Government vs. Commercial

During his first inaugural address, President Ronald Reagan said “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Grover Norquist, of the “no new taxes pledge”, doubled down on this line of thinking with his goal to “to get [government] down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” This GOP focus on government as the problem helps explain why those out to kill district schools refer to them as “government” schools. After all, “government” is the problem so how can “government” schools be any kind of solution for America’s students?

Yet the truth is that there are great district schools, great charter schools, great private schools and yes, even top-notch home schools. Of course, there are bad examples of all these options. Each option is just one of the tools in our country’s educational tool kit. The most useful tool in the tool kit by far however, (as proven by the 94.3% of American students who use it), is our system of public district schools. Charter schools have been around for twenty-five years, yet the overwhelming “school choice” for American families is still district schools. There is a place for other school choice options, but it shouldn’t be first place. Not in terms of taxpayer funding and not in terms of our nation’s focus.

Most families didn’t make this choice because they had no other options. Rather, they chose to send their children to district schools because those are the schools in their communities, those are the schools that offer a more diverse experience with a wider array of extracurricular programs and, those are the schools that are locally governed and therefore provide recourse when it is needed. The “haters” can refer to these choice schools as “government” schools, but that doesn’t change the fact that for the vast majority of American students, they work. Our community public schools helped make America great and, they continue to be integral in keeping it that way.

For those who insist on referring to our district schools as “government” schools, I say “sticks and stones…”. Don’t be surprised though when I refer charter and private schools as “commercial” schools. After all, the vast majority of charter schools, whether for-profit or non-profit, are business entities. Non-profit doesn’t mean no profit is made or even, that the entity is operating for the common good. It just means that the entity has qualified for federal tax exemptions.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, there are many definitions of commercial. The first is “occupied with or engaged in commerce or work intended for commerce.” Then, there is “being of an average or inferior quality” or “producing artistic work of low standards for quick market success.” There is also, “viewed with regard to profit”, “designed for a large market”, “emphasizing skills and subjects useful in business”, and “supported by advertisers.”

Some of these definitions fit commercial schools better than others. We’ve all heard stories about the “fly by night” schools set up for “quick market success” but then fail their students. We also know that some charters are big chains “designed for a large market.” And, there can be no doubt that the corporate reformers with their mantra of “school choice” have been focused on “emphasizing skills and subjects useful in business” to ensure a trained workforce to meet their needs.

This focus on developing a trained workforce is just one step away from replacing the idea of citizens in our democracy with consumers focused on nothing more than what’s in it for me? This attitude helps drive the concept of “backpack funding”, where taxpayer dollars for education follow the student and the hell with those left behind.

An encouraging note though in a very crazy election year is that of young people’s response to Bernie Sanders’ campaign. As Harry Boyte writes on Moyers & Company, “championing public goods – from schools to parks, infrastructure to health provision – suggests a generation hungry for the commonwealth.”

I understand parents wanting to ensure the best for their child, but what about the rest of the children? John Dewey, arguably the most significant educational thinker of the 20th century said, “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.”

So, send your kids to those “commercial” schools if you want, my money is on our community district schools to prevail at both providing ALL our children well-rounded educations and, at helping ensure our democracy stays strong.

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Partisan? You bet! My party is Public Education.

I am a big believer in the two-party system. Our system of government works best when all sides are heard and considered. That is most likely to happen when the power is balanced, forcing legislators to negotiate and compromise. Our founding fathers purposefully designed many checks and balances into our system and I believe our two-party system helps in that regard.

In Arizona, the Democrats must gain only two additional seats in the State Senate to reach parity with the Republicans and in my opinion that would be a very good thing. Then, our senators from both parties would be forced to work together in finding good compromises to solve the problems facing our state.

One of the biggest problems facing our state is the inadequate resources provided our district schools. Arizona is one of the nation’s leaders in promoting school choice and although 80-plus percent of our students choose district schools, resources continue to be siphoned away from these schools in favor of other options. Many of our legislators, largely the Democrats, get this. Several Republicans are also on board.

Friends of ASBA, a sister organization of the Arizona School Boards Association, publishes an annual voting record of our legislators. This “Friends of ASBA Educating Arizona” report shows how every Arizona legislator voted on high priority K-12 education bills in 2016. The bills are grouped into three focus areas: funding, vouchers and local control, and the voting record is based on whether the legislators voted with, or against the ASBA position.

I encourage you to click here for the report to get the entire story. As you go through the report, you’ll note 56 legislators received “extra credit” for their behind the scenes efforts on behalf of public education. This credit is noted by + signs and the maximum extra credit points awarded were +++. Below, I show the Republican legislators who voted with ASBA’s position more than two-thirds of the time. I’d like the percentages to be even higher, but 33 Republican legislators didn’t even have a score higher than 50%. I should note that four Democratic legislators, Rep Sally Ann Gonzales (57%), Rep Jennifer Benally (43%), Rep Albert Hale (57%), and Rep Juan Mendez (57%) did not meet my “two-thirds of the time voting with ASBA” threshold.

LD Senator % Representative % Representative %
1 Steve Pierce++ 67 Karen Fann+ 71 Noel Campbell 71
2 Christopher Ackerley++ 71
8 TJ Shope+ 71
15 Heather Carter++ 71
16 Doug Coleman++ 100
18 Jeff Dial++ 67 Jill Norgaard 63 Bob Robson++ 71
20 Paul Boyer++ 63
21 Rick Gray+ 63
28 Adam Driggs++ 89 Kate Brophy McGee++ 71

The legislators in the chart above have at times taken brave stances on behalf of our district school students. Those I’ve actually met with seemed sincerely intent on doing the right thing for our students. They have earned my respect.

It is never a good idea to be closed to the opinions and ideas of others, nor is it smart to vote straight party line without regard to the issues and how candidates lean on those issues. For incumbents, the voting record tells us where they stand on public education. For candidates who haven’t ever been elected, it is our duty to read and listen to what they say about where they stand. And oh by the way, it is not good enough for a candidate to say he/she is “for education.” If you want to be sure they support the efforts of the schools educating over 80 percent of our students, they must say they are “for public education.” Of course, this leaves the door open for them to be staunchly pro-charter, but at least there is a modicum of transparency and accountability for the taxpayer dollars provided charter schools unlike with private options.

No matter what problems you most want solved, there can be no doubt that the more our students are prepared to deal with them, the better off we will all be. In my opinion, locally elected, governing board-led, public school districts offer the best chance we have to ensure every student has every opportunity to succeed. That’s why I am passionately pro-public education and why that’s the “party” that most matters to me.

Just rearranging the deck chairs ain’t gonna cut it

Representing the AZSchools Now Coalition, Arizona’s 2016 Teacher of the Year Christine Marsh and I recently attended and spoke at a Classrooms First Initiative Council meeting in Phoenix. The Coalition consists of the Arizona Associations of: Education, Business and Education, School Boards, Superintendents, and Parent and Teachers. Also part of the coalition are the Children’s Action Alliance, Valley Interfaith Project, and Support Our Schools AZ. It was formed post-Prop 123 to provide focus to reinvesting in public schools as a way to boost student achievement.

The Classrooms First Initiative Council was established by Governor Ducey in January 2015 and charged with modernizing the school finance formula to ensure adequate funding is available for teachers and classroom instruction. The first of the two main events of this latest meeting was a presentation by Expect More Arizona on the Education Progress Meter. This meter has been accepted by virtually every education group, numerous community and municipality organizations, and 26 major business entities. It measures Arizona’s progress in eight areas to include teacher pay, preschool enrollment, 3rd grade reading, 8th grade math, high school graduation, opportunity youth, college going, and post-secondary attainment.

The other main discussion was about the proposals submitted by education groups for the Council’s consideration. In speaking for the AZSchools Now proposal, I advocated for additional resources to attract and retain high quality teachers in light of the both the current shortage as well as the some 26,000 eligible for retirement starting in 2018. Not only is the shortage critical, but teacher turnover is disruptive and expensive, costing as much as $50,000 to find and contract a new one. ADE reports we have almost 93,000 certified teachers in Arizona, but only 67,000 of them are working in the profession. Many of those who left would love to still be teaching, but were forced to seek employment that would better support their families. (According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median Arizona elementary school teacher salary is $40,590 while the national median is $54,120. Starting salaries are much lower, often in the $30,000-per-year range.) Even so, one of the changes under consideration by the Council is to eliminate the Teacher Experience Index. As you might guess, this index helps keep experienced teachers in our AZ classrooms and the Coalition believes eliminating it will only exacerbate the problem. If we want to ensure high-quality education, we must have high-quality teachers and that can’t be done on the cheap. With fewer teachers entering the pipeline and over 26,000 eligible to retire by 2018, merely “rearranging the deck chairs on Titanic” I said, won’t do anything to keep this “boat from sinking.”

I also spoke about the Coalition’s recommendation to consider adding a B-weight for poverty to the school finance formula. This is critical because statewide, 58 percent of our K-12 students are eligible for free and reduced meals and many deal with a multitude of poverty related challenges at home, greatly affecting their preparedness to learn at school. That’s why the Coalition believes it is one of the most significant steps needed to make the school finance formula more equitable and fair. We know these students typically face barriers relating to transportation, housing, and levels of support in their communities and families for which additional resources are needed to help them achieve success.

Christine also made a case for additional funding, but her impassioned plea was focused on ensuring reasonable classroom sizes so that no students fall between the cracks. She told of average student loads for AZ high school teachers of 170 students and said that makes it tough for teachers to give each student the individualized attention they deserve. (The National Center for Education Statistics’ reports Arizona has 1.1 million K-12 students, and just 48,358 full-time teachers making our student-teacher ratio almost 23:1 compared to the national average of 16:1. According to WalletHub, only California and Utah are worse.)

She also pointed out that a future President of the United States is in a K-12 classroom somewhere, and current events highlight the importance of our getting this right. Stating that yes, salary is an important factor to encourage teachers to stay in their profession, Christine said it is also important that teachers feel they have what they need to really make a difference. And although she wanted to focus on the needs of students, not teachers, she noted the reality of workloads on the ability to do the job. Even if, she said, she only assigns three writing assignments per week to her 160 students, and each of those papers only takes five minutes to grade, that can amount to over 40 hours of grading time per week, and that takes place outside of the classroom. As if illustrating this point, after she spoke to the Council Christine resumed grading the stack of student papers she had brought with her.

Chris Thomas, Lead Council for the Arizona School Bards Association, said Arizona has one of the most equitable funding formulas in the nation, but is not adequately funding the formula. He highlighted the need for reinstating the cost analysis for special education funding as a way to ensure costs to provide service to these students are adequately funded while not pulling funding away from other programs. Chris also made the point that in considering a new funding formula, transparency should be ensured for the use of all public funds. Sarah Ellis, a Flagstaff Governing Board member, spoke during public comments, reiterating the need for locally controlled funding and the continuation of desegregation funding. For the Flagstaff Unified School District she said, the desegregation funds exceed that received from Prop. 123.

I was encouraged by the questions asked by members of the Council as well as the number of attendees in the audience. There was standing room only and attendees had come from all over the state to participate. I was pleased to hear some Council members voice their concerns that viable solutions to the finance formula would not be possible without additional resources, including the Chair, Jim Swanson. One member did note the reality of convincing the state legislature of this reality, but Swanson indicated he is ready to take on those who may not agree with the Council’s eventual recommendations.

Overall, I was encouraged by the meeting. Although I would have liked the membership of the Council to be more representative of the K-12 population in our state (majority Hispanic), I found them to be actively listening and serious about finding the best solutions. I am also very encouraged about the AZSchools Now coalition. One of the Coalition members, Support Our Schools AZ and its subsidiary the Arizona Parents Network, is an example of the grassroots efforts that has blossomed during and since the post-Prop 123 battle. What is especially important about this development is that it involves mostly parents who are naturally fierce advocates for their children.

One such fierce parent is Alana Brussin, whose My Turn” op-ed titled Tying school success to vouchers is a sham was recently published by the Arizona Republic. Her piece highlights the reasons community district schools are the overwhelming choice of Arizona families, in spite of the best efforts of state leaders and other school privatization advocates.

Just as Mothers Against Drunk Driving turned the tide on the public’s acceptance of drinking and driving, I’m confident our fierce parents can turn the tide on the assault on community district schools and ultimately the students they serve. Every child deserves every opportunity to succeed and when that happens, we all succeed. It really is that simple.

When is a charter school a bad idea?

Hint: the answer is not,  “never.” It is a bad idea, according to education blogger Peter Green, “when charters disrupt and displace [district] public schools.” I would add that often, these district schools are the hubs of their communities so charters contribute to disrupting these communities as well.

Case in point is a new charter school (Legacy Traditional School) being built in Glendale, Arizona. Scheduled to open in time for the 2016/17 school year, the new campus will serve 1,200 K-8 students at the northeast corner of 67th Avenue and Thunderbird Road. Sounds good, right? Problem is, this school is being built within the boundaries of the Peoria Unified School District, within two miles of 10 of their “A” or “B” rated elementary schools (50 percent of PUSD’s schools are rated “A”, another 25 percent are rated “B.)  When PUSD has the capacity to serve the 1,200 students Legacy hopes to eventually attract, why is this school necessary, or even in the best interest of this community?When the charter school concept was first embraced back in 1988, it was as “a new kind of public school where teachers could experiment with fresh and innovative ways of reaching students.” In Cologne, Germany, Albert Shanker visited a public school where teachers made the critical decisions about what and how to teach and the school had students with a broad mix of abilities, family incomes, and ethnicity. He said charter schools could “reinvigorate the twin promises of American public education: to promote social mobility for working-class children and social cohesion among America’s increasingly diverse populations.” Shanker also believed charter schools should be unionized because of the critical role he believed unions played in democratic societies.

Unfortunately, today’s charter schools are an entirely different animal than Shanker envisioned. They are more autocratic (empowering management versus teachers) and more segregated (by race and income) than ever and only about 12 percent of charters provide their teachers union representation. No wonder an “astounding 24 percent of charter school teachers leave their school each year, double the rate of turnover in traditional public schools.”

They are now seen as “a vehicle for infusing competition and market forces into public education.” Whether intentionally or not, charters have served to re-segregate education to a level not seen since the 1960s. A side benefit for the corporate reformers was also no doubt, the weakening of teacher unions and therefore less democracy in our schools and communities. All this eventually brought us to where we are today. Instead of charter schools augmenting and serving as “laboratory partners to public schools”, they are now in direct competition for students and the dollars they bring. Make no mistake, today’s charters – whether they are for-profit or non-profit – are as much about making a profit, as they are about educating children.

What suffers from this “competition” mindset is the collaboration between schools, overall efficient and effective use of available education funding, the richness of the educational experience that truly diverse schools can bring, and the strong school climate vibrant teacher voices can bring. This diversity isn’t just valuable for our students of color, but for their white counterparts as well. Those students who’ve experienced more diversity will be more successful in the ever-increasingly global economy.

So, here we are. A brand new charter school is under construction, right in the middle of 10 excellent district schools with plenty of capacity. As Legacy Traditional School is a non-profit entity, I suspect the school is funded with a bond issued by the Phoenix Industrial Development Authority (quasi-private so the taxpayer is not on the hook.) Nonetheless, the Legacy charter will compete directly with PUSD for what are already too few maintenance and operation dollars. As for other for-profit charters, they’ll likely turn to SB 1531 signed into law during this year’s legislative session which, provides $100 million to provide collateral for lower interest rates on charter school project loans. When those charters default, Arizona taxpayers will get the bill. (Don’t even get me started on how the $100 million could have helped our district schools.) In either case, said Tracey Benson, of the Arizona School Boards Association, charter schools added will “build corporate assets – those held by privately operated charter schools – versus community assets – our local district public schools that add value to our cities and neighborhoods.”

I’m not a charter “hater”, I’ve seen some that serve a special niche and provide a valuable alternative. What I do hate is the narrative that charters are superior to district public education, that they ensure disadvantaged students have access to a “high-quality choice”, and that they save the state money…because that narrative is largely false. At the end of the day, over 80 percent of Arizona’s students attend district public schools and that should be our first priority for funding and support.

 

 

 

 

 

America Worst

On this Fourth of July, I find myself thinking about the future of our country and this year’s Presidential election. I won’t be worried if Hillary Clinton is elected; I believe she is uniquely qualified to lead our nation and will hit the ground running. As for the GOP presumptive nominee, Trump’s “America First” plan is better described as “America Worst.” He brags he will “make America great again, but his xenophobic, racist, isolationistic plan to do that will accomplish nothing of the sort and instead, exposes the worst about America. The dog-whistle phrases he repeats incessantly harken a return to a sort of white supremacy; a return to the “Father Knows Best” “good old days” as viewed by his supporters. What Trump and his supporters either don’t get, or don’t care to get, is that today’s global economy will never allow America to be both isolationistic and “great.”

One person who does “get it” is Secretary of Education John King. In a recent speech to the National PTA Convention in Orlando, Florida, he explained that in today’s working world, your boss may not look like you, your office-mate may not worship like you, your project teammates may not speak the same language as you, and your customer may not live on the same continent as you. “Today” he said, “cross-cultural literacy is another way of saying competitive advantage.” In other words, “diversity is no longer a luxury”, it is what will enable us to compete.

At the National School Boards Association Advocacy Institute last month, I was privileged to hear Secretary King in person. An orphan at age 12 and a product of New York City public schools, Secretary King knows first-hand what a difference opportunity can make. He was an impressive speaker and is obviously a passionate egalitarian, particularly when it comes to opportunities for our students. As articulated in a The Atlantic interview, “[diversity is] not just about trying to expand opportunities for low-income students, but really about our values as a country and to improve education outcomes for all students.”

Unlike Trump, Secretary King acknowledges the truth, that we can’t cut off America’s interaction with the rest of the world.  In fact, I’m fairly certain Trump doesn’t intend to pull all his overseas business ventures back — not his golf course and resort in Scotland, nor his seven hotels and as many Trump Towers all over the world; nor his clothing line manufacturing in China, Bangladesh, and Mexico. When questioned about why his shirts and ties were made in China, Trump said he’d love to make them here, but it costs too much. That’s right Donald, to maximize profits, you’ve gotta go where the labor is dirt cheap, the hell with unemployed American workers!

But I digress. The point I really wanted to make is that isolationism and segregation are two sides of the same coin. Just as pulling back and hiding within our own borders would hamper our business opportunities, our influence and our standing in the world, so does segregating our students by socio-economic and ethnicity hamper their abilities to function and succeed in the world. King calls it “being prepared for the diverse context in which we live and work.” After all, no matter how badly some wish our nation would return to a more homogenous (read “white”) population, it’s just not going to happen. Already, a full half of all K-12 students in the United States are “of color” and in Arizona, the Latin@ students in our schools are no longer a minority, but a majority. Not only does each of these children deserve the equal opportunity to succeed, but their white and/or more affluent peers need to learn how to relate to and co-exist with this majority.

The bottom line is that sticking our heads in the sand, sequestering our children with others just like them, constructing walls and closing borders is not a long-term strategy, it is kicking the can down the road. I suspect Trump actually understands this, but despite his claims that he is not a politician, he sure knows how to pander to his supporters. No matter how many times, or how loudly he touts it though, sticking our collective heads in the sand is not the way to make “America Great Again.”

We must remember what got us here in the first place: our democratic system of governance; our sense of fair play; and free, quality public education mandated for all.” These things don’t come cheap, but pI believe they are the reason the United States has been a beacon of opportunity for much of our existence. That’s why I believe America still is great with the caveat that we have much to fix if we want to stay that way. I also believe as citizens of this great country, we all have a duty to participate in the fixes. That participation can take many forms, but it cannot fall to just a few. Without the vast majority of us showing real concern and dedicated commitment to the common good, our UNITED States will not stay great. Without recognizing the potential in every child and promoting equal opportunity for them all, our nation will never be all that it can. A beacon of opportunity and an example of what’s possible when a people have control of their collective destiny.

Shining City on the Hill?

Yesterday, I was sitting on an American Airlines flight reflecting on my trip to our Nation’s Capitol. I was there to learn more about changes in federal laws impacting education, to network with other school board members from across the country and to advocate our members of Congress.

I had lived in D.C. twice previously, both times assigned there by the U.S. Air Force. This time though, I looked through a brand new lens. During my 22-year military career, I (appropriately) saw myself as a servant of the people. When I stood outside the White House grounds viewing the world’s most powerful leader’s residence, I felt a different call to duty. At that moment, I was reminded of our responsibility to ensure the right person sits in the Oval Office and is held accountable by each of us. Too much is at stake – from representing us to the rest of the world to controlling the launch of nuclear weapons. Not only do we have the right to vote, but a sacred duty to do so. Not primarily in our own interests, or to further our own ideology, but to ensure a more perfect union, a safer world, and a lasting legacy for all of our children.

To me, our visits to Capitol Hill highlighted the representative nature of our form of governance. At any given office we visited, there were often three groups in queue to advocate or lobby for their cause or industry. Sometimes those meetings were with the actual gracious lawmaker (as with Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick), but other times, we were relegated to a young staffer (as with Congressman Paul Gosar.) Either way, we and many others funneled through to influence and seek favors. But, since there will never be enough resources to accommodate all requests (many from opposite ends of the spectrum), winners and losers are assured and conflict is the natural by-product.

There were too, those visiting their nation’s Capitol to see democracy in action. Many of them school children with bar coded tour labels stuck to the front of their matching school logoed t-shirts. There was a man with a bullhorn whose message I didn’t quite get, but he was intent on exercising his first amendment rights even if no one cared to listen. I also noticed the youth that defines so many of those who live and work in the city. It occurred to me that although the average age of those in the U.S. Senate is 61 years old, the daily grind of running our country is in the hands of those with enough energy to meet the challenge.

So, what’s my takeaway? Am I more or less hopeful for the future? Guess I have to say I’m still somewhere in between. Spending time with fellow school board members – “volunteer” elected officials from around the country who had made the trip to D.C. to fight for their students – made be optimistic. Hearing their stories of the on-going war against public education in their states highlighted the hard fight still ahead. The countless young people everywhere I looked, made me optimistic. But, so were there signs everywhere that the world is becoming more dangerous by the minute with bollards, fences, metal detectors and armed law enforcement officers around every corner. Going to see the Senate in session, only to find them departed by the time I worked my way through all the security checkpoints, reminded me of a quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.”

The one thing I know for sure after my visit is that our democracy is sacred and must be safeguarded. President-Elect John F. Kennedy quoted John Winthrop in 1961 when he said: “We must always consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill – the eyes of all people are upon us.” I don’t think it is too extreme a stretch to say this year’s presidential election could decide whether that shine returns to its original luster, or is forever tarnished. It really is up to each of us, let’s hope we are up to the challenge.

Our Nation Hangs in the Balance

Nine months ago, it was virtually impossible to imagine Donald Trump as the apparent nominee of any political party in the United States, let alone that of a major one. Yet here we are. And although I understand the seething sentiments behind his rise, I am still incredulous that his “shtick” has actually worked.

I recently had a conversation with my Dad about whom he was going to vote for in the primary. When he told me Trump, it took me back a little, but then I delved a little deeper. My Dad was a Green Beret and still lives, eats, and breathes his military service. When I asked him what he thought about Trump saying he would “force the U.S. military to commit war crimes”, he responded with “oh he’s just spouting off.”

This statement made me realize that there really is no making sense of those who vote for Trump. They like how he speaks his mind, but then when he goes overboard, they chalk it up to Trump being Trump (boys will be boys.) They like his toughness, so much so that those who have been abused at campaign rallies actually draw the ire of Trump supporters. They eat up the nonsense he spouts off because they want to believe America can return to a “simpler” timed.

At 84 years of age, my Dad has a solidly middle-class quality of life that is much better than he could have envisioned as a young man. Despite that, I suspect he longs for the “good old days” portrayed in Leave it to Beaver and the Andy Griffith show. Yes, life was simpler then and the American Dream was very much alive (at least for some people.) The truth is though, no matter who gets elected President, America will never be going back to those days. Our country is less homogenous and more complex than ever and that trend will only continue.

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” this morning, the director, Rob Reiner, said of Trump: “The words that have been flung out from his mouth are insane. If he was not a celebrity, if Donald Trump was not a celebrity, the words that come out of his mouth, you’d see a guy in a park, a lunatic in a park on a soapbox, and you’d walk right by him. But the fact that he is a celebrity, all of a sudden, we’re all interested.” (I actually think it also has to do with him being very wealthy.)

Then, when one of the show’s regulars, Willie Geist, basically asked how Reiner explains all the millions and millions of people who like what they hear from Trump and are voting for him? Reiner said “Well, there are a lot of people who are racist.”

Much has been made of the shocked reaction of the hosts and regulars to Reiner’s comment because after all, any reasonable person could easily conclude not only are some of Trump’s supporters racist, but that he himself is both a racist and a mysogynist. Trump is the one who said:

He also by the way, was the only presidential candidate endorsed by David Duke of the KKK.

The real shocker is that any thinking person would be remotely surprised that Trump is referred to as a racist, and I applaud Rob Reiner for saying what others haven’t. Reiner should “know one if he sees one” after all, he played Archie Bunker’s “Meathead” son-in-law on “All in the Family” for seven years. Come to think of it, Archie Bunker’s world is probably a place many of Trump’s supporters would like to revisit. Communities were less diverse, women didn’t work outside the home and deferred to their husbands, and political correctness wasn’t even a term yet.

The really depressing thing for me about the Trump candidacy is not the candidate himself; he’s just one delusional narcissist. What most has me down about the Trump phenomena is how many people have bought into his bullshit hook, line and sinker. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that all Trump supporters are bad people. Many of them are probably just people who have been dealt some hard knocks in life and are tired of things not getting better. It is scary though that even if Trump loses, his supporters will still be around and they’ll likely be even more angry and vocal. This will pose a problem for the next president to deal with. We certainly don’t need a country more polarized than it is now.

In the final analysis though, those who truly believe Trump is the answer are probably on the fringe. Most of us know that no president has the power to fix all that ails us and ultimately we need a steady hand at the helm. Who shows up to vote though, will determine what the future holds. It brings to mind the Thomas Jefferson quote “We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”

I’m advocating that for the November elections, you commit to voting and that you get one new voter to the polls. I’m calling it #YouPlusOne. The future of our nation likely hangs in the balance.

Living in La-La Land?

Not one to give up on any ALEC-concocted or promoted government shrinking effort, AZ Senator Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, managed to gain traction this week on her latest version of this year’s voucher expansion. The zombie voucher expansion effort was resurrected when it became apparent the House couldn’t pass its original version to make every AZ student eligible.  HB 2482 stalled due to public outcry over lawmakers trying to settle the inflation funding lawsuit with a reduced payment via Prop. 123, while siphoning even more away from public schools with the proposed total expansion of vouchers.

“To the rescue”, rides Senator Lesko, the Arizona ALEC Chair, with her bill, SB-1279. Introduced as a “strike-everything” bill, it was fast-tracked for consideration and met the Appropriations versus the Education Committee to no doubt provide some cover for the contentious bill. Instead of full expansion, Lesko’s bill settles for expansion to free- or reduced lunch program eligibility which for a family of four translates to an annual income of no more than $44,863. The bill passed on an 8-5 vote.

In that the voucher is only worth $5,400 and the average cost of private school tuition is Arizona is about $10,000, it is highly unlikely that those lower on the socio-economic scale will be lining up anytime soon to ditch their district schools. Rather, Lesko’s bill serves to again chip away at the foundation of our public school system and yes, the very core of our democracy.

To my point, Representative Rick Gray, R-Sun City, was quoted by Howard Fischer as saying that it is wrong to look at how the legislation will affect public schools. ” it really comes down to that child, and what’s best for that child” he said. What a crock of BS! Gray is saying that state legislation shouldn’t be concerned with how it affects the largest portion of the state budget and the 900,000 district school students it provides for? That’s like a U.S. Congressman saying that federal legislation regarding the military shouldn’t be concerned with its affect on national defense, but rather on the individual soldier. The soldier might appreciate the consideration, but the misplaced focus would no doubt weaken our ability to defend our Nation.

These efforts aren’t about the individual child, or even children in general. What they are about is shrinking the government and reducing the ability of the people to participate in their democracy. Our Tea-publican Legislature won’t be happy until they have total control over every aspect of an extremely limited government which is all about keeping them in power and making their wealthy supporters even more wealthy. That’s the real bottom line and anyone who believes otherwise is living in La-La Land.

 

Winners and Losers

Donald Trump likes to talk about winners and losers, mostly that he’s a winner and that pretty much everybody else is a loser. It seems his definition of a winner is someone who is bold, strong, and of course, successful in business. Of course there are many who question whether he really is the “yuuuuge” business success he claims, but at the very least, he has made himself appear successful.

Of course, we know that things are not always how they first appear.  Trump may appear to be strong, decisive and ready to “Make America Great Again” but he truly has not offered one viable solution to do that. Take K-12 education for example. The only plan he has voiced is to rid us of Common Core (something he wouldn’t have the power to do.)  Given his focus on business, I’m guessing “The Donald’s” plan for education involves making our students commodities to be traded on the open market; where for-profit schools compete for the spoils and students are turned into winners and losers.

Problem is, I don’t think the American public really wants a “winners and losers” outcome from our public education system. Rather, I believe the vast majority want first, their child to be a “winner” and then, for all children to have the opportunity to win. Most of us recognize it behooves us all to ensure we keep all students “in the game” and moving toward the goal line.

Of course there are many who aren’t losing as a result of the corporate reform movement of public education. There are those who are profiting from the semi-or full privatization of K-12 education, a $700 billion market in the U.S. There are state legislators who would deflect their responsibility for educating the state’s children by encouraging parents to give up their child’s right to public education so they can use the voucher system. There are also parents who are wealthy enough to send their children to private schools on their own dime, but are happy to take our money (tax dollars) and pocket their own.

The bottom line if we continue to allow a system of education that produces winners and losers, is that we all lose. There is a significant cost to our society whenever a student does not succeed in school and it is a cost we likely bear in one form or another for the entire life of that student. Only when all students regardless of socio-economic status, graduate ready to become productive citizens of our democracy do we all win. In this time of “it’s all about me and mine” it would serve us best to remember we really are “all in this together.”

 

The color of accountability

I wasn’t surprised by The Republic’s recent findings that during the 2015-16 school year, the vast majority of funding ($20.6 million) for vouchers was taken from public schools rated A or B, but only $6.3 million was taken from schools rated C or D. I’d previously seen a statistic that in 2012, about 92 percent of students taking advantage of the voucher (Empowerment Scholarship Account) program would have attended private schools anyway regardless of voucher availability. Let’s face it; this was never about helping the poor, disadvantaged minority child. The reality is that vouchers were never for poorer Arizonans who can’t cover the average private-school tuition costs of $10,421 when a voucher provides only $5,200.

And yet, the AZ Legislature is pushing two bills to fully open the floodgates on voucher availability, making every student in Arizona eligible for vouchers for homeschooling, tutoring, private school, or to save for college. This, despite the fact that there is little accountability in the program. Yes, recipients must provide quarterly reports of their spending, but DOE staffing for oversight is reportedly insufficient and the schooling options that vouchers pay for have no responsibility for reporting any kind of results. The taxpayer then, has no way to determine return on investment.

Here’s where I start to get confused. The GOP nay, Teapublican-led Arizona Legislature, loves to tout the need for accountability of taxpayer dollars. They are great however, at picking and choosing their targets for applying this accountability. [Please read on, this post isn’t really about vouchers.]

In 2015 for example, Representative Mark Finchem, R-LD11, basically accused both the Phoenix Union High School (PUHSD) and Tucson Unified (TUSD) school districts of using desegregation (deseg) funding for purposes other than what they were intended for. TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez said he was not aware of any misuse, citing the fact that there is a strict review process for every deseg dollar spent. In fact, oversight of this funding is provided by the plaintiffs in a deseg suit against the district, the DOJ, a federal judge and the special master, a deseg expert overseeing the district’s efforts all get to weight in on how deseg funds can be used. Finchem though was undeterred and demanded forensic audits that the schools would have to pay for because “these are taxpayer dollars and we want to make sure those dollars are being spent wisely, that they’re not being misappropriated. And I think that’s an obligation this body has to see to it that those dollars are spent that way.”

Fortunately, SB 1120 failed. Senator Steve Farley, D-LD9, who had a child in TUSD, said, “Finchem represents no part of the Tucson Unified School District.” Finchem never took the time to discuss the issue first with Sanchez, meet with district officials or review audits already done according to Farley.

So, why don’t AZ Legislators care about accountability when it comes to vouchers, but are all over it when it comes to desegregation funds? Could it just have something to do with the socio-economic status and color of most voucher (private school) students versus those who are beneficiaries of deseg funds? Just sayin’…

I must admit I hadn’t really taken the time to learn the details about deseg funding (my district doesn’t get any) until a recent email exchange with Representative Vince Leach, R-LD11. In his email, he intimated that “districts continue to violate civil rights after billions of dollars have been spent to fix the problem” and asked, “Where is the accountability in that?” Again, that whole accountability thing. Yet, when I asked him to please vote no on the voucher expansion, citing in part the lack of accountability, he said “I think you know I am going to vote for them.”

So yes, I took the time to learn more about desegregation funding. The issue dates back to at least 1974 when two families filed separate lawsuits against TUSD and the court found TUSD “had acted with segregative intent” and failed to fix the problem. In 1979, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) launched an investigation against PUHSD and a lawsuit was filed in 1982 for allegedly engaging in segregation practices. Problems were also found in the Tempe Elementary School District to include deliberately segregating minority and non-English speaking students, assigning minority teachers to the district’s poorest schools and placing a disproportionate number of English language learners in special education classrooms. Schools in wealthier parts of the District also had full-day kindergarten, nurses and librarians, but the others did not.

In 1985, Arizona enacted legislation to allow districts under federal court orders or OCR agreements to bring racial and ethnic balance to their schools and provide equal access to high quality education, to levy property taxes above their revenue control limit. As a result, those districts were able to levy a limited amount of higher local property taxes without voter approval. Although there were some problems along the way, in 2005, PUHSD gained “unitary status” followed by TUSD in 2009. This status meant that these districts had formally fulfilled their desegregation court order. Plaintiffs in the TUSD suit disagreed the problem was fixed, filed an appeal of the District’s unitary status designation and in 2011; the Appeals Court reversed the decision and appointed a highly paid special master (in Massachusetts) to help TUSD develop a new “road map.” This road map outlines required activities including student assignment, transportation, faculty and staff assignment, quality of education, discipline, family engagement, access to facilities and technology and transparency and accountability.

There are now 19 school districts with almost 250,000 students (about 23% of the total) around Arizona that receive $211 million for racial and ethnic discrimination remediation (unchanged since 2009.) Since 1986, the total comes to $4.3 billion, with 97 percent going to Phoenix and Tucson Schools. Only PUHSD and TUSD actually receive “desegregation funding”, the other 16 districts have administrative agreements with OCR. Two bills in the AZ Legislature, seek to reduce and eventually eliminate all this funding (within 5 years for those with OCR agreements and 10 years for those in unitary status.) SB 1125 (a follow-on to last session’s unsuccessful 1371), sponsored by AZ Senator Debbie Lesko, R-LD21, passed by the Senate Finance committee on 2/11/16 and claims state property tax rate caps require the general fund to make up some $23 million in 2015 in desegregation funding garnered at the local level. HB 2401 sponsored by Representatives Vince Leach and Mark Finchem is a companion bill which has been retained on the calendar as of 2/23/16.

Of her bill, Lesko said “That’s money from all over the state that shouldn’t just go to a couple districts.” She thinks that rather then relying on deseg funding, districts should ask voters to approve budget overrides. According to the Senate Fact Sheet for SB1125 however, although the state funded this “cap gap” through FY 2015, the Legislature has now capped the state’s cost of the 1 percent cap program to $1 million per county, i.e., the state passed on a portion of the cost for the gap to the counties (who must then pass these costs on to the taxpayer.) Irrespective of the caps however, affected districts contend they would be violating a federal agreement and a lawsuit will ensue if the funding is discontinued. Additionally, according to a recent analysis by The Republic, districts receiving desegregation funding did not spend more per pupil than all others in 2014. This is because there are many different funding sources for schools including varying amounts of federal dollars, bonds and overrides.

For PUHSD, the largest in the state with over 27,000 students, the loss of deseg funding would translate to about $53 million and would require closing four high schools with a loss of 702 teaching and staff jobs (estimates put the state-wide loss of jobs at about 2,500.) The superintendent, Dr. Chad Gestson, says, “The proposed elimination of desegregation funding is simply a huge tax cut on the backs of our poorest students.” He goes on to say that the ramifications go beyond public education and will affect property values, crime rates, reduced tax base, more burden on the city, county and state and a lower quality of life. Superintendent Robbie Koerperich of Holbrook Unified School District says “we all deserve it…we [shouldn’t] bring Holbrook [down] to the same level as similar school districts, but we should fund the other districts to bring them up.”

Proponents of the funding however say the results speak for themselves with the graduation rate at PUHSD at 80 percent up from 55 percent 15 years ago. Same thing with dropout rates that went from 15 percent over 20 years ago to 3.4 percent today. The Districts grads are also earning more scholarships for college than only six years ago, $50 million now, versus $13 million then.

The $211 million currently spent in deseg funding works out to an average of $844 per student. The question we should be asking isn’t “is it unfair for the 19 districts under deseg orders or with OCR agreements to receive this funding”, but what is the appropriate level of funding for all our students. Arizona k-12 education saw the highest cuts in per pupil funding in the Nation from 2008 to 2014 and to move up to even 45th place, we would need to spend $1 billion more, or almost $950 per pupil. Of course, other than the badly needed Prop 123 monies, our Legislature isn’t talking about education plus-ups, only cuts. (Sorry, but the recent restoration of all but $2 million of JTED funding doesn’t count, that was just about rectifying the bad decision made in last year’s budget.)

To the Arizona Legislature I say, the voters are waking up to your pretension that you give a damn about All Arizona’s children. To the voters, I say NOTHING speaks louder than your vote.