Breathtaking Hipocrisy

There are many things to be upset about in today’s world, especially in the political arena. What probably gets my blood boiling quickest though, is the unadulterated hypocrisy I see coming from the Right.

According to the Arizona Capitol Times, AZ House Speaker Mesnard recently criticized Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes for his opening of certain Emergency Early Voting Centers during the General Election. He accused Fontes of selectively choosing where to open these centers and said, “those type of ‘shenanigans’ foster doubt in the public about the integrity of our election system.” Mesnard added that “And I cannot think of a more dangerous reality than people questioning the integrity of an election system.”

Okay, maybe he really does believe this. It is of course, something that any patriotic American should be worried about. Even if he does believe it though, his party and foremost, its leader (President Trump), has been stoking this “dangerous reality” ad-nauseam. And, the Arizona Republican Party recently jumped on his bandwagon with unfounded claims of deliberate election fraud by the Democrats.

At the same time, GOP Congressman Andy Biggs published an op-ed in the Daily Caller titled, “Democrats have a Civility Problem to Fix.” How about this Andy, you guys go first. I mean REALLY, the audacity! I find it beyond the pale that Biggs is lecturing Democrats about civil discourse. After all, his party’s fearless leader has been a master at fomenting hatred and polarization. In 2017, Trump’s first year in office, the FBI reports hate crimes alone were up by 17%.

In his piece, Biggs criticizes Congresswoman Maxine Waters for “incit[ing] criminal conduct by promoting harassment and intimidation of Republicans, conservatives, and Trump supporters. Okay, there may be some truth to his criticism, but she only responded to President Trump calling her “crazy”, “one of the most corrupt people in politics” and of being a “low IQ individual…somewhere in the mid–60s.” No, his attacks do not excuse her of any bad behavior, but let’s not act like she drew first blood. And oh by the way, what she actually said, was “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd” she followed later on MSNBC with a prediction that people are “going to protest, they are going to absolutely harass” Trump staffers. None of that sounds like “destruction in American politics. Especially not, in comparison to the incendiary comments and Tweets routinely coming out of the Oval Office. How’s about Biggs and his Congressional colleagues do their job as a co-equal branch of our government and act as a check on the worst impulses of this Commander-in-Chief?

Congressman Biggs goes on to write that, “I suspect we will continue to see masked domestic terrorists commit crimes against conservatives and reprehensible conduct toward conservatives.” I assume he is referring to the Antifa protestors who wore scarves on their faces, but I can’t recall any actual terrorism they perpetrated. I do however, remember James Alex Fields, the white nationalist who ran down Heather Heyer, at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Heather was one of the counter-protestors carrying signs promoting equality and protesting against racial discrimination, hardly the stuff of domestic terrorists. I also remember Cesar Sayoc, an early and impassioned Trump supporter, who mailed pipe bombs to numerous prominent Democrats and news organizations who had been critical of President Trump (their constitutional right as American citizens). And, I remember Robert Bowers, the white nationalist who killed 11 worshippers in a Jewish synagogue. Bowers is an anti-Semite who wrote on his social media page about his stark opposition to immigrants, especially the migrant caravan President Trump has been scaring everyone with (and now post-election, has gone silent about). Are these maybe the incidents of domestic terrorism Biggs is referring to?

I do agree with Biggs’ statement that there are “destructive ironies in American politics today, and they must be corrected before the foundations of our Republic collapse.” But, I suspect the ironies I see aren’t the same ones to which he refers. Rather, that people (especially those in Congress who have responsibility to care for our Nation and all its people), would march lock-step with this nationalistic (by his own claim) President and at the same time, pretend to hold the high ground. No side is totally blameless for the mess we currently find ourselves in. But, I think we have a better chance of finding our way out of it if each side just focuses on cleaning up their own piece of it before they resort to slinging mud across the aisle. What was that proverb about those living in glass houses?

Ooops, there it is!

We knew it was coming and awaited it with dread. And, drumroll please…crash goes the cymbal! Yes, here it is, this year’s attempt to exponentially expand Arzona’s voucher (Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, or ESA) program. Of course, the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) chief water carrier for Arizona, Senator Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, is the one proposing the expansion. Lesko claims the expansion of ESAs will “not lead to a mass exodus of children from public schools.” I, for the most part, agree with that statement since Arizona parents have made it clear district schools are their choice with 80% of students attending district schools and another almost 15% in charter schools.

But, to infer a massive voucher expansion will have no negative impact on district schools is disingenuous at best. No matter how slowly students may attrit from district schools, each student’s departure leaves behind a 19% budget shortfall. That’s because there are numerous fixed costs (teacher salaries, facility maintenance, utilities, buses, etc.) that cannot be reduced student by student. The siphoning of dollars from our district schools has been steadily increasing and just exacerbates an already inadequately resourced system.

This isn’t the first year the Legislature has attempted to expand the voucher program. In fact, they’ve been successful in expansions every year since the ESA program was launched in 2011. This isn’t even the first time a full expansion has been attempted, with a very similar proposal going down in flames last year due to public outcry and a perceived conflict with securing voter approval of Prop. 123. This year though, Lesko has sweetened the deal by requiring the testing of students attending private schools on vouchers. She says she “doesn’t personally think this requirement is necessary,” but obviously is trying to defuse the argument from voucher opponents that there is no accountability or return on investment for vouchered students.

She is right about one thing, district education advocates want more accountability and transparency where taxpayer dollars are spent on the myriad of school choice options. As the only schools governed by locally elected school boards and with annual efficiency reports published by the Office of the AZ Attorney General, district schools are the only schools fully accountable and transparent to the taxpayers. Pro-choice advocates tout that parents should have the right to choose where they send their child to school at government expense. As a taxpayer, I maintain I have the right to know the return on investment of my tax dollars. Their right should not trump mine.

Senator Lesko also infers that vouchers will save money because the average voucher amount for students without special needs is $5,200, yet it costs $9,529 to educate Arizona’s average student in public schools. This is misleading because she is comparing apples and oranges and she knows it. The $9,529 figure she quotes is a total of all funding sources, federal, state and local (bonds and overrides) while the $5,200 is only state funding. So, if a student transfers from a district where state funding is offset by locally supported funding (due to the equalization formula), that student’s voucher will actually cost the state general fund more than if that student had remained in their district school. Lesko also notes that vouchers and school choice are a national trend as evidenced by President Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education.

Oh no, she did NOT go there! Trying to sell vouchers as mainstream by pointing to Trump’s nomination of DeVos is akin to denying global warming by citing colder temperatures in parts of the country. After all, DeVos’ success with promoting school choice in Michigan has been dismal. In the two-plus decades she has championed this crusade (those knowledgeable about DeVos will understand my choice of that word), she has purchased legislative influence to expand charters and greatly reduce accountability. She has also worked hard to introduce vouchers in the state, but thus far, the voters have prevailed to keep those “wolves” at bay. And the improvements she has promised haven’t materialized with scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for 4th graders declining from 28th in reading and 27th in math in 2003, to 41st in reading and 42nd in math in 2015.

According to the Arizona Capitol Times, the American Federation for Children (AFC) is pushing vouchers nationwide. I’m only going to give you three guesses as to who the chair of AFC is, and the first two don’t count. Yep, none other than Betsy DeVos. In addition to pushing for school choice and vouchers around the country, AFC has spent big bucks on rewarding those legislators working to expand privatization and punishing those who try to stand up for the 90% of students attending our nation’s districts schools. As reported by Richard Gilman on his website BringingUpArizona.com, AFC is a 501(c)4 free to pour dark money into political campaigns. And pour they have. Gilman writes, “Since its inception in 2010, the organization has poured nearly three-quarters of a million dollars into Arizona elections in a largely successful effort to sway the makeup of the Legislature.” The state’s “demonstrated appetite for school choice” is what AFC cites for its focus on Arizona. Of course, common causes make “strong” bedfellows and Gilman tracks AFC’s interest in Arizona back to Clint Bolick (once Vice President of Litigation at the Goldwater Institute and now AZ Supreme Court Justice.) Bolick served as the first president and general counsel for the Alliance for School Choice (AFC’s predecessor.)

But, I digress. The point is that no matter what snake oil the corporate reformers try to sell us, there is an incredibly well-funded, high-powered effort to have two school systems in Arizona. One is the commercial system of charters, private, parochial, virtual and homeschools that serve the whiter and wealthier students, and the other is the district schools, starved for resources, that will have the poorer, browner, and more challenged students to educate. According to recent polls, this is not what the vast majority of Arizonan voters want. But, until Arizonans clearly draw the nexus between voting for Legislators who don’t support our public district schools (most of them with an “R” after their name), and the fact that our district schools are way under resourced, nothing will change. If we want something different, we have to do something different. To continue doing the same thing and expecting different results, is as you know…the definition of insanity.