate the responsibility for all of us to work for the same for every child.

Focus People, Focus!

I was at a SOS AZ presentation on public education funding last night and after a slide about corporate tax credits, one young woman advocated for holding the corporations responsible for not supporting our schools. Although I would normally be one of the first to vilify corporate America for their greed at the expense of the rest of us, I think her ire was a little misplaced. Arizona corporations after all, are just taking advantage of the laws incentivizing them to act a certain way. These aren’t loopholes that corporations are paying high-powered lawyers and accountants to find for them, but incentives the Legislature has directly handed to them to. It isn’t after all, like the tax credits allow the corporations to pocket more profit, they are still paying out the same amount of money (whether in taxes or credits), they just get to choose where their taxes go.

THEREIN lies the rub. THEY get to choose where their tax dollars go…not us, the people. That’s the problem with all these tax credits and exemptions, 331 is the number I heard last night, that the Arizona Legislature has granted. You see, ideally, tax credits should be granted to incentivize behavior that voters want and that produces good for all of us. We’ve all heard the saying though, that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” When all the power in a government is consolidated on one side, the tendency is not to look at the common good, but the good of “your” people. And, when it is apparent to lawmakers that they can act with impunity because they will continue to get reelected despite their failure to provide for all the people in their care, the tendency is for them to do whatever they want.

Yes, corporations also have a responsibility to care about the common good, but I really don’t blame them for taking advantage of legal incentives for directing their tax dollars where the Legislature wants. The rest of us suffer though, because these incentives reduce the size of our general fund “pie”. We also suffer because the diverted funding, essentially our tax dollars, then has no accountability nor transparency associated with it. We don’t know if it is being used for the purpose intended and we certainly don’t know the return on our investment.

This is a huge problem in Arizona with at least 75% of corporations paying the minimum $50 in state taxes. Again, it isn’t like they aren’t giving up the money, but it isn’t coming into the general fund in the form of tax dollars that we can then hold the Legislature accountable for. In fact, on a budget of less than $10 billion, Arizona gives away almost $13 billion in corporate sales tax relief alone. This is just one of the reasons the Arizona Town Hall on PreK–12 Funding last year, wrote that it is the “size of the pie” that is the problem, not the relative percentage given to our public schools. This was clearly illustrated by the SOS AZ briefing when a slide comparing state populations versus annual budget was shown. AZ has about 7 million people, with a budget under $10 billion versus Wyoming with 585,00 people and a budget of $8.8 billion and Maine with a population of 1.33 million people and a budget of $7.6 billion. To be sure, there is a lot to unpack here, but it is interesting none the less.

None of this is by accident, the AZ Legislature is just following the “drown it in the bathtub” playbook to reduce the size of government. No sense, (I’m guessing they think), in having government do something the private sector could do better and cheaper AND…make a profit on.

Only problem is, that often isn’t the case. Take the privatization of Arizona prisons for example. Arizona’s corrections annual budget is over $1 billion—at 11% of the General Fund, the third largest appropriation of any state agency. When the decision was made to privatize them in 2005, bids by the prison companies no doubt touted lower operating costs than the state. Since then though, spending on prisons has grown by at least 45%. Of course, we aren’t entirely sure of the exact amount because in 2012, the state Legislature repealed the statute requiring cost and quality comparison reviews between the state’s public and private prisons. Before that repeal, the Arizona Department of Correction found in a 2010 review, that medium-security state prison beds cost $48.16 while medium-security private prison beds cost $55.30. In fact, between 2008 and 2010, Arizona overpaid for its private prisons by about $10 million. Now, the lack of transparency and accountability for our tax dollars is most assuredly guaranteeing skyrocketing costs, lackluster results, and pay-for-play abuses between lawmakers and the private prison corporations.

The same thing is happening with our public schools. Tax credits and Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs), divert or withdraw funding from our General Fund and the public schools it resources, and give it to private entities with no responsibility for transparency and accountability. And, because there are huge out-of-state monied interests that are using Arizona as ground zero for war against public education, our lawmakers are being bought off (via campaign contributions or influence peddling) to do their bidding. Numerous charter school operator abuses that have recently come to light are, no doubt, just the tip of the iceberg.

The Washington Post tag line, “Democracy Dies in Darkness” says it all. If our democratic republic is to stay strong and vibrant, we must have transparency and accountability so that our government, at all levels, can remain one of the people, by the people, and for the people. The privatization of programs and services that provide for the common good (the military, public schools, prisons, police, fire, etc), is simply a way to take “the people” out of the equation…to ensure we no longer have a say in how we are governed. It is absolutely critical for these “common good” programs and services to be paid for by all of us so that we retain ownership, the authority and yes, the responsibility, to ensure they produce OUR desired return on investment. It is really this simple, to have a government that works for us, we must work for it.

Happy (sort of) Anniversary

Five years ago today, I wrote and published my first-ever blog post. It was titled, “Don’t Believe the Pundits, Traditional Public Education Works.”

Since then, I’ve written over 230 posts which garnered over 16,300 views. I hope I’ve enlightened a few folks about the war against public education, and am grateful for all those who read my words and took time to comment. Our efforts are stronger when we stand together!

What I’m not grateful for, is the fact that nothing much has come out of the AZ Legislature in the last five years to make the situation better for our district schools.  I wrote then about how education tax credits siphon funding away from our district schools. The caps for corporate tax credits have grown from about $56.6 million in 2013 to $94 million in 2018, and the President of the AZ Senate, Steven Yarbrough (who has enriched himself through his School Tuition Organization or STO), is proposing legislative changes that will grow the program even more.

I also wrote about Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) or vouchers. I discussed how they redistribute state revenue and that most of the students receiving these vouchers, would have attended private schools without taxpayer help. That is still true today, but instead of 302 students accessing the program five years ago at a cost to the state of $5.2 million, there were 4,102 in 2017 at a cost of $37 million. Moreover, in 2017, more than 75 percent of the money pulled out of public schools for vouchers, came from districts with an A or B rating, not from schools that are failing.

Yes, there are pockets of excellence in our charter schools, I wrote, but “by and large, they have no significant performance advantage over traditional public schools.” That is still the case, and we continue to see examples of fraudulent management of charter schools throughout the state.

I ended the post with, “Just imagine what our schools could be if our efforts were properly focused and funded.” Well, I’m still imagining, but in the meantime, I’m fighting and I plan to die empty fighting for this incredible cause.

I believe the promise of truly public education, that which takes all comers, is totally transparent and accountable and is governed by locally-elected school board members, is critical to the survival and success of our great democratic republic. It is what built the world’s strongest middle class, and it will be what saves us from ourselves if we will only let it.

That’s the saddest part of all…the wounds we’ve inflicted on our district schools, are largely self-inflicted. By the pro-privatization lawmakers we continue to elect, and through the apathy of those who don’t even bother to vote. We CAN and we MUST do better. Those who have no voice, are counting on us.

What IS glaringly obvious…

After I became an Arizona school board member and public education advocate, I was routinely asked, “doesn’t the Legislature understand what they are doing to our public schools?” I would respond with, “of course they do, it is all part of their plan.” That was five years ago and although we are still fighting the same battles, some things have changed.

Today, many more people understand that the privatization of America’s system of public education is actually the end game. The public is more “woke” than ever to the privatizers’ pursuit of profit and power via the $500B+ K-12 education market in the United States. Of course, the privatizers don’t refer to it that way. Rather, as reported in the Washington Post, they couch their war on public education as a benign attempt to improve the system. As Stacy Hock, a major Koch donor and co-founder of Texans for Educational Opportunity, said, “The lowest hanging fruit for policy change in the United States today is K-12, I think this is the area that is most glaringly obvious.”

What is glaringly obvious to me is that this fight isn’t just about a “policy change” and it definitely isn’t about improvement for all students. It is also glaringly obvious, that Arizona’s Governor Doug Ducey is chief water carrier for the movement with Koch donors seeing the state “as ground zero in their push.” Ducey’s been a member of the Koch network since 2011, the same year the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program (or vouchers) was passed in Arizona. Pushed by the Goldwater Institute, it was the first of its kind in the country. The AZ Legislature has increased the scope of the program every year since, and in 2017, with significant Koch network investment, Ducey was able to sign into law, a full expansion of the program.

It is also obvious to anyone willing to face facts, that vouchers are not the panacea to anemic academic outcomes. On EducationNext.org, Robert Pondiscio writes, “If shares in the education reform movement could be purchased in the stock market, neutral analysts would grade them ‘underperform’ and probably ‘sell.’ We’ve seen gains in student outcomes particularly among disadvantaged subgroups. But those gains have been mostly in math and almost entirely in the younger grades. The ‘historic’ rate of high school graduation is frothy at best, fraudulent at worst. It is not possible to look at the big indicators of K–12 performance over the last few decades—NAEP, PISA, SAT, and ACT scores—and claim that ed reform at large has been a success. The payoff is simply not there.”

None of that matters to the privatizers though, because in the end, it isn’t the kids they are focused on. “Tom Jenney, the senior legislative advisor for the Arizona chapter of Americans for Prosperity, says “We believe in competition. That’s the most important thing. … Competition is the only reason why, frankly, anything in the world improves without monumental effort and luck.”

I find that viewpoint incredibly cynical. What about those who do a good job because of pride in a job well done? Also, competition pits individuals and groups against each other and, it produces winners and losers…is that what we want for our children?

The Washington Post article also claimed, “Teacher unions, worried that this will undermine the public system, collected enough signatures to put the law on hold and create a ballot proposition to let voters decide in November whether to expand vouchers.” That claim comes from either sloppy or totally biased and purposefully misleading reporting. First of all, as a “right to work” state, Arizona has no statewide collective bargaining unit for our teachers. Secondly, Save Our Schools Arizona, the grassroots organization who collected the signatures, is not a union, but rather, a dedicated group of mom’s who ignited an army of volunteers tired of out-of-state monied interests forcing on Arizonans legislation we don’t want. “SOS Arizona enlisted about 2,500 people to help with its referendum. They ended up paying about six people to collect signatures, but the rest of its base was a patchwork of volunteers.”

Those gathering at a recent Koch brothers’ meeting outside Palm Springs, CA, are definitely not grassroots volunteers, but rather, those monied interests referred to earlier. Governor Ducey was also there, touting Arizona’s 2017 voucher expansion as further reaching than anything that’s been tried in other states. Now though he warned, that achievement is under attack with Prop. 305 set to go to be on the ballot in November”, saying that under Arizona law, if advocates lose at the ballot box, they will not be able to legislate on the topic in the future. “This is a very real fight in my state,” Ducey said. “I didn’t run for governor to play small ball. I think this is an important idea.” Ducey also introduced the headmaster of Capital Prep Charter Schools, who has been traveling Arizona to speak in support of the law. “The teacher unions are unencumbered by the truth,” he told the Koch donors. “It is a distant relative that is never invited to dinner.”

Maybe it takes one “unencumbered by the truth” to try to manufacture the same in others. What seems apparent though, is that it is much easier for Ducey and his gang to blame “teachers’ unions for “working to deny parents school choice options” than it would be to acknowledge that a group of concerned mom’s are the ones fighting for our public schools to ensure ALL children have equitable opportunity. Seems to me that if vouchers and school choice were really the end all/be all, the privatizers wouldn’t have to work so hard to convince us of that. Problem is, they are working really hard and they are throwing an awful lot of money into their effort.

Which brings me to my constant mantra of late. I received several concerned emails and phone calls from people who had read the Washington Post article and wondered what they could do to combat the incoming Koch network onslaught. My answer is simple. If we want to save our system of public education, that system which helped build the strongest middle class in the world, we simply must elect more lawmakers who care about that system and the children it serves. And, we must start right here in Arizona. If you care about our public district schools and the one million children in them, you must learn which candidates share your concern and will fight for the full accountability, transparency, and locally elected governance that district school boards provide. And remember, that although “they” have the money, we have the many. We can fight back, but we must do it together, and we must do it now.


The Women’s March to Elected Office

Cross-posted from skyislandscriber.com

In Shutdown, Schmutdown – ‘GRAB ’EM BY THE MIDTERMS’ is the bigger story, I wrote on Tuesday that “The biggest news of the weekend and yesterday was the shutdown, the details of the Senate-initiated bill that the House passed and that Trump signed.”

Then I featured New Yorker John Cassidy’s alternative take on the biggest story.

But New Yorker’s John Cassidy has another take on the news – on something he sees as a lot bigger and under-reported story – the Women’s Marches.The Women’s Marches Could Have More Lasting Consequences Than the Government Shutdown.

John Nichols (The Nation) concurs and tells us that the big Story This Month Was Not the Government Shutdown. It’s the grassroots activism that could end Republican control of Congress.

… for all the tumult over the shutdown, a more significant story was taking place far from the Beltway—in communities where the resistance has been gaining strength and focus before a midterm election that could hold the president and his allies to account. Case in point: Wisconsin. While Trump lost the popular vote by 2.9 million nationwide, narrow wins in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan gave him the Electoral College. Trump’s Wisconsin win was powered by votes from the western and northern regions of the state—places like the 10th State Senate District, which has historically elected Republicans and where Trump ran 17 points ahead of Hillary Clinton. But in a special election on January 16, medical examiner and small-town school-board member Patty Schachtner swept to victory in a result that saw a 37 percent swing to the Democrats. In 2016, the outgoing Republican had won the gerrymandered district by 26 points; Schachtner prevailed by 11. “President Donald Trump—along with Speaker Paul Ryan and Gov. Scott Walker who support and prop him up—are toxically unpopular and divisive,” the state Democratic Party declared in a press release.

This reaction to Trumpism isn’t limited to Wisconsin. Noting that Schachtner was the 34th Democrat to flip a Republican state legislative seat since Trump took office, statehouse-watcher Carolyn Fiddler observed: “Democrats are still winning Republican seats! Even when Republicans run in ‘safe’ and extremely gerrymandered districts and spend boatloads more money than the Democrat!”

More often than not, these Democratic winners have been women (22 of 34). This made the Wisconsin win a perfect setup for the massive Women’s Marches across the country, which filled the streets with millions of Americans— 600,000 in Los Angeles, 300,000 in Chicago, 200,000 in New York, 50,000 in Denver—who channeled the anger and frustration of 2017 into a mighty cry for change. The marches highlighted #MeToo activism and the “Time’s Up” initiative to combat sexual harassment, along with a new “Power to the Polls” message. Echoing the “Don’t Just March, Run” calls by groups like Emily’s List—which counts more than 26,000 women planning to seek federal, state, or local office—many of this year’s marchers were candidates themselves. Trump isn’t on the ballot in 2018, but the women who have been his most ardent and effective critics will be. As former Maine state legislator Diane Russell, who is mounting a progressive bid for her state’s governorship, announced: “We march—to elected office.”

This appears to me to be a vanguard of an national about-face, a repudiation of Trumpism, and a Democratic wave in 2018. The numbers Nichols reports indicate my view is not just wishful thinking.