Misogynistic Malfeasance

Cross-posted from RestoreReason.com.

What is going on with K–12 teachers in Arizona’s district education systems is nothing short of malfeasance on the part of the state and ultimately, on the part of the people. We have allowed our teachers to be disregarded and undervalued to the point that one must question why anyone would care to be a teacher. Truth is, today very few are choosing that route.

Four weeks into the 2016–2017 school year, Arizona saw 53 percent of its district classrooms without a certified teacher; over 2,000 had no teacher and another 2,000 had an uncertified person at the head of the class. Part of the problem is recruitment and retention. In fact, an upcoming report from ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, states that 85% of rural school and 77% of urban administrators say hiring new teachers is somewhat or extremely difficult. The report also states that Arizona is losing more teachers than bachelor of education degrees produced by its three state universities. Turnover is high, with 22% of teachers not teaching in state after one year and 42% of them leaving the profession within three years.

Probably one of the biggest problem is teacher pay that is rock bottom lowest (50th) in the nation. In fact, elementary school teachers here are paid 14% less than in 2001 and secondary teachers are paid 11% less. Governor Ducey’s response for next year’s budget is to give teachers a 0.4 percent pay raise amounting to $187 extra next year on an average salary of $46,384 in 2016. I don’t know about you, but an extra $187 per year wouldn’t convince me to do anything I hadn’t already decided to do.

This paltry teacher raise isn’t the only funding boost to education Ducey is recommending, as he’s proposed a total of $113.6 million for K–12 education next year. But, in light of the fact that per pupil funding is $1,365 less than it was in 2008 (adjusting for inflation) that amount is not even a drop in the bucket compared to the $1.43 billion that has been cut.

The Legislature (including some Republicans) is going a step further in proposing a one percent raise for teachers, which would amount to an additional $430 per year at a total cost of $31 million. Democratic legislators and AZ Schools Now, a coalition of education groups, are advocating for a four percent raise which would give the average teacher an annual boost of $1,720 by freezing corporate tax cuts. Even this amount though, would still leave Arizona teachers $8,616 short of the U.S. average annual salary for teachers.

Why this isn’t something all of us are screaming bloody murder about is, I’m sure, multi-faceted. The most obvious is it doesn’t support the agenda of school choice proponents. After all, from Betsy DeVos and her American Federation for Children, to Michael and Olga Block and their BASIS empire, to Senator Yarbrough and his cash cow School Tuition Organization, raising the salaries of Arizona’s district teachers just isn’t a high priority. But, there is likely a more insidious reason, one that most people probably never think of, and that is the fact that most K–12 teachers are, and traditionally have been, women.

Back in 2014, a teacher in Portland named Nikki Suydam, penned a guest opinion published by the Oregonian on oregonlive.com. In it, Ms. Suydam pointed out that “blaming women for society’s problems is as old as the story of Eve in the Garden of Eden, or Pandora and her box of woes, or every medieval witch hunt spurred on by crop failure or plague outbreak.” “Contemporary education reformers” she wrote “have launched a similar witch hunt to root out ”rotten apples“ from a profession still more than 75 percent female.”

She goes on to make the point that “No similar reform movement targets doctors (65 percent male) for our nation’s spiraling obesity epidemic. America’s dentists (78 percent male) are not held responsible for their patients’ tooth decay. Law enforcement officers (80 percent male) are not blamed for crime statistics. Nor are engineers (78 percent male) ‘held accountable’ for the crumbling U.S. infrastructure.”

And yet, teachers (three-fourths of whom are women) are often vilified for any lack of success in today’s public district schools. This, despite the fact that 20 percent of Arizona’s children live in poverty and the vast majority of these children attend district schools. This despite the fact that Arizona is 48th in the nation in per pupil spending. This despite the fact that our Governor and Legislature continue to push for ways to siphon more tax dollars away from our district schools.

Let’s face it. Whether we are talking about homemakers, or nurses, or teachers; professions traditionally filled by women just don’t earn the same respect and salaries of those dominated by men. We really should get past this old paradigm though, and not look at who does the work, but what work is done. After all, for most people, their child is their most precious “possession” and they turn over the care of this precious possession to a teacher for six to eight hours each day. Shouldn’t we want these teachers to be highly skilled, appropriately valued, and sufficiently compensated?

Numerous studies have looked at teachers’ impact on student achievement. A 2012 research study by the RAND Corporation, found that “among school-related factors, teachers matter most.” The study also found “When it comes to student performance on reading and math tests, a teacher is estimated to have two to three times the impact of any other school factor, including services, facilities, and even leadership.” Steve Seleznow, President and CEO of Arizona Community Foundation and a former school administrator said, “Teacher pay and support is a proxy for how highly we think of students and their education…If we value the education our children receive, we must provide teachers compensation commensurate with those values.”

Every parent knows that children are sponges and they are really good at picking up on the dissonance between our words and our actions. When we undervalue our teachers, on some level, our children know we are undervaluing them as well. And that my friends, is a really, really sad state of affairs.

14 responses to “Misogynistic Malfeasance

  1. linda polls always show pro education ;but that is not how arizonans vote as they have other priorities. the education lobby whines and complains so people ignore it after so many years. I remember w.w. “skipper” dick being called a communist for it over 50 years ago! latinos do vote education ;but the white democratic establishment is so scared they will take over the party as much as republicans are scared of them.

  2. read the book shattered and you might find out why all of your wailing and gnashing of teeth of the education lobby does not impress the arizona voters hint: trump won because hillary was hated more then trump. (out side of california)

    • You are wrong censored. The people of Arizona do care about education…77% said it should get more funding in a December 2016 poll and 61% said they’d pay more taxes to do that. Trump won because he sold the voters a packet of lies and the GOP has been painting Hillary as a liar and crook for 25 years and has spent millions and millions of dollars to investigate her AND…found nothing! I get why people don’t like her, but you will never convince me that the “hatred” against her wasn’t purposefully manufactured by the GOP. The ONLY reasons people keep voting for anti-public education candidates here in Arizona are: 1) they just vote for the letter after the name, 2) they don’t draw the nexus between the candidates and education policy in our state, and 3) they care about other issues (like abortion or gun rights) much more strongly than they care about education. But…I believe this is changing. And oh by the way, thousands of us who care about public education are NOT LOBBYISTS, but parents, grandparents school board members, community members, taxpayers, and voters who care about our kids and our future – we are public education ADVOCATES, not paid lobbyists representing corporate interests like ALEC, the Goldwater Institute, the Center for Arizona Policy, and the American Federation for Children. Villify us if you feel the need, but please don’t lob us in the same pool as these organizations!

  3. John Huppenthal

    Ed,
    The problem with your allegory is that we have a real life comparison which has unfolded in Arizona over the last 25 years.

    25 years ago, state agency and education budgets were put on Spartan diets in terms of budgets. So, we can track the two on parallel tracks. 25 years ago, 55% of Chandler citizens rated Chandler city government excellent. Today after 25 years to improve that number, that number has declined to 38%. By comparison, the Chandler school district had a 38% excellent rating 25 years ago. Today, that number has improved to 75%.

    Ed, in government, you don’t get what you pay for.

    City governments in Arizona are very expensive and, by and large, very ineffective on a relative basis.

    • A lot of the school districts that you claim are doing very well as examples of school choice working, such as Vail and Scottsdale, routinely employ budget overrides and bond initiatives funded by local property taxes, while many of the ones doing more poorly don’t have those opportunities because the districts are in poorer areas which may not have the property tax base to support it. So, I think that despite your claims to the contrary (which are biased by endogenous selection), I think there is evidence to suggest that funding levels in education do play a positive role.

      Now, does mismanagement play a role? Absolutely – I’m not denying that it is. In fact, I am planning to go down to the next TUSD board meeting to talk about just that. And I’ve been down to County Administration to talk about it numerous times to the point where I’ve royally pissed off about half of them by now – they know full well that when they start wasting tax dollars on corporate welfare projects and other wasteful spending not in the public good, they are going to get three minutes of verbal berating from me (not, of course, that it stops them). But throwing our hands up in the air and saying ‘private market solves’ isn’t really accurate except in the stylized models of an introductory economics class. Externalities, public goods, market power, information asymmetry, and other market failures are a very real problem with many of the goods and services the government provides, and we shouldn’t expect that the private sector will be any more efficient in their provision. I’m not denying government failures exist (principal-agent problems chief among them), but I think the appropriate solution is demanding accountability, transparency, and efficiency from our elected officials, not just giving up and expecting a competitive market to sprout up by chance and create an allocatively efficient solution.

      • I believe if we were really honest, we would see that business sees as much mismanagement and wasteful spending as government. And ultimately, if government is not performing, it is the voters’ fault. Government is accountable and transparent, something that business is not. Government’s primary function is NOT to be efficient, but to provide the services and programs, we the people, need!!!

      • John Huppenthal

        Ed,
        You are correct. Districts that have successful overides and bond elections do perform better. I have been an enthusiastic supporter of our local school district. They have earned the money.

        The key is understanding why. Elections create positive interdependence, a win/win relationship. Did you create value for us? Yes, then we grant value to you. It is very similar, albeit, not as fluid as a free market. School choice also creates/enhances/ intensifies positive interdependence.

        Contrast overides and bond elections with desegregation spending. Deseg is just a massive layer of more spending. Since you are a TUSD taxpayer, I encourage you to carefully read the Special Master reports and not just read them, read between the lines as to what he is really saying.

        Deseg spending in TUSD has just about wiped out commerce and small business in the TUSD district. It is a massive extraction of money, just from business. Residential is immune from it, or so they think. There just are no jobs for their children. Tucson, once a rival to phoenix, has fewer residents today than it did eleven years ago. Worst of all that spending has done nothing to improve TUSD. It has injected massive negative interdependence between all of its constituencies who all battle for their share of the loot. Meanwhile, over 13,000 parents and students have walked out the door and two superstar Superintendents have resigned – unable to bring peace to the empire.

    • herr huppenthal city governments have to clean up after your republican mess. that is why we have to solve arizona’s social problems at a city level like the cop in scottsdale who shot and killed 6 different mentally ill persons republicans believe a police bullet is the cheapest way to “treat” mental illness.

      • John Huppenthal

        There is no logic to your statement. City governments are by far the most well funded governmental entities in the state.

        When I was in the legislature, I had the pension fund to a series of computer runs for me to answer the question “What was the average annual pay increase of ongoing employees?” City employees came in at an eye popping 11% per year.

        You never hear about this because the media celebrates, protects and affirms fat government.

  4. Frances Perkins

    I once asked one of our voucher voting legislators whether they believed in market based solutions to State problems. Of course she said, especially in health care(another issue entirely). I then asked how many teacher candidates we would have if the beginning pay was $60,000 a year with full benefits. Hundreds she said. Voila! a market based solution. The one thing absolutely guaranteed, however, is that Ducey’s solutions to everything including education, will be to move the deck chairs around on the deck of the Titanic, never, ever, bringing more money into the system for “market based solutions.” The university bonds, Prop 123, and anything else coming up are your disturbing pattern. And as long as Ducey gets nonsensical feedback from hacks like George Will, he will keep doing it.

    • Frances Perkins

      The ironic thing is that there is more money (revenue) out there without these Ducey gimmicks. It is to STOP giving away your revenue via tax credits, tax cuts that do nothing, and reducing special interest deductions. Everyone who just finished their business or personal State income taxes saw all the credits and deductions for every special interest under the Sun, in the State tax books. The Republicans are famous for the rhetoric of tax simplification. Everyone could do their state income tax on a post card. Take the Fed AGI and pay 2% of that as your State income tax. Done. But how would Steve Yarbrough make his money?

    • You got that right Frances! Governor Ducey is proving over and over what he believes in…Governor Ducey!

  5. I just want to quote an allegory I wrote a few months back. I think it will illustrate a lot of the points you bring up here:

    In a small town, a river separates the town into two halves. There are no ways across the river except by a single bridge running through the middle of the town; the nearest crossing point otherwise is several miles away, and because the town is quite small, the residents of the town have never needed any other method of travel. For as long as anyone can remember, people have freely traveled across the bridge as needed – it has been maintained by the public through taxes, so residents have never needed to pay to cross the bridge. And it has been well-maintained by a series of wise mayors and other officials, who have levied sufficient taxes in order to maintain the bridge. And times were good, for a while.

    About 15 years ago, the people elected a new mayor and governor. They believed that in order to grow their economy, it was necessary to cut taxes, in order to stimulate additional investment into the local economy. Funds for road and infrastructure maintenance were cut, and for a time, everything was good. The economy had picked up, just as was promised. The bridge continued to hold fast, even though the maintenance schedule had been stretched out more than had been in the past. People had noticed that there were a few potholes from time to time, and there were cracks in the side railings. The disrepair was more cosmetic than structural, so most paid it little mind.

    5 years ago, major structural deficiencies were discovered. Though they could be repaired, the economy was in a recession. Little money was not flowing from government officials, who had squandered the surplus generated during the last boom period on further tax breaks to try to stave off the recession. At this point, people were seriously concerned that the worst was imminent, and were hoping only that no one would be killed or seriously injured when the collapse occurred. An enterprising middle-aged man gathered up some money from various wealthy folks on the outskirts of town and began to operate a ferry service. The townsfolk were disgusted to be taken advantage of in this manner, especially given the price being charged, but as most were unwilling to take the risk of crossing the bridge, and few wanted to take the several-mile detour to the next closest crossing point, they nonetheless complied. A few brave souls, who were particularly desperate, did so, until the bridge was condemned last year and shut down.

    A couple of weeks ago, a new report came out which stated that the average person was spending $80 per month on the ferry service. Given the size of the town and cost of maintenance and repairs, City Hall had reported that for an increase in local property taxes by the city and county totaling about $25 per person per month, bonds could be issued, and the bridge could be rebuilt over the next two years. Nonetheless, the chance of the bond package passing look particularly slim – many are afraid that any increase in taxes will cause local businesses to relocate outside the city and cost people their jobs and livelihoods. A small group is hopeful that such an investment will bring more money into the economy, as the population will have more money once they can resume traveling across the bridge, rather than paying for the ferry. But even they are dismayed with the expected chances that the upcoming bond election next May will pass.

    • Excellent story Edward! The way taxes have been pushed down to the local level reminds me of a frog that gets cooked in a pot of water that is slowly raised to boiling temperature. And people aren’t seeing this!