Our very different pains rhyme

During this week of Martin Luther King Day, I’ve found myself reflecting on both the state of equity in America and my personal journey toward the greater understanding of such.

In the Air Force, we received annual training designed to teach respect for differences and promote the value of diversity. We were taught that in spite of any “deeply held beliefs”, we must not act in a manner inconsistent with Air Force values. The Commander of Air Mobility Command General Darren McDew, wrote in 2015 that,

“Diversity is part of our DNA. America’s strength is even greater than the sum of its parts. Our best qualities as a nation shine through when we embrace different cultures, backgrounds, and ways of thinking.”

While serving, I felt the Air Force believed this ideal even if it wasn’t always successful at achieving it.

It wasn’t until I retired from the Air Force and managed a nonprofit with social justice as one of its core tenets, that I gained deeper insight into the meaning of equity. In fact, I was some 50 years old before I can remember hearing the term “white privilege”, especially used in reference to me.

The job was an ill fit for a hard-charging retired Colonel who wasn’t really prepared for the vastly different culture I would encounter. One example was my effort to learn more about each staff member by taking them to lunch. One of my goals was to learn what was important to them and how I could support them. One, an African-American transgender male, seemed very distrustful of me and was not interested in opening up to me or helping me navigate the new environment. He indicated early on that I didn’t understand and when I asked him to help me understand, he said that wasn’t his job. I was incredibly put off by his response and did not try again to reach out to him.

A decade later I understand more about what he meant when he said it was not his job to make me understand. When I think back on it now, I’m mortified at how ignorant I was about the real state of equity (or rather inequity) in America. I credit the Arizona School Boards Association for much of my increased awareness and understanding. I’ve gained great insights via attendance at conferences, tuning in to webinars, being a part of the Black and Hispanic and Native American Indian caucuses, or just talking to the very diverse membership. I’ve also enhanced my understanding of equity challenges by reading a variety of books and articles on the subject.

One such book is “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn. According to the publisher’s summary, it “is the first scholarly work to tell America’s story from the bottom up – from the point of view of, and in the words of, America’s women, factory workers, African-Americans, Native Americans, the working poor and immigrant laborers.” My perspective is that it lays bare, the truth about American exceptionalism. Yes, our founding fathers set out to create a “more perfect union”, but they did not do it on their own. They did it through a combination of grit and ruthlessness and on the backs of those who largely, were not white.

White settlers n America and the soldiers that paved their way, were for all practical purposes, a conquering force. And let’s face it, those being conquered always get the raw end of the deal. As we know though, America’s indiginous people were not the only ones used, abused and slaughtered. There has always been some group of people who paid the price for the rest of us to succeed and prosper. Another book I recently listened to, poignantly drove that message home. It is a novel called “Washington Black” by Esi Edugyan and tells the story of the fear and brutality of slavery in the 1800s.

These books helped me understand the sins of our American past that set the stage for the inequities many of our citizens continue to experience. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really understand that connection earlier in my life. I didn’t understand what impact centuries of systematic oppression could have on people living today. I didn’t know that poverty is the greatest barrier to student success and that those students in poverty are overwhelmingly of color. I certainly didn’t know about our discriminatory policies such as “redlining” to deny blacks homes in certain neighborhoods (still happening today), that insidiously creates barriers almost impossible to overcome.

These aren’t the only barriers that seem almost impossible to overcome. According to the Pew Research Center, in the twenty-five years they’ve been surveying Republicans and Democrats about how they view the other party,

“the majority of respondents in both parties answered ”very unfavorable“ for the first time in 2016. More than half of Democrats (55%) say the Republican party makes them ‘afraid’ while 45% of Republicans say the same about Democrats. And just half of the members of both parties say that the other party makes them feel ‘angry’.”

I’m not trying to equate racial hatred and oppression with political polarization. Isn’t it all though, tied together in some way? Hate crimes in the US are up by 20% since 2016 and in the first three months of 2017 alone, anti-Semitic incidents were up by 86%. We know it has always existed, but a political environment unmoored from norms has unleashed the ugliness.

That’s why I was drawn to a book called “The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity”, by Sally Kohn. Tired of the 24/7 vitriolic bombardment and of feeling helpless to affect the change we need, I was looking for some nuggets of wisdom. Kohn offered many such nuggets, primarily gleaned by going into the field to talk to people in situations where they have every reason to hate, but then overcame that inclination and exhibited just the opposite. From the Palestinian vs. Israeli conflict, to the Rwandan genocide, to the real and very painful hate played out everyday in our own country (on-line and in-person), Kohn provides hope via examples of people who have “listened to their better angels.”

“Our identities and experience in the world in our skin aren’t the same”, she writes, “but can we all perhaps notice how, as the writer Anand Giridharadas says, ’our very different pains rhyme”’?”

LOVE this! We all are after all, just and equally, human.

Unfortunately, that concept often eludes us. The concept of “cultural hegemony” Kohn writes, is that

“whereby the worldview of the elite becomes the accepted social norm. The dominant view in the United States that white people should rightfully have more privilege and power is a form of cultural hegemony. And groups who benefit from hegemony don’t see their own bias – they just think that’s the way things should be. As the saying goes, ‘When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.’”

So, not understanding that I have “white privilege” doesn’t necessarily make me a bad person, but not being willing to learn about it and work to mitigate its potentially deleterious impacts (at least on a personal level), just might. As Kohn points out, “writer Audre Lorde suggests that forgiveness is injustice:

“Black and Third World people are expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world. The oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions. There is a constant drain of energy which might be better used in redefining ourselves and devising realistic scenarios for altering the present and constructing the future.”

So, I suspect, my former employee didn’t want to waste energy trying to educate me, when he didn’t believe I would either “get it”, or be part of the solution.

I understand now that the equality is not the same as equity. I also understand that the real question is not whether we are biased but rather how much bias we have and what we do to counteract it. Research shows it benefits all of us to do just that. We know that racial and ethnic diversity is great for communities, increases home values, and lowers crime (without putting up fences and gates). It also raises the achievement of all students in a school, not just those disadvantaged. But, as Kohn points out,

“it is too easy to believe that poverty and crime afflicting urban black communities is their fault, not seeing it as the result of centuries of violence and oppression, economic discrimination, and white flight. Just as it’s too easy to believe that poverty and crime afflicting rural white communities is their fault, not the product of discrimination and perverse health system incentives and the massive shift of manufacturing jobs from those rural towns to overseas. Because if it’s their fault, then there’s nothing for us to try to understand, let alone have to address. If it’s hard enough to overcome our own individual prejudices and biases, overcoming systemic hate is an even steeper uphill battle.”

Key to “Repairing Our Humanity” according to Kohn, is understanding our commonality.

“All hate is premised on a mind-set of otherizing. It doesn’t matter whether that “other” is someone of a different color, or gender, or race, or political party. The sanctimonious pedestal of superiority on which we all put ourselves while we systematically dehumanize others is the essential root of hate. In big and small ways, consciously and unconsciously, we constantly filter the world around us through the lens of our explicit and implicit biases [which we ALL, every single one of us has]. We think we’re good people, but we don’t see how that sphere of moral concern is constricted by hate, by the history and habits and culture of who matters and who doesn’t in our society, which we have all bought into, whether we mean to or not. The opposite of hate is the beautiful and powerful reality of how we are all fundamentally linked and equal as human beings. The opposite of hate is connection.“

One great example of this concept is the movie ”Green Book” which I just saw. I won’t go into it here, but trust me, it is a great illustration of the difference connection can make.

So, connection is key, but so is the personal responsibility to work for it. We must, as Kohn writes,

“become more conscious of our own hate – in all its forms, and work to catch and challenge our ideas and assumptions. We must support policies and institutions that bring us together, rather than divide us.”

That, she writes, will take talking to each other differently. “With the generosity and open-mindedness and kindness and compassion of connection-speech, instead of hate.” Again, a pearl of wisdom from Anand Giridharadas in a 2017 speech,

“Real change is systemic and self-implicating, urging us to see our role in vast, complex problems.”

We ALL, each and EVERY one of us, have a responsibility and role to play, to get us out of the gutter. No one has a free pass that relieves them of that responsibility.

Kohn spoke to me throughout her book to include this sentence,

“I haven’t arrived at some place of enlightenment. I’ve simply realized I need to turn on the light – and start noticing things differently and trying to be different.”

There is not a person on earth who does not have a bias. Realizing our biases exist is the first step. The second one is taking the required actions to see through them so you can be a part of the solution versus part of the problem. Mahatma Ghandi said we must each, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” And as the ancient Chinese saying goes, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

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Wondering What Happened To Steve Smith?

Grrrrreeeeaaaatt! The Capitol Times just reported that former state Senator and GOP candidate for U.S. House of Representatives in CD1, Steve Smith, is joining the American Federation for Children as the new state director.

Many LD11 residents (especially those in his home town of Maricopa), were thrilled to get rid of him as our one of our lawmakers. Now though, I imagine public education advocates will likely emit a communal groan to this news. Smith was no friend of public education as a state Senator, and in fact, was a co-sponsor of the full-expansion of vouchers (Empowerment Scholarship Accounts) law.

In 2017, he voted for Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) supported bills only 2 of 7 times. In 2016, he did better, but voted for three ESA expansion bills. In 2015, he voted for ASBA supported bills only 2 of 9 times, with two of those bills being ESA expansions. Back in 2014, he voted against ASBA positions all 7 times, and one of those was an ESA expansion.

The American Federation of Children (AFC) of course, is the organization that Betsy DeVos headed before she got the gig as U.S. Secretary of Education. Their mission, according to their website, is: “The American Federation for Children and AFC Growth Fund seek to empower families, especially lower-income families, with the freedom to choose the best K–12 education for their children.

Yeah, right, it is ALL about the low-income, disadvantaged child. No matter that “the freedom to choose” means nothing if there isn’t true access to the choice. An example of this is the expansion of vouchers to students living on tribal lands. Ask yourself…how many private schools are there on tribal lands? Exactly! The whole idea that AFC is all about empowering lower-income families “with the freedom to choose” sounds like a nice idea until you know the facts.

AFC is no stranger to Arizona, making its presence known via big campaign spending for pro-voucher candidates. In 2014 alone, they spent $205,000 in the state. Smith was one of the recipients of those funds. In 2016, AFC spent $213,000, but evidently none on Smith, they must have considered him safe that year.

The last time I met with then Senator Smith in his office at the Capitol, he was complaining about how the Feds were trying to shove something down Arizona’s throat and he wasn’t going to have it. I told him that just like he didn’t like the Feds trying to tell Arizona what to do, locally-elected school board members don’t like state lawmakers trying to tell them what to do. Everyone, I intimated, should stay in their lane to allow the system to work best. He didn’t even acknowledge what I said, but started ranting about how the Feds aren’t the parent, the state is the parent. He was finger pointing and literally, spitting mad. I decided at that point I was getting nowhere and left.

Smith is an ambitious ideologue and will continue his rampage against Arizona’s public schools. Certainly the pro-privatization crowd are not dissuaded by the failure of the full voucher expansion last November. Rather, I suspect they’ve circled the wagons and have been plotting their next assault on our public schools. Smith has certainly had lots of practice doing AFC’s bidding and now can be even more “unplugged” in leading the charge. Or, maybe, just maybe, he’ll be as successful at this, as he was at building the wall he promised to raise money for. Geesh…I keep telling myself! The session hasn’t even started yet!

Enough of Trump’s Sh*tdown

Ever since Trump announced his candidacy, up has been down, black has been white, wrong has been right. That trend continues as a man who is viewed by his supporters as a populist (seeking to represent the interests of ordinary people) obviously cares nothing about the 800,000 federal employees (about a quarter of all government employees) who are not being paid during this partial government shutdown.

This Trump Shutdown is now in its 16th day and some 420,000 government employees designated as “essential” (in some cases, the lowest paid) are being forced to work without pay. The New York Times writes, “This includes upward of 41,000 law enforcement officials [including FBI and DEA], 54,000 Border Patrol agents, and 53,000 Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers”.

It can be no surprise that now some of those TSA employees have begun to call in sick in protest. According to CNN, “as many as 170 TSA employees called out [sick] each day this week” at New York’s JFK International Airport. At the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, “call outs have increased by 200%–300%.” And, union officials are predicting call-outs will increase when agents miss their first paycheck, forcing them to find other jobs to put food on the table, or pay their rent, or to stay home with their young children because they can no longer afford child care. What will happen is largely unknown though, since as TSA Administrator David Pekoske said, “We’ve never had a situation where officers did not get paid” since recent shutdowns have been of a duration that didn’t result in pay delay.

This, in a job where the annual turnover rate at some airports is already as much as 80%. About half of TSA agents after all, make less than $40,000 per year, and I for one, can’t imagine these jobs are the most fulfilling, stressless ever created. And, even if there are plenty of people to backfill departing employees, the on-boarding and training of replacement employees must be incredible and the instability and uncertainty caused by this shutdown aren’t going to help.

Reduced safety and security though, are the focus of airline pilots from Delta, United, JetBlue and others who have President Trump. “In a scorchingly fact-based letter” writes Inc.com, Captain Joe DePete of the Air Line Pilots Association (representing 61,000 pilots), wrote,

“I am writing to urge you to take the necessary steps to immediately end the shutdown of government agencies that is adversely affecting the safety, security and efficiency of our national airspace system.”

He goes on to write,

“The nation’s airspace system is a complex transportation network that involves government and industry partnerships to function properly, and the disruptions being caused by the shutdown are threatening the safe operations of this network.”

Finally, DePete points out

“Mechanical inspections, drone oversight and new enhanced communications systems are all threatened. Worse, air traffic controllers, airspace system maintenance personnel and Air Marshals are working unpaid.”

And although a TSA spokesman said,

“Security effectiveness will not be compromised and performance standards will not change”,

eventually something’s got to give. As a veteran TSA official said,

“If you’re not seeing long wait times at airports, there’s something on the security side they’re not doing.”

Options airports may use to keep lines down include fewer random pat down security checks on passengers, giving passengers who have not been vetted for the PreCheck program an expedited screening, or the use of a procedure called “positive passenger bag match” to loosen standards for checked baggage.

This is a scary proposition, but it shouldn’t be the only shutdown consequence giving us pause. A Republican authored op-ed in USAToday.com uses irony in its lead stating,

“In the name of strengthening border security, Trump refuses to fund the FBI, TSA, Coast Guard and Border Patrol(!). You can’t make this stuff up.”

And the New York Times Editorial Board writes that, “Trump’s Shutdown is Not About Border Security”, but rather, that the

“800,000 federal employees, and the citizens who depend on them, are being hurt for an empty political stunt.”

After all, they write, Congress has already,

“on a bipartisan basis…been allocating more money for border security – although the administration has spent less than 10 percent of what [has been] allocated in the past year.”

That’s likely because Trump claims there can be no border security without a wall, and he isn’t willing to learn about why that just isn’t true. He even claims that “‘many’ federal workers have urged him to ’stay out until you get the funding for the wall.” I doubt very seriously this is true, since a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that “only a quarter of all Americans support the shutdown” and only 35% favor including wall money in a spending bill. More likely this is about Trump placating his base as Senator Lindsey Graham recently expressed on Fox News,

“If he gives in now, that’s the end of 2019 in terms of him being an effective president. That’s probably the end of his presidency.”

No matter the reason for the shutdown, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) says forcing employees to work without pay “is nothing short of inhumane” and has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration. A previous such suit was filed during the 2013 shutdown and a federal judge finally ruled in 2017 that, “the government had to compensate 25,000 federal employees for damages due to the 2013 shutdown because it was a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act to make workers do their jobs during the funding lapse.“ Those employees have yet to receive their damages compensation, but AFGE is hopeful that the precedence set will expedite matters this time around.

Of course, federal employees aren’t the only workers in government that are affected by the shutdown. More than 40% of the federal government workforce in fact, are white- and blue-collar contract employees, and many of the latter, in lower wage jobs as janitors and security guards. These workers likely won’t ever be compensated for their lost wages. Likewise, small businesses that depend on the patronage of government employees (restaurants for example) won’t recoup the revenue they are losing.

Ultimately, no matter the outcome, the shutdown will hurt us as a nation more than help us. The longer it continues, the more important work will backup, to include business ability to “E-verify” immigration status of new hires and immigration courts to deal with their already overwhelming backlog. Experts also calculate the shutdown will end up costing us more than the $5B Trump wants for his wall. According to Time.com, Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul said the 2013 shutdown that lasted 16 days

“cost us more to shut the government down than to keep it open”,

a statement rated true by Politifact.

The costs incurred according to the center-right American Action Forum, include federal budgetary costs, forgone services, and economic disruption. The federal employees will after all, eventually receive their back pay; and there is cost associated with: shutting down and reopening offices, lost productivity, inability to collect permits and fees, and a lowered GDP growth (estimated at $2B to $6B for the 2013 shutdown.) And in 2013, we weren’t also paying for President ordered troops to the southern border to fight off the threat of a migrant caravan. The Pentagon estimated it would cost $72M to pay for the deployment through December 15, 2018. The administration is now considering  an increased presence there until September 2019.

We recognize when troops are being used as political pawns though, because we’ve seen it before, even on our homeland. As the Associated Press wrote last year, “When former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama deployed the Guard to the border in 2006 and 2010, they were pushing Congress to pass wide-ranging overhauls of immigration policy. Both overhauls failed. A 2011 government review estimated the Bush and Obama deployments cost at least $1.3 billion.

Whether it is federal employees not getting paid, or troops going on BS missions, enough, is enough. I’m sick and tired of the little guy always taking it in the shorts while the powerful play silly games. Here’s an idea. How about the American people demand Congress work without pay until this issue is resolved? What if every single one of us called our U.S. Representatives and Senators over the next few days and left them the message that they should lead by example and work without pay if they are going to continue to require essential federal employees do the same? Here’s a link to the contact information for members of Congress: https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials. It’s a small action, but as Margaret Mead said,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Should seniors skate?

The Legislative session doesn’t start for another week and a half and I’m already tired of the bad ideas being proposed. I previously wrote about HB2002 Rep. Mark Finchem’s (R-Oro Valley) proposal, which would “allow the state to fire teachers who discuss politics, religion, or racial issues in classroom settings.” Yesterday, Newsweek picked up on Phoenix New Times reporting that nine of the points in his bill were “lifted directly from the Stop K–12 Indoctrination campaign, which the David Horowitz Freedom Center sponsors. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes David Horowitz as ‘a driving force of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and anti-black movements.’” Not to be outdone, Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa) submitted HB2015 which covers the same territory.

Now, we have “a self-proclaimed ‘tax activist’ who wants to excuse anyone 65 or older from paying property tax. Her name is Lynne Weaver and she is working with a former state GOP chairman to permanently ban property taxes on AZ home owners 65 and older.

What a ridiculous idea! As a Capitol Media Services article points out, if the initiative passes, homeowners under 65 would be left to make up the property tax burden the elderly were relieved of. This tax money after all, funds public education, emergency services and other community programs. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t rely on property taxes to fund these programs because it inevitably results in winners and losers. But the funding for these essential services has to come from somewhere and for now, that’s property taxes.

According to the AZ Department of Health Services “2014–2018 Arizona Healthy Aging Plan”, the number of Arizonans aged 65 and older was 14% in 2010. By 2025, the plan states “there will be as many people over 65 as under age 15 living in Arizona. These increases will be accompanied by a decrease in the proportion of working-age Arizonans who help support older adults in numerous ways including paying taxes on wages that help fund Social Security and Medicare.”

So, not only will there not be enough young people to support the older ones, but Weaver’s initiative would have those young people responsible for picking up the bill for elders’ property tax relief as well?

A California transplant, Weaver’s tried to limit property taxes before with efforts based on California’s disastrous Proposition 13, “a 1978 measure rolling back property valuations and capping year-over-year increases.” With this latest effort, she thinks she’ll have more luck targeting only seniors. But, she’ll need to get 356,467 valid signatures by July 2, 2020 for the initiative to make the ballot next year.

Which brings me back to another of Finchem’s proposals. He recently announced he wants to allow initiative organizers to collect signatures online. This caught my attention because although Sandy Bahr of the AZ Sierra Club lauded his proposal, I know (given his denial of climate change), he is not proposing this change to help promote renewable energy, or any other sane issue liberals care about.

What if Finchem wants the on-line initiative signing capability to help Weaver’s initiative qualify for the ballot? And if it qualifies, what’s the chances the voters will approve it? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that the 65+ age group are the most reliable voters of them all.

Then again, maybe I’m just getting cynical in my old age. No, I’m not 65 yet, but I do live in an active adult community. And yes, I believe in paying taxes for public education. Retirees (and others) paid for mine after all, and I want to ensure there are plenty of well educated young people to take care of all of our futures. Crazy concept, huh?

New Year’s resolution suggestion for Finchem

I have a suggestion for Representative Mark Finchem, (R-Oro Valley). How’s about one of his New Year’s Resolutions be that he sponsors a bill this session that actually improves the lives of his constituents?

Instead, the latest bill he is sponsoring, according to the AZ Capitol Times, is HB2022 (empowerment scholarships; financial oversight; treasurer) intended to broaden the state treasurer’s authority over the financial management of school vouchers. The bill “would add language to existing law that says the treasurer may contract with private financial management firms to manage the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs).” Evidently, Finchem believes the answer to ensuring more oversight over fraudulent ESA spending is to “grant the treasurer exclusive authority to issue requests for proposals from potential vendors, select payment processors and execute vendor contracts.”

But Chuck Essigs, lobbyist for the AZ Association of School Business Officials, questions the need for the bill since the Treasurer’s office only pays the vendor bills. It is up to Arizona’s Department of Education to ensure families have used their state-issued ESA debit card for only appropriate expenditures.

Yes, there have been problems, and tighter controls are needed. According to an October 2018 AZ Auditor General Report,

Arizona parents made fraudulent purchases and misspent more than $700,000 in public money allocated by the state’s school-voucher style program and state officials have recouped almost none of that money.“

Arizona’s Department of Education (ADE) has repeatedly failed to flag accounts at high risk for fraud allowing parents to ”make numerous improper purchases on state-issued debit cards, even after the accounts should have been frozen or closed.” And although ADE sent 142 collection cases to the attorney general totaling about $500,000, only two of those cases were closed and only $11,000 has been repaid in full.

But, according to the Diane Douglas, AZ Superintendent of Public Instruction (a Republican), the failure of her department to catch the offenders was a result of decisions by the Republican-controlled Legislature to deny her department money needed to properly administer the program. Under the law, 4% of the program’s funding is supposed to go to ADE to administer and oversee the program. This year, it is getting about 2%, or $1.2 million.

Douglas said ADE needs the full 4 percent to properly oversee the program and although $5.7 million is sitting in a fund that is allocated for program oversight, the Legislature has not authorized the department to spend that money. She claims lawmakers resist properly funding oversight because they want a private entity to oversee it, telling the AZ Republic,

“If you’re not willing to put the resources into the oversight, then it doesn’t happen appropriately.

A key Republican senator, Bob Worsley, doesn’t discount Douglas’ assessment saying,

”My guess is just that the (Republican) caucus — my caucus — has been, probably, overly enthusiastic about ESAs, and vouchers in general, and therefore anything that would … make it more difficult, it would not be a high priority for them,“ said Worsley, of Mesa. Worsley said it is neither fiscally sound nor ethical for lawmakers to inadequately fund oversight of the program. ”In our capacity, we should be making sure the taxpayer dollars are going for what taxpayers intended, even if it’s your pet project … but I’m probably a lone voice in my caucus on that front,“ he said.”

I’m thinking Finchem’s bill is more about continuing to reduce government so it “can be drowned in the bathtub” than it is about catching parents buying big screens with their ESA debit card. This situation after all, follows the pro-privatizer playbook which says: 1) chronically underfund a government agency, 2) promote its failures to properly perform, and then 3) outsource to the private sector as a way to “save the day”. It’s a twist on the old “start the fire so you can be the hero and put it out” routine. In this case, start the fire, so you can burn down the existing structure and rebuild it the way you want it.

The GOP-led Legislature knows they haven’t properly funded ADE efforts to deal with the ever-increasing ESA expenditures. But, they want to shrink the department, not grow it. Especially when an educator who just happens to be a Democrat is about to take the reins. And before you ask, yes, Arizona’s new treasurer is a Republican. But I’m sure that has nothing to do with it…

Lower quality = “good enough” results?

It should come as no surprise to anyone that teachers around the country are jumping ship at an alarming rate. According to the Wall Street Journal, public educators “quit at an average rate of 83 per 10,000 per month in the first 10 months of 2018” – the highest rate for public educators since 2001.

One obvious reason for teachers leaving the classroom is the low salaries many still earn. In an analysis of census data, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted that in at least 12 states, public education budgets are down some 7% from 2009 levels, adjusted for inflation. U.S. teacher pay (adjusted for inflation) says the National Education Association, is now 5% lower than it was in 2009. And, a 2017 report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development “found that teachers in the U.S. earn far less than people with similar education levels who are working other jobs. American teachers make, on average, between 55 and 59 percent of the salaries of other professionals with comparable schooling levels.”

Even so, pay is not the only reason teachers are fleeing classrooms. They also cite inadequate public respect and increased accountability without appropriate support. In Arizona specifically, contributing factors include 25% of our certified teachers being retirement eligible, a grading system for schools that still relies heavily on standardized tests, a GOP-led Legislature that is very pro-school choice if not openly hostile to public district education and their teachers, and the lack of respect for the teaching profession demonstrated by the dumbing down of teacher qualification requirements.

Arizona began this dumbing down in 2017. According to AZCentral.com, since the 2015–2016 school year, “nearly 7,200 teaching certificates have been issued to teachers who aren’t fully trained to lead a classroom. In just three years, the number of Arizona teaching certificates that allow someone to teach full-time without completing formal training has increased by more than 400 percent according to state Department of Education data analyzed by The Arizona Republic. For the 2017–18 school year, that added up to 3,286 certificates issued to untrained teachers and by 47 days into the 2018–2019 school year, 1,404 certificates had been issued to untrained teachers while 3,141 were issue standard certificates.”

That last 1,404 certificates issued for the current school year is probably the most instructive, because this is after the 10 percent raises for teachers the #RedforEd movement garnered in 2018. So, less than one-third of the way into the school year, the state has issued almost half as many certificates to untrained teachers as the entire previous year. In other words, despite the 10% pay increase, Arizona districts are having even more difficulty attracting professional teachers into their classrooms.

Part of the problem is no doubt an improved economy. After the 2008 recession, the classroom was a safe place to be employed; other jobs just weren’t to be had. Now though, teachers have other options.

That, combined with the aforementioned factors, is putting school district governing boards in a bind. As the past president of the Arizona School Boards Association, believe me when I tell you that governing boards do not want less than fully qualified teachers in their district’s classrooms. But, when push comes to shove, sometimes they are left with little choice. And although a 2017 AZ Republic statewide examination of teacher quality found that “it is rare for schools to fill full-time teaching positions using Emergency Substitute Certificates” (requiring only a high-school diploma), in 2016–17 more than 40 of those teachers were leading classrooms. The Republic also found that “22 percent of 46,000 Arizona teachers either did not meet the state’s basic qualifications or had less than three years’ teaching experience.” And, that over 62% of the state’s almost 8,600 teacher vacancies either had not been filled or were filled with people who couldn’t qualify for a standard teaching certificate.

Some argue that standard certification, which in Arizona requires a bachelor’s degree, passing a professional and subject knowledge exam, completing a teacher preparation program and teaching full-time for at least two years, is not important. After all “they” say, (pandering to liberals no doubt), if Ruth Bader Ginsberg wanted to teach civics in Arizona, she wouldn’t qualify for a standard certification. Well, just because someone is a Supreme Court Justice, doesn’t mean they know how to teach. We’ve all met really smart people who couldn’t communicate what they knew. Pedagogy, the art of teaching, is a learned skill.

What it really comes down to, is whether or not we believe teaching is a profession worthy of appropriate compensation, investments in professional development and the autonomy to appropriately practice their craft. I believe the answer, with our future hanging in the balance, is an easy one.

Revenge Over Reason

Unknown-1.jpegFirst, Representative Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley) introduced HB2002 directing creation of a code of conduct that would prohibit teachers from discussing politics, religion or race at the risk of violators being fired. Now Representative Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa) proposes HB2018 which would,

“expand a 2016 law that allows any state legislator to ask the attorney general to investigate an ordinance, regulation, order or other action taken by a municipality or county to determine whether it is in compliance with state law.” Her bill would require “the attorney general to investigate any policy, procedure or other official action taken by a school district governing board or any school district employee that lawmakers allege violates state law. If investigators find the law has been broken, the superintendent of public instruction would be directed to withhold up to $5,000 per violation from offending districts’ state funding.”

So, let me get this right. School employees or governing board members are already liable for an up to $5,000 personal fine for using public school resources to influence elections. In fact, two teachers were fined this year for violating the law. But, that’s not enough for Townsend. She now wants to threaten school districts for the potential actions of their governing board members and employees. Not only that, but she wants to withhold funding for students if violations occur.

Many believe these proposed laws area a solution in search of a problem, and the AZ Attorney General’s office says the 30-day timeline in-place to investigate per the existing law is already very difficult to meet. AG spokesman Ryan Anderson said,

“To expand that statute to every [district employee, thousands of employees, I just don’t see a way.” He added that, “any expansion of powers under SB1487 would have to come with corresponding increases in staff resources.”

For her part, Townsend says she has no problem with finding more money for the AG’s office. Too bad she hasn’t had the same attitude about adequately funding our public schools. During her time in the Legislature, she voted for multiple expansions (to include last year’s full expansion) of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (vouchers), multiple bills intended to make it more difficult for districts to garner locally supported funding via bonds and override, and against a 20 year renewal of Prop 301, without which, Arizona’s public education system would have faced a funding cliff in 2021.

But wait, there’s more. Evidently, HB2018 isn’t the only “teacher hating” bill Townsend is proposing. Jerod MacDonald-Evoy from AZMirror.com writes that, “Another measure introduced by Mesa Republican Rep. Kelly Townsend, House Bill 2015 ”would prohibit teachers from talking about their political or religious beliefs, and allow parents to sue teachers who don’t follow the law. Those teachers could also be fired from their jobs.” (Just in case Finchem’s bill isn’t enough.)

I don’t know what teachers Representative Townsend is worried about, but the teachers I know are very clear on what conduct is allowable in, and out of, the classroom. In fact, until this past year, (in my opinion) they were overly cautious, thinking it best to leave advocacy to others. Then though, they saw the #RedforEd wave wash across America and they realized that if things were ever going to improve for their students, it was up to them. I happen to believe they were right.

During her run for the AZ House this past cycle, my wife interviewed a teacher who had left the classroom. Yes, low pay was one of the factors driving her decision, but it wasn’t the primary one. Rather, she was tired of insufficient resources to do the job the way she knew it needed to be done. She was tired of giving her students less than they deserved.

I don’t believe Arizona’s teachers walked out because they were tired of being paid at a rate ranked 48th in the nation. I believe they walked out because we had some 2,000 classrooms without a certified teacher and class sizes that are 5th highest in the U.S. They walked out, because they know that the number one in-school factor to student achievement is a highly qualified teacher. They walked out because it was way beyond time for someone to take a significant stand. It took 75,000 of them, but their stand significantly moved the needle for Arizona’s one million public school students. To be clear though, even with the additional funding garnered this year, our public schools are still short over $600 million from 2008 levels (yes, a decade ago.)

Progress though, evidently scares lawmakers like Finchem and Townsend (or gives them a tool with which to scare others) and they are out for revenge. They don’t want teachers who stand up for their students, they want teachers who do what they are told. Unfortunately for them, teachers are citizens first and still do enjoy certain Constitutional protections for protected speech. But, says AZ American Civil Liberties Union spokesman Steve Kilar,

“It appears that there are a number of provisions…that have the potential to chill teachers’ speech” as well as, “certain teaching styles, like the Socratic method, the system of posing a question of students in order for foster critical thinking.”

That, I posit, is exactly how lawmakers like Finchem and Townsend like it. They don’t want our students taught to think critically about the world around them. Instead, they want compliance with their desired world order. It might seem like a good idea for them and their ilk, but it is damn scary for the rest of us.