Top Five – Discouraged but Hopeful

So hopefully you already read my Bottom Five – Discouraged but Hopeful, here’s the rest of the story. First, the rest of what gets me really discouraged:

5.  The Legislature seems intent on killing the CTE/JTED, a critical program for our state. Career and Technical Education (CTE) offered by Joint Technical Education Districts (JTED), includes a variety of “votech” programs for which students earn high school credit, and in some cases, may earn college credit, industry certifications, and/or a state license through combination of hands-on training and classroom instruction. Since 2011, the Arizona Legislature has cut CTE funding by more than 53%. Some $30 million will leave the program next year and Districts will also take a 7.5% cut to their per-pupil funding for their students who participate. These cuts are stupid for Arizona! As I’ve previously written, CTE is a win-win-win. It has proven to decrease dropouts by as much as 72% and the Alliance for Excellent Education estimates that “if half of Arizona’s 24,700 high school dropouts in 2010 had instead graduated from high school, the economic impact on Arizona would include $91 million in increased earnings and $7 million in increased state tax revenue.” The Phoenix Business Journal also made a great case for CTE: “By destroying one of Arizona’s most successful education initiatives – one with real economic returns – the state will not be able to provide the skilled workforce that companies demand before they relocate or expand operations here. That means we can expect reduced workforce development, fewer young people escaping poverty and achieving economic independence, and higher social services costs.” There is still time to help. Please click here to sign a petition to restore CTE/JTED funding.

4.  Arizona’s teacher shortage. Actually, Arizona doesn’t have as much a teacher shortage as it has a shortage of certified professionals willing to work for salaries that won’t pay the bills. As of December of last year (according to the AZ Daily Star), 84 districts in Arizona had more than 1,200 teaching position open and 700 of those occurred during this school year. The state also had at least 1,000 vacant teacher positions to fill before the start of the current school year. The Arizona Educator Recruitment & Retention Task Force reported in January 2015 that there is a 7% decrease in teacher prep program enrollment, that Arizona loses 24% of first year and 20% of second year teachers and that 24% of the current education workforce is eligible to retire within the next four years. We have a huge problem that is only going to get worse and I haven’t even mentioned the school administrator shortage that is right around the corner.

3.  Proposition 123. Okay, so earlier I said I had hope because a settlement was reached in the inflation-funding lawsuit. Unfortunately, we are a long way from actually getting the requisite funding to our schools. First, the voters must approve it in a special election on May 17th  and those against the settlement filed almost 50 statements in opposition. There is also the matter that the state Treasurer is against the deal but he hasn’t been able to get much traction on his fight. That fact, combined with the $1.75 million proponents have raised to sell the prop to the public will probably carry the day. I do though, worry about the long-term impact to education funding and, I don’t really don’t like Governor Ducey and his buddies claiming a victory on this one. An example is Ducey’s “hay making” tweet on December 30, 2015:

ducey tweet

Sorry Guv, but no, you really just paid 70% of what the people mandated and the courts adjudicated and technically, you are paying the schools with their own money. You’ll be “shifting the trend line upward” when you plus up the K-12 public education budget this year. After all, its not like we don’t have the money. Arizona realized $150.5 million more revenue than expected in October and November of 2015 after ending the fiscal year with $266 million more in the bank than expected. Add that to a $460 million in the state’s rainy day fund and you’re starting to talk real money. And, Arizona voters are pretty clear about what they want done with that money. A recent poll of Arizona voters showed 72% believe investing in public schools should be a priority for this surplus. If the Legislature and Governor were listening to the citizens of Arizona (who are the “boss of them”), they would give some of this funding to public education and truly begin to reverse the trend, instead of following the abysmal fiscal example of Governor Brownback in Kansas by reducing taxes and giving more corporate handouts.

2.  Voting records of our legislature when it comes to support for public education. I already talked about this in a previous post but it bears repeating. The bottom line is that on average, Arizona’s Democratic legislators scored 48 percentage points higher for voting in accord with ASBA’s position, than the Republicans. There are of course, anomalies, but it is clear that in general, the GOP-led legislature is anti-public education. Want support for public education? Vote more pro-public education candidates into office. Some suggestions of those running for the first time are: Jesus Rubalcava running in LD4, Courtney Frogge in LD10, Corin Hammond in LD11, and Larry Herrera in LD20. I’m sure there are many more but I know all these individuals personally and they are young up and comers…just what we need to lead Arizona forward.

1.  ALEC’s influence on Arizona legislation, especially where it affects public education. The American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) agenda to privatize public education includes the promotion of charter schools (corporate charters and virtual schools specifically), private school vouchers, anti-union measures, “parent trigger” laws, increasing testing, reducing or eliminating the power of local school boards and limiting the power of public school districts. Anyone tuned into Arizona education or politics knows that ALEC has also had significant influence in our state. The Goldwater Institute acts, as ALEC’s “Mini-Me” in Arizona and AZ Senator Debbie Lesko, as the AZ ALEC chair, has been the organization’s chief water carrier. Half of our state Senators and one-third of our representatives are known members of ALEC and there may be more.  Corporations fund their trips to ALEC Conference where model legislation is handed out for Legislators to take back to their states for implementation. The organization awarded Arizona a “B-” grade in education policy for 2015. The state’s charter school laws and school choice programs were awarded “A” grades, teacher quality and policies were graded “C-.” This most certainly means we’ll see more ALEC-drafted bills coming down the pike.

Now, for what most gives me hope:

5.  Superintendent Douglas finally seems to be focusing on the education of our kids. It’s been a tough year for the Superintendent, much of it apparently of her own making. But, she went on not one, but two listening tours around the state and evidently, really listened. Her “AZ Kids Can’t Afford to Wait” plan is focused on how to make things better for Arizona’s students, much of it revolving around improving teacher support to include increased salaries. This report shows that at least she understands what needs to be done. She survived the attempt to recall her; time will tell whether she can lead real change.   Current leadership aside though, I share Representative Randy Friese’s question as to why the Superintendent of Public Instruction is an elected position. After all, Arizona is one of only 13 states where this is the case and, the position is basically just an administrator who is only one member on the state Board of Education which is responsible for exercising general supervision over and regulating the conduct of the public schools system. AZCentral.com reported this week that Representative Friese intends to introduce a bill to make the change.

4.  Christine Marsh, Arizona’s Teacher of the Year, is really, really impressive. She is poised, articulate, and passionate and when she talks about public education, she takes no prisoners. In a recent article published AZCentral.com, she said that giving each individual student an equal chance to succeed is the point of public school education.   She pointed out that over 26% of Arizona’s children live in poverty, 4% more than the national average. “People need to understand the impact of poverty on students…and when we discuss school funding, we need to understand the impact our decisions have on each student,” she said. “[We need to] make sure that our policies and funding formulas don’t contribute to the problems they are supposed to be helping.” It is clear this outstanding teacher won’t be shy about speaking “truth to power.” Of course, I’m sure Christine would be the first to say that there are many, many more teachers just like her out there. I’m hopeful because of all of the great teachers serving Arizona’s students and am so very grateful for their service.

3.  District schools are still the school of choice for 85% of Arizona’s students. Despite having open enrollment and charter schools since 1994 and Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (basically vouchers) since 2011, almost one million students still attend district schools. The primary reason is that district schools are community schools with locally elected leadership that is responsive to the needs of the community. Charter schools and voucher provided alternatives will never serve the majority of students, that’s just not realistic. As members of the more than 240 school boards govern to improve achievement for the almost one million students in their care, they work to ensure the bedrock of our democracy/republic, “an educated citizenry” according to Thomas Jefferson, is realized.

2.  Arizona’s education advocates are really getting their act together, literally! The Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA), the Arizona Education Association (AEA) and the Arizona Association of School Business Officials (AASBO) worked together to craft a palatable compromise to settle the inflation-funding lawsuit. I know many are not happy about the settlement, but these three organizations worked tirelessly for five years to get Arizona districts the funding they were due. Yes, it is only two-thirds of what was owed, but two-thirds is better than nothing and nothing was a distinct possibility. This is especially true with Governor Ducey’s appointment of Clint Bollick to the Arizona Supreme Court. Had this issue come before him, it most certainly would have died a quick death. Another public education advocate, Support Our Schools AZ (SOSAZ), saw its “Arizona Parent Network” grow wings and take flight. In October, the organization hosted the first-ever Education Excellence Expo at Salt River Fields with 26 districts from all over the state showing off the excellence in Arizona’s public schools.

1.  Maybe, just maybe, Arizona voters are waking up. 2015 saw some encouraging upticks in support for public education. In early March, two mothers sparked a day of peaceful protest at the state Capitol. Close to 1,000 parents, students, teachers, and community members showed up to protest Governor Ducey’s proposed education budget cuts. I was there, and it was exciting to be a part of a genuine grass-roots movement that helped bring education to the forefront. That renewed focus no doubt aided in the successful passage of so many bonds and overrides such as in Maricopa County, where 23 of 26 districts had successful ballot measures.Results elsewhere were not as good such as in Pinal County, where only half of the measures passed, but overall, the numbers were up and that bodes well for public education in general.

What this exercise made me realize is that I really am more optimistic than pessimistic about public education’s future. I had to work harder to come up with the “what’s discouraging” than “what gives me hope.” Maybe that’s who I am, or maybe, I just believe that ultimately, “good” wins. “Good” in public education is that which serves the majority of our children; that which recognizes each of them deserves equal opportunity to be the best they can be; and that which best serves our communities, our state and our nation.   I believe that “good” in public education is that which is transparent, accountable, and dedicated to helping each child achieve their full potential. Anything else is so very much less than good – it is just plain evil.

 

2 responses to “Top Five – Discouraged but Hopeful

  1. Thank you for another well written and fact based article. With all the publicity about charters and private schools, it’s easy to forget that 85% of our children chose district schools. The results of a recent small Expect More Arizona poll were also encouraging. It showed education was the top priority of respondents, even topping out border security, and that respondents favored using state surplus money rather than Prop. 123.