The second regular session of the Arizona 52nd Legislature officially begins on January 11, 2016. If past performance is any indication, that means it won’t be long until we see numerous anti-public education bills proposed, some of which will be reruns. With the Inflation Funding Lawsuit settled (pending approval by the voters on May 17th), it will be interesting to see what comes up next. Governor Ducey and the GOP-led legislature will no doubt continue to make political hay from the settlement, but pro-public education advocates are loaded for bear and will be watching for what the legislature does next with regard to public education.
The Friends of ASBA, a sister organization of the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA), compiles a record each year of how Arizona legislators voted on high priority K-12 education bills. The record shows how each AZ legislative member voted on education bills during the session. I wanted to compute a score though, so I awarded 10 points for each vote in accordance with ASBA’s position, 1 point for those votes in opposition to it and 5 points when a member was eligible to vote but did not. Then I divided each member’s total by the number of bills they voted on. When a bill did not come before a member, I just reduced the denominator (total number of bills) by one.
As you might suspect, Republican legislators scored an average of 39 percent for voting in accord with ASBA recommendations and Democrats scored 87 percent. This is not to say that every Republican voted against all public education legislation, or that every Democrat voted for all of it. Bright spots on the right side of the aisle include Representatives Heather Carter with a score of 91, Chris Ackerley with a score of 73, and Representative Bob Robson with a score of 77. Senators Jeff Dial and Adam Driggs both had scores of 70. All Democrat’s scores were 80 percent or higher except for Senator Barbara McGuire with a 73 and Senator Ed Ableser (who has since retired) with a score of 74.
2015 was a very busy year for education advocates but luckily, their earnest efforts paid off and those bills most harmful to our public education students did not pass. Examples include HB2174 introduced by Rep Mark Finchem, which sought to expand empowerment scholarship accounts once again, HB2190 also introduced by Finchem, which would have prohibited implementation of AZ College and Career Ready Standards (already in use for 4-5 years), and HB 2079 sponsored by Petersen and SB 1173 sponsored by Yee, which would have imposed even more restrictions on local bonding efforts.
The second session of this legislature promises to be as exciting as the first and public education proponents will no doubt be watching determine the Governor and Legislature’s true intentions regarding public education. If the 2016 budget does not include a plus-up for public education, that will be a clear sign that despite the inflation lawsuit settlement, they 1) are not listening to the citizens of Arizona who have made clear that education is a funding priority (as a recent poll showed), 2) are not really friends of public education and 3) really are out to privatize Arizona’s public schools, to the detriment of those students least able to take advantage of other options. Money may not be the only answer, but it can be no coincidence that Arizona was 48th in the Nation for cuts to per pupil funding and 44th in education performance. It is way past time to move the marker in the right direction.