Education Shorts

Catching up on my “to do” list on education issues in Arizona.

In late November, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a new analysis of school funding in 48 states which shows that funding for Arizona’s kindergarten to grade 12 public school system remains nearly 14 percent below what it was before the Great Recession hit in 2007. The Arizona Capitol Times reports, Arizona school funding still lagging, report shows:

The study by the Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan research institute showed that even with an infusion of money since Gov. Doug Ducey took office in 2016, the state’s per-pupil spending is well below its 2008 funding levels when adjusted for inflation. It also said per-pupil formula spending dropped last year by 1.2 percent.

Ducey has touted his efforts to boost K-12 spending, and laughingly proclaimed himself to be the “education governor.”

“Arizona has put more money into K-12 education over the last three years than any other state in the country, without raising taxes,” he told KTAR radio earlier this month. “It has been the focus of every budget that we’ve had.”

But much of that increase came from settling a lawsuit brought by schools that alleged the state illegally cut spending during the recession. [And that case was settled for substantially less than the restitution actually owed by our lawless Tea-Publican legislature for its theft of education funds.]  The settlement added some state spending but most of the new cash came from increasing withdrawals from the state land trust dedicated to schools.

The study found that Arizona school funding hasn’t recovered from the cuts despite the new spending and could be getting worse, said Mike Leachman, the center’s state fiscal research director.

“It’s clear that Arizona school funding is down significantly and the data we have suggest further worsening at least in terms of formula funding, which is the major source for general support for all school districts in the state,” he said.

The study used U.S. Census Bureau statistics from 2008 through 2015 to review all states except Hawaii and Indiana. It also reviewed state budget documents from 2016-18 for Arizona and 11 other states that had the biggest cuts though the current budget year.

The analysis showed Arizona cut more than any other state through 2015, chopping 36.6 percent of its spending on schools. Local districts made up some of the difference. But even including extra local funding, the census data shows a 24.6 percent reduction for Arizona school funding.

The center said seven of the 12 states with the biggest cuts in school funding also cut corporate or personal income taxes, a move it said hurts school budgets.

Governor Ducey claims he has made school funding his top priority since taking office in January 2016, but he also refused to halt phased-in corporate tax cuts than eliminated hundreds of millions of dollars from the state revenue stream. [The Arizona Legislature’s budget analysts  have predicted a budget shortfall that could top $100 million in the current and coming year as the impact of corporate tax cuts continues to overwhelm increases in sales, insurance premium and personal income tax collections. Arizona Legislature’s budget analysts predict 2018 shortfall.] He has vowed that the state budget he will propose in January will add more K-12 school funding.

What, is our Koch-bot governor going to check the couch cushions for spare change when he attends the Koch brothers next soiree to plot their hostile takeover of America? The Koch Brothers Plan to Spend as Much as $400 Million in 2018 Races.

Of course, our Koch-bot governor tried to create his own alternate reality to dispute this study which proves he is liar. But the facts don’t lie. Ducey disputes group’s claim school funding less now than leaner times:

Gov. Doug Ducey is fighting back against a report by a left-leaning research group that shows Arizona is spending less on K-12 education today than before the recession when inflation is taken into account.

“That’s a false report by a left-wing public interest group,” Ducey said Wednesday just moments after helping break ground for a new charter school in west Phoenix which is being built, at least indirectly, with the help of the state treasury.

“It’s up 10 percent since 2015,” the governor said. “It’s above per-pupil rates, inflation adjusted since the Great Recession.”

But figures obtained by Capitol Media Services from state legislative budget staffers paint a different picture of what has happened since before the recession than the one being claimed by Ducey.

The report from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee shows state aid to K-12 in the 2007-2008 school year at $5.12 billion. That has increased to $5.33 billion in the current budget year.

On a per-student basis, however, the figures went from $4,949 to $4,760 during the same period. And when accounting for inflation over the same period, the current per-student figure is less than $4,200.

Ducey said the state really had no choice but to cut funding during the recession.

Oh, Dougey, the state always has choices. But Tea-Publicans simply refuse to eliminate certain tax exemptions and credits, or to ever raise taxes — as the Arizona Constitution requires — because it violates the First Commandment of their “trickle down” false religion: “Thou shalt never raise taxes.”

Ducey said the budget is balanced And he touted the $163 million in additional dollars put into K-12 this past budget year above and beyond inflation and student growth.

But only half of that $163 million is ongoing funding, with the rest being a one-time infusion, mostly for new school construction.

The report by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities acknowledges that things have gotten better lately. But their numbers, over the whole period, are pretty much in line with those of the JLBC despite Ducey’s protestations that the CBPP numbers are inaccurate.

And gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato later acknowledged that inflation-adjusted student aid is still below where it was in the 2007-2008 school year, before the recession.

So the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is correct, and our Koch-bot governor is spinning a web of deceit and lies.

And if things are so good for education in Arizona, what about this? Teachers say low pay ends careers in Arizona, leaves some at crossroads:

Arizona teachers have not been quiet about their reasons for abandoning the profession and even the state: high stress, low morale and low pay. Yet the state’s response has not been enough to end the ongoing crisis, a new report from a Washington D.C.-based think tank concludes.

According to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, state funding for K-12 education is nearly 14 percent below what is was before the Great Recession. And while Gov. Doug Ducey is pushing back against the findings, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee has shown per-student funding dropped from $4,949 in the 2007-2008 school year to $4,200 currently when accounting for inflation.

The job of recruiting and retaining qualified teachers becomes more difficult without wiggle room for bonuses and relocation stipends. The Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and Blind can attest to that – the agency has 13 teacher vacancies, with more possibly coming, and they need to be filled by teachers with advanced certifications who the rest of the country is also recruiting. Teacher shortage hits state’s schools for deaf and blind too.

As the fall semester wraps up, other highly qualified teachers are wondering if this will be their last year. Some have already decided it will be.

And those who have long since left the classroom may never return.

Nice job, “education governor.” You are gutting the teacher profession and creating an education crisis in Arizona.

Then there is the attempt by the “Kochtopus” organizations and our lawless Tea-Publican legislature and governor to privatize public education in Arizona through universal school vouchers, in violation of the Arizona Constitution.

A grassroots organization collected enough signatures to send this unlawful act to the ballot next year in a referendum. They were in court last week trying to stop the “Kochtopus” attacks on the referendum. Attorneys argue to judge whether voucher law goes on ballot:

Foes of universal school vouchers told a judge Friday she cannot consider a challenge brought by those who want to keep voters from getting the last word on the plan.

Roopali Desai told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Margaret Mahoney that the lawsuit to kill the referendum is based on claims that there are a variety of flaws in the petitions and the signatures leave circulators without sufficient signatures to put the issue on the 2018 ballot.

But Desai, representing Save Our Schools Arizona, said even if what challengers claim is true — a point she does not concede — it really does not matter.

She pointed out that the challenge to the referendum was filed by two individuals. But the long-standing Arizona law allowing individuals to challenge petitions actually was repealed by lawmakers in 2015.

Desai acknowledged that lawmakers did vote earlier this year to restore that right.

She noted, though, the effective date of that law was Aug. 9. What makes that important, Desai told Mahoney, is that Save our Schools started its petition drive on May 11 and submitted them to Secretary of State Michele Reagan on Aug. 8 — all during the time when there was no right of individuals to challenge petitions.

“This court does not have jurisdiction to hear the claims before it,” she told the judge. And that, Desai argued, means the challenge fails and the issue goes on the 2018 ballot.

* * *

Hanging in the balance is whether voters get to decide if there will be a big expansion in who is eligible to get a voucher of state funds to attend private and parochial schools.

* * *

The law at issue here started as a bid by Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, to remove all the restrictions, essentially making vouchers available to all 1.1 million students in Arizona public schools.

That proved to be a step too far for even some voucher supporters. So what was approved earlier this year by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey eliminates eligibility barriers but places a cap of 30,000 vouchers by 2023.

* * *

“Thousands of Arizonans, including teachers, parents and concerned citizens, took to the streets to accomplish something that nobody thought they could,” Desai told Mahoney, gathering more than 110,000 signatures “in the middle of an Arizona summer.”.

Secretary of State Michele Reagan ultimately concluded that the petitions had more than the minimum 75,321 valid signatures needed. Desai said that automatically puts the voucher expansion law on hold until voters get a chance next November to decide through what would be Proposition 305 whether to ratify or reject what the Legislature has approved.

“My client is entitled to run its campaign and have its referendum on the ballot to have the people decide whether the law that was passed by the Legislature is good policy,” Desai said.

If Mahoney allows the lawsuit to continue, that does not mean the referendum will be removed from the ballot. She would first have to accept plaintiff’s [creative] arguments that there are not enough valid signatures to leave the petition drive short of the minimum required.

A ruling is expected within 60 days. Whichever side loses is virtually certain to appeal.

Finally, Arizona’s state universities ask judge to dismiss tuition-hike lawsuit:

The Arizona Board of Regents wants a judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office that alleges the three state universities “dramatically and unconstitutionally” increased the price of tuition over the past 15 years.

The motion to dismiss the lawsuit was filed Thursday in Maricopa County Superior Court.

The motion argues the Attorney General’s Office lacks the statutory authority to sue the regents and that the Arizona Supreme Court already ruled 10 years ago that courts are not allowed to second-guess the board’s tuition-setting decisions.

“Litigation is not the way to address or handle this matter,” Regents Chairman Bill Ridenour told The Arizona Republic.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich sued the regents in September, saying that tuition increases for in-state students violate the Arizona Constitution. The constitution states that university instruction shall be furnished “as nearly free as possible.”

The suit alleges the regents raised tuition for in-state students from about $2,600 a year to as much as $12,228 a year — or as much as 370 percent — since 2002.

‘Dreamers’ and tuition

The lawsuit came after the Attorney General’s Office warned the regents in July that the state universities may be spending public money improperly because the regents continue to give in-state tuition to migrant students known as “dreamers,” despite a court ruling that the practice violates state law.

The Arizona Court of Appeals had ruled in June that state law bars colleges from granting in-state tuition for students in the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

About 240 DACA students at the state’s universities are receiving in-state tuition rates, which are substantially lower than non-resident rates. The in-state rate for undergraduate students at Arizona State University is $10,792 this year, compared with $27,372 for non-resident students.

Brnovich in June said the regents’ decision to give in-state tuition to DACA students gave his office a “vehicle” for looking at the way regents determine tuition rates in general.

The main thrust of the lawsuit, however, objects to the regents’ overall tuition-setting policy.

Formula questioned

Brnovich in September said the formula the regents use for setting tuition is not consistent with the “nearly free” mandate of the state constitution.

Rather than basing tuition on the cost of furnishing instruction, the lawsuit contends the regents also compare Arizona tuition with “peer universities” and the availability of financial aid. The regents also “misinterpret” the state constitution’s “nearly free” mandate to mean “affordable,” the suit claims.

The lawsuit contends that the board of regents has “abandoned its duty to serve as a check on the university presidents” and has instead approved a series of tuition hikes that have resulted in increases of more than 300 percent at each school.

* * *

The regents’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit contends that the Attorney General’s Office needs either a directive from the governor or a statute that applies to the claims the attorney general makes in order to sue.

The attorney general has neither in this case, according to the regents.

* * *

The regents were last sued over tuition in 2003, when four UA students filed suit after the board raised tuition 39 percent in a single year, citing the “nearly free” provision.

But the suit was dismissed in 2007, when the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the tuition increase was a political question, not a judicial one.

I would expect this precedent to control in this case.

5 Responses to Education Shorts

  1. azbm almost every day for many years since I have been reading these posts and nothing changes. shouldn’t the education lobby try something new whining doesn’t seem to work.

  2. “…the regents continue to give in-state tuition to migrant students known as “dreamers,” despite a court ruling that the practice violates state law.”

    Your outrage seems highly selective in deciding which laws and court opinions should be ignored and which should be obeyed.

    • AZ BlueMeanie

      Federal law supersedes state law, if Congress ever gets off it’s dead ass and enacts the DACA fix it keeps promising will be done by the end of the year. Then this case is largely moot.

      • if the democrats say no daca no debt deal or anything else.daca is fixed. if democrats cave on this again they get what they deserve!

      • “Federal law supersedes state law…

        That is largely true, but right now there is no Federal Law (or, to be more precise, no Executive Order) regarding DACA. The issue of in state tuition for DACA beneficiaries is a State issue. The regents (a State organization) are ignoring Arizona Courts and violating the law. Until Congress does something, this is not a moot issue…it is a State issue.