It’s Complicated

To my post on Blog for Arizona yesterday, former AZ Superintendent of Public Instruction, John Huppenthal posted the following comment:

“The 170,000 charter school students save taxpayers over 290 million dollars per year. The Peoria school district is projected to grow substantially over the next decade. With charter schools, they will not grow as much. They have enormous advantages, both financially and organizationally, over charter schools and if they can keep improving, they will actually be able [to] suck these students back into their school system from charter schools. I actually see this effect in the Chandler Unified school system. As Chandler has improved from 38% excellent rating to 75% excellent rating you can see certain charter school[s] dying on the vine. Meanwhile, public schools nationally have dropped from 36% excellent rating to 24%. Wrong direction. Competition and great leadership were both necessary for Chandler to get to where it is. We will see if Peoria is also the racehorse that responds to the challenge.”

As far as Huppenthal’s blog comments go, this is one of the more coherent ones and the statistics he cites made me want to dig in. Let’s look at a few: 

1.  170,000 charter school students – True. There are 170K or so charter school students in AZ – 170,700 at 556 schools during the 20015-16 school year to be exact.

2.  Charters save taxpayers over 290 million dollars per year – Misleading. According to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee in an overview prepared 6/22/2015, charter schools cost the state $1,232 per pupil more in Basic State Aid funding than district schools in FY 2014. Of course, that’s where it really starts to get interesting because district and charter schools each receive funding the other doesn’t. For example, districts can seek overrides and bonds and School Facilities Board funding for construction, emergency deficiency corrections and building renewal (of which there have been zero dollars for over the last three years.) Charter schools on the other hand, get “additional assistance” monies from the state general fund to compensate, and have much more flexibility in spending these monies. Charters can also get AZ Charter School Incentive Program funds to start new locations and charter land and buildings become capital assets of the charter holder regardless of whether taxpayer dollars were used to acquire said land or buildings. New this year, Governor Ducey included $100 million in the 2017 budget for the creation of an Arizona Public School Achievement District (PSAD) that will use taxpayer dollars to reduce bond borrowing costs for charter expansion or new builds. Unlike the funding provided through private investors (such as the Phoenix Industrial Development Authority enables), taxpayers are on the hook for PSAD monies if the charter holder defaults and I suspect (as with any charter bonds) the loan is ultimately repaid with taxpayer dollars.

For the actual numbers, I went to the 2014-15 AZ Superintendent’s Report, which shows that total revenues for districts exceeded those for charters by $1,278 per pupil. Given the students enrolled in each at that time, that amounts to a total amount of almost $206 million less spent on charters, not $290 million. But, only 86.57% of the total revenues for districts came from various in-state sources whereas 91.18% of charter’s revenues did. This means that in strictly “state” dollars, the district schools only cost the state $776 more per pupil for a total “savings” by charters of $125 million last year. Of course, I didn’t yet mention the $800 more per student in “small school funding” charters can get through legal, but creative accounting of their multiple locations. Oh by the way, it is also important to note that one reason district schools get more federal dollars than charters is because they educate significantly more special needs students, which are more expensive to educate and for which, districts almost never receive sufficient funds (from any source) to cover the costs.  (If I got all of this wrong, someone please correct me! I find it hard to believe charters save any substantial money over districts, maybe there’s funding I’m not counting.

Rather than focusing on who spends more though, shouldn’t we really be focusing on who uses the money more effectively? A report written this year by the Grand Canyon Institute, shows charters spend twice the amount ($1,403 vice $628 per pupil in 2014/15) on purely administrative costs than their district counterparts resulting in less money getting into the classroom. In fact, if the seven largest charter holders spent the same on administrative costs as districts, the state would save $54 million per year. BASIS Inc. alone, with 8,730 students, spent 30 times more on general administration than the six largest districts combined (225,000 students.)

3.  They have enormous advantages, both financially and organizationally – False.  If anything, charters have the advantage. From the beginning, Arizona’s charter laws were designed to free charter schools from most regulations and reporting requirements. They aren’t required for example, to follow the same procurement procedures as districts, which allows them to avoid getting competitive bids on major purchases. This lack of accountability/transparency has raised concerns about charter holders “double-dipping” for profit by procuring goods and services with their own companies. In addition, charter teachers aren’t required to be certified, nor are charters required to meet the minimum facilities standards set by the School Facilities Board (SFB) nor the requirement to provide transportation to school for their students. They also don’t have the same requirements for accountability and transparency with no locally elected governing boards and no requirement to be included in the annual AZ Auditor General’s (AG) School District Spending reports. The fact the AG does not compile, analyze spending, or make their review available to the public contributes to the overall lack of accountability we see with Arizona charter schools.

As for the improvement in Chandler “excellent” ratings or the national “excellent” ratings, I looked at the Arizona’s A-F accountability system and AIMS scores, the AzMerit scores, and the NAEP assessment, but was unable to verify the data. With regard to Huppenthal’s assertion that  “competition” was necessary for Chandler to improve, I don’t buy it. After all, Arizona has had “competition” between district schools since 1994 when “open enrollment” was first approved.  And, I find it offensive that he refers to Peoria as a racehorse that needs to “rise to the challenge.” As an “A” district they are one of the top 45 districts and charters in the state. I think they have more than already “risen to the challenge.” Besides, the education of Arizona’s children isn’t some sort of sports competition. It is important work critical to the successes of our communities, our state and our nation. The professional educators in our district schools get that, while some of the state’s charter holders laugh all the way to the bank.

When is a charter school a bad idea?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Biggs is a Neanderthal

In directing public school districts to let students use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity, President Obama’s administration recognized the need to provide top-down cover for a group of people that are routinely subjected to severe discrimination. They also recognized that assuring the civil rights (the right to receive equal treatment and ensure one’s ability to participate in civil life without discrimination or repression) of a minority couldn’t be left to the majority. That’s why Diane Douglas is wrong when she says “Every local community across Arizona is unique, and I know that the people who live in those communities should be making the decisions when it comes to this and many other education issues.” How well did “leaving it to communities” work for Black people in the deep South during the Jim Crow days?

Look, I get that many people are uneasy with the whole transgender issue. I managed Wingspan, (Arizona’s LGBT Community Center), for over a year and had more exposure than most to the transgender community. We had transgender people on staff (a couple of them were transitioning during the time I worked there) and we supported the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance (SAGA.) If I am totally honest, I still struggle with totally embracing this community. But, I have great respect for what transgender people go through just to be themselves. And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that no one would put themselves through the ridicule, discrimination and pain of transitioning unless they felt they had no other option. My bottom line is that I accept transgender people and respect their right to live freely and safely as equal members of our society.

Arizona Senate President Andy Biggs obviously doesn’t feel the same way. He said the Administration’s directive “has no place in the value system that we seek to instill in our children from their earliest age” and that “the rules and norms of modern society may change, but biology will not”. With this statement, Biggs demonstrates what a complete Neanderthal he is. First of all, the definition of biology is that it is a natural science concerned with the study of life and living organisms, including their structure, function, growth, EVOLUTION, distribution, identification and taxonomy. Biology, as the study of life and living organisms, is not static, but constantly changing. I read once that 100 species per day go extinct and that in 2011, scientists discovered nearly 20,000 new species. Obviously, biology DOES change and more importantly, the more we learn, the more our understanding of it changes.

Secondly, we can’t really “instill” gender identity in our children. We can try to get them to conform to “social expectations that may accompany a given gender role” “but this can exacerbate the disconnect transgender children feel. I have met very young children who absolutely know they weren’t born into the correct gender. The lucky ones have supportive parents who help them pave their own path. Those not so fortunate have a much tougher road to hoe, one that more often than not leads to multiple suicide attempts (if the first try doesn’t succeed.) The American Psychological Association corroborates that transgender children are more likely to experience harassment and violence in school and other group programs than other children. Transgender adults are at increased risk for stress, isolation, anxiety, depression, poor self-esteem and suicide. In fact, transgender people have an extremely high rate of suicide attempts, 41 percent versus a national average of 1.6 percent.

In addition, there are biological causes for the “gender dysphoria” or “gender identity disorder”(GID) many transgender people experience. “Evidence suggests that people who identify with a gender different from the one they were assigned at birth, may do so not just due to psychological or behavioral causes, but also biological ones related to their genetics, the makeup of their brains, or prenatal exposure to hormones.” Genetic variation, hormones, and difference in brain functioning and brain structures provide evidence for the biological cause of   In fact, twin studies indicate GID is 62% inheritable. (NOTE: gender identity has nothing to do with sexual preference and a transgender person may or may not have had any surgeries to bring their body in “conformance” with their gender identity.)

Ever notice how if Arizona lawmakers and administrators don’t want to deal with an issue, and it doesn’t detract from the ability of one of their supporters to make profit, it becomes something that should be dealt with at the local level? Just look at Douglas’ comment on AZCentral.com that she has“full confidence that government at its least and lowest level is most answerable to constituents on these matters.” Yet time and again t found these same people have found local government is incapable of making decisions about “life-altering” matters such as the use of plastic shopping bags, the admission of guns on school property, and the rights of pet shops to sell puppy mill dogs; all of which had significant lobbyist support for state lawmaker intervention.

As with any struggle for civil rights, this one will be tumultuous. The best approach is for communities to learn about the issue and have open discussions about the way forward. It cannot though, be left to individual communities to determine the “rightness” of the equality sought. That’s why the President’s directive is important. It is a validation of the “immortal declaration” in the Declaration of Independence that states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. It really is that simple.

 

 

Prop 123 deal was hard-fought

In a recent AZ Daily Star op-ed, former educator and school board member Jim Christ compared the Old Testament story of Esau trading his inheritance for a bowl of lentil soup as an example of a “beyond foolish” bargain, to Prop. 123. If Esau was starving and did not know where his next meal would come from, it might not have been such a foolish bargain.

Arizona ranks 50th in the nation on adjusted per pupil expenditure ($4,047 less than, or 31 percent below, the national average.) Even if Prop 123 passes, it won’t move us out of our current place in education funding, that’s how far behind we are. Our state also ranks 49th for median teacher’s salaries, so it should be no surprise that 49 percent of our teachers report frozen salaries as the top reason for leaving. We have a huge teacher shortage not because we don’t have enough certified teachers in the state, but because they can’t feed their families on a teacher’s salary.

Christ also said the Arizona Education Association (AEA) and the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA)“caved in” to coercion by Gov. Ducey and Senate President Andy Biggs. That is an incredibly simplistic view of both a lengthy court battle and complicated negotiations. The truth is, had the AEA and ASBA and other plaintiffs not held the lawsuit defendants “feet to the fire”, they likely would never have agreed to pay anything. After all, even though the inflation funding mandate was found in 2013 to be voter protected by the Arizona Supreme Court, and Superior Court Judge Cooper ordered a reset of the base level, no court has ordered a payment of the back pay. The plaintiffs negotiated hard to get 70 percent of the total amount owed. They also drove 1) inflation funding preserved in perpetuity, 2) no strings attached to the use of the money and 3) the ability for districts to carryover the funds to FY 2016/2017 (important since the monies will reach districts as soon as June 2016), all of which are significant to districts’ successes.

Yes, there are contingencies that have been put in place to account for a severe downturn in the state economy, but the base level funding reset is protected regardless. As for the increased withdrawals from the state land trust, it is hardly the “plundering” Christ describes. Even after 10 years of increased withdrawals, the trust will still be worth a minimum of $6.1 billion, or $1.1 billion more than it is today. Would it have been worth more without the increase? Yes, but to what end? The money is for education and enough will be there in the future. Today’s 8th graders though, who have never been in fully funded classrooms, will have been shortchanged during their entire K-12 experience. This, because if Prop 123 fails, estimates are the lawsuit will continue at least 3-5 more years, without any guarantees of outcome. It is also noteworthy, that only 55-60 percent of the funding comes from the state land trust, the rest will be drawn from the state general fund.

We can wish the world was different, but the plain truth is GOP controls Arizona’s government and they have proven to not be supportive of locally controlled, community based, public education. They’ve also proven they are not inclined to either follow the rule of law, or the people’s wishes. In such an environment, I believe the inflation funding lawsuit plaintiffs (David to the state’s Goliath) did the best they could to aim their “rock” so it would produce the best result. If we want the world to be different, we must do more than wish for it to be so. We must ALL vote to elect pro-public education candidates who realize education is an investment, not an expense and that the best way to provide all students equity in opportunity is to ensure a well-funded, locally-controlled, fully accountable and transparent, truly “public” system of education.

 

“Someone to Shine Our Shoes”

In a recent article titled “Chartered Cruise” on knpr.org, the author Hugh Jackson wrote: “Today’s charter industry, much like Nevada’s voucher plan, reflects a chronic civic defeatism. Echoing the perverse social Darwinism of more than a century ago, faith in free-market education is surrender to pessimism. Society really isn’t incapable of providing a fair educational opportunity to every citizen. Some people are doomed to fail, that’s just the way it is, so best to segregate those with promise, the achievers, in separate schools. As for everyone else, well, too bad for them.” Of course, this attitude isn’t confined to only Nevada; I have a real life example of it right here in Arizona. Three or so years ago, an acquaintance of mine asked an Arizona Senator whether or not he supported public education. He replied, “of course I do, we need someone to shine our shoes.”

It’s bad enough the Senator thought this, let alone that he said it out loud to a public education advocate. That says as much about the voter contempt some of our lawmakers hold (especially when the voter is from a different party) as it does what they think of public education. As the primary water carrier for the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC), the Arizona Legislature has led the nation in efforts to offer school choice options. Proponents tout school choice as the way to help disadvantaged children, but truth is, they’ve already written these children off. Instead, school choice is really about resegregation (the highest we’ve seen since the mid 1960s) and profiteering.

The school choice and education privatization movement gives me great pause because:

  1. The vast majority of our students (85%) are attending significantly underfunded district schools;
  2. Taxpayer dollars are increasingly being siphoned off to profiteers with very little (if any) accountability and transparency;
  3. The claim of school choice proponents that school choice provides much better results, either isn’t backed up by facts, or is an oranges and pineapple comparison;
  4. Voucher and charter schools actually provide parents less choice than district schools.

Allow me to explain. By now, most Arizonans probably know our state is 48th in per pupil funding. Even if the $3.5 billion infusion from Prop 123 is approved by voters this month, it won’t move us from 48th place in overall per pupil funding. To move up just one notch (above Oklahoma), we’d have to give out districts twice that much. That’s how far behind Arizona is.

As for the lack of accountability and transparency in Arizona’s school choice programs, for-profit companies dominate the charter school movement.  These companies do not have school boards, let alone locally elected boards and are not required to disclose the details of their business operations. As for private schools that take Empowerment Scholarship Account (voucher) or Student Tuition Organization tax credit dollars, there is no way for taxpayers to determine funding efficacy. Private school students are not required to take state assessments nor provide any academic results. Neither are private schools required to disclose any information regarding their business operations.

Then, there’s the apple and oranges comparison. Irrespective of the law requiring charter schools to accept all students, it is a well documented fact that most manage to steer clear of special needs and English language learning students and that they manage to attrit (at incredibly high rates) students of color or those on the lower end of the socio-economic scale. Of course, when these students return to the district schools, it is often after the 100th day of the school year, when the average daily attendance has been calculated and the charter school has cemented the funding for the year for that student. The district school is forced to absorb that same student for the rest of the year with no compensation.

Finally, district schools are run by locally elected governing boards that are accountable to the community. School district residents have the right to be present at board meetings and have their voice heard. They also have a right to know how their tax money is spent. Charters and private schools are run by executive boards not accountable and often not responsive to parents. If you aren’t happy with the way they are being run, your only recourse is to withdraw your child.

The myth perpetuated by those bent on destroying pubic district education is that district schools are failing and that privatization in various forms is the answer. The reality says that school choice will never be the answer for the vast majority. The evidence also shows despite charters and private schools being much more selective of their students, most charters and almost all cyber charters do worse than their district schools. We don’t really know how private schools do since they aren’t required to provide any information about results.

The movement to privatize public education is straight from the GOP playbook on reducing government. As President Reagan said in his first inaugural address: “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” That might have been a good sound bite for the right, but I believe concentrated, unchecked power is the problem. Our system works best when we have a balance of power that ensures all sides are heard and produces compromises to come up with the best possible solution. It also works best when government provides for the public good and checks and balances are put in place to ensure efficiencies and effectiveness of both the public and private sectors where taxpayer dollars are involved. Those checks and balances are lacking in school choice options and taxpayers are paying the price. Examples abound of virtual (on-line) school scams, greedy charter school operators, and even illegal purchases with voucher dollars. No, district schools are not entirely immune from fraud, but at least they have locally elected school boards responsible to the taxpayer for oversight and the state conducts annual audits. Neither of these happens when taxpayer dollars fund school choice options.

The original intent of charter schools was to provide teachers greater flexibility to experiment with new ways to educate students. Charters were not meant to compete with or replace district schools, but rather complement them. Now, charters and vouchers have become a way for state legislatures to deflect their responsibility to provide a quality public education for all. When funding follows the child, it becomes the parent’s responsibility to ensure a quality education. School choice also allows our lawmakers to obfuscate the real problem, poverty and all the challenges it brings to our district schools.  Of course, the focus on school choice creates demand which causes funding loss in districts, making it harder for them to excel and reinforces the message that they are failing. The truth is, that despite significant funding shortfalls, severe teacher shortages and crumbling infrastructure, our district schools continue to do well. It makes one wonder what miracles could be achieved if they received the funding and support currently being siphoned off to charters and private schools.

The one thing I know for sure is that until we elect new pro-public education candidates, nothing is going to change. We will continue to see efforts to take the brakes off vouchers, create laws more favorable to charter schools, and attempts to de-professionalize the teaching profession. We have the power to create change; the only question that remains is do we have the will? Prop 123 has raised the level of attention to the challenges of our district schools. Many have been vocal on both sides of the issue. Let’s come together on May 19th at 4 pm for a Pro-Public Education Rally to tell our Legislature that enough is enough, we are done with them short-changing our kids and our state’s future! #ItStartsNow #YouPlusOne #RememberInNovember

#YouPlusOne

It appears the Arizona Legislature finally has a budget for the coming year . The $9.58B package includes Governor Ducey’s $8 million tax cut for businesses (due to double to $16 million in FY 2018), but does not restore the KidsCare health care program for 30,000 low-income children. Arizona is the only state in the nation that does not provide this program for its poorer children, even though it would cost the state and its taxpayers…wait for it…NOTHING! The deal also doesn’t restore the $116 million in cuts made last year to K-12 funding and it doesn’t delay the move to current year funding for our Districts, originally slated to cost them $31 million. What it does, is provide funding to mitigate the cuts: 1) associated with the move to current year funding; 2) approved last year to district-sponsored charter schools (saving these schools $1.1 million); and 3) to smaller charter schools (that would have cost them about $6.5 million.) Finally, it eliminates a change that determines how certain schools qualify for new construction (which would have cost them funding.)

The Arizona Republic reported that “lawmakers heaped praise on House Appropriations Committee Chairman Justin Olson, R-Mesa, for brokering and agreement” that reversed cuts to public schools. Don’t know about you, but I see a recurring theme here and don’t think it is worth any praise. Our Republican-controlled Legislature makes a bunch of cuts to programs important to the majority of Arizonans so they can provide tax breaks to their corporate buddies. When the people get wind of it and complain, they restore some of the cuts and claim they are heroes for their hard work to restore the funding. Here’s an idea…how’s about you just don’t cut these programs in the first place? How’s about you realize the investment in education is the way forward to a brighter future for Arizona? How’s about you show you care more about children than corporations?

Unfortunately, we don’t get the government we need; we get the government we elect. Doug Ducey promised tax cuts every year, he was subsequently elected and is now doing what he promised. That’s the thing with elected officials, they generally do that which what keeps them in office. That’s why unless the voters of Arizona wake up and elect new representatives, we’ll see all these same cuts and more come back next legislative session. This despite the fact that Arizona is:

A 2008 report titled “Preparing for an Arizona of 10 Million People” prepared by ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Business, recognized how critical an investment education is:

“Yet, the acquisition of knowledge and skills is one of the most important factors for attaining economic prosperity in a knowledge-based economy. Without a quality education infrastructure in Arizona, the standard of living of Arizona residents may lag behind. Enrollments rising slightly faster than population growth, pressures resulting in increasing costs such as higher salaries for quality teachers, and catching up from the state’s low rate of investment will add to future costs.”

This report was written eight years ago and is even more salient today. Arizona’s GOP lawmakers act as if public education is a hungry beast that must be killed rather than a real investment in the future of our people and our state. It is abundantly clear that the only counter to this very wrong thinking is the power of the people with the votes they cast. If we want different results, we must take different actions. We can wail and gnash our teeth all we want, but until we elect candidates that are committed to the future of all our people and our state, we will continue to lead in all the wrong areas. How’s about this? In addition to ensuring you vote in November, promise to get one other new voter to cast their ballot for a better Arizona. Then do it. #YouPlusOne

Toto, we ARE in Kansas!

Open revolt in the Kansas GOP is now plaguing Governor Sam Brownback in his attempt to slash personal income taxes. His reasoning for the cuts was that it would encourage business expansion and hiring (sound familiar Arizonans?) But five years in, his plan hasn’t produced the promised results but rather, has the state budget in a crisis so deep that many of the Republicans that originally backed the plan are now jumping ship.

Brownback and the Kansas Legislature’s (where three-fourths of the seats are held by Republicans) plan was to cut top personal income tax (surprise, surprise) by 29 percent and exempt more than 330,000 farmers and business owners from income taxes. The predicted business expansion didn’t happen, and now the state is in trouble. Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle said the Legislature still  supports low income taxes, but they’d “prefer to see some real solutions coming from the Governor’s office.” What a concept!

What’s the chances Governor Ducey and Senator Biggs are paying attention to what’s happening in Kansas and…learning the right lesson from it? Uh yeah, that’s what I thought. It is obvious though that they are working from the same playbook in making cuts. Brownback’s most recent cuts have been to universities and public education (sound familiar?) And yes, just like in Arizona, Kansas has siphoned off big money from highway projects (over $750 million in just two years.)

Thus far, Brownback isn’t backing down and blames a slow global economy for his state’s troubles (guess the buck doesn’t stop on his desk.) An economist for the conservative Tax Foundation however, says those benefitting are pocketing the tax savings rather than using it to expand and create jobs. One former ally of Brownback who is now a critic said the continuing budget turmoil has been “just amateurish.”

I don’t know that I would characterize Arizona’s budget issues as amateurish, maybe self-serving instead. I’ve written before about the fallacy of trickle-down economics, there are plenty of examples that show it is a very flawed theory. Why do GOP lawmakers continue to go down that rabbit hole? Could it be that they are considering donors deep pockets more than the big picture for our state and all its citizens?

I’m currently reading the book “The Political Brain” in which author Drew Westen makes the point that the Democrats don’t have, and haven’t had, “a plan.” Think I prefer that to the Republican plan which seems to be to do the same thing over and over and expect different results. At least there’s a chance the Dems will get it right every now and then. The GOP’s plan is just literally the definition of insanity.

Open letter to those opposed to Prop. 123

Cross-posted by Christine Marsh, Arizona’s 2016 Teacher of the Year:

To all of the folks who are voting “No” on Prop. 123,

In case people don’t read to the end (but read to the end), if you are voting against Prop. 123, contact your legislators and the governor and tell them why. If Prop. 123 fails, the false narrative from our legislators and the governor will likely be something along the lines of this: “SEE?! We knew that the public didn’t care about public education. And this proves it.”

As a teacher in the trenches, I have to wonder where the public has been for the past six years. Education—students, teachers, parents, support staff—has been left to languish in the bottom of the nation for many years. We have the worst funding in the entire nation, and we’re over $3000 per student per year below the national average (we’re about $15,000 below the states that fund their public education the best/highest).

We also have the lowest administrative costs in the nation, the highest class sizes in the nation, and we’re in the bottom four states for what we pay teachers.

We already have a teacher shortage, and with roughly 30% of our state’s teachers retiring in the next five year, we’re reaching crisis proportions. In many districts, it’s already a crisis.

As a teacher, I feel abandoned by the public. You can say, “I didn’t cause this. I’ve voted for education-friendly people.” But that doesn’t change the fact that the majority of the voting public has continued to elect legislators and other politicians who simply do not care about public education.

Now, when we have a bit of light (meaning—yes—money) coming our way, the public that has essentially abandoned us for the past many years wants to extinguish it by killing Prop. 123.

You do realize that we’re in this mess because of the way Arizonans voted (or apathetically skipped voting) in 2014, right?

You also realize that the plaintiffs (representing the schools) have been fighting for this money since 2010, right? Where were you then? Why didn’t you vocalize your support?

You hopefully also realize that as much as we want to, we can’t force the legislature to pay. And, apparently, we can’t throw them in jail for their refusal to pay, either (although, I wish we could). It’s ironic that we can throw “deadbeat dads” in jail, but not deadbeat legislators and that Ducey is going after deadbeat dads.

If you vote this down, what’s your plan? The fact is that we have a legislative majority that doesn’t value public education, so the chances of them paying are slim to none. You can’t claim that they “should” pay and that the money exists without raiding the trust land, because what “should” happen doesn’t matter. The facts matter, and the fact is that they won’t pay. They’ve already proven that they won’t. So if Prop. 123 doesn’t pass, we won’t see the money for many years, if ever. (Remember “Flores Vs. Arizona”? It took over 20 years to settle that case).

So if you vote this down, do you have a plan?

Are you going to as aggressively fight to elect new legislators as you are fighting to defeat Prop. 123?

Or are you going to kill this one chance at light and abandon public schools again? Again??

Please, have a plan if you kill this.

Because with this particular legislature, we won’t be seeing any other funds any time soon.

Mad as Hell and You’re Not Going to Take it Anymore!

Okay fellow liberal southern Arizonans, I get it. You are mad as hell and you aren’t going to take anymore. Prop 123 is a bridge too far, a river too wide and the proverbial final straw breaking the camel’s back.

I join you in being pissed off. I’m pissed at the Legislature who has failed to follow the people’s mandate since 2009 and ignored the Superior Court judge’s order to follow that same mandate. I’m pissed that Governor Ducey is dead set against raising the appropriate revenue to ensure our districts get the funding they are due. I’m also pissed at the current and previous state treasurers who have come out against Prop 123 since I wonder where they’ve been as the Legislature has steadily eroded our districts’ budgets.

I’m especially pissed though, at the voters who continue to elect anti-public education candidates, whether they voted for them, or just didn’t vote at all. After all, we know that 89 percent of Arizona voters prioritize K-12 public education funding at the top and that two-thirds are willing to pay more taxes to make that happen. We also know that in 2014, only 36 percent of eligible voters actually voted. Polls tell us what voters want, but they aren’t voting in a way to ensure they’ll actually get it.

I just wonder how many of you (who have decided this is the time and the place to plant the flag of “I’m not going to take it anymore”) are in the classroom, administering a school district, serving on a school board, or even have children currently in K-12 district schools. I ask this because I’m fairly sure all of these people are pissed too and they’d like to plant their own flags. But, they know that if Prop 123 doesn’t pass, it will be their students/children that suffer. It will be the 5th graders who have never been in a fully funded classroom. It will be those numerous students in Arizona who now have long-term uncertified and/or substitute teachers because of the severe shortage* of teachers in our state. It will be those students in class sizes higher than the national average because that is the only way districts could make ends meet. It will also be those students who are in facilities that haven’t been properly maintained because districts only received 2 percent of required funding to do so.

We now have Prop 123 because parents, teachers, school board members and others kept the pressure on to settle the school inflation-funding lawsuit. Years and years of cuts have made Arizona #1 in cuts to public education funding and Prop 123 won’t make much of a dent in that, but it is a start. Let me be clear…this is ONLY a start. It ONLY settles the inflation-funding lawsuit. The next step is up to all of us. We simply must elect different legislators if we expect different results. To do otherwise begins to meet the definition of insanity. We totally have the power to do this, we need only exercise it.

Please start now by taking the Prop 123GO Pledge.** Also as a reminder, the last day to register to vote in this special election is April 18th and early voting begins on April 20th. Our kids are counting on you to put them first, to end the wait, to up the fight. I will be there for them, will you?

Notes:

*To be clear, we probably have enough certified teachers in Arizona, they just can’t support their families on a teacher’s salary and have decided to work in other fields. In 2014, Arizona was 45th in the Nation for teacher salaries.

**If you are a school district employee or board member, please remember that district resources (including email) cannot be used to produce or circulate pro/con election materials.

Is It Really School’s Choice?

Representative Vince Leach, R-SaddleBrooke, recently replied to a constituent’s concern about SB1279, Empowerment Scholarships; expansion; phase-in, with:

“You are correct in assuming I am in favor of this bill.  Rather than a long, rambling explanation of my position, I simply refer you to the linked research paper: http://www.edchoice.org/research/2015-schooling-in-america-survey/. Please refer to page 27.  It reveals what I believe most people have missed in the school choice discussion.  And that is, while about ~85% of student attend public schools, given the choice, only ~36% would choose to attend public schools.  SB1279 is narrowly defined, it specifies that qualified student includes a child who meets the family income eligibility requirements for free or reduced price lunches under the National School Lunch and Child Nutrition Acts, rather than the specified educational scholarship. IT is for these reasons and many more that I support this bill.”

Obviously when quoting statistics, one must pay attention to the source of the information. The research paper Leach refers to is from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. The Foundation was named after Milton Friedman and his wife Rose who extolled the virtues of a free market economic system with minimal intervention. An eventual advisor to President Ronald Reagan, Friedman was the first to float the idea of school vouchers which many, particularly in the South, viewed as a way to fight desegregation. He wrote in 1955 that he would choose forced nonsegregation over forced segregation and that “under [private schools] there can develop exclusively white schools, exclusively colored schools, and mixed schools.”

Inspired by Friedman, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) made a nationwide push (sending a model voucher bill to 16,000 state and federal officials) toward private school vouchers in 1981. Education historian Diane Ravitch writes that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) touted the voucher model legislation “to introduce normal market forces” and to “dismantle the control and power of teachers’ unions.” At a 2006 ALEC meeting, Friedman asked, “How do we get from where we are to where we want to be?” The ideal way he said “would be to abolish the public school system.” He recognized “you’re not gonna do that”, but that introducing a universal voucher system would be a more palatable way to achieve the same end result. Friedman went on to say that you have to change the way tax dollars are directed, instead of financing schools and buildings, the funding should follow the child.

ALEC has unfortunately enjoyed much success in pushing model voucher legislation to state lawmakers. It should be no surprise then that our schools are more segregated than at anytime since the mid 1960s. The Southern Education Foundation shows that private schools are whiter than the overall school-age population in the South and the West and that Black, Latino and Naïve American students are underrepresented. In fact, private schools are more likely to be virtually all white (90 percent or more) with 43 percent of the nation’s private school students attending these “white” schools versus 27 percent of public school students. These statistics, argues the Southern Education Foundation, show that more needs to be done to ensure equitable access to any schools that receive taxpayer monies. Basically, private schools should be required to admit anyone who applies, just as public schools do. If they don’t, they shouldn’t receive public funding.

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice however, maintains:

“School choice levels the playing field by helping those with lower incomes have access to the choices that others now have and even take for granted. It is not a scandal that those who are able to access better schools choose to do so; it is a scandal that because of the government school monopoly, only some are able to access better schools.”

The Southern Education Foundation counters that line of reasoning with:

 “The number of black, Latino and Native American students enrolled in private schools is far lower than the number of minority families that could afford it. The fact is that, over the years, African American families and non-white families have come to understand that these private schools are not schools that are open to them, especially in light of their traditional role and history related to desegregation of public schools.”

The Friedman Foundation does not see a problem with this of course (of course) and said:

“Just as parents should have the right to say to schools, ‘You’re not the right fit for my child, I’m going to find another school,’ schools should also have the right to say to parents, ‘We’re not the right fit for your child.’”

So, let me get this straight. Representative Leach supports the idea that private schools taking taxpayer dollars should be able to exclude children they don’t believe are a “right fit” for their school. Evidently, his definition of school choice is that schools should have the choice, not the students or their parents. This isn’t school choice; it is state endorsed discrimination.