Public education funding is top priority in new legislative session: this is war

On Saturday, Thousands marched, calling on Ducey and Republican lawmakers to fully fund public schools:

Dawn Penich-Thacker, SOS Arizona spokeswoman, said the march was created for two reasons. The first, she said, was to celebrate public schools for doing what they can with the limited funding that state leaders have invested in education.

The second, she said, is to hold Ducey and lawmakers accountable, making them aware that their talking points on education funding fall short of resolving what has become a crisis in public education.

Earlier, Save Our Schools issued a plan to raise almost a billion dollars for public education without a sales tax increase. This good faith attempt to play on the Tea-Publican’s field also falls far short of the funding actually needed by our public schools.  Our former blogger David Safier breaks down the educators’ plan at the The Range in the Tucson Weekly. How to Raise a Billion Dollars For Schools Without Raising Sales Taxes.

These lobbying efforts fell on deaf ears from our Koch-bot governor and lawless Tea-Publican legislature who are hellbent on privatizing public education through school vouchers, the long-term goal of the “Kochtopus” (and a violation of the Arizona Constitution). Further, these ideological extremists are true believers in the false religion of faith-based supply side “trickle down” economics, the First Commandment of which is “Thou shalt never raise taxes (for corporations and plutocrats).”

Our Koch-bot governor has “rejected suggestions and proposals by several different education and business groups that the quickest — and easiest — way to raise the revenues needed is to boost state sales taxes, curb tax credits or close what some describe as “loopholes” in the tax code.” School funding is first priority in new legislative session:

Gov. Doug Ducey kicks off the legislative session Monday with a call for more education funding — but not with the tax hikes that some say are necessary to provide truly adequate funding for schools.

In an interview with Capitol Media Services, the governor said the state has made a “significant investment” in K-12 education, saying aid to schools is $700 million higher now than it was three years ago [but below pre-recession levels in 2007].

“More is needed,” he acknowledged, saying the details of his budget will have to wait.

* * *

I’m not raising taxes,” he said.

Ducey is like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He won’t accept the obvious.

Instead, Ducey insists that he can find the money elsewhere in the budget.

But the kind of money Ducey can find through such savings is unlikely to satisfy those who cite not only Arizona’s reputation of being at or near the bottom of per-student funding but the problems in both attracting and retaining teachers. And that starts with 2,000 classrooms not having qualified teachers at the helm, instead being run by substitutes or students being forced into overcrowded classrooms.

Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs was more succinct in her criticism of the governor’s contention that the state can adequately meet education needs with savings elsewhere.

“We’ve got all the change from the couch cushions that there is,” she said.

It’s not just Democrats and educators who are critical of Ducey’s position that the state can fund education without additional revenues. He also is increasingly at odds with those who otherwise might be considered allies.

It starts with the debate of the future of [Prop. 301], the 0.6-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2000 specifically to fund education. Without action, it will self-destruct in 2021, along with the approximately $600 million it raises.

The governor said he supports simply asking voters to extend it, insisting it could be reformed in a way to generate more dollars. He also doesn’t want any action this year, a move that House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios called “incredibly irresponsible.”

Beyond that, others say education needs more than that 0.6-cent tax raises.

Diane Douglas, the state superintendent of public instruction, favors boosting the levy to a full penny, figuring to use three-fourths of that to boost teacher salaries by about 10 percent.

Jim Swanson, CEO of construction firm Kitchell Corp., thinks even more than that is needed, suggesting a doubling of the 0.6-cent levy.

And others, including Phil Francis, the former CEO of PetSmart, said it probably will take a 1.6-cent tax to produce the revenues needed.

Even the more fiscally conservative members of the business community are saying something more is needed to generate more dollars.

“Tax revenues are not matching the health of the economy, not just in Arizona but across the country,” said Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, blaming much of that to the increase in online purchases whose tax revenues are not captured.

And Kevn McCarthy, executive director of the business-oriented Arizona Tax Research Association, said he could support a tax increase. But he said that is contingent on cleaning up other disparities in education funding, like some school districts getting more money per student because of things like desegregation expenses.

All that puts Ducey in the position of being a holdout amid increased public focus on the state’s public education system and concern that children are being shortchanged because of the state’s failure to put more dollars into K-12 education.

There is no dispute over the numbers. Even Ducey press aide Daniel Scarpinato concedes that current per-student funding, after adjusting for inflation, is still not back to where it was before the recession (2007).

There’s also the separate fact that Ducey, who convinced voters in 2016 to tap a special trust fund to end a lawsuit against the state, insisted that the cash that generates would be just the first step toward improving education funding.

There has been no next step.

[Q]uestions remain about what has been produced so far, with teacher salaries up just 1 percent this year.

Ducey promised another 1 percent for the coming school year. But that still leaves salaries far short of what they are in virtually every other state.

For example, the Morrison Institute says that elementary school teacher pay is the lowest in the nation, even when adjusted for statewide cost of living; high school pay is not far behind at 49.


There’s another big education decision facing Ducey and lawmakers: whether to block voters from getting the last word on the expansion of the program that provides vouchers to parents to send their children to private and parochial schools.

Foes gathered more than 100,000 signatures following last year’s vote, holding up enactment until November when those who go to the polls would get to decide whether to ratify or reject what the Legislature approved. Supporters have responded by asking the courts to void the referendum, citing what they said are various irregularities.

If those legal efforts falter, the only way to quash a vote on what would be Proposition 305 would be for lawmakers to alter last year’s legislation.

That presents a political question for lawmakers.

If it remains on the ballot, that could bring out foes of expansion. And once they’re voting “no” on more vouchers, they could just as easily spread their displeasure with those who enacted it in the first place, including Ducey.

A legal challenge to that petition drive has yet to get a final ruling.

Other education-related issues likely to provoke debate include:

  • Extending funding for special career and education programs now in high schools to ninth grade;
  • Requiring all high schoolers to take a college-entrance examination;
  • Revamping and reenacting a law voided by a federal judge aimed at “ethnic studies” programs that prohibit things like teaching ethnic solidarity;
  • Capping the year-over-year increases in what corporations can divert from state income taxes to groups that give scholarships to help students attend private and parochial schools;
  • Requiring parents to be notified when their student athletes suffer a concussion.

Howard Fischer leaves out a critical lawsuit over capital funding for school districts filed last year that is pending in court. Arizona schools to sue state over funding – again:

A year after voters passed Prop. 123 to resolve a $1.6 billion lawsuit over school funding, Arizona school districts are again taking the governor and Legislature to court.

And this lawsuit is even larger.

Several school districts, education groups and parents . . . filed a lawsuit alleging the state for nearly a decade shorted schools for capital funding for school maintenance, buses, textbooks and technology, the Arizona School Boards Association announced Friday.

School budget officials have estimated the cuts since 2009 total about $2 billion.

The Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, which represented the school districts in the prior lawsuit, will file the lawsuit on behalf of the schools, according to the Arizona School Boards Association, which is among the plaintiffs.

Governor Ducey and our lawless Tea-Publican legislature will not be able to restructure the State Trust Fund again to settle this lawsuit. They have used their one bite at the apple to mislead voters.

The only remedy to this public education funding problem is to vote out of office every Tea-Publican at every level of government.

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