Sine Freakin’ Die Already, Why Don’t Ya?

4EC2FB45-63F4-42DD-AE2A-C4B9A3A2348DEver since becoming involved in Arizona public education in 2012, I’ve heard people ask “why don’t teachers stand up for themselves?” Well, they aren’t asking that now. At about 6 am this morning, Governor Ducey signed the K-12 portion of the Arizona budget into law. It doesn’t contain everything educators wanted, but it contains much more than it would have without the brave, collective action of Arizona teachers.

Here’s a quick summary of some of the key elements of the approved budget with my comments or additional facts, interspersed:
– Increases the base level in FY2019 by a 1.8% inflation increase ($276.80) to $3,960.07 (without teacher compensation).
– Provides for an increase to teacher compensation of $176.2M in FY2019, $164.7M in FY2020, and $124.4M in FY2021.
— Keep in mind that FY2020 and FY2021 are “advance appropriations” which basically means a “promise” made now that future Legislatures are asked to keep.
— And because of the way the funding will flow to districts, Dr. Anabel Aportela, director of research for the Arizona School Boards Association and the Arizona Association of School Business Officials says, “it’s going to be difficult to show that every single teacher received a 9 percent raise,” this year, or a 20 percent raise by 2020. Likewise, an “initial analysis by The Arizona Republic, based on figures provided to the Arizona Auditor General by school districts, shows that 59 districts would not receive enough funding to give all teachers a 20 percent pay raise.”
– Requires districts and charters to post compensation data on their websites and ADE to compile this info and submit to Legislature and Governor.
— Local control means governing boards make the decisions they were elected to make and I believe they will have no problem standing behind their decisions.
— This requires more transparency of charters, and that’s a good thing.
– Requires ADE to reduce the formula suspension for district additional assistance (DAA) statewide by $100M in FY2019 and $64.4M each year thereafter.
— In other words, begin to restore 85% in cuts to capital funding made by AZ lawmakers since 2009.
— Exempts districts with a student count of fewer than 1,100 students from any DAA reductions, providing them 100% of DAA allocation in FY2019.
– Restores Charter School Additional Assistance (CAA) to full formula funding by FY2022 and increases it by 1.77% for the annual inflation adjustment with no increase to the DAA formula.
– Continues to exclude charter schools from procurement rules designed to ensure maximum competition, contract award to lowest qualified bidder, and that a contractor has a valid license to practice in Arizona.
— This is, in my opinion, is fiscally irresponsible. We should be demanding more transparency and accountability from all institutions that receive taxpayer dollars, not less.
– Increases the State Support Level per Route Mile for FY2018 by 1.77% for the required inflation adjustment.
– Requires each district to prominently post on its website home page a copy of its profile pages that displays the percentage of every dollar spent in the classroom by that district from the most recent status report issued by the Auditor General.
— Note that charter schools, although they are required to conduct audits, get to choose their auditors and the resulting information is not included in the AZ Auditor General schools efficiency report as it is for district schools.
— Also, note there is still a disconnect between what the Auditor General counts as classroom spending and the broader definition used by the governor, Legislature and Arizona public school leaders shows support for the classroom is holding steady. An infographic by AZEdNews illustrates the disconnect.
– Appropriated in FY 2018, $4,145,600 to ADE for the school safety program compared to $3,646,500 in FY 2017. The program will now be repealed on December 31, 2019 instead of December 31, 2018.
– Establishes the Computer Science Program Fund under ADE who will distribute grants on a first come first serve basis to schools that do not currently provide high school computer science instruction.
– Terminates the Schools Facilities Board (SFB) on July 1, 2022 and repeals AZ statutes relating to the SFB.
— It is important to note that the SFB was established in response to a 1994 court decision that found “Arizona’s system of school capital finance unconstitutional because it failed to conform to the state constitution’s “general and uniform” clause. That system relied on the secondary property tax, driven by the property wealth of a school district, and general obligation bonding. In 1996, the Arizona Superior Court imposed on the state a deadline of June 30, 1998 to develop a constitutional system of school capital finance or risk closure of K-12 public schools. On July 9, 1998 Governor Jane Dee Hull signed legislation that dramatically reformed the way K-12 schools are constructed in Arizona. This ended the four-year legal and legislative battle and established Arizona as the nation’s school finance reform leader. This legislation/law is known as Students FIRST (Fair and Immediate Resources for Students Today). On November 18, 1999, the Board adopted Building Adequacy Guidelines that now serve as the minimum standards for existing and new school facilities in Arizona.”
— It is also important to note that 24 years later, education groups have been forced to sue the state again, for capital funding, (now called District Additional Funding), that has been cut 85% since 2009.

Four Arizona Education Association (AEA) and Arizona Educators United (AEU) demands that were not funded, include:
– Cap class size at 25 students per classroom
– Define “Teacher” as: any non-administrative personnel who teaches students or supports student academic achievement as defined by the school district governing board or charter school governing body including, but not limited to nurses, counselors, social workers, psychologists, speech pathologists, librarians and academic interventionists.
– Cap student-to-counselor ratio at 250:1
– Provide student support services personnel a 10% increase equal to the teacher pay proposal, which should also go into base level, and be paid for by tax conformity.

Of the failure to meet these demands, Joe Thomas, president of Arizona Education Association said,

While this bill moves the needle, it still does not go far enough. It does not restore the more than $1 billion taken from our students and it leaves out school support staff like counselors, bus drivers, librarians, and many more who are vital to the success of our students. The truth is that this budget is far from perfect. Lawmakers brokered it behind closed doors as a partisan deal, without input from us. We were not able to change the minds of lawmakers, so the next step will be to change the faces of our lawmakers.

The elephant still in the room (pun intended), is whether the revenue sources identified, make this budget deal sustainable, especially in future years. According to Tucson.com,

Republicans spurned several proposals to raise more money to ensure that there will not only be the dollars for future promised teacher pay raises but to finance some of the other priorities and restore per-student funding back to at least 2008 levels. That included phasing out some tax exemptions and eliminating the ability of individuals and corporations to divert some of what they owe in state income taxes to help children attend private and parochial schools.

For his part, Governor Ducey said in an email that,

The budget does not compromise essential state services to accommodate our teacher pay package. It maintains the state’s commitment to fund developmental disabilities, skilled nurses, Medicaid, critical access hospitals [sic], the arts, food banks, Alzheimer’s research and higher education. It accomplishes all of this, without raising taxes on hardworking Arizonans.

All I can say is, “for my next act, I’ll pull a rabbit out of a hat.”

About the time I was finishing this post, the Legislature was reconvening for what should be their last meeting of this session. One can only hope, so that we can all breath a collectively sigh of relief. Unfortunately, their havoc wreaking is likely not yet done. Sources say Senator Yarborough is still looking to push through his SB 1467 which would increase eligibility for private school tax credits via School Tuition Organizations and therefore drain more funding from our public schools. These same sources predict an end run to repeal SB 1467, signed into law last year, which provided for the full expansion of vouchers. I don’t know for sure what GOP lawmakers’ motivation is here, but there can be no doubt that Prop. 305, (the initiative brought by the SOS AZ’s amazing petition signature collection effort last year), if it is on the ballot, will bring even more pro-public education voters (many of whom are Democratic), to the ballot box. It will be really interesting to see just how much disdain this Legislature has for their bosses — you know — Arizona voters.

On one more final note, I don’t agree entirely with Joe Thomas that he and the 50,000+ teachers that marched on the AZ Capitol were “not able to change the minds of lawmakers”. I think they, and other education advocates did make an impact, but years of free reign have calcified lawmakers’ unwillingness to bend to the people’s will. But, as Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Or, said another way, “karma’s a bitch”. Joe is definitely right that, “the next step will be to change the faces of our lawmakers.” It is in my opinion, the only step that will make a lasting positive change.

 

 

The voters won’t forget!

Jon Gabriel, (editor-in-chief of right-wing blog “Richochet.com”), in his “My Turn” on AZCentral.com titled, Gabriel: If Arizona teachers strike now, it’s a war against parents, not politicians, on was right. The voters won’t forget who’s responsible for the teacher walkout. But, I predict it won’t be the teachers they hold responsible. Arizona voters know that it is our lawmakers who have systematically underfunded our public schools over the last decade, creating an almost one billion dollar shortage each year, even after the Prop. 123 settlement.

Voters also know, that district capital funds (used for facility repair and maintenance and to purchase big ticket items such as buses and technology) have been cut 85 percent over that same time. And voters definitely know that we have the lowest paid teachers in the nation. That is one of the primary reasons that four months into the 2017-18 school year, we had 1,968 classrooms without a teacher and another 3,403 with people who aren’t trained to be teachers. 

Arizona voters are behind our teachers not only with words and honks of support, but deeds. All across our state, parents, family and community members, civic organizations, school boards members, district staffs, and yes, teachers, have worked hard to provide viable options for families to deal with school closures. 

From Boys & Girls Clubs, to YMCAs, to skeletal crews in schools, to expanded before and after school programs, to city programs, to churches, to food banks, to museums and animal rescue groups; our communities have stepped in to ensure the health and welfare of children. In Tempe for example, the city’s “Kid Zone”, a before and after-school program, operated all day during the teacher walkout. Likewise, with volunteer District teachers and staff, Mesa Public Schools opened four community centers to provide breakfast, lunch and free, supervised activities for children from kindergarten through the sixth grade. In southern Arizona, the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona delivered backpacks of food to high-need students, and the Sierra Vista Unified School District, teachers and support staff met at the Mall at the Sierra Vista food court to grade papers and tutor students. 

Businesses around the state, such as recreation outlets, dance and martial arts centers, aquariums, sports centers, and grocery stores, have also jumped on-board, offering child supervision, recreation or a limited supply of basic food items. Some businesses, even welcomed employee’s children at work sites and offered flexible schedules to parents.

teachersArizonans are behind the teachers because they know this walkout is not about them, but rather the one million students they serve. We know that teacher working conditions are student learning conditions and that the average teacher spends on average, $500 out of their own pocket each year (some much more), to make those learning conditions as positive as they can. We also know even though quality teachers are the number one in-school factor contributing to student success, they can’t do it on their own. All the staff in a school contribute to a child’s development and education. Finally, we know that despite the fact we overwhelmingly support the better funding of our public schools, our lawmakers are intent on promoting vouchers, tax cuts and tax credits, that continue to divert our tax dollars away from that priority. 

Hate to sound like a broken record, but there really is only one way to ensure our public schools and their dedicated teachers are truly valued. We must elect legislators that, well…value them!

Note: I submitted this to the AZ Republic, but it was not published.

If it sounds too good to be true…

Okay, so maybe Governor Ducey and the Legislature really are trying to solve the problem. You know, the one they, and those before them, created by pushing tax cuts, corporate welfare, and school privatization. But, it is REALLY hard to have the faith, when they throw out words like “advance-appropriated.” As in, “we can’t give you all 20 percent right now teachers, so we are going to advance-appropriate it in the next two budgets.”

I googled “advance-appropriate” and got nothing on the first page of search results. On the second page, there was a report from the New America Foundation titled, “Advance Appropriations: A Needless and Confusing Education Budget Technique.”

The New America Foundation appears to be fairly non-partisan with a vision that includes, “Equitable, accessible high-quality education and training over a lifetime”, “A society that promotes economic opportunity for all”, and “Equal representation in politics and participation in accountable governance.” Its Board of Directors includes New York Times Op-Ed Columnist David Brooks, ASU President Michael Crow, and many others from business, higher-education, and journalism.

Their report on advance appropriations referenced above, discusses the practice of this funding mechanism in Congress, and calls such a, “rarely understood budgeting approach that shifts funding into the fiscal year following the year covered by the appropriations process.”

In the report’s summary on the first page, it states that,

Advance appropriations add complexity to the education funding process and are of no practical benefit to recipients…Congress should end advance appropriations for education programs by providing a one-time funding shift that moves advances back a fiscal year so that they align with the current funding cycle. A new scoring rule to prevent future advances should also be enacted. The combined effect will reduce complexity and increase transparency in the federal education budget process. Such a change does not increase or decrease education funding. But it does promote transparency, simplicity and clear decision-making in federal education budget matters.

Likewise, the Government Accountability Office’s Glossary of Terms Used in the Federal Budget Process states,

The use of the advance appropriations technique makes it difficult to assess the actual level of funding…because the program is funded in three pieces…Education advance appropriations also make it difficult to compare spending to the rest of the federal budget, because virtually all programs funded through appropriations receive only one regular appropriation.

Fast forward to yesterday and Arizona Capitol Reports writing that,

The budget appears to fix what has been a source of contention among teachers who worried that the raises promised in future years would never materialize. To ensure that teacher pay raises in future years get funded, the raise money will be advance-appropriated. The budget advance appropriates the five-percent raises in FY20 and FY21, an allocation that could only be reversed if a future Legislature votes to take the raises out of the budget. The $371 million that Ducey promised in district additional assistance is also advance-appropriated in the proposed budget.

Call me cynical, but what’s the difference between “advance-appropriated” and “a promise”. The statement above, that “an allocation that could only be reversed if a future Legislature votes to take the raises out of the budget” doesn’t provide me much peace of mind. After all, our Legislature routinely approves budgets at the last-minute, in the dead of night, to provide the least amount of transparency possible. And, even when we have laws that provide dedicated funding to education, they have managed to refuse to pay in accordance with the law – Prop. 301 inflation funding (that resulted in Prop. 123) ring a bell?

This latest workaround to the REAL solution – finding or creating new, dedicated, sustainable funding for K–12 education, isn’t the only such shell game obfuscating the truth. You may have heard that even with the state trust lands money Prop. 123 delivered, our districts are still funded at almost one billion less per year than in 2008. What you may not have heard, is that for the past decade, the state has rolled over each year’s final K–12 payment of $930 million to the next fiscal year. The Grand Canyon Institute (GCI) reported in its January 2018 report titled: “The State of the State Budget 2018: The Revenue Systems is Broken” that,

The lack of revenue resources means the state will likely enter the next recession with this rollover still on the books.” The report goes on to say, “With dollars extremely tight, the state has been unable to allocate funds to eliminate rollovers, so continues the $930 million K–12 rollover whereby the last payment of the past fiscal year is rolled over into the next one. This rollover represents 9.5 percent of the General Fund expenditures, more than three times as large as the use of rollovers in FY2008…The rollover is twice as large as the budget stabilization fund of $460 million – and consequently hides a significant ongoing deficit.” When the General Fund per capita real dollars (the state now has only $3 for every $4 it had in 2007), and the rollovers as a % of the General Fund are combined, Arizona is not running a balanced budget, but a deficit of “$5 billion ($1 billion in rollovers and $4 billion in lost revenue not recovered since FY2007 – half of the General Fund).

These funding schemes may work in good times, but what happens when the inevitable downturn arrives and the bills come due? Don’t think we want to take out a second mortgage on the Capitol buildings sold and leased back at a considerable cost to the state under Jan Brewer’s reign. It is way beyond time that our Governor and Legislature give up on the gimmicks and make the tough decisions to truly deliver for the people of Arizona. That is, oh by the way, what REAL LEADERS do. ASU economists have credited 90 percent of the state’s decline in revenue on tax reductions and analysis by GCI shows that the reliance on trickle-down as a viable economic policy has not produced the jobs promised. “Actual state employment growth” writes GCI, “has lagged below the ”natural growth“ estimated by the JLBC in 2011 [with the New Employment Tax Credit]…Arizona’s employment performance here is far less with about one-third of the actual employment growth actually translating into jobs being eligible for the tax credit.”

Unfortunately, Governor Ducey and this Legislature, seem blind to the truth and unwilling to do what needs to be done. Just think back if you will, to May 2017, when AZ education advocacy groups were fighting for 4 percent for the teachers and were told 1 percent was all the state could afford. How can we now, without ANY new revenue, afford 20 percent? Reminds me of that old saying, “if it sounds too good to be true…”

The Perfect Haboob

There are a lot of unique things about living in Arizona and our storms rank near the top. I know, I know, people who don’t live here are thinking what storms, thought it is always sunny and hot? Well, there is that, but we also have our crazy monsoon rains and wild walls of dust called “haboobs”, an Arabic word meaning “blown”.

According to Arizona’s ABC15.com, “Haboobs are giant walls of dust created from high winds rushing out of a collapsing thunderstorm. Cold air in front of the storm rushes down at an incredible rate, picking up massive amounts of dust and sand and blowing them into the air.” A 2011 haboob in Phoenix, was almost a mile tall and stretched across the entire valley, over 50 miles long. These storms can stretch as far as 100 miles wide and are dangerous not only to drive in, but to just be outside in, as rocks and debris thrown around by winds of up to 50 mph can be dangerous, and bad air quality causes many people difficult breathing.

What’s going on with public education right now in Arizona feels a lot like that. First of all, our Governor and Legislature have turned a cold shoulder to the crisis facing our teachers and the districts they serve. The assault on our public schools has been fast-paced and fueled by out-of-state monied interests like the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity and Betsy DeVos’ American Federation for Children, despite overwhelming support for our public schools from Arizonans. And, all of this serves to obscure the real truth, which is that the focus on tax cuts and the push to privatize, are draining our public schools of available resources, making it very difficult for them to “catch their breath” and make the strides our state needs.

So, the big question at the beginning of this Legislative session was whether SOS AZ’s voter initiative would make it on the ballot. A couple of court decisions later and it looks like yes, it will. Of course, the Legislature might still repeal and even try to replace, the law that fully expanded vouchers last year (although that effort seems overcome by other events for now). There is also the possibility that the Prop. 305 (the name of the initiative), might be left on the ballot so that a Koch Brothers’ backed effort can produce the first-ever win on vouchers at the ballot box. This of course, would set them up for a full-court, across the country, privatization sweep. Either way, our mighty warriors at SOS AZ have vowed they “will continue to fight for public education because in order to have a strong state, we need strong schools.” Amen!

The second major issue for AZ public education was the decision by a Federal judge, that the funding plan for Prop. 123 to increase aid to schools from additional withdrawals of state trust lands money, was unconstitutional. Remember that? Can you believe that was announced just a month ago?

Changes made at the Federal level may fix the problem going forward, but whether the state must repay at least $344 million into the state trust lands is yet to be decided. Arizona has pushed back on the Federal ruling, but this fight is a long way from over and may even require the issue to go back to the voters according to former State Treasurer Jeff Dewitt. When it first aired, this was big news, but just as a haboob can blot out the sun, it’s been totally eclipsed by subsequent events.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, Arizona education groups had been working for some time on a plan to get new funding for our schools. They looked at a variety of potential solutions, including sales and income tax increases, and the elimination of tax credits and loopholes. The effort was largely sidelined though (at least temporarily) when the wave of teacher strikes, from West Virginia, to Kentucky, to Oklahoma, finally hit the shores of Arizona.

With teacher salaries at the bottom of the barrel, a Governor and GOP-led Legislature prioritizing corporate welfare over adequately funding our schools, and a kick-ass #RedForEd movement in the news, it was only a matter of time before AZ educators said “no más”. They began to organize as Arizona Educators United, and made their demands, (including a 20% pay raise for teachers), known.

In a presumed attempt to head them off at the pass, Governor Ducey announced a 20% teacher pay raise and $100 million to [begin to] restore District Additional Assistance (capital funding). But his plan, writes the Phoenix New Times, includes no new state revenue, relying on overly optimistic revenue forecasts according to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee who says it could result in a $300 million budget shortfall. This, coupled with the other unaddressed demands, pushed 78% of 57,000 (out of 60,000) teachers to vote to walkout on April 26th.

Fast forward to yesterday, when AZ Representative Noel Campbell, Republican, LD 1, announced “he will introduce a budget amendment – whenever Republican legislative leaders introduce a budget – for a three-year, 1-cent education sales tax increase.” His plan would raise $880 million in new revenue and required the state restore full funding for kindergarten, but also requires approval by two-thirds of the Legislature and the Governor.

Although in favor raising new revenue, AZ Dem legislative leaders made it clear yesterday that they do not support it coming in the form of an increase in sales tax. In a letter to Governor Ducey they wrote, “We should consider broadening the sales tax base for certain services, reversing decades of unproductive, revenue draining tax cuts for the wealthiest Arizonans, closing tax loopholes, and at a minimum capping tax credits that divert state revenues away from neighborhood public schools and into private schools.” The letter went on to say that, “These and other options – including federal tax conformity – are available and would more fairly and equitably restore the cuts to education and bring our educator pay to parity with our neighboring states.”

Ultimately, no matter what happens between now and our Primary election on August 26th, and the General on November 6th, Arizona’s voters will have the final say. My most sincere hope is that they will use that say to elect candidates at all levels, who understand education is an investment, not an expense. Candidates who understand that quality companies care about more than a tax credit, they want quality schools for their employee’s children, they want an educated workforce and they want modern, well-maintained infrastructure. Candidates who understand that they work for the people, ALL the people, not just those who are from the same party or support them with campaign contributions.

Arizona teachers will take a brave stand tomorrow, one that does not come without cost to them personally. The best thing we can do to support them, is to work to bring more parity to our Legislature, forcing all sides to be heard and all good ideas to be considered. To do this, we need only flip two seats in the AZ Senate and 5 seats in the House.

Arizonans understand we aren’t getting the results we want from our Governor and Legislature. We have the power to make positive change. Let’s hope we wield it wisely and forcefully.

Can you hear us now?

Many questions remain unanswered about how Governor Ducey intends to fund his $648 million school funding plan which would provide a 20% bump to teachers by the 2020 school year and give schools $100 million for discretionary “additional assistance” next year. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) however, projects the state will face a $265 million cash shortfall in FY20 and $302 million by FY21. Not surprisingly I suppose, the Governor’s Office of Strategic Planning & Budgeting (OSPB), paints a rosier picture based upon “changing economic fundamentals.” They “note higher than expected job growth, and manufacturing growth that has accelerated to levels last seen before the Great Recession.”

Legislative Democrats however, aren’t buying the sustainability of the Governor’s plan and want it to be funded at least partly, with a tax increase. They also want to be brought to the table so consensus can be built. Gubernatorial candidate Steve Farley struck a moderate tone by saying “I’m willing to work with Doug Ducey. I’m running against him, but I want to get things done. We have an opportunity here that shouldn’t be missed.”

For some time now, education groups have been working on developing that opportunity with a couple of potential ballot measures. AEA favored an increase to income tax for high earners, while other education groups favored raising the Prop. 301 sales tax to a full cent, though they worried about the regressive nature of sales tax so they discussed options to mitigate. Now it appears, those potential solutions may have been sidelined.

I personally agree with The Republic editorial columnist Abe Kwok who thinks a ballot initiative for an education-dedicated tax versus a strike would have been the best way forward. Kwok writes, “It has the infrastructure: Tens of thousands of teachers [and coalitions such as AZ PTA and SOS AZ] who can mobilize and excite voters. It has the backing” [education supporters and business leaders]. And, “It has the motivation: Democrats simply don’t trust the Legislature.”

Be all that as it may, it looks like Governor Ducey may have preempted any such voter initiative with his proposed plan. Now, the statewide teacher walk out, set to start next Thursday, is the focus and all parties are scrambling to prepare. Superintendents across the state are polling their teachers to determine whether or not schools can be kept open, letters are being sent home to parents advising them to prepare for school closures, and a variety of efforts are underway to care for students in schools and in communities, even if instruction can’t occur. Phoenix’s 12News.com reports that Mesa Public Schools, with over 60,000 students, has announced it will close it’s schools for the duration of the walkout. And according to the AZ Daily Star, several charter schools in the Tucson area joined districts schools in voting for a walkout, and closures of those schools would be determined on a school-by-school basis.

Governor Ducey is also focused on teachers and schools, vetoing 10 bills yesterday, without regard to merit. According to The Republic, his veto message was, “Please send me a budget that gives teachers a 20 percent pay raise by 2020 and restores additional (school district) assistance. Ducey’s move came after his chief of staff, Kirk Adams, reported no progress following a 15 minute meeting with Republican House members.

For their part, GOP lawmakers share concerns about funding sustainability, citing doubt in whether revenue will plus-up enough from the “booming economy.” In addition, some apparently don’t want the money to go directly to teachers, but instead to school boards. State Senator Rick Gray, said “We don’t want to try and take the governing board’s job away from them, while Senator Sonny Borrelli, said he was ”uneasy micromanaging political subdivisions.“ State Representative Anthony Kern said that ”a majority of the Republican caucus do not want to be in the business of dictating teacher pay.”

Call me cynical, but I believe this sentiment has more to do with falling in line with a recently released Goldwater Institute memo than it does preserving local control. (A memo, which in my opinion, was designed to deflect blame for the school funding crises away from our Legislature and unfairly place it squarely on the backs of school boards.)

But, our GOP-led Legislature has proven time and again that they don’t value local control for our communities. They have consistently attacked local control for our communities and school boards, outlawing local decisions such as Bisbee’s plastic bag ban, Tucson’s melting of confiscated guns, Tempe’s dark money ban, and countless attempts (some successful) to curb school boards’ local control.

Even if the Legislature gets Ducey what he wants though, Arizona Educators United (AEU) and the Arizona Education Association (AEA) say they agree with the JLBC that his plan is not sustainable and that they’ll walkout unless they get:
– A system of future raises;
– No new tax cuts until state funding per student reaches the national average;
– Overall funding restore to 2008 levels; and
– Competitive pay for all education professionals, meaning support staff like counselors, reading specialists, lunchroom aides and custodians not currently included in Ducey’s plan.

Ducey’s spokesperson, Daniel Scarpinato, said the Governor is “willing to meet with anyone who’s interested in solutions”, but so far, that hasn’t included representatives from AEU and AEA. Some speculate that AEA’s endorsement of Ducey’s Democratic opponent in the Governor’s race, David Garcia, is part of the reason. And although Ducey is touting support from the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) and other groups such as the Arizona Association of School Business Officials (AASBO) and Arizona Superintendents Association (ASA), these groups see their role as negotiating with Ducey and the Legislature for a better result and to ensure his plan is implementable by school districts. For example, ASBA has secured the commitment of the governor’s office that there will be no changes in eligibility for Medicaid/AHCCCS to fund his plan, saying they would not support such a funding source. And in a statement to its members, ASBA wrote, “dueling analyses (of JLBC and OSPB) ASBA seem to demonstrate the state does not actually have enough revenue to support all the priorities the public deems a priority long-term. This may lead to a discussion about future revenue sources for K–12, which has been a core plank of ASBA’s political agenda. We would welcome such a discussion.”

It is clear that there are many different approaches to achieving a goal that all seem to now agree on – Arizona’s teachers must be more adequately compensated. After all, teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions. That in itself, is no small achievement. But, if we can’t deliver on that goal, it doesn’t matter how much we agree.

A major stumbling block to “peaceful” resolution is obviously the lack of trust the public education community has in Governor Ducey. As Laurie Roberts, of The Republic, writes, “Ducey didn’t create the crisis in Arizona’s public schools. But in the first three years and three months of his four-year term, he didn’t do anything to fix it. Didn’t recognize that while he and his pals were focused on ways to boost private schools, the public schools – the ones attended by 95% of Arizona’s children – were suffering.” Roberts goes on to say that, #20by2020 (Ducey’s plan) may make for a “trendy hashtag”, but teachers know the funding for Arizona’s public schools is still almost one billion below where it was in 2008 when inflation is considered. And that doesn’t even include the billions in capital funding the state has withheld. The result Roberts says, “is 25-year-old biology books and roofs that leak. The result is rodents running amok and schools unable to afford toilet paper.” The result is a set of poorly paid teachers and support staff who are tired of being ignored and are now shouting “Can you hear us now?”

This next week is going to be a cliff-hanger for our entire state. One thing is fairly certain. If Governor Ducey and our GOP-led Legislature hasn’t yet adequately “heard” our teachers and other education advocates, incoming shouts from all corners of our state, will no doubt drown out their ability to focus on much else. This issue isn’t going away and our lawmakers better start thinking outside the box they’ve cornered themselves in.

Now it gets interesting…

Arizona Educators United (AEU) and the Arizona Education Association (AEA) just announced Arizona teachers have made the decision to strike. They reported that  57,000 of the state’s 60,000 teachers cast ballots with 78 percent voting for the walk out. When asked about timing, AEU leader Noah Karvelis said they wanted to give communities time to prepare, but would begin the walk out next Thursday.

When asked about the teacher’s demands, AEA President Joe Thomas referred to the two letters the groups have hand-delivered to Governor Ducey’s office (to which they’ve received no response), and said that they will definitely demand no tax cuts this year. He said it is time to start reinvesting in our schools and our state.

At least a third of our teachers were at my school board meeting tonight, and several of them spoke during the call to the public. They were respectful, realistic and real. One of the teachers talked about all the things she buys for her classroom and her students. She mentioned the items decorating her classroom walls, the snacks the students eat before they go out to recess and the tissues they use to blow their noses. She said it is a slap in the face to allow teachers a small tax credit so they can go out and buy their own supplies.

I agree. As former Vice-President Joe Biden said, “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget.” That’s really the bottom line. Until Governor Ducey and our Legislature finds a dedicated funding stream, to adequately fund our district schools and their professional educators and staff, they are telling our teachers, our parents and worst of all…our students, that they aren’t the priority.

We have even more turbulent days ahead and I hope calmer heads will prevail and allow us to find the best solution that will lead to much brighter days for Arizona district schools. I predict though, that if all the efforts of education advocates and teachers (including the walk out) doesn’t get the job done, the voters will finish the work in November!

Not Fake News, Just Propaganda

Yesterday, a friend emailed me a copy of a Goldwater document that had been placed in all the “mail” boxes at his “Life Plan Community” (retirement/assisted living). The document was titled, “The Truth about Teacher Pay”, and dated April 12, 2018.

Even without the Goldwater logo at the top, I could have easily identified it as a right-wing propaganda piece. In it, the Goldwater Institute Director of Education Policy, Matthew Simon, began by making the point that “though fingers are pointed at state legislatures with calls for higher teacher salaries, the reality is that in many cases, locally elected school district governing boards are responsible for the size of paychecks.” He went on to write that, “independently elected governing boards wield considerable power in their positions by creating policies, crafting school district budgets and setting teacher pay.”

Simon provides a couple of examples of the significant difference in pay between various school districts to make his point. He then writes that, “teachers in Arizona have launched their demands at legislators in a well-coordinated campaign.” Of course, this “well-coordinated campaign”, is just a dog-whistle to infer the big bad “union” is driving the train. Truth is, the #RedForEd effort comes from a grassroots movement. There is no statewide collective bargaining unit in Arizona, because our state is a “Right to Work” state. Which means, employees really have no rights at work.

“If Arizona teachers and the public have a gripe with elected officials”, Simon continued, “the elected officials they should be targeting with this anger need to be their locally elected school district governing boards. When a school district governing board prioritizes teacher pay, teacher pay is higher.”

The problem with Simon’s piece isn’t that it isn’t factual, but rather, that he propagandizes the facts. As defined by Merriam-Webster, is “ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause.” I believe, the “particular political cause” in this case, is to try to take the pressure off the state legislature for their failure to adequately fund public education, and instead, put it on the backs of governing board members. If I wanted to be really cynical, I could say it is just another attempt by the Goldwater Institute and monied out-of-state interests, to force the privatization of our public schools down Arizonans’ collective throats. You know, discredit governing board members and local control and tout that the only way to fix the resulting dysfunction is to turn our kids over to the profiteers.

Yes, it is true that the Arizona Constitution gives school board members the authority to set salaries for their district’s teachers. Arizona Revised Statute 15–341.A.17 states, “The governing board shall: Use school monies received from the state and county school apportionment exclusively for payment of salaries of teachers and other employees and contingent expenses of the district.” The phrase “contingent expenses of the district” however covers a wide range of other costs governing board members must ensure are not only budgeted for and appropriately allocated.

Therein, they say, lies the rub. You see, governing board members can only allocate that which the state Legislature, (which oh by the way, has responsiblity for the “establishment and maintenance of a general and uniform public school system”), provides. In fact, education, along with public safety, roads and infrastructure, is one of the three constitutionally-mandated functions the Legislature is responsible for. Thing is, over the past decade, that has been woefully inadequate. You’ve probably already heard that Arizona had the highest cuts per pupil in the nation, 2008 to 2014, that the average salary of our elementary teachers is 50th in the nation and high school teachers is 49th, and that our capital funding, (for facility maintenance and repair and other big-ticket items like buses), was cut 85% in the last decade. You’ve also probably heard that the Legislature continues to funnel public tax dollars to private and religious schools with almost zero accountability and transparency; passing the full expansion of vouchers for all school children last year.

You may not have heard, that in the past couple of years, two non-partisan, serious studies of education funding determined that there can be no meaningful fix to the way Arizona’s education funding is allocated, until additional funding is resourced. In 2016, the Governor Ducey appointed chair of the Governor’s Classrooms First Council said, “that, ”the schools aren’t going to significantly improve unless they get more money.“ In a previous post, I wrote about the statewide, non-partisan 2017 AZ Town Hall on PreK–12 Education Funding, which determined that the problem is not so much the percentage of the state budget allocated to our districts, but the size of the overall state budget ”pie”.

And yet, Arizona governing board members continue to lead to deliver with the resources they are provided. After Proposition 123 was passed, they ensured 90% of the additional funding was allocated to teachers. Between FY 2015 and FY 2018, they enabled their districts to hire almost 1,800 more full-time equivalent teachers, and raised teacher salaries across the state by an average of $2,044.

Governing board members know that the number one in-school factor for determining student success is a high-quality teacher and with our ongoing critical shortage of teachers, they are eager to incentivize good teachers to stay in their classrooms. But, teachers aren’t the only critical need. After all, when 30% of Arizona buses fail safety inspections, schools are closed for emergency repairs to fix unsafe facility conditions, and some classrooms are forced to use 12-year old computers, governing board members must make tough decisions about resource allocation.

Matthew Simon did not write his piece to inform, but rather, to deflect blame for the funding crisis we find ourselves in. A funding crisis which is largely self-manufactured. Yes, our Legislature also had to make tough calls during the recession in 2008, but “economists say the real culprit is the cumulative impact of two decades of Arizona governors and lawmakers chipping away at the bottom line.” In 2016, tax cuts over that period cost the state’s general fund $4 billion in revenue according to an analysis by economists with Arizona State University. These economists also wrote “More than 90% of the decline in revenue resulted from tax reductions.”

According to an AZ Capitol Times article from May 2017, data compiled by the Arizona Department of Revenue showed that more than 50% of all state taxes hadn’t been collected for at least the past ten years. ‘Called “tax expenditures,” they amount to $136.5 billion since fiscal year 2007, roughly equivalent to the sum of the state budgets spanning the past 15 years.’ In FY 2016 alone, over $12 billion was excluded from sales tax collection. Governor Ducey has continued the trend, vowing (and thus far keeping that promise) to cut taxes every year he is in office.

Governing board members share no more, and no less blame for this situation than does the average voter. After all, they are also voters and the reason our lawmakers have gotten away with pursuing the repeatedly failed “trickle-down” (Kansas anyone?) philosophy is that Arizona voters continue voting the same lawmakers into office. The bottom line is that until voters truly draw the nexus between the results they want and the candidates they elect, we can’t expect any different or better.

Declare a win and fight on!

This past week, Governor Ducey bowed to pressure from fed-up teachers and public education advocates in releasing a plan to give teachers a 20% pay raise by 2020 and restore District Additional Funding. Although details on funding sources are slim, the Governor has said the plan will not simply redirect money meant for other school needs. He also stipulated the 20% for teacher raises would be added to the base so that it becomes permanent funding our districts and their teachers can count on.

There is, of course, much consternation about how this “sausage” was made. Truth is, discussions between education advocacy organizations have been underway for sometime about the best strategy to fight for teacher salary increases and other funding our districts desperately need. Then, last week, nine GOP legislators collaborated to devise their own plan. As reported on AZCentral.com, it included a 6% pay raise next year, with an increase for five years to a total of 24%. This plan left some education advocates calling it a “shell game” because it included no new money for schools, but a reallocation of available monies. When Governor Ducey got wind of the effort, he called in the legislators, along with several education advocacy organizations, to discuss a solution.

The solution is far from adequate as it still won’t restore our districts to 2008 funding, and doesn’t provide enough money to adequately compensate support staff, or take care of our crumbling facilities and replace capital equipment. If it actually comes to fruition though, it is a big step in the right direction. We should, as representatives from SOS AZ, AZ PTA and the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) have said, “declare a win, a win” and take credit for the effective work we’ve all done to move the Governor to this point.

I recognize there are many who don’t think the solution goes far enough and can’t say I disagree. Effective governance though, requires compromise and no, that is NOT a four letter word. Compromise is what is required if we are to come up with the best, viable solutions that will hopefully give the majority of people at least some of what they want.

As the President of ASBA, I will be proud (assuming the Governor delivers) of our Association’s achieving victory on three of the important items from our member-approved 2018 Legislative Agenda:
– Provide additional state funding for nationally competitive salaries to attract, recruit and retain talented teachers;
– Restore district additional assistance (DAA) reductions; and
– Maximize local control and flexibility in managing funds and programs.

In addition, we sought the “Renewal of Prop. 301” which was another of our legislative agenda items. And, thanks to the work of SOS AZ with some financial help from Friends of ASBA, we may also achieve success on the agenda item to “Repeal any program that gives public funds for private schools, ESAs & STOs or prevent any future expansion.”

Even though I believe we may have largely “won” this battle, the overall war rages on and we cannot yet put away our pens, our signs, and our voices. There is much left to fight for because although the 20% raise would bring the average salary for AZ teachers within $800 of the 2017 national average, funding for their support staff is still inadequate as is that for many other needs. And although, Governor Ducey has made higher state revenue, the rearranging of his budget priorities, and lower state agency caseloads sound like viable funding streams, we are right to be suspicious of exactly where from, sustainable funding will come.

As the saying goes, the “devil is in the details.” We must all demand those details from the Governor and keep the pressure on him to actually deliver on his latest promises. We must also ensure our education community continues to work together and does not allow a wedge to be driven between us. This is important because, even though we may have some different ideas on how to deliver for our districts, we all want more opportunity and better academic results for ALL our students.

In the end, the only thing that will ensure our state works toward that goal is the election of more pro-public education candidates. We don’t need to, as the Chicago saying goes, “vote early and often”, but we do need to vote wisely. It is beyond time for Arizona voters to draw the nexus between the results they want, and the candidates they elect. I choose to remain hopeful, because failure is simply not an option.

This can be done

For those who may not have seen them, I had two letters to the editor (LOEs) published recently, one on Tucson.com and the other in the Arizona Republic. As you might have guessed, they were about education.

I don’t know that these LOEs moved the needle any, but if enough of us write them, they surely can begin to. Certainly, we are seeing much more in the news about education than ever before.

One such bit of “news” is the op-ed published by the AZ Republic’s Editorial Board this morning titled “The heavy lift is still ahead on education.” I applaud the headline for making it clear there is much more to be done, and for driving home “how far Arizona still has to go to restore our public-education system and make it secure and strong enough to face the challenges of a growing state.” I also appreciate their astute observation that “The recession taught Arizonans the hard lesson that their children and grandchildren will need solid skills to succeed in a fast-changing world. Our schools are trying to deliver on a starvation diet.”

I believe (probably in attempt to be fair and balanced), that they are off-track when they write that Ducey’s add of $4 million for early literacy is “worthwhile and commendable.” I say this because they seem to equate the value of early literacy efforts with that of full-day kindergarten, when they give Ducey kudos for proposing 1.6% of the funding needed for early childhood education, versus providing the necessary $240 million for full-day kindergarten. Is it really too much to ask for our state to ensure all our students are given a good start on their educational journey? After all, our state lawmakers give away over $12 billion each year in corporate sales tax relief, on an annual budget of less than $10 billion. Are you really telling me we can’t find 2% of that corporate welfare that not producing a good return on investment and redirect that money to fund full-day kindergarten? And oh by the way, many districts are already paying for full-day kindergarten out of existing funding which ultimately, shortchanges what can be offered other students. But, governing boards across the state have made this decision because they recognize how important kindergarten is to promoting successful outcomes for the rest of their students’ educational experience.

The op-ed also mentions Governor Ducey’s promises for “next steps” following the Prop. 123 settlement. You might remember this was the deal where he actually paid the districts only 70% of what the people had mandated and the courts adjudicated, and did it with money that was mostly already theirs (state trust land revenues). But the Editorial Board writes, “Ducey had not followed through…Instead, he held to his campaign promise not to raise taxes and relied on existing revenue to make modes increases last year.”

That’s my real beef with this “Education Governor.” Arizona’s district schools are in a   huge funding pit dug over several years – even with his proposed increase for 2019, the funding is still almost $1 billion short from 2008 levels. The restoration of those funds cannot be, dripped back into the pit. We need an “open the flood gates, turn up the pump” solution to getting our schools the support they desperately need. We are hemorrhaging teachers (2,000 positions vacant and another 3,400 filled with non-certified personnel), and with as many as 25% of our teachers eligible to retire in 2020, this problem isn’t going to get better anytime soon. Neither with our districts provided only 15% of what is required for maintenance and repair, can our deteriorating facilities continue to be nursed into service without more failures rearing up to bite us.

What our district schools need, and our children deserve, is bold courageous leadership NOW. The time, as AZ Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs recently stated, “We’ve got all the change from the couch cushions that there is.” We need a real infusion of revenue now, before we fail another generation of students.

This can be done. It is Governor Ducey’s and the state lawmakers job to do it. If they can’t, we need to find those who can. Remember the old adage, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always got.”

 

 

 

 

Yeah, Let’s Focus on Our Students!

In a recent Scientific American article, a U.S. Department of Education spokesperson for Betsy DeVos said “The secretary believes that when we put the focus on students, and not buildings or artificially constructed boundaries, we will be on the right path to ensuring every child has access to the education that fits their unique needs.” As good as that sounds, it is total bullshit.

Here’s the deal. As much as its proponents try to tell us otherwise, school choice does NOT put the focus on students, because the “choice” is largely that of the commercial school, not the student. We know for example that private schools have total control over what students they accept, irrespective of the students’ funding sources (taxpayer-funded vouchers included.) Charter schools are by law required to accept all, but we also know they enroll much lower percentages of special needs students, those of color, and those in poverty.

As for the secretary’s belief that we should put the “focus on students, and not buildings or artificially constructed boundaries,” puhleeeeeeeaaasssee! This is just a thinly veiled swipe at community district schools. In Arizona, over 80% of our students attend these district schools where facility maintenance and repair is severely underfunded and there are no “artificially constructed boundaries” since we’ve had open enrollment since 1994.

Incidentally, “ensuring every child has access” is not the same as “providing every child….” Access refers to “the right or opportunity to use or benefit from something.” But, it takes more than the right or opportunity, it takes the means not only to get into the school, but to get to the school and survive the school. That’s not how it works in a district school which takes all comers, and works to provide each student what they need to succeed. And, they continue to serve the student even if that student’s test scores don’t make the school look good.

The piece de resistance in the DOE statement though, is “that fits their unique needs.” Wow! Isn’t that a great sound bite? Unfortunately, it is totally undoable and DeVos knows it.

In America, one in five children live in poverty. This reality, not inadequately funded schools and under appreciated teachers, is their major hurdle to a good education. What these students need is more than district schools are charged with, or have the capacity to provide. There is just no way commercial schools will do better at bridging that gap.

It amazes me how adept the privatization advocates have been at messaging. They’ve convinced parents that school choice is the answer and that “voting with their feet” is empowering. But as a fellow blogger pointed out recently, when parents “vote with their feet” to leave district schools for greener grass, all they are really doing is relinquishing influence. There is no school choice option (aside from homeschooling) that provides a parent as much say in their child’s education as does the district school with its locally-elected governing board. Parents and taxpayers alike have the right to be heard at public board meetings and, if their elected governing board members are not responsive to parent’s concerns, they can be recalled or replaced via elections.

Yes, we should all be focused on the students. So let’s do that, okay? Let’s properly fund our local community district schools where over 80% of our students are, instead of reaching for the shiny object being dangled to distract us. Let’s demand our tax dollars are spent where there is full accountability and transparency with locally-elected governing boards responsible for producing a good return on our investment. Let’s demand our teachers are adequately compensated and treated like professionals. Let’s in other words…put our money where our mouth is. The bottom line is that parents shouldn’t have to make a choice about where to send their kids. Every public school should be a high quality one.