by David Safier
A budget is a moral document, which makes Arizona's cuts to education over the past few years immoral bordering on obscene. Prop 204 went down in flames, unfortunately, and now the lege can do as it will with education funding, including cutting it further.
Brewer is talking about raising school funding in the next budget. She hasn't said by how much or how the money would be allocated. And of course, anything she does will be filtered through Republicans who are anywhere from anti-public education (except for charters, of course) to anti-education funding in general.
Here are two issues to watch for as the discussions move forward.
How much ed money will be added? Somewhere between $600 million and $1 billion were cut from a budget that was already the lowest in per student funding in the nation. Arizona topped the nation in education cuts over the past five years, putting us even further away from other states in the amount we invest in our children. Prop 204 would have added $600 – $800 million a year. What, if anything, will the lege decide to kick in? Republicans are crowing about a large surplus — $676 million from this fiscal year. It's doubtful they'll consider putting all that into education. And compounding the problem, the current one cent sales hike is about to expire, which brings in about a billion a year. Buh-bye surplus. It's doubtful the state will replace more than a fraction of what it has cut from K-12 education, if it adds anything at all.
How will the added funds be allocated? Prop 204 gave a blanket hike to education funding. The money would have followed students to their schools, whether district or private charter [Note: Sorry about the slip. I meant charter schools, not private schools]. Brewer, Craig Barrett and the Republicans favor targeted increases rather than, as they like to say, "throwing money" at the problem. Their idea of targeting, of course, is to reward successful schools and programs. The problem is, schools with students from high socioeconomic groups are generally more "successful" than schools with lower income and minority students. The Republican formula would most likely assure money flowing to, say, Catalina Foothills schools while only a trickle would go to TUSD and Sunnyside districts. As much as the Rs hate Tucson and TUSD, they could write the legislation in a way that the schools would be virtually eliminated from consideration.
The same conservative "education reform" hucksters who never tire of saying how poorly our students fare on international tests — which, by the way, is not entirely true — aren't interested in looking further into the analysis of international testing data. Our top students from economically comfortable homes compare favorably with students in other countries, but our poorer students, including white and minority students, test lower than similar students in other countries. Other countries spend more on their lower performing students — "throw money" at them, to use the conservative terminology — to raise their achievement. The U.S. goes the other way, spending less on its lower performing students. Though it's not certain other countries' extra funding for the lowest performing students is responsible for their edge over our similar students, that's certainly how it looks.
What's the chance our conservative lege will target funding to help schools with students who are in the greatest need of small classes, tutoring and enrichment? Not very likely.