Arizona’s lawless Tea-Publican legislature and public education

I have made these constitutional arguments about public education in Arizona for years, but it’s nice to see The Republic’s Linda Valdez write an opinion that contextualizes the constitutional arguments in the current debate over public education in Arizona.

Well done,  Linda! Who cares what Arizona’s Constitution says about education? Not Republicans:

There must have been a vote to change the state Constitution. Right?

Why else would Arizona’s schools be so poorly funded? Why else would our state be barreling down the road to a two-tier, have-and-have-not school system?

How else could the conservative officeholders of Arizona – who vow to uphold the state Constitution – so blithely flout the spirit and text of that document?

So there must have been a vote. And we all missed it.

There’s a reason this is all we can afford

This is the only explanation for what’s going on – unless, of course, our fearless leaders are pursuing a different agenda.

Consider that Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposed (minuscule) funding increases for K-12 public schools were offered in the context of current revenues. It’s all we can afford, we were told, given fiscal realities.

Like the little guy in the top hat emptying out his pockets in the Monopoly game: We’re broke.

Sure we are. We’re broke because of years of serial tax cuts and an unconstitutional aversion to raising taxes.

Competing to have the worst funded public schools in the nation is the choice of Arizona’s elected officials.

Whose choice matters most?

Traditional public schools remain the choice of most Arizona parents.

Guess who’s winning?

The Constitution is on the side of the people. It mandates a “system of common schools” that are “open to all pupils” and are “as nearly free as possible.” (Article XI, Section 6)

The Constitution also says: “(T)he Legislature shall provide by law for an annual tax sufficient, with other sources of revenue, to defray the necessary ordinary expenses of the state . . . “ (Article IX, Section 3)

Article XI, Section 10 calls for “taxation” to “insure proper maintenance of all state educational institutions.”

Never mind what the Constitution says

So what do our intrepid lawmakers do?

In addition to underfunding traditional public education, our GOP lawmakers continue diverting money from public schools to private and religious schools.

That’s despite Article XI, Section 7, which says “No sectarian instruction shall be imparted in any school or State educational institution . . .”

This year’s expansion of publicly funded vouchers for private and religious schools came despite strong evidence that the program contributes to a two-tier system that is nowhere mentioned in the Arizona Constitution.

A better solution: Help failing schools

An investigation by The Republic’s Rob O’Dell and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez found that 75 percent of the money diverted from public schools by this year’s voucher program came from higher-performing schools in wealthy areas.

The program was created in 2011 and touted as a way to let the poor escape failing schools.

The constitutional solution to that problem would have been to fund and improve those failing schools, but lawmakers decided on diverting public money instead.

The great promise of a good public school system is that any kid can get a good education, no matter how poor, disinterested or distracted his or her parents might be.

We don’t give public schools proper credit

What’s more, our public schools are not as bad as some of their opponents like to pretend.

According to Dan Hunting of the Morrison Institute, Arizona is the only state to show statistically significant increases in National Assessment of Educational Progress scores in fourth- and eighth-grade math, science and reading between 2009 and 2015.

Our public schools are performing better than expected on a starvation diet. Imagine if they got a few good meals.

Instead, lawmakers continue building a two-tier school system.

Their goal: Publicly fund private school

This year’s voucher expansion began as a move to make a publicly funded private education available to any student in the state. Too big a bite. It got scaled back after howls of protest.

But the real intentions – and the agenda – were made clear by the puppeteers at the Goldwater Institute, who sent out a back-slapping celebratory letter right after the vote.

“Fifty years in the making, and tonight we closed the deal!” Goldwater CEO Darcy Olsen wrote. “Universal education savings accounts. There is a cap at 5,000 new kids per year; we will get it lifted.”

Never mind what the Constitution says

The crowing was so bitterly criticized by supporters of our constitutionally mandated public schools that Goldwater apologized, and some lawmakers acted shockedShocked! – that their puppet masters would say such a thing out loud.

But Goldwater couldn’t pull off this continued march to privatize public education unless our conservative lawmakers broke their oath and ignored the state Constitution – year after year after year.

Certainly they would never do that.

So there must have been a vote to change the Constitution.

I just don’t remember it. Do you?

Unanswered Question: When will the first lawsuit be filed against this unconstitutional “vouchers for all” bill, and who will be the plaintiffs filing it? I assume that it is already in the works and the litigants are just waiting for the appropriate time to announce the lawsuit.

8 Responses to Arizona’s lawless Tea-Publican legislature and public education

  1. Perhaps a little off point on the main thrust of this post. Responding more generally to the never ending saga of public education funding, the legislature, state trust land, and the Arizona constitution.

    It is an annual heartbreak to see the education funding debate perpetually sidetracked into the state trust land cul-de-sac. It sucks up all the oxygen in the room. For people whose primary interest and expertise is in public education policy and associated budgeting, they seem to be pulled off task to engage in bureaucratic and legislative debate over whether state trust lands are being appropriately sold/leased to the highest and best bidder for the support of the common schools. In this regard the Legislature always wins and public education funding always loses. Education does not lose for any lack of attention or effort. It loses because the deck is always stacked in the Legislature’s favor. What one hand giveth (state trust land money) the other hand taketh away (reduction in appropriations from the general fund). The Legislature is going to fund education at the level it wants irrespective of how the state trust lands are managed or mismanaged. The Legislature and Governor have mastered the art of using the state trust lands as a whipping boy to deflect the thrust of the public education funding debate from the general fund (where it ought to be) into the bowels of the State Land Department where the education funding debate seems to begin and end each year. May seem counter intuitive to some, but seems to me that the partial funding of public education from the sale/lease of state trust lands is working wholly against public education rather than for public education. It seems like Arizona might be better served by the type of education funding debate that occurs in the majority of states where revenue is raised thru taxes paid into the general fund as opposed Arizona’s earmarked sale/lease of state trust assets. If per capita public education funding and school performance are any measure, then the annual “bonus money” that Arizona receives from the sale/lease of state trust lands is being legislatively subtracted from other parts of the general fund education budget.

    Education funding was grafted onto the sale/lease of state trust lands within the 1912 Arizona Constitution, as a condition of the 1910 federal enabling act which allowed Arizona to become a state. It has been on autopilot ever since. Does not seem like a homegrown or grass roots provision of the Arizona Constitution. Whatever the federal government’s 1910 era interests and concerns regarding Arizona’s disposition of state trust lands and education funding, are they even relevant some 100 years later in the world of today? More importantly, is the continued application of the 1910 enabling act provision doing more harm than good in today’s world? Is it doing anything good in today’s world?

    With respect to the 1910 federal enabling act provisions, how long should Arizona have to go before the training wheels come off? In all but a small handful of western states with state trust lands, the federal government has no role in mandating in how a state raises revenue to fund education or how it manages its assets. Why is Arizona treated as a 105 year old juvenile that can’t be trusted with the keys to the car when it comes to education funding. Arizona may very well have been a juvenile state in 1912 and for some time thereafter. However, is there a case to be made that the 1910 enactment provision is currently an obsolete statutory relic that is in conflict with the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (as it applies to the modern world)? Beyond saying that a 105 year old “deal is still a deal”, what tangible federal interest is being served today by the federal government’s continuing oversight of Arizona’s state trust land assets?

    Not a lawyer or an educator, just a concerned parent who follows the news.

  2. Senator John Kavanagh

    Can we at least celebrate the fact that 5 of the top 10 schools in the United States are Arizona public schools, according to U.S News and World Report?

  3. Thank you

  4. Diane Douglas calls for increasing Prop 301 from 0.6 cents per dollar in ‘transaction privilege’ (sales) tax to 1 cent in order to push for an estimated $400 million more for funding, right after she and Ducey champion the voucher bill to fund private and parochial schools at taxpayer expense.

    Given that the state seems to have the money for corporate tax cuts and trimming state income taxes, has money to fund charter schools which rarely take all comers and often exclude based on various factors, and has a proven record of raiding dedicated revenue streams (see: HURF), why in the world should we trust that an increase in Prop 301 monies will go to the district schools and fund the teachers who need it most?

    Because I am all in favor of paying our teachers more and would gladly pay more in taxes to make sure instructional and support staff gets a decent salary. But I’m seeing a lot of administrative bloat and money getting wasted on special tax breaks, corporate welfare, and other places which don’t support the public good.

  5. For Sure Not Tom

    The Goldwater folks get a lot of their funding from the Koch’s, who do not live in Arizona, yet somehow seem to own most of the government.

    • “The Goldwater folks get a lot of their funding from the Koch’s, who do not live in Arizona, yet somehow seem to own most of the government.”

      I have been unable to find any evidence that the Koch Brothers own any of the government at all, even in a figurative sense. What makes you say that so often and with such conviction, Tom? I am not picking a fight, I am just curious…