#1 Way to Build Back Better

I am a currently serving school governing board member of nine years and the past president of the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA). As such, I have been closely following the stories of school board meetings, especially in Arizona, that have become especially contentious.

The ugliness probably shouldn’t be surprising in the uber-polarized environment we now find ourselves. As Michelle Cottle (editorial board member) points out in the New York Times,

while the drama may feel bound up in the angry, ugly, polarized politics of the moment, it is nothing new. Public schools have long been an irresistible battleground for America’s culture warriors. On issues ranging from sex education to desegregation, public prayer to evolution to the Pledge of Allegiance, cultural cage matches are frequently fought on the backs of local schools, with board members, educators and students too often caught in the fray.

And that my friends, is the saddest part of what we see being played out – students caught in the fray. Even those who have never been parents understand that children learn from our actions, as well as our words. What does it say to our students when parents show up to their school to threaten, harass, and vilify teachers, administrators and school board members? Director of ASBA’s governmental relations, Chris Kotterman, described it well when he said,

Threatening public officials for advancing policy you don’t agree with is fundamentally opposed to the behavior we expect from our students. It sends the message when we aren’t getting what we want or we disagree, the thing to do is to try and intimidate the opposition into compliance. That’s a terrible example to set.

Cottle gives plenty of examples of school board meeting protestors around the country being incredibly ugly and scary, screaming profanity and threats like ““You will never be allowed in public again!” one raged. “We know who you are,” another warned. “You can leave freely, but we will find you!” and after another school board passed a mask mandate, another saying, “you made Dr. Mengele proud” (while giving the Nazi salute). Even locally though, we’ve had protestors in Vail try to elect a new school board outside the board meeting and blocking staff members from leaving the building shouting obscenities at them and saying, “You’re surrounded. You can’t leave.”

It is not okay to treat each other this way and the lack of respect shown each other at the most fundamental level – as human beings – is sorely lacking these days. I personally know of an administrator who was called a “cunt” by a grandmother of a student. And again, this shouldn’t surprise me when we just suffered through four years with a U.S. President who normalized all sorts of actions and words that wouldn’t have been acceptable before his time.

Let me just point out though, that at least in Arizona, school board members don’t get paid for their service. In fact, this is true for most school board members around the country. And yet, during my travels all around Arizona and to national conferences with ASBA, I met countless dedicated school board members who really care about their students and work hard to improve their educational experience. Yes, just like in every other endeavor on the planet, there are those few who either have agendas that aren’t focused on the kids or don’t take their roles seriously enough, but they are the rare exception, not the rule.

And although I can understand how the current climate would discourage good people from wanting to serve on school boards, it is exactly the time that they must. Otherwise, the bad guys win. What we’ll end up with is school board members who thrive on hateful discourse and self-destructive environments. We’ll end up with an exodus of good school board members, good administrators, and good teachers. Eventually, we’ll end up with a system of public education that is circling the drain.

I don’t think of myself as a conspiracy theorist, but neither do I think we should be so naive, to think that all this is happening organically. Of the April Vail protests for example, Superintendent Carruth said,

“There was a handful of people – I don’t know exactly how many – who either don’t have kids in the school district, don’t live in the school district, don’t live in the county, who came with the express purpose of whipping up that group.”

Yes, around the country, administrators and school board members have suspected outsiders of coming in to school board meetings to wreak havoc for political purposes. This is not a new strategy, as conservative strategist Ralph Reed, (former executive director of the Christian Coalition), once said he would “exchange the presidency for 2,000 school seats”. But the current political climate and ease message spreading via social media has whipped it into a frenzy.

For those who are shocked at how low we’ve sunk at a country, and are committed to do their part to “Build Back Better”, there is almost no better place to start than to serve on your local school board. Ensuring our students are prepared to build a better future is why I first ran for the school board in 2012, and why I continue to serve. I can assure you that the other side is feverishly working to ensure they win this battle for hearts and minds and they’ve been very successful thus far in using school board seats as stepping stones to higher political offices.

Elections happen every two years and the paperwork to run is usually due in the summer of election year. Our kids need you, will you step up in 2022? For more information about running for school governing boards, please contact the office of your County Schools Superintendent (Pima and Pinal), or the Arizona School Boards Association.

Protecting Children Violates Parental Rights?

Okay, let me get this right. Governor Ducey is threatening to withhold federal COVID funding from Arizona districts who have mandated masks. Where do I begin with all the things wrong with that?

First of all, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge has already determined the school districts are not breaking the law, because it does not go into effect until September 29, 2021. Secondly, COVID funding ($163 million) was provided to the school districts by the Federal government, to mitigate the effects of…wait for it…YES, COVID relief!! Thirdly, according to all the real experts, masks have been proven to reduce transmission of COVID, even the Delta variant. Fourthly, when COVID first hit in 2020, Ducey and the AZ Legislature, were more than happy to initially leave mitigation strategies up to district school boards. It was a heavy responsibility, but school board members shouldered it because they cared about their students, their staffs, and their communities.

Now that school boards have proven their ability to ensure the safety of their students and staffs, Ducey has taken away their right to local control, just to appease his base for political gain.

As reported in today’s AZ Daily Star, Ducey said,

there’s nothing wrong, legally or otherwise, with his decision to provide new education funding only to K-12 schools that don’t require students and staff to wear masks. He said those dollars are reserved for schools interested in teaching, which for him, includes obeying state law.

For Governor Ducey to infer that districts worried about the safety of their students aren’t interested in teaching is absolutely ludicrous. Has he never heard of Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs which stipulates that before human beings can focus on love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization, their basic physiological and safety needs must be met. These physiological needs include things such as food, water and breathing while the basic safety needs are are financial security, health and wellness, and safety against accidents and injury.

The school districts he’s threatening of course, are those who believe in science and facts, not political talking points. After all, the latest Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidance for masking in schools says, “Due to the circulating and highly contagious Delta variant, CDC recommends universal indoor masking by all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.” Likewise, on July 18, 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), issued a universal school masking recommendation which said, All students older than 2 years and all school staff should wear face masks at school (unless medical or developmental conditions prohibit use).

When asked point blank whether he believes schools that require masks aren’t serious about education, Ducey responded with another GOP talking point, “I’m saying a parent can make that choice and I believe we ought to trust parents.” This, my readers, is where I really start to lose it. What part of (according to CDC research) “wearing multi-layered masks keeps around 95% of aerosols that may be infected from spreading” doesn’t he understand? Thing is, I’m sure he does understand it, he just doesn’t care because it doesn’t fit his political messaging.

The fact is,(yes, there are still facts) there have been multiple studies showing that when most people in a community mask up, rates of transmission slow down. According to the CDC, community masking leads to fewer diagnosed cases and reduces contraction likelihood by over 70% in high-risk areas. It just makes common sense that masks lessen the virus-laden particles people can transmit to other people. Isn’t that why parents teach their children to cover their mouth when they cough or sneeze? And, although the CDC was first promoting mask wearing to protect others, there is new evidence that wearing even a cloth mask can “reduce the amount of infectious droplets inhaled by the wearer”, thereby protecting them as well.

But enough with the facts already, we know that’s not what Ducey’s threats are about. They are rather, about Ducey’s personal political future as well as that of the AZ GOP. I mean come on…even Walmart, (whose net favorability leans GOP) has mandated masks for their employees. The science is good enough for Wally World employees but not for our children?

And for those who say it should be up to the parents? Following the logic (I know, I know, that’s a four (five)-letter word), makes me want to ask what about seat belts and child car seats? We don’t leave the decision to use these up to the parent. Why? Because their proper use saves lives. So does vaccination and masking for COVID.

Then there are those who claim they just don’t know who and what to believe anymore. They cite the changing guidance from the CDC as validation of their doubt. Yes, the CDC is due some of the hits it has taken. But keep in mind that Trump was hell-bent on discrediting them from the start and, instantaneous updates on the latest research results from both legitimate sources, and speculation from those not so much, keep us guessing about what’s real. Remember, the only thing that can refute science, is new science. Not opinion, feelings, hunches, etc. What we know about COVID continues to evolve — as it should — and smart people respond to the new science accordingly.

The Biden Administration is now looking at the launching civil rights probes to fight back against governors banning mask mandates. They should also be looking at clawing back the funding those states were given for COVID relief if that funding is going to used for political retribution. Here in Arizona, a group of education and children’s advocates including the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA), Arizona Education Association and Children’s Action Alliance filed a lawsuit this week against the state law prohibiting school mask mandates. The lawsuit claims the Legislature violated the legislative process laid out by the Arizona Constitution whereby laws passed can cover only one subject and their contents must be properly noticed in the title of the bill. This process wasn’t followed to pass legislation prohibiting school mask mandates. In speaking on the lawsuit, Dr. Sheila Harrison-Williams, executive director of ASBA, said, “ASBA stands for local control; we do not want to mandate masks for all Arizona school districts; we simply want those districts and their locally elected school board to be able to decide what’s best for their students and staff”.

You would think that’s what the majority of Arizonans want. Local control over decisions that affect him or her, not being told what to do or think by some big city politician in Phoenix or Washington D.C. But, I continue to be surprised and dismayed by the direction we are heading and the speed with which we are getting there. PLEASE someone find the brakes!

If We Want Better, We Must Do Better

Hello. Let me reintroduce myself. Linda Lyon. Retired Air Force Colonel, school board member, very happily married to my best friend, who is also a woman. Previously married to a great guy. Enthusiastic fly fisher, own a gun, love to camp. A patriot who believes in our Constitution and progressive policies but also that our system works best when we have a balance of power between two parties so they must compromise to get things done. In other words, please don’t write me off with just one label. You’d be wrong. That is of course, true of all of us.

I’ve been blogging on RestoreReason.com since 2013, with a hiatus since mid-2019. There are multiple reasons for my break to include some hard-fought political losses that were near and dear to my heart. More than anything though, I thought there was just too much craziness in the news and I didn’t think I had anything constructive to add. Whatever I had to say would just be drowned out, and even if anyone was listening, it was probably only the people who agreed with me.

The last post I wrote on in 2019 titled “Teachers are the Real Patriots”, was written in response to a letter to the editor in the Arizona Daily Star. In it, a veteran made the point that “Now all enemies are Democrats and liberals” and he went on to say, “There are many retired military who will protect our president. He has only to say where and when, we will be there and the wrath of Hell will descend. We will take our country back.”

At the time, I had no clue what was to come, and in my response as an ardent public education advocate, I focused on teachers as patriots:

Teachers, standing up for those most vulnerable among us, are the real patriots. They know there can be no great democratic republic when there is no educated citizenry and that our public schools are the only ones that can address the problems we face at the scale demanded. Over 90% of America’s K–12 population attends public schools and that is where our singular educational focus should be. No. That is where it MUST be. Yes, to provide an engaged citizenry who can think creatively and determine fact from fiction.

I went on to implore continuing the fight for the “immortal declaration”:

Yes, we have much work to do. But, allowing ourselves to be divided and conquered, whether by Russia, partisan politics, or school privatizers is not going to help us get it done. To stay strong and prosperous, we must be true to what is referred to as the “immortal declaration”. From the Declaration of Independence, it states that, “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”.

America is undoubtedly a long way from realizing this dream. But even the aspiration itself is one of the things that sets us apart from most other nations and is one that we should fight tooth and nail to achieve. As patriots, we must steadfastly reject the nightmare Theriot and others like him would have us embrace and continue to fight with all our power for this American ideal and the Dream it promises.

Two years later, I found myself responding to another letter to the editor in the Star in which that writer claimed “progressives destroyed our election integrity” and that “government overreaches in our basic liberties”. I’m guessing he believes that Trump really won the election and that the January 6th Capitol insurgents were just sightseeing tourists. As for January 6th, I guess the 2019 letter writer was correct. Trump did only have to say “where” (the U.S. Capitol) and “when” (January 6th), and “they” were there and the wrath of Hell did descend. Fortunately, his prescience was only partially correct and they did not “take our country back”.

Still, there can be little doubt that America and the democratic republic it has enjoyed for almost 244 years is in trouble, and although outside forces are exacerbating our problems, we are currently our own worst enemy. Political polarization, racial animus, and gun violence are all off the charts and it is incredibly hard to see any path to positive progress. Little did we know just how bad things could get. Just how far from the long-standing norm our politics and priorities would drift.

I don’t have any answers, but think a starting point might be to take a cue from Aretha Franklin and first work to R-E-S-P-E-C-T each other. I have long believed it is the number one key to a healthy marriage and, would go a long way toward giving us space to heal. Okay, I know this is much harder said than done. That’s one of the reasons I took up fly fishing instead (fish don’t talk back). I mean how can I even begin to respect the guy who believes that “democrats and liberals” are the enemy of our country? Truth is, I don’t have to respect him, I just have to recognize that as an American, as a fellow human being, he has the right to think what he wants. It is when he acts on his thoughts in a way that infringes on my rights that we have a problem. Or as someone wisely once said, “your right to swing your fists ends where my nose begins”.

I’m reminded of a speech from one of my favorite movies, The American President, with Michael Douglas and Annette Bening, released in 1995. In it “President” Douglas gives a speech that is even more fitting today:

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms.

Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.

Lately though, we are too ready to label, to negate, to vilify. On a personal level, we join in the behavior of our chosen “tribe” because it makes us feel like we belong. This is not a new phenomena, but is all the more dangerous now because of the ubiquitous Internet and the social media platforms it has spawned. On a broader level, it has allowed our worst proclivities to be exploited by foreign and domestic enemies alike. Again “President Douglas” in The American President:

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you Bob Rumson [the GOP] is not the least bit interested in solving it. He [they] is [are] interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle age, middle class, middle income [or just disenfranchised white] voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family, and American values and character, and you wave an old photo of the President’s girlfriend [the flag] and you scream about patriotism. You tell them she’s [“illegal” immigrants are] to blame for their lot in life. And you go on television and you call her [them] a whore [rapists and murderers].

The older I get, the more I realize there’s really nothing new under the sun. The words in the brackets above are mine and update the speech to fit the era we find ourselves in now.

No, manipulation of voters by politicians and others is not new. What is new, is the speed and volume at which the influence is coming, especially from foreign powers. Unfortunately, in this time of unprecedented access to information, it is harder than ever to find the truth and many Americans don’t realize they are being manipulated. Just like in the movie The Matrix, many of us are unwittingly cocooned in information bubbles that shield us from the truth. We listen to/read/watch only that which reinforces our beliefs. In many cases, we don’t even see critical thinking as a valuable skill. The problem then in coming together, is that not only do we have different opinions, but entirely different facts upon which they are based. Not only that, but a CBS News poll released in January 2021 showed that more than 50 percent of Americans believe the greatest danger to our way of life comes from their fellow citizens. That led Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps, to ask in a February 5, 2021 USA Today op-ed, “Is it possible for Americans to achieve unity when they cannot agree on their common humanity?”

Wow, that is a low bar and we likely haven’t yet hit the bottom. But, I continue to find comfort that we’ve been through worse times and still recovered (albeit imperfectly). Recognizing each other’s humanity and the respect each of us is due by virtue of that humanity is a place to start. It is up to each and every one of us and none of us should expect better, unless each of us does better.

Ducey’s Lament: "we’re not last" when it comes to teacher salaries. He has the means to make it so with more tax cuts.

Teachers protest salaries
Teachers march for higher pay

Cross posted from skyislandscriber.com

Howard Fischer reports in the Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) that Gov. Doug Ducey rejects teachers’ demand for 20 percent pay hike. Governor also won’t reverse tax cuts. (Fischer’s report also appeared in the Daily Star.)

Gov. Doug Ducey said Thursday that teachers aren’t going to get the 20 percent pay hike they are demanding – not now and not in the foreseeable future.

And he intends to continue proposing further cuts in state taxes even as teachers say that, without substantially more money, they may have no choice but to strike.

Speaking to reporters a day after a rally brought more than 2,000 teachers and supporters to the Capitol, the governor rejected the demand they laid out. Ducey said he’s doing the best he can.

Rubbish. What Ducey meant by that last statement is that “he’s doing the best he will.” After you discount Ducey’s inflated claims about what a good education guy he is:

What that leaves is the 1 percent pay increase that lawmakers gave teachers for the current school year – more than the 0.4 percent that Ducey had actually sought – and the governor’s promise of an additional 1 percent hike for the coming school year.

And the new money still leaves Arizona teacher pay close to the bottom of the barrel nationally.

Ducey disputed figures from the Morrison Institute that put salaries for elementary school teachers dead last when considering the cost of living, with high school teachers at No. 49. Instead, he insists, Arizona is just No. 43rd in the nation.

“I’m not bragging on 43rd,” the governor said. “I’m just saying we’re not last.”

It sounds to me like this is _Ducey’s Lament_: “we’re not last.” The thing is, he has the means to make it so and, as Fischer reports, he is hell bent on getting us back to last.

But the governor is not backing away from his pledge not only to never increase taxes but also in refusing to reverse any of the hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate tax cuts that have kicked in since taking office. Each $100 million that was lost would translate to a 3 percent pay hike for teachers.

Perhaps more galling to teachers is Ducey’s insistence that lawmakers approve yet another tax cut this year, albeit a much smaller one that eventually would reduce state revenues by another $15 million a year.

The governor’s comments, coming on the heels of that rally, discouraged Arizona Educators United organizer Noah Karvelis.

“He’s going to continue to ignore and neglect us,” he said.

Karvelis isn’t buying Ducey’s argument that the state can improve its economy by continuing to shave off sources of revenue.

“Every single one of those tax cuts has come with the promise it’s going to inject capital and dollars into our economy,” he said. “That hasn’t happened. That’s a lie.”

Nor does he believe that 20 percent is unrealistic, pointing out it would not even bring the average salary for Arizona teachers up to the national median.

“It’s ridiculous he won’t even consider it,” Karvelis said.

Part of what is working against the teachers is the sheer size of their demand.

Republican leaders in the lege are lined up behind Ducey, Fischer reports. However, there is some support for the 20 percent from the business community.

… Karvelis said he believes many elements of the business community would support a tax hike if they could be guaranteed it would increase teacher pay.

That’s likely true. In fact there is a coalition of current and former business officials who have said the current 0.6-cent sales tax for education – the one lawmakers just extended until 2041 – should be raised a full penny. That would raise more than $1 billion a year, more than enough to get teacher pay up to the national median.

Karvelis has the last word.

"We’re going to get out of ton of teachers to vote on [a ballot measure],” Karvelis said. “A lot of those teachers … are going to be checking ‘yes’ to that ballot initiative and then they’ll be checking ‘no’ for him.

In service of the Guv’s likely fight against a 20% initiative, consider some possible mottos for Ducey.

Last is best.

Back to last.

Make Arizona Last Again.

Partisan? You bet! My party is Public Education.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open Letter to Diane Douglas

Dear Diane,

It is with great sadness I write you this letter. I say that because I just had my hopes dashed once again that people of different political ideology could actually trust each other to put the mission over self-interest. In my Air Force career the “mission” was almost always paramount, but I’ve not found it to be quite as prevalent in civilian life, especially when politics are involved. I must admit that after my most recent meeting with you, I was encouraged that you were “mission-focused” on behalf of all Arizona students. In my opinion, you said all the “right” things and your “AZ Kids Can’t Afford to Wait” plan outlines 30 proposals that with few exceptions, seem like the way right to go. And, although you support school choice, you also recognize that 85 percent of Arizona’s students attend district schools and that you stated you are committed to getting them the resources they need.

I supported your opponent for Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2014 and was incredulous and very disappointed when you won. Your tumultuous beginning as the Superintendent confirmed my belief you were not the right person for the job. Of late though, I’ve begun to feel that you’ve settled down and if not yet “hitting your stride”, at least properly “setting up in the chocks.” Unfortunately, my breath was taken away this morning when I read my public education Google Alerts. The headline that caught my eye was Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas endorses Donald Trump for President. OMG!!! Are you freakin’ kidding me?

Don’t get me wrong, the purpose of this letter is not to harangue you on your choice of who to vote for. Yes, I personally think anyone who votes for Trump is crazy, but I recognize it is your right as a U.S. citizen in the greatest democracy in the world to vote for whomever you wish. What does bother me, is that you felt the need to publicly endorse this misogynistic, xenophobic, racist candidate who has shown himself to lack the temperament, knowledge or even the desire to learn what he needs to know to serve as President of the United States of America, let alone as Commander in Chief. Even a FOX news poll from May of this year showed only 38 percent of registered voters trusted Trump to do a better job than Clinton on the use of nuclear weapons.

Geo-politics and nukes aside however, I ask you what is Mr. Trump’s plan for education? You wrote in your news release that you endorsed him because he “shares my belief that the federal government’s role in education needs to be reduced rather than expanded.” Well, that certainly will solve ALL our educational problems…especially here in Arizona! After all, we have a Legislature and Governor totally dedicated to serving the needs of our one million plus students and their teachers in Arizona’s district community schools. Wait…what…we don’t? Oh yeah, that was just the dream I have. Besides, as you already well know, the new Every Student Succeeds Act signed into law in December 2015 has already greatly reduced the federal government’s role in education. 

The National Education Association (NEA) published an article on August 29th about Mr. Trump’s education plan titled “Trump to release ed plan; details so far show little understanding.” First of all, Trump has yet to release his education plan. What we know thus far is that Trump is “the product of private schools, stands behind school vouchers, which in community after community have diverted scarce resources from community schools to private and religious schools that are allowed to reject students with special needs.” Of public [presumably district] schools, Trump has said, “Schools are crime-ridden and they don’t teach.”

And who is Trump’s point man on education other than Neurosurgeon Ben Carson who he credits as an expert on the subject. In a news conference, Trump said, “I was most impressed with his views on education. It’s strength. It’s a tremendous strength. So Carson is going to be involved with us, particularly on health and education.” Please keep in mind that Ben Carson is the guy whom Donald Trump compared to a child molester. Carson also thinks little of public school students saying, “The best education is the education that is closest to home, and I’ve found that for instance homeschoolers do the best, private schoolers next best, charter schoolers next best, and public schoolers worst.” This statement seems to call into question his knowledge about the fact that charter schools are public schools and, he is wrong…on the whole, charter schools don’t do better than district schools. But then, Mr. Carson seems to have a penchant for rejecting facts since he also doesn’t believe in evolution. As a Seventh-day Adventist, he espouses the “creationist theory that holds all life on Earth was created by God about 6,000 years ago.” This believe rejects Darwin’s theory of evolution which virtually all of today’s scientists agree is true.

All this is disturbing, but still isn’t really at the crux of my dismay about your endorsement of Trump. What really bothers me is the kind of leadership he projects. According to a national survey of educators by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the presidential campaign is producing an alarming level of fear and anxiety, [The Trump Effect], among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions in the classroom.” In the report, 67 percent of educators reported students in their schools (often immigrants, children of immigrants, Muslims, African Americans and other students of color), were concerned about what might happen to them or their families after the election. Students are stressed and anxious and it is detrimental to their well being and learning. SLC reports that dozens of educators reported daily worries from students “being sent back or having their parents sent back.” Many of these students and/or their families are American citizens or are here legally and yet they feel under attack and teachers are having a very hard time responding. A high school teacher in Boston for example, said her students are, “confused as to how a person who has no respect for American ideals can be so popular.”

Of course, it isn’t just the racism that is detrimental to the learning environment, it is also the hateful and mean rhetoric Trump has used. After an anti-bullying assembly, a middle school teacher in Michigan told us that [insults, name-calling, trash talk] isn’t bullying, they’re just ‘telling it like it is.’” Likewise, a high school teacher in Georgia wrote, “Students have become very hostile to opposing points of view, regardless of the topic”, and “any division now elicits anger and personal attacks.”

In your “Kids Can’t Wait Plan”, you discussed the action committees and other steps you’ve taken to help improve educational outcomes for African-American, Native-American and Latino students. Your plan, and willingness to engage these students and their communities left me hopeful. But now, I must ask you how in you think these students or their communities can have faith you are truly committed to helping them when you have publicly endorsed a candidate for President who has made it clear he prefers a homogenous (read white) America and, has total disdain for our community district schools?

You gave me one of your challenge coins at our last meeting and told me your challenge to me was to ALWAYS put the kids first. In fact, you shared that you constantly challenge your staff to ask themselves if what they are doing has really “moved the needle” for Arizona’s children? So, I now ask you whether your endorsement of Trump has “moved the needle” for the one million plus Arizonan students in our district schools? I think both of us know the answer to this and it doesn’t start with a “Y.”

Just rearranging the deck chairs ain’t gonna cut it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Educated Workforce = State Prosperity

Okay. Let me get this right. Daniel Scarpinato, Press Aide to Governor Doug Ducey says Arizona schools are the 4th worst in the nation because school choice siphons taxpayer dollars out of community (district) schools into private and parochial schools, leaving those community schools underresourced. Okay, those weren’t his exact words, but that is what he intimated. His intent was of course, to invalidate the WalletHub study because it only looked at our public schools and not private schools. So, he thinks the study is invalid because it ONLY pertains to 96 percent of Arizona’s K-12 students?

WalletHub looked at 17 key metrics and found that Arizona is: 49th for pupil to teacher ratio; near the bottom in average ACT score; and below average for low-income student high school graduation rate. Even though these types of rankings are nothing new for Arizona and, he doesn’t dispute the numbers, Scarpinato called the study “baloney.” Rather, he went on to deflect the blame by citing Arizona’s rapidly increasing population as part of the problem for low per-pupil funding and sidestepped whether this meant funding should be increased to keep up with that growth. He also dismissed the idea of halting corporate tax cuts. His justification – Arizona needs to remain competitive with other states in its efforts to cut corporate taxes. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) says “cutting taxes to capture private investment from other states is a race-to-the-bottom state economic development strategy that undermines the ability to invest in education.” We need only look at Kansas to see how this strategy works.

EPI research shows “income is higher in states where the workforce is well-educated and thus more productive.” There is, the Institute says, “a clear and strong correlation between the educational attainment of a state’s workforce and median wages in the state.” Those workers then pay more taxes to boost state budgets. The best companies know they need to go where they can get the kind of educated workforce they need, where their current employees will find good communities with high quality schools, and where the infrastructure can support their business model. That’s why states like Massachusetts (ranked #1) see education as an investment, not an expense.

Unfortunately, the AZ Legislature seems hell-bent on pushing the privatization of our community school system and will continue down this path until the voters boot them out of office. We need lawmakers who understand there can be no significant progress for our state over the long haul unless we ensure all our children are given the tools to grow and prosper. Community schools remain the schools of choice for the vast majority of our students and must be our first priority for state resources. Yes, school choice has its place in our overall educational system, but it shouldn’t be first place.

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.

America Worst

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

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

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

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

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

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

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