The Arizona State legislature is fighting against fully funding K-12 education. One has to wonder: what's wrong with these people?
During the so-called Great Recession, the legislature decided that cutting taxes and cutting funds for education were the smart way to go. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Arizona made the deepest cuts to education in the nation — a drop of 21.8 percent from fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2013, after adjusting for inflation. The move to not fully fund education resulted in a lawsuit by educators. A year ago, the State Supreme Court handed down a decision that the legislature was in error. A voter-approved initiative required them to make the adjustments for inflation. The case was then handed back to the Maricopa County Superior Court for payment details to be worked out.
Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper ruled in July that the state must pay $1.6 billion in new funding, over five years, in order to bring Arizona schools up to the level where they should be. In August, she ordered that the first payment, $317 million, was due.
Now, September is almost over. Have the schools seen a dime of that money? Yeah, right — just as many dimes as there are dandelions growing at the North Pole. Instead of paying up, the state once again appealed the ruling, asking for a stay until the appeal is heard. In the meantime, schools have begun another year suffering from a lack of all the basics — library books, textbooks, and teachers, to name a few.
According to Casa Grande Elementary School District Superintendent Frank Davidson, his district is unable to attract and retain teachers:
"Across the state, hundreds of teaching positions have not been filled this year. What's a new teacher to do but choose where they are going to make the most money?"That would not be a teaching position in Arizona, where official support for education is as thin as ice covering a hot spring and where the challenge of large classroom sizes is mushrooming.
|AZ Gov Jan Brewer|
The people in charge of funding education seem to have little concept of its value, of what it can do for society. In January, the head of the state House Appropriations Committee, Rep. John Kavanagh, lamented that too many people go to college. He said:
"We spread limited money over a large area, and we have a lot of college graduates who are working in retail and food service jobs. Is that really a good way to spend money?"Why wouldn't it occur to the man that graduates are working in retail and food service jobs because that's what Arizona attracts? Kavanaugh showed total ignorance of this basic fact. Rick Myers, chairman of the Board of Regents, pointed out exactly why Arizona was hit so hard — harder than most other states — by the recession:
“It’s because we went into it with one of the lowest per-capita incomes, with one of the lowest-educated workforces in the nation. We haven’t had the robust economy we need to isolate ourselves from some of this.”So the legislature lowers taxes to attract businesses who then have to rely on a poorly educated populace to work for them. Why would top-tier businesses locate in Arizona under those circumstances? From the hostility to educating Arizonans at the college level, all the way down the ladder to the deprivation of elementary school children, the state is failing in its duty. Over half a million children who have started school in Arizona since 2009 have never attended a fully funded school. Timothy Ogle, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association, called the number "a disturbing milestone".
There has been zero leadership on this issue. The legislature and the governor are still kicking the responsibility down the road — to seek delays in funding until a new legislature and a new chief executive take office in January.
So, okay, Arizona voters! Seize the reins! If we want our kids to have a fair shot at life, we need to make radically different choices about who leads us.
Start with the election of a new state superintendent. An actual educator, David Garcia, is running. This crucial office has been shamefully held by conservative career politicians looking for a step up to higher office. Tom Horne and John Huppenthal — I'm looking at you! Garcia, an associate professor at A.S.U., has spent his career in education. He's held positions under three state superintendents — both Republican and Democratic — and has been a consultant to the U.S. Department of Education. AND, he has bipartisan support.
|Gubernatorial Candidate Fred DuVal|
We've been cheating hundreds of thousands of Arizona's kids out of a decent education for years of conservative GOP rule. I'd say we've arrived at our 'rainy day'. I'd say either we use this crisis to pry open state coffers — or we let our children drown.