“It’s just a bunch of Mexican kids. Why should I pay for them?”

Crossposted from DemocraticDiva.com

There’s something that feels very inevitable about the way this Arizona school funding “settlement” is playing out.

The plan ends a lawsuit filed by schools in 2010 after the Legislature stopped giving required yearly inflation increases to basic school funding. It would funnel $3.5 billion to K-12 schools over 10 years. About $2 billion comes from increasing land trust withdrawals, and the $1.4 billion from the state’s general fund. The deal also contained several triggers that would allow the Legislature to stop mandatory inflation boosts in tough economic times.

If passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, voters would have to approve the changes in a May special election.

The total figure represents about 72% of what the court ordered to be paid to the schools in the lawsuit and practically none of it is new funding at all. The $2 billion from the state land trust comes from funds already promised to the schools per dictate of the state’s constitution. Basically, it’s like you paying me back money you owe me by withdrawing it from my bank account. And that account is actually a trust held in abeyance by my relatives, who will be voting next May on whether the funds can even be withdrawn or not. Oh yeah, you repaid me all right. Sure you did.

Ballot measures involving fiddling with the state land trust have a history of failing so the prospects of this scheme succeeding are sketchy, at best. The result either way will represent the speed at which the public schools of Arizona will be starved. Liberals here wrack their brains over how people can tell pollsters they consider education their top priority while returning politicians actively hostile to raising revenue and funding the schools to office year after year. Maybe some insight into that is to be found in a not-atypical encounter I had at the door of a voter in LD28 (North Central Phoenix, Paradise Valley) during the 2014 election. It was a week prior to the general election and my assignment was to contact voters mainly about Dr. Eric Meyer, a Democrat who somehow manages to get elected in that R-dominated district. I had a list of mostly Republicans believed to be “persuadable” and voters listed as Other (unaffiliated with any party). As you might imagine, this tends to be a more challenging task for a Democratic volunteer than talking to Democratic voters, and things can get really interesting.

So I knocked on the door of an Other voter, and a white woman responded who looked to be in her late 30s. I explained why I was there and things were going along pleasantly until I mentioned that Dr. Meyer and the rest of the Democratic candidates held education as their signature issue. I recall noticing kid-related items around the home that indicated the voters were parents, which is why I was shocked by what the voter said to me about the subject of public education, which was something closely along the lines of: “I’m for education but I feel like I pay enough taxes for it already. It’s just a bunch of Mexican kids. Most of them don’t even belong here legally. Why should I pay for them?” I remember beating a quick retreat after that because I did not care to have that particular debate and it would have eaten up time available to talk to other voters.

Granted, it’s one anecdote but – let’s be honest – it’s far from the first time any of us have heard this rhetoric from our coworkers and neighbors, isn’t it? SB1070 wasn’t supported by over 60% of Arizonans in 2010 in a vacuum. It is commonly believed here that immigrant families are getting huge amounts of public assistance that native-born families are somehow not qualified to receive. I’ve heard the “illegals get free college tuition” canard more than a few times, as well as the apocryphal tales of scores of children being bused in daily from south of the Mexican border to attend American schools. So it’s no surprise at all that a lot of voters here tell pollsters they value education while having a record of voting accordingly that is spotty, at best. They’ll sometimes vote for sales tax increases or bonds and overrides and their districts and other times not. People who really want to see K-12 succeed consistently vote for funding increases. I do, and I know you do too. The electorate as a whole doesn’t (and if the 2014 statewide election didn’t drive that home, I don’t know what will) and it’s pretty frigging depressing to ponder why.

Furthermore, I don’t believe it is solely a reflection of the right wing Norquist anti-tax cult that the Legislature got really parsimonious with school funding just as the K-12 and college student body started getting browner. They fret over “throwing money” at the schools and supposedly high administrative costs, while pointing to places like Washington, DC that spend a lot per pupil (and just so happen to have a large percentage of non-white students who rely on services provided by their schools to mitigate their poverty) as a reason to fund public schools as little as possible here in Arizona. It’s frankly preposterous to watch Governor Ducey and Republican lawmakers preen about how they are the ones who truly “care” about the very schoolchildren they have been kicking dirt on for years.

My hope is that the people who are motivated to improve education in Arizona outnumber those who aren’t in Tuesday’s bond/override elections, but I’m not overly optimistic about it.

13 responses to ““It’s just a bunch of Mexican kids. Why should I pay for them?”

  1. Steve, charters do Not go out of business if they fail, because they don’t get a determination of “failing”. Second, if a school is doing poorly because their classroom size is too large, they don’t have enough school counselors or auxilliary staff to handle the special needs of students, because they don’t have enough funding, rhen cutting funding is Not going to make them better. This is exactly the opposite of what they do in Finland, which is noted to be the country that educates its students best in the world. What they do there is provide more funding to schools with greater needs. That is why they have uniformly better students even in high poverty regions. By contrast we punish districts that have high needs students by shifting money away from them exactly when they need it the most.

  2. Steve, why do you think the teacher in your grandkids classroom had to deal with an overcrowded classroom? Public schools were good in Arizona back in the 60s and 70s, back when our funding of them was such that classrooms were not overcrowded, when books were provided for every student without teachers having to spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars of THEIR OWN MONEY to make sure that every student has good quality books, paper and pencils, and other necessary materials. I stood ehind one dedicated teacher in Barnes amd Noble as she plunked down 30 or so paperback books for the English class she was teaching. I found out this woman was barely making her own ends meet yet she was spending her own personal money for her students. When I said why? She said if I don’t buy them they won’t have anything to read. When I went these things were provided by the school districts because they were properly funded. Remember, these kids, these future doctors, nurses, engineers, and teachers will leave Arizona. Then who will be your doctor, your nurse, who will be the inventer who employs people, who will teach your great-grand-kids. When there is no more State Trust land to provide funding to the schools ….

    • That is EXACTLY what I think! Teachers should not have to go out of pocket to provide books and supplies for their students. That is an obligation of the State. But education advocates have not been very effective in communicating not just the need, but how the funds being requested are going to be spent to meet those needs. I listen carefully and every year and I hear the same old patter about teachers pay, more schools, fewer studwnts in the classrooms, etc. Yet, back when the funding used to be approved regularly, we saw no change in ANY of the things the funding was supposed to go for. Teachers pay remained low, classes remained large and teachers still have to buy supplies out of pocket. In other words, they lied. And the lies caught up with them and now that same old patter falls on deaf ears.

      Education advocates need to regroup and reassess their campaigns to obtain funding. They have to tell the truth about what the funding will be used for. If they say the funding will go to increase teachers pay, arrange for smaller class sizes and hire new teachers, then that is what the funding should be used for. It shouldn’t be used for other things. If the funding being sought is for buildings, maintenance, buying buses, etc., then it shouldn’t be sold as teachers, classrooms and supplies.

  3. Frances Perkins

    I have been hearing the “too many administrators” crap for 50 years since this argument was used in my district in 1962 against a bond election. Count up the actual administrators at a school and what they do and tell me which ones to get rid of. Half are there to be “accountable” to State reporting requirements for everything under the sun from student assessments to procurement to American made flags in each classroom, to per student miles on buses, or to the Feds on special needs kids and free or reduced lunches. Of course in Arizona, administration in the budget report includes bus drivers, cafeteria workers, counselors and janitors. Both Pew and the Census Bureau, both report low admin costs in Arizona in school districts relative to other States. However there is factual data on HIGH admin costs in non public controlled charter schools.

    • ”…in Arizona, administration in the budget report includes bus drivers, cafeteria workers, counselors and janitors.”

      Then they are dumb as fence posts. Knowing that voters dislike “Administrators” being heavily funded in school bond issues, they should move these categories from Administration to, I don’t know, let’s say Maintenance and Transportation. The more voters understand where the money is going, the more likely they are to approve bond and override issues.

      ”Both Pew and the Census Bureau, both report low admin costs in Arizona in school districts relative to other States.”

      Again, dumb as fence posts. If this is the case, why is this not argued? If Arizona does well on Administration costs that should be well known. As it is, this is the first I have heard of it. Gosh knows every other poll that makes Arizona look bad is used like a club to beat us around the head and shoulders to shame us into voting for bond and override issues, why is this positive poll unknown?

      ”… there is factual data on HIGH admin costs in non public controlled charter schools.”

      The big difference here is Charter Schools don’t show up every year wanting more money. Additionally, there is the matter of choice. Parents choose to send their children to Charter Schools. That means they have looked at the school and have decided they like what they see. Public Schools do come back every year asking for more funding, regardless of whether they received funding in previous years or not.

      Having said all that, I am playing Devil’s Advocate. I want more funding for our schools. My Grandchildren all attend the Basis Charter School and are doing very well. That doesn’t mean, however, that I have forgotten about the need for well funded Public Schools. It is a disgrace that Arizona does so poorly in such an important area and fails so miserably in what truly is a legitimate government function. I think that the education advocates do a terrible job informing the voters of the need and the eventual uses for the funding for which they are asking. Until they are able to overcome these stultifying arguments and outright falsehoods with which most voters go to the polls, our Public Schools will continue to go under funded and our students will be cheated out of a decent education.

      • 1) Schools in Arizona can’t move bus drivers, and other staff out of the category of Administration. It is required by the state that those are the categories non-teaching staff expenses are in. 2) Charter schools don’t need to advocate for themselves as they already have powerfulfriends in state government. Public schools HAVE NOT GOTTEN THE FUNDING THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO GET, that is why they sued. Money has been shifted from public schools to charters. Wealthy white parents have the choice to drive many miles to bring their kids to nice suburban charters, poor families with two parents working can’t do that even if their kids could get in the charter schools. Public schools MUST take kids with disabilities, charters are not required to and nearly always turn these kids away. Public schools therefore have a much greater need for funding than charters. 3) Public education advocates haven’t got the money to fight big expensive battles against wealthy anti-education forces.

        You are resorting to the technique of blaming the victim. Why don’t you and your Republican buddies stand up for public education? You say you want better funding, you obviously have ears in power you could speak to, why don’t you do that? Will they listen? Ask yourself what their goal is? If it is to make education better then they should fund it properly from the general fund. If it is to kill public education and make a good education available only for the wealthy then they are well on their way.

        • ”Wealthy white parents have the choice to drive many miles to bring their kids to nice suburban charters.”

          I realize the “white” is used a racial epithet on this blog, but your using it in this case tells me that you have never seen the student body of the Basis Charter School. If you did you would know that whites are in the minority there. The makeup of the student body is about 40% Indian (from India), 30% Asian, 20% White, 5% Hispanic and 5% Black. Not quite the “White Utopia” you were envisioning, Hm-m-m?

          ”Money has been shifted from public schools to charters.”

          No, students and the appropriate funding for those students have been shifted away from Public Schools to Charter Schools. That is NOT the same thing as your statement.

          ”…you obviously have ears in power you could speak to, why don’t you do that?”

          I do so, at every opportunity I have. We need more funding for schools. The response is nearly always the same: “We can’t raise taxes!” I argue the point and I argue the point and I argue the point, but I haven’t made any headway. But that doesn’t mean I intend to give up. Someday I will influence someone, and then someone else, and so on until the right thing happens.

  4. captain*arizona

    this is why you should care about mexican-american kids. 100 turn 18 voting age every day in arizona and 15-20 conservatives die every day. arizona by 2020 will be a purple state (blue if dreamers are granted citizenship)

  5. “… the apocryphal tales of scores of children being bused in daily from south of the Mexican border to attend American schools.”

    Donna, it has been documented that it does happen. It doesn’t happen on a large scale, but it does happen. However, it is NOT a reason to vote against more school funding for K-12 which is needed desperately. But the fact it is allowed to happen provides an easy excuse to not vote for more school funding. It is hard enough to get people to vote in favor of school funding without providing them a ready made excuse to vote “no”.

    “They fret over “throwing money” at the schools and supposedly high administrative costs…”

    You can’t just mock the voters concern over “high administrative costs” when so many school districts ARE top heavy with high paid administrators. Most voters want their funds to go into the classroom, which means the teachers pay, smaller classes, more teachers and teaching assistants, more supplies so teachers don’t have buy them, etc. But it does appear that a lot of the money, instead of going into the classroom, goes into administration. If that isn’t the case, school districts should make that clear and make a point of stating how much money goes into the classrooms, but they don’t. Which makes voters assume they are correct and all the funding goes into administration. And, playing devils advocate, since they don’t really make it all that clear what the funding will be used for, how do we know if any of it will get to the teachers and classrooms?

    “…while pointing to places like Washington, DC that spend a lot per pupil (and just so happen to have a large percentage of non-white students who rely on services provided by their schools to mitigate their poverty)…”

    I don’t think the cost of those extra programs are included in the “cost per pupil” figures anymore than they are included in the figures we use here in Arizona. The figures used for comparison around the U.S. are based on funding provided for educating students, not their free breakfast, lunch, and dinner programs, their dental and vision checkups, etc. Which means that the extraordinarily high funding spent on Washington, D.C. schools is comparible to the funding spent here in Arizona (or any other state). Otherwise, we have been lied to every time someone compares our funding to the other 50 states and the District of Columbia.

    I want to see our education funding increased considerably. I would pay higher taxes to accomplish that. But I don’t want that money wasted on pipe dreams and empire building of people running the school districts. I want to see it spent for the benefit of students in the classroom. I want to see our teachers paid more and I want to see them teach. I don’t want to see them have three or four “service days” (working holidays) a month or see bad teachers hide behind tenure so they can keep on doing a bad job.

  6. My problem with Il Duce’s plan is that it will gradually diminish the State Trust Lands corpus u til there is nothing left. Also it lets the Legislature off the hook for payong for education in the future. All they have to do is cut taxes even more and, whoopsie, they’ve hot that magic 49% figure that means they don’t have to give a COLA to the schools. Not to mention that any further attempt by the courts to impose require,ents for more funding will be met with ‘let’s just take even more from State Trust Lands’ and poof all funding for schools will be goneand then they’ll say ‘gee, folks, we’re bankrupt, guess we can’t habe public schools at all’. Which is what they wan tto do in the first place!

    This is a bad deal, we have to reject it. And don’t tell me that we have to take it because it is all we’ve got. the other choices are a) follow the court path until it is exhausted, to the SCOTUS if needed, or b) fund schools with a new initiative that ties the Legislature’s hands and funds all school districts across the state, no money to charters. It can be done.

    • “…a new initiative that ties the Legislature’s hands and funds all school districts across the state, no money to charters.:

      It is sad how much supporters of the traditional school systems hate Charter Schools. I realize that they hate not being able to control what happens in Charter Schools and I think they fear the success of the majority of the Charter Schools, particularly in light of some Charter Schools being declared the best schools in Arizona.You can read it in the almost childish exuberance displayed when one of the Charter Schools fails and the traditional school supporters hoot and holler to call attention to the failure as if to say the entire Charter School system is a failure.

      It is true that Charter Schools often get the best students because their parents pull them out of lousy public schools and send them to a school where they think they have a better chance for a decent education. It is also true that public schools have to take everyone which is one of the reasons why parents that care wind up taking their kids out of public schools. Public Schools have lost control over their students and the problem students, the bullies and the malcontants tend to run the show. Unless they do something so egregious that the Police and the Courts get involved, they are warehoused with other students who are trying to learn but can’t beause of the disruption caused by students who don’t want to be there and who enjoy being disruptive. It is no wonder that Charter Schools are flourishing while public schools are not.

      Hate them all you want, Charter Schools exist because there is huge demand for them. Close them and you penalize ALL students to suffer the public schools and to never achieve their potential.

      • Steve,
        After 20 yrs of the charter school experiment, research shows that charter Schools perform no better and and more often worse than district schools. The schools you refer to, have a variety of techniques to get rid of kids. Here’s the touted Success Academy with a “Got To Go” list. Basis does the same.
        http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/30/nyregion/at-a-success-academy-charter-school-singling-out-pupils-who-have-got-to-go.html

        • Patricia, thank you for sharing the New York Times article with me. It was very interesting. I was aware that the more successful Charter Schools often have a policy of getting rid of disruptive students. As callous as it may be, that is actually one of the appealing features of the Charter Schools. My Grandchildren all attend the Basis Charter School and they are thriving. My oldest Grandson’s first two years were spent in Public School, and they were not a good experience. The teacher spent most of her time in an overcrowded classroom working with the slowest students and students like my Grandson more or less had to teach themselves, or Mom and Dad home schooled him. There were some students who were constantly disrupting the class and making learning difficult. No amount of discipline could bring them into line and the teacher working with the parents went nowhere. I don’t blame the teacher or the school because they are required by law to keep these disruptive students on the rolls regardless of their behavior.

          Since he moved to Basis, that doesn’t happen. If a student is chronically disruptive, he or she is expelled. It is selfish of me to want that, but I won’t apologize to anyone for wanting the best education possible for my Grandchildren. I like the Charter School Program because it provides choice. Some of the Charter Schools do fail and they go out of business. When a Public School fails, it just keeps on failing while continuing to run students through its program. Which one is better?