Time to Face the Facts!

Thomas photo med_2A Casa Grande Dispatch article dated April 26, 2013 and titled “Gubernatorial race: Melvin’s bid shuffles the deck in District 11” contained a misleading statement.  The sentence started with “Melvin’s education plan is built around giving every parent a voucher for $9,000…”

It is not true that the state provides close to $9K per pupil to public schools.  Per the Joint Legislative Budget Committee[i], K-12 (M&O, Capital and All Other) funding per student (not adjusted for inflation) has been less than $5K every year since FY04.  In FY11, the amount was $3,897 and the estimated amounts for FY12 and FY13 were even less that that.  In fact, Arizona leads the nation in cuts to per pupil funding since 2008 – almost 22%.

Senator Melvin has oft lauded the Arizona legislature (himself included) for protecting total education funding at over $9K per student.[ii]  Only half the funding however has come from the state.  The rest of it has been federal (some of it stimulus funds which have now gone away) or local funding.

Funding alone won’t guarantee quality schools, but neither will starving our public schools of the basic funds they need to operate, let alone excel.  In addition, our legislature hasn’t even begun to address (although the Governor has proposed $61M in her budget) the unfunded mandate to implement Common Core Standards ($156M for FY14 plus another $225M one-time cost statewide.) It is beyond time to face the real facts and take real action before it is too late.


Myths vs. Facts about America’s Public Education

Thomas photo med_2Myth #10 – Anyone Can Teach, Credentials Don’t Matter

  • 2002 Arizona study found students with certified teachers performed about 20 percent better on the tests than students with noncertified teachers (including TFA)
  • Houston study of 4,400 teachers and 132,000 students concluded certified teachers consistently produced significantly higher achievement than uncertified teachers

The Life and Death of the Great American School System:  How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education – Diane Ravitch

Myth #9 – Funding and Class Sizes Don’t Matter

  • Highest funding doesn’t guarantee best performance but, Arizona has the highest cuts per nation in per pupil spending since 2008and we are 46th in education performance
  • In 2006, California began funding reduced class sizes to 20 students in grades K-3, and 25 in grades 4-12 in schools with large numbers of low-income, minority, and English learners – since then, 85% of these schools have met their goals for improving outcomes
  • Finland is consistently one of the highest achievers on the PISA assessments and has some of the smallest class sizes among the OECD nations, averaging 21 or less in all grades


Myth #8 – Schools Should Be Run Like a Business

Business needs to maximize profits, but our children cannot be a standardized “raw material” from which we “throw away” those that do not meet some pre-determined standard and who do not “perform” in the expected manner the way certain raw materials in a factory might be discarded if not felt to be appropriate for the anticipated outcome.


Myth #7 – Standardized Testing Results Tell Us Which Teachers Are Good

Standardized testing only encourages teachers to teach to the test and in some cases, even cheat for good scores.

  • Texas, the birthplace of standardized high-stakes tests recently passed its preliminary state budget, designating ZERO dollars, for standardized testing after giving test-maker Pearson a $500 million, five-year contract just last year
  • About 880 Texas school districts, representing 4.4 million students, signed a resolution saying standardized testing (like AIMS and PARCC) is bad for education


Myth #6 – The Problem with Traditional Public Education is Teacher’s Unions

  • If unions are the problem, why:
  • Do those states that do not allow teachers to negotiate binding contracts, such as TX, VA, NV, AZ, and TN, rank in the middle or near the bottom?
  • Do the states with strong teacher’s unions: MA, CT, and NJ, rank at the top?
  • Do charter schools, most of which are non-union, not perform consistently better than comparable neighborhood schools?
  • Does Finland, which is 100% unionized, rank at the top in the 2009 PISA assessments


Myth #5 – Traditional Public Schools are Failing our Children and Charter Schools Perform Better

  • A 2009 Stanford University study compared the reading and math state achievement test scores of 70% of U.S. charter school students—to those of their virtual “twins” in traditional public schools who shared with them certain characteristics
  • Only 17% showed any significant growth in math scores over traditional public-school equivalents; 46% were the same and 37% were lower
  • In reading, charter students on average realized a growth less than their public-school counterparts


Myth #4 – Poverty Does Not Affect a Child’s Educational Performance

Family income is the single most reliable predicator of student test scores.  Living in a neighborhood with a high poverty rate can mean:

  • 22% do not graduate from high school, compared to 6% of those who’ve never been poor
  • 32% of students who spent more than half their childhoods in poverty do not graduate
  • If the students who dropped out of the 2011 Class had graduated, the nation’s economy would likely see nearly $154 billion in additional income over the course of their lifetimes


Myth #3 – American K-12 Education Ranks Far Behind the Rest of the World

Again, this isn’t true.  On the latest global tests, the U.S. scored higher in poverty-to-poverty comparisons than any other nation in the world


Myth #2 – Early Childhood Education Provides No Appreciable Benefit

  • Disadvantaged children who don’t participate in high-quality early education programs are:  50% more likely to be placed in special education, 25% more likely to drop out of school, 60% more likely to never attend college, 70% more likely to be arrested for a violent crime, 40% more likely to become a teen parent
  • Every dollar spent on early learning programs for at-risk children yields $7 to $9 in future savings on expenditures like special education and prison and can improve America’s competitiveness in a global economy by as much as 16% per year


Myth #1 – School Choice is the Civil Rights Issue of Our Time (Senator Melvin)

The civil rights issue of our time is actually “unequal access to quality education” and this unequal access is largely driven by poverty as shown by these following facts:

  • Thousands of charter schools don’t provide subsidized lunches, putting them out of reach for families in poverty
  • Hundreds mandate that parents spend hours doing “volunteer” work for the school or risk losing their child’s seat
  • The vast majority require parents to transport their children to the charter school
  • Application procedures can be extensive (handwritten essays, references and exams)


Tough Love Solves Problems

RMM7259I moved to Arizona almost five years ago, after visiting family here for over 30 years because I love it here!  But, after five years, I also understand we have our share of problems.  One is legislators who are big on ideology and rhetoric, but low on facing facts and finding solutions.

Clearly from his guest opinion in the March 6th Explorer, LD11’s Senator Melvin either doesn’t know Arizona has problems, or believes they only exist because the “left-wingers” aren’t on board.  Here’s some facts that help describe the “wellness” of our State with regard to business climate and education.

FACT:  Arizona was recently ranked the 47th worst run state in America[i]

FACT:  Arizona’s business startup rate has been relatively high, but, many of these were sole proprietors (no other employees) who started a business because they lost their jobs. This ‘jobless entrepreneurship’ trend negatively affects job creation and the larger economic recovery.”[ii]

FACT:  In terms of job gains, Senator Melvin is correct, in the decade preceding 2012, Arizona ranked fourth in private sector job creation, while our population rose at the second highest rate in the country.  Keep in mind, that he didn’t take office until 2009 and any legislative impact he had on jobs, most likely didn’t take affect until at least 2010.[iii]

FACT:  Arizona’s most plentiful future jobs aren’t going to be “living wage” jobs unless something changes.  Most of them between 2012 and 2016 are predicted to be low paying:  retail sales, customer service, cashiers, waitresses and waiters, janitors and housekeepers, food prep and service.[iv]  Only one of these jobs (customer service) result in a living wage for a family of three if combined with another of these jobs. In other words, someone working two of these jobs still doesn’t earn a living wage.[v]

FACT:  Arizona’s Legislature’s “Balanced Budget” has impacted our wallets.  For example, Highway User Revenue Fund (HURF) from fuel tax, vehicle registration and licensing, etc., is supposed to pay for roads and road repairs.  The state legislature has taken over $200 million of these funds from cities and towns, using money meant for fixing potholes to shore up budget holes instead.[vi]   Another is the $50M that was taken from the national mortgage assistance settlement in 2010.  It should have gone directly to families suffering because banks gambled with their mortgages, and the families lost – thanks to our legislators, Arizona families lost twice.[vii]

There is a strong correlation between well-educated populations and generally well-managed states, as cited by at least one rating source, so let’s look at education.

FACT:  State-appropriated funding for education declined to an estimated $3,780 per student in fiscal 2012 from $4,901 in fiscal 2008. This was a decline of $1,121 per student — or about 23 percent.[viii]

FACT:  Mortgaging the state buildings raised $735 million in immediate revenue, but cost us more than 63% ($465 million) that much in interest.[ix]

FACT:  In 2011, ALEC’s 17th Report Card, ranked Arizona at #36 on National Association of Educational Performance (NAEP).[x]  The 2013 Quality Counts Report ranked Arizona 43rd with a C- grade in the nation in educational policy and performance.[xi]

FACT:  Of the four school districts Senator Melvin cited as “outstanding”, only the Catalina Foothills United District was awarded an “A” grade by the Arizona Department of Education, under the state’s new A-F accountability system.[xii]

FACT:  There is no requirement to measure Arizona’s home school program and in fact, state law prohibits the state Department of Education from requiring testing or reporting of test results.[xiii] It’s anyone’s guess how well home schooling works in Arizona, and my guess is that not all of it is “great”.

FACT:  The Individual Tax Credit program favors private schools by a factor of five to one and the Corporate Income Tax Credit contributions have grown to over $55M in 2010, all monies not available to the State general fund.[xiv]

FACT:  Of the tax credit money given to School Tuition Organizations (STOs) for private schools in 2012, 63.2% of the scholarships went to children in families with incomes from 185% of poverty level ($41,348 for a family of four) to greater than 342.25% of poverty level ($76,494 for a family of four).  Keep in mind the law also allows these STOs to keep 10% of the tax credits themselves.[xv]

In his guest opinion last week, Senator Melvin said:  “we need to pull together and not engage in class warfare, including the left’s fixation of soaking the so-called rich.  By pulling together we can all succeed.”

With this accusation, he continues to be archaic and divisive.  Arizona is better than that.  We can all come together, but we need straight talk and inclusive action from our politicians.

A politician thinks about the next election, a leader things about the next generation.  Melvin says a leader shouldn’t mortgage the next generation.  We agree, but isn’t that exactly what he did with the state capitol buildings?

[xiii] AZleg.gov