Ducey’s Classrooms First Initiative Council produces bupkis

Governor Doug Ducey’s blue ribbon panel, the Classrooms First Initiative Council, spent 18 months working on an education plan and THIS is what they produced: bupkis? I hope that no one got paid for this. This is just another bait and switch scam, like Governor Ducey’s Prop. 123.

The headlines today are equally skeptical. The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) reports, Ducey’s council makes K-12 recommendations, but details are vague:

ClassroomsFirstA council empaneled by Gov. Doug Ducey to reform Arizona’s school funding formula released a set of ambitious recommendations. But exactly how they are to be achieved, how they will be funded and what steps the governor will take in the upcoming legislative session remain to be seen.

“What we did is really tackle the ‘what’ and the ‘why.’ We did not particularly delve into the ‘how.’ The ‘how’ is going to be a complex, complicated process with a lot of input,” Jim Swanson, co-chair of the Classrooms First Initiative Council, said at today’s meeting. “But for us to be successful, I think we need to give the governor and Legislature some room to maneuver and come up with some solutions that make sense.”

In his 2015 executive order creating the Classrooms First Initiative Council, Ducey asked for its recommendations, but not for a plan to implement them.

The council unveiled 12 recommendations in a report at a meeting on Wednesday. The recommendations were the result of nearly 18 months of meetings and work with stakeholders.

The recommendations included the simplification of Arizona’s K-12 funding formulas, the creation of standardized and consolidated tax rates among school districts, reducing districts’ reliance on funding methods such as bonds and overrides, giving the Arizona Department of Education and State Board of Education more latitude to use the rulemaking process to implement school finance statutes, additional funding for schools in low-income areas, and higher pay for teachers.

Ducey emphasized to the council that implementing the recommendations would be a long-term project, but that he aims to make progress on it every year and hopes to lay out a road map that future governors can follow as well.

I want to tease a little bit in terms of what you will see in this first year and this next year. I think you’ve identified very much of what’s needed. We’ve realized with Prop. 123 the need for resources and ongoing improvement in K-12 education,” Ducey said, referring to a school funding proposal approved by voters in May. “That’s very much on our mind as we put together next year’s budget and the State of the State as well.”

Ducey told reporters after the meeting that he would have “an exciting education agenda” in 2017 that would include some of the council’s recommendations. Other proposals will have to wait until future sessions.

“We want to tackle the entire plan over the course of our term. But we want to do what’s politically possible in this next session,” the governor said.

Howard Fischer at Capitol Media Services is equally harsh. School reforms lack funding:

A special task force is recommending higher teacher pay, more money for schools with a high number of students in poverty and a more “predictable and equitable” funding system among schools.

And no ideas on how to finance any of that.

The report, issued Wednesday, also includes a recommendation that schools be given more flexibility to use the dollars they do get. And it seeks more financial transparency so parents can see how schools spend their money.

That lack of recommendations on how to fund any of that was by design. Jim Swanson, who chairs the Classrooms First Initiative Council, said Gov. Doug Ducey specifically left that out of what he asked committee members to study when he created the task force shortly after taking office in January 2015.

Ducey, speaking with reporters outside the council’s final meeting, said he is working on some plans for new dollars. He said, though, he’s not ready to provide details.

“We’re going to have an exciting education agenda this year,” the governor said. “And you’re going to hear about it in the State of the State” address.

Some lawmakers, however, are not waiting to see how much Ducey is offering in additional cash for a statewide school system consistently in the bottom 10 percent nationally in per-pupil funding.

Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, told Capitol Media Services Wednesday she is working on a “grand plan” to infuse major new dollars into not just K-12 education but also what she believes is an underfunded university and community college system. More to the point, Carter said Arizona education needs more than anything Ducey could propose within the confines of the state’s existing revenue stream.

“I think it’s time for us to have big, bold conversations about what the next steps are for education in Arizona,” she said.

Carter acknowledged that generating the kind of money she and other legislators believe is necessary will require major new tax revenues. A one-cent increase in the state’s 5.6 percent sales tax rate would generate about $1 billion a year.

The idea of a big tax hike could run into opposition from Ducey, who won election in 2014 on a promise of proposing tax cuts every year he is in office. But his feelings may be irrelevant.

Carter said the only way Arizona has historically made significant increases in education funding is by taking the issue directly to voters, a move that bypasses the governor. And she said her plan is no exception.

With approval of her colleagues, that could put the issue on the ballot in 2018 — if not earlier at a special election.

Carter said some details are being worked out. But she stressed that a key component will be new dollars for teacher pay — a key issue the council said needs attention but had no recommendations on how to get the dollars.

And there’s something else: Carter also wants to ask voters to continue a six-tenths of a cent sales tax hike they approved in 2000 [Prop. 301] specifically earmarked for teacher salaries. That levy — and the $600 million a year it generates — self-destructs in 2021 unless renewed.

Ducey, for his part, is in no particular hurry, saying there is plenty of time to deal with that issue. And the governor brushed aside reports putting Arizona near the bottom of what it spends on its students.

“I think it’s important that we measure our success in results and outcomes that use available dollars to improve those for all of our kids,” he said.

And he bristled when pushed about Arizona’s rankings.

“I’m saying that there’s lies, damned lies and statistics,” Ducey responded, quoting an old Mark Twain line.

[The Trumpian post-truth era: facts no longer matter, it’s how we feel about them.]

The hot-button item appears to be teacher salaries.

* * *

Not spelled out is how much is needed.

The most recent figures from the National Education Association show average teacher pay in Arizona at $45,477, compared with $58,064 nationally. With more than 12,000 teachers here, bringing the average here up to the national figure could cost as much as $750 million.

State School Superintendent Diane Douglas was a bit more conservative in her own recommendations issued last month: $140 million in new money for each of the next three years. Douglas said without new funding, the state is stuck with a system where 20 percent of new teachers leave in the first year and another 20 percent quit the second year.

While Ducey has yet to spell out how much he wants — or how to pay for it — the governor said he agrees with the goal.

* * *

Carter said she can make the case that more funding.

“When we’re looking at attracting more business to Arizona and providing the supports for the businesses who are already here to continue to grow and thrive, all roads lead to a highly qualified, educated workforce,” she said.

Carter said the findings of council members will help smooth the way for what she intends to propose, even without recommendations for a funding source.

“Their work over the last two years has set the foundation for what we need to do next,” she said.

The Arizona Republic reports Ducey’s ‘Classrooms First’ council folds without a funding plan:

A governor-created coalition of education experts has spent the past two years working on a plan to overhaul the convoluted and outdated formula the state uses to fund public schools.

On Wednesday the group issued its final report, suggesting the state should handle the funding-formula overhaul itself.

The first recommendation of Gov. Doug Ducey’s Classrooms First Initiative Council is that the governor, Legislature and public work together to “develop a simplified and single school finance formula for all public schools.”

Kitchell Corp. CEO Jim Swanson, co-chairman of Classrooms First, said the group helped identify problems with the current formula but decided it should be Ducey, lawmakers and the public who determine exactly how to fix them.

“The ‘how’ is going to be a complex, complicated process with a lot of input,” Swanson said. “But for us to be successful, we need to give the governor and Legislature some room to maneuver to come up with suggestions that make sense.”

* * *

Despite the group not developing an actual funding formula proposal, Ducey said the group “has done their job.”

“It gives you an idea of how complex it is to make reforms around the current pie of available dollars,” Ducey said. “We think we’ve got a roadmap to work with legislators and policymakers and improve it going forward.”

The Arizona Legislature will convene in January and education funding is expected to be a focus of its 2017 session.

“The future of the state’s school funding formula is now back in the hands of Ducey and the Legislature.”

There is an old adage that if you want to put off dealing with an issue, form a committee to study it. This is exactly what Ducey did.

We have a governor and state legislature that we elect to deal with these tough policy issues —it’s their job, and they have fundamentally failed to do it.

As I have posted many times over the years, our lawless Tea-Publican Arizona legislature routinely violates two provisions of the Arizona Constitution out of ideological opposition to government, public education, and taxes:

Article XI, Section 6: The university and all other state educational institutions shall be open to students of both sexes, and the instruction furnished shall be as nearly free as possible. The legislature shall provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be established and maintained in every school district for at least six months in each year, which school shall be open to all pupils between the ages of six and twenty-one years.

Article IX, Section 3: The legislature shall provide by law for an annual tax sufficient, with other sources of revenue, to defray the necessary ordinary expenses of the state for each fiscal year. And for the purpose of paying the state debt, if there be any, the legislature shall provide for levying an annual tax sufficient to pay the annual interest and the principal of such debt within twenty-five years from the final passage of the law creating the debt.

Our lawless Arizona legislature has for years been in violation of the Arizona Constitution because: (1) it is failing to provide for the cost of public education, and (2) it refuses to raise taxes sufficient “to defray the necessary ordinary expenses of the state for each fiscal year.”

They rely on the GOP’s weapon of mass destruction, Prop. 108 (1992), the “Two-Thirds For Taxes” Amendment, Arizona Constitution Article 9, Section 22, to justify their inaction on properly funding public education. To begin to fix this problem, repeal Prop. 108.

3 responses to “Ducey’s Classrooms First Initiative Council produces bupkis

  1. John Huppenthal

    Where does Arizona education rank? The only quality source for that measure is the National Assessment of Educational Progress. They spend $140 million a year, pull a huge sample of 4th and 8th graders in each state. The latest results are 2015.

    8th Grade:
    Our African Americans rank #1 in math, 14th in reading
    Hispanics rank 11th in math, 29th in reading
    Whites rank 6th in math, 7th in reading

    4th Grade:
    Our African Americans rank #3rd in math and 3rd in reading
    Hispanics rank 29th in math and 39th in reading
    Whites rank 15th in math and 32nd in reading.

    Arizona’s combined math and reading gains from 2011 4th grade to 2015 8th grade were number one in the nation.

    Nationwide in 2014 (the last year Gallup did the PDK poll), 24% of parents rated their child’s school an “A”. By comparison, school districts such as Vail, Chandler and Mesa have annual, rigorous measures which show their parents ranking 67%, 75% and 64% A ratings – more than double the national average.

    If you cite WalletHub, you are citing fake news.

    • For Sure Not Tom

      Please stop saying “our African Americans”. Please, I’m begging you.

      They are not “ours”, not since Lincoln.

  2. Frances Perkins

    The reality on the ground, whether he likes “statistics” or not, is that Arizona schools districts on recruiting trips around the country cannot compete. With a limited number of teacher candidates, when an Arizona district sets up, in a job fair, next to other states and the pay is $5,000, or $10,000 to start below other states starting salaries, reality is what happens. One district told me they set up next to Texas districts and they were offering over $10,000 more. The Arizona district got almost no one to stop in their booth.