Budget passed by the legislature, signed by the governor

The #RedforEd protestors will return to work now. They only partially succeeded on one of their demands, a 20 percent pay increase for teachers, but that is all they are going to get out of this Tea-Publican legislature and governor.

The Arizona Republic reports, Arizona Legislature passes state budget, including #RedForEd teacher pay-raise plan (note to the copy editor, this is NOT the “#RedForEd teacher pay-raise plan,” it is the GOP leadership’s plan):

The Arizona Legislature passed a state budget early Thursday that included nearly $273 million aimed at giving teachers pay raises. It came after nearly 13 hours of debate in the House and Senate.

Gov. Doug Ducey signed the bill dealing with education, which had the teacher pay raise plan as part of it, at about 6:10 a.m. Thursday, according to a post on his Twitter feed.

Passage of the pay raises was called the triggering event that organizers said would end the statewide teacher walkout, the largest in recent U.S. history.

The galleries in both chambers remained crowded overnight Wednesday with teachers and education advocates wearing the red shirts indicative of the #RedForEd movement.

The Senate passed all the budget bills just after 5:30 a.m., and the House followed suit more than three hours later.

For the educators, watching the votes wasn’t about a victory. Most of the lawmakers they cheered through the hearings and debates voted against the budget bills.

All but one of the Republicans they jeered voted for it. The education portion of the budget bill had four Democratic votes for it in the Senate; in the House, all Democrats voted against it.

More so, for the educators it was about bearing witness, feeling engaged in a process they felt they had spurred on by their threat to walk off the job, followed by the unprecedented action of actually doing so.

Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Window Rock, in explaining why she voted against the education budget bill, reminded the teachers in the gallery that when the session began, the governor’s budget had teachers getting a 1 percent stipend.

“In reality, our ‘no’ votes and our stances brought (over) most of the people who are going to be voting ‘yes’ for this bill,” she said, “most of them kicking and screaming.”

As lawmakers opened their sessions Wednesday night, they were looking to accomplish two aims: pass the state’s nearly $10.4 billion budget and make good on the first step to fulfilling the aim of Gov. Doug Ducey to give teachers substantial pay raises.

Ducey had called for giving every teacher a 20 percent raise by the year 2020. But the plan, as passed, would fall short of that guarantee.

And pay raises were not the only demand of the grassroots group that organized the walkout, Arizona Educators United.

Others included a reversal of cuts made in the past decade, a halting of tax cuts and increased salaries for support staff. The group also wanted a 20 percent increase in one year, not three.

Teacher pay raise up to districts

Districts, they said, would have the final say on how to spend the money. There was no guarantee — nor was it even a mathematical possibility — that every teacher in the state would receive exactly a 20 percent pay raise.

* * *

The new plan funded the teacher pay raises partly through a vehicle-registration fee that would be levied on every motorist. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee estimated it at somewhere between $18 and $24 a vehicle each year.

Changes in the spending plan during debate

Other concessions seem to be made to draw favor with Republican lawmakers.

One involved taking away the state’s obligation to pay a portion of property taxes that fund programs aimed at remedying past civil-rights violations of school districts (“desegragation funds“).

The measure most affects property owners in the Tucson Unified district. It would cause that district to either raise levies or forgo $16 million.

See the column by Linda Valdez today, Republicans stick it to liberal Tucson (again) in Arizona’s education budget. The “Republic of Tucson” will remember in November!

A late addition to the plan, passed early Thursday in both chambers, added $500,000 for a so-called “freedom school” at Northern Arizona University. That would place schools promoting conservative thought at all three public universities.

Republicans see those schools as a counterweight to what they consider the liberal ideologies prevalent on college campuses.

This is a right-wing slush fund paid for by general tax revenue that should be going to the state’s pressing needs. GOP legislature sending more money to ‘freedom schools,’ despite existing surplus:

Since 2016, legislators have appropriated $12 million to Arizona State University and University of Arizona for these ideologically driven centers, which previously had been funded by the Charles Koch Foundation.

An AZCIR examination of the spending at the two universities shows that the schools still have $9.8 million of that money on hand.

Neither university has asked for any of the funding for the freedom schools.

* * *

In fiscal year 2017, the first year in which it received money from the state’s general fund, ASU spent only a quarter of the $3 million it was given, socking away nearly $2.3 million. (Most state appropriations require unspent money to be returned every fiscal year, but these line items were specifically designated as “non-lapsing,” meaning the universities can hold onto money they don’t spend).

* * *

[W]hen the current fiscal year ends in June, ASU projects it will have $4.25 million remaining of the $7 million it has received from the Arizona Legislature.

Likewise, UofA’s Department of Political Economy & Moral Science has been able to save much of its appropriation for later use. The university has received $5 million in state funds thus far over the two fiscal years, which was supplemented by about $2.5 million in other funds.

At the end of this fiscal year, it expects to have a balance of more than $5.5 million to spend in future years.

In the case of both universities, the amount saved is more than what has been spent in two years.

It oughta be a crime!

Another late add was $300,000 for the Mayer School District. Sen Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said the funds were needed to supplement the district because it lost students after the Goodwin Fire that burned 25,000 acres in the area in July. Fann said, on the floor, that the Mayer teachers did not “walk out on their students.”

* * *

By evening, when lawmakers were on the floor, the merits of the budget bill weren’t debated. Instead, lawmakers offered a series of amendments. Most were offered by Democrats; all of those were voted down.

As the Senate floor session began, Sen. Rick Gray, R-Sun City West, criticized the amendments as futile, saying changes could not be made to the carefully negotiated budget deal.

“This is great political theater,” Gray said. “What we’re here to do is pass a budget.”

Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs defended the amendments saying they were the only way that her party’s lawmakers could get their ideas heard.

[Democrats are not included in the budget negotiations, even though they represent more than 40 percent of Arizona residents who are disenfranchised by the authoritarian GOP leadership of this state.]

“We should not be trying to rush through this process,” she said. “I think the folks watching want to see democracy happen and I don’t think they’re worried about how long this will take.”

A host of issues proposed, and defeated

In the Senate, the proposed amendments to the budget read like a wish list of Democratic causes: repealing tax credits for private school tuition organizations; boosting lifetime caps on welfare from one year to three years; ordering a study of private prisons.

The gallery of teachers and education advocates seemed to pay rapt attention to those issues, as well.

As Democrats spoke, the gallery waved their hands back and forth, approximating the “jazz hands” of a dancer. Cheers could be heard from those standing in the lobby.

As Democratic amendments were voted down in the Senate, one or more called for “division,” a parliamentary procedure where those supporting a measure were asked to stand. Those in the gallery rose to stand with the Democratic senators.

Republicans seemed to play the villain in the melodrama [because they are!] As GOP legislators spoke, some in the gallery stood, extended their arms and made a thumbs down gesture.

In the House, Republican Rep. Anthony Kern of Glendale pushed back against Democrats, saying teachers wouldn’t have a raise if the Republicans voted like the Democrats did on the bill.

Kern said he’s heard Democrats talk for days about how they support teachers, but they voted against a raise for them.

“I want the Arizona voters to know and remember who defended the teacher in November,” Kern said.

The gallery of red-clad educators laughed and jeered.

Laugh all you want, Kern retorted.

“That board tells it all,” Kern said, referring to the board of votes that showed Republicans voting in favor of the K-12 funding plan.

After Kern’s speech, Democratic Rep. Reginald Bolding of Phoenix said he caught a second wind. He said Ducey and GOP lawmakers will say they created the teacher raise and are supporters of education on the campaign trail, but their claims are hollow.

“You can’t set the house on fire, call 911 and claim to be a hero,” Bolding said.

Amendments aimed at stopping future walkouts

In the House, Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa – who last week was red-baiting teachers as communists in an op-ed in the Arizona Republic – introduced a trio of amendments that appeared targeted at the #RedForEd movement. All were defeated.

One of the amendments would have outlawed school closures outside of certain situations, such as a natural disaster or threat. Another would have required the attorney general to start an investigation into school districts that break state laws if lawmakers filed complaints.

The third would have prohibited teachers from using classroom time to espouse political ideology. Teachers found in violation would have faced a fine of up to $5,000.

“It’s far beyond time we rein in indoctrination in our public schools,” Townsend said on the House floor.

[At the same time Townsend voted for a right-wing slush fund for “Kochtopus” indoctrination at our state universities. The Queen of the Tea Party has got to go in November.]

Democratic Rep. Reginald Bolding of Phoenix stood up to question Townsend. As he did, Republican Rep. Heather Carter’s chair broke, and she fell out of it.

“That’s OK, I nearly fell out of my chair listening to that, too,” Bolding said.

* * *

In the Senate, there was also an emotional moment.

Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, was nearly brought to tears in explaining why he was casting the lone Democratic vote for the budget bill dealing with higher education.

He explained that the bill contained a program that gave a tuition waiver to foster children. Bradley has worked with foster children for the past 40 years.

“I had to overlook all the bad things in the bill and celebrate that one good part,” he said.

Now that the budget is done comes the most terrifying time in the legislative session: sine die week when a “rocket docket” of bills which will receive little debate, some of them strike-everything amendments reviving zombie bills from the dead, often in the wee hours of the morning when not even the media is watching. This is NOT  how a democracy was meant to function.

Laurie Roberts of The Republic warns, Will the Arizona House sneak a back-door voucher expansion?

The budget – and teacher raises – may be all but settled at the state Capitol, but don’t look away for even a second.

The end of the legislative session is when the slickest of our leaders’ schemes slide through.

Watch the House, where Senate President Steve Yarbrough’s back-door plan to expand the state’s voucher program was briefly on the agenda for today but has mysteriously disappeared. For now.

The big question: will our leaders use this bill to block voters from deciding Prop. 305, the citizen referendum aimed at killing our leaders’ expanded voucher law. More on that in a minute.

It’s sneaky season at state Capitol

At first blush, House Bill 1467 appears to be about putting the brakes to the ridiculous 20 percent annual growth allowed in corporate tax credits for private school tuition.

But there’s a hitch.

In order to slow the growth in tax revenues diverted to private school tuition scholarships, HB 1467 also expands the state’s voucher program.

This, by eliminating the requirement that kids have to be in public school in order to score a publicly funded Empowerment Scholarship Account (read: voucher).

A deal for suckers

That’s a deal for suckers. Here’s why.

1. Massive growth in corporate tuition-tax credits won’t happen anyway. Years of tax cuts have relieved corporations of the burden of having to pay much in the way of income taxes. If you don’t pay taxes, you can’t divert the money elsewhere via tax credits. Thus, our leaders insistence on cutting taxes has already capped the tuition-tax credit program.

2. This plan does away with the requirement that kids be public school in order to qualify for a voucher to help pay for public school. Under this bill, ESAs could be given to certain students who aren’t and perhaps never have been in public schools.

The public wasn’t paying for their education before, but we would be now.

For years, our leaders have billed the ESA program as a savings to taxpayers because vouchers are generally worth only 90 percent of what we pay to fund public schools.

But if a child hasn’t been in public school, our share of the tab has been zero. Now it could average up to $25,000 a student, if that child is disabled. Or about $2 million by 2021, according to legislative budget analysts.

Under Yarbrough’s bill, certain students who now attend private school with help from a tuition-tax credit scholarship could immediately switch over to an ESA, nearly tripling the amount of public money they could score to pay their private-school tuition.

The proposal, which already has passed the Senate, would apply only to special-needs students, foster children and certain low-income children.

Just as the original ESA program applied only to special-needs children. Then it was expanded, and expanded, and expanded. And finally last year expanded once more, to include all 1.1 million Arizona public school children – though voters this fall will ultimately decide on that last expansion via Proposition 305.

Watch for a move to kill Prop. 305

Speaking of Prop. 305, be on the lookout in these final days of the session for a last-minute maneuver to ensure that voters never have the chance to decide whether they want universal vouchers.

There have been quiet talks about repealing the universal voucher program passed last year – the one that 100,000 citizens petitioned to put on the ballot – and replacing it with a new, slightly changed voucher program.

Such a move would nullify Prop. 305, blocking voters from having the final say on whether we want to send hundreds of millions of dollars more to private schools at a time when public schools are underfunded.

Plan B would likely to be an outright repeal, with plans to return next year with a new expanded voucher plan. (See: campaign finance reform. Wherein a referendum put a series of changes in election laws passed by the Legislature on the ballot a few years ago, only to watch as leaders promptly repealed them to prevent a public vote. Then, they proceeded to pass them again, one by one, over the next two years.)

Either one would be a blatant end run on our constitutional right to referendum.

In other words, just the sort of thing that happens in the final hectic hours before our leaders go home and start …

… campaigning to explain why we should send them back to the Capitol next year.

Keep your eyes open and stay alert, things are going to happen fast during sine die week at the Arizona legislature.

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