The Bucks Stop Here

Cross-posted from RestoreReason.com.

The latest talking point about education funding coming out of GOP leadership at the AZ Legislature is that “teacher raises are the responsibility of school districts, not the state.” Senate Education Committee Chair Sylvia Allen, recently said this as week as that districts “did not use Prop 123 monies to give teacher raises” and then that “some did and some didn’t.” And, she made the point that districts also used the funds to give administrators raises.

Well, technically, she is not wrong. School district governing boards are responsible for approving the budgets for their districts, or rather, how those budgets are sliced and diced. Some districts used more of the Prop 123 monies than others to give teachers raises. And, yes, some administrators were also given raises, but keep in mind that these “administrators” aren’t necessarily just district superintendents and principals. The administration line item also includes business managers, clerical and other staff who perform accounting, payroll, purchasing, warehousing, printing, human resources and administrative technology services. And, even if some districts gave raises to superintendents and principals so what? Truth is, the state has a shortage of these personnel as well.

Toward the end of 2016, the Arizona School Boards Association asked 83 districts across the state how they used their Prop 123 funds for FY2016 and how they budgeted for them to be used for FY2017. The survey showed that a majority of the school districts spent the 2016 funds on teacher or staff raises. For 2017, 75 percent was budgeted toward compensation increases. Some districts were forced to also use the funds to restore cut classes and programs, purchase classroom resources and technology, replace out-of-date textbooks, make overdue facility repairs, and replace old buses.

Let’s face it, Prop 123 provided very little “new” funding to school districts, it really was just 70% of that which was already owed. It did not provide sufficient monies to make up for increasing general operating costs and severe funding cuts made by the state – $4.56 billion since 2009. These cuts included $2 billion to capital funding (including technology, textbooks, desks, building repair and maintenance and school bus purchases) and $1.5 billion for full-day kindergarten (which many districts still provide out-of-hide because it is critical to student achievement.) The Legislature also currently funds just 20% of what the law requires them to for building of new schools and major school repairs via the School Facilities Board. That’s why public education plaintiffs have filed another lawsuit (the first suit over this same issue was in 1994) to force compliance with the state’s obligation to “adequately fund the capital needs of public schools under a 1998 court ruling.” In fact, Arizona is one of only a handful of states still cutting today, even in a steadily improving economy. Because of these cuts, district governing boards have been faced with very tough decisions about which holes to plug first and as the ones closest to the ground, they are the right ones to make it.

But, it is totally disingenuous of Senator Allen to intimate that school boards “chose” to not give their teachers sufficient raises. First of all, the vast majority of districts did give teachers significant raises (my very small district for example, gave 7%.) Secondly, forced to deal with the highest cuts in per pupil funding in the nation, Arizona school districts are not even remotely close to the “self-actualization” level on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but just barely at the safety and security level. District leaders are faced with daily decisions about how best to just keep students safe in light of deteriorating facilities and aged buses.

Allen and her legislative cronies can deflect all they want, but the state constitution is clear, “The LEGISLATURE shall enact such laws as shall provide for the establishment and maintenance of a general and uniform public school system…” STATE lawmakers, not school district governing boards, are responsible for ensuring adequate funding for the “maintenance of a general and uniform public school system.” District governing boards may have responsibility for slicing up the pizza pie they are served, but just like a personal pan pizza won’t serve a family of four, state education funding that has been cut 23.3% since 2009, just doesn’t provide enough to go around. And, with the 0.6% state sales tax funding from Prop 301 set to expire in 2021 (not to mention the Prop 123 monies disappearing in 2025), it is only going to get worse. If only Senator Allen would remember and act on the saying: politicians think of the next election, leaders think of the next generation. And just in case she didn’t quite understand the nuance, President Truman’s famous saying appropriate here is “the buck stops here”, not “the bucks stop here.”

7 Responses to The Bucks Stop Here

  1. John Huppenthal

    I hope the legislature is doing a victory lap.

    Look at national results for the last 4 years. Parent grading of their child’s school down from 36% A in 2011 to 24% in 2015 (Gallup). Teacher job satisfaction down from 62% very satisfied to 39% very satisfied (Met Life). Math scores down for the first time ever, reading scores – no improvement, education productivity down 15% since 2000 (NAEP).

    Now look at Arizona. Highest combined math and reading gains in the nation from 2011 4th grade to 2015 8th grade. African American 8th grades first in the nation in math, Hispanics 11th up from 35th in 2011, white 8th graders 6th. Urban Institute ranks Arizona schools 13th in the nation considering all test scores reading and math. Vail, Chandler, Mesa all have internal, longitudinal measures showing parent “A” grades above 65%. If you can’t get to those numbers, you can’t survive in Arizona’s school choice environment. Just look at Tucson Unified – less than 40% of their parents grade their child’s school an “A” and they are being peeled like a banana, losing 14,000 students in the last decade and a half.

    You can only get away with your nonsense on this blog by focusing on cost. How expensive are Arizona schools? A metric without any meaning in education science, except that we know that more expensive states produce fewer jobs for their high school and college graduates (Tax foundation and StLouis Federal Reserve data).

    This blog also contorts the meaning of the word public to support an institution with absolute bigotry and racism in its roots – the district school. Designed to keep out Catholics, minorities and the poor.

    In the so called public schools across the nation, 99.5% of the public is excluded from district schools. They are doing exactly what their racist and bigoted designers intended – keep out the public. That’s the heritage you are laying claim to.

    Arizona is the only state in the nation with a claim to a public education system, one in which all schools, every one of them, is open to the public.

    This blog advocates for a system in which the worst teacher in the worst school in the worst school district in the nation is guaranteed a full class room.

    We are advocating for a system in which every parent has so many excellent choices that every full classroom is evidence that the teacher is among the best in the nation.

    We will see who the voters believe.

    • For Sure Not Tom

      Do you happen to have the high school graduation rates for Arizona vs. the rest of the country nearby? Could you find that little cherry somewhere?

      If you had ever worked in the private sector you’d know that you need competitive pay to get the best people, and you do not want to pay teachers.

      And for the millionth time, until you provide proof of the crimes you constantly accuse thousands of people of doing, you have no credibility here.

      Or anywhere, Thuck-head.

    • Charters and Private schools have never had to take all comers. District schools do. Because of that fact alone, there’s a ton of selection bias which means it’s virtually impossible to make useful cross-sectional comparisons.

      When the total funding is limited, is tied to student performance, and private, parochial, and charter schools can selectively pick and choose the best students, of course they’re going to seem to do better on state assessments.

      But that isn’t evidence that there is more value added there as a result. Just that students with stronger home and family support networks do better than those without. Which is something that has been pretty well known for a long time.

      • John Huppenthal

        You don’t need a cross sectional between charters, districts and privates to analyze the effects of our competitive environment. We have huge random samples cross sectioning Arizona versus all other states.

        If school choice were bad for Arizona, you would see it in those samples.

        The Urban Insitute ranking us 13th based on NAEP is probably the most scientifically valid comparison in existence.

        Of course, that only grabs two dimensions, math and reading. Parent rating of quality grabs hundreds of dimensions of education quality. The nation has plummeted to a 47 year low. A number of our school districts are triple the national average, triple. That’s stunning.

  2. For Sure Not Tom

    Sylvia Allen wants the government to force people to go to church, because F the Constitution, right?

    She’s a disgrace to Arizona and to America.

  3. I heard that several Republican Legislators are headed for the ALEC conference this weekend. Are they doing a victory lap after the ESA vote?
    https://www.alec.org/meeting/2017-spring-task-force-summit-charlotte-north-carolina/

  4. John Huppenthal

    Linda,
    Seriously? You are arguing that school boards are not responsible for the condition and outcomes of their school districts? That you are not in charge?
    Really? That you can’t get excellent outcomes with the money you earn through your student count?