Crossposted from DemocraticDiva.com
When the Governor drops by your office to say you "don't care about kids" if you don't vote yes on his flawed plan. pic.twitter.com/EUc4fMQ9ZJ
— Steve Farley (@SteveFarleyAZ) October 29, 2015
There’s something that feels very inevitable about the way this Arizona school funding “settlement” is playing out.
The plan ends a lawsuit filed by schools in 2010 after the Legislature stopped giving required yearly inflation increases to basic school funding. It would funnel $3.5 billion to K-12 schools over 10 years. About $2 billion comes from increasing land trust withdrawals, and the $1.4 billion from the state’s general fund. The deal also contained several triggers that would allow the Legislature to stop mandatory inflation boosts in tough economic times.
If passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, voters would have to approve the changes in a May special election.
The total figure represents about 72% of what the court ordered to be paid to the schools in the lawsuit and practically none of it is new funding at all. The $2 billion from the state land trust comes from funds already promised to the schools per dictate of the state’s constitution. Basically, it’s like you paying me back money you owe me by withdrawing it from my bank account. And that account is actually a trust held in abeyance by my relatives, who will be voting next May on whether the funds can even be withdrawn or not. Oh yeah, you repaid me all right. Sure you did.
Ballot measures involving fiddling with the state land trust have a history of failing so the prospects of this scheme succeeding are sketchy, at best. The result either way will represent the speed at which the public schools of Arizona will be starved. Liberals here wrack their brains over how people can tell pollsters they consider education their top priority while returning politicians actively hostile to raising revenue and funding the schools to office year after year. Maybe some insight into that is to be found in a not-atypical encounter I had at the door of a voter in LD28 (North Central Phoenix, Paradise Valley) during the 2014 election. It was a week prior to the general election and my assignment was to contact voters mainly about Dr. Eric Meyer, a Democrat who somehow manages to get elected in that R-dominated district. I had a list of mostly Republicans believed to be “persuadable” and voters listed as Other (unaffiliated with any party). As you might imagine, this tends to be a more challenging task for a Democratic volunteer than talking to Democratic voters, and things can get really interesting.
So I knocked on the door of an Other voter, and a white woman responded who looked to be in her late 30s. I explained why I was there and things were going along pleasantly until I mentioned that Dr. Meyer and the rest of the Democratic candidates held education as their signature issue. I recall noticing kid-related items around the home that indicated the voters were parents, which is why I was shocked by what the voter said to me about the subject of public education, which was something closely along the lines of: “I’m for education but I feel like I pay enough taxes for it already. It’s just a bunch of Mexican kids. Most of them don’t even belong here legally. Why should I pay for them?” I remember beating a quick retreat after that because I did not care to have that particular debate and it would have eaten up time available to talk to other voters.
Granted, it’s one anecdote but – let’s be honest – it’s far from the first time any of us have heard this rhetoric from our coworkers and neighbors, isn’t it? SB1070 wasn’t supported by over 60% of Arizonans in 2010 in a vacuum. It is commonly believed here that immigrant families are getting huge amounts of public assistance that native-born families are somehow not qualified to receive. I’ve heard the “illegals get free college tuition” canard more than a few times, as well as the apocryphal tales of scores of children being bused in daily from south of the Mexican border to attend American schools. So it’s no surprise at all that a lot of voters here tell pollsters they value education while having a record of voting accordingly that is spotty, at best. They’ll sometimes vote for sales tax increases or bonds and overrides and their districts and other times not. People who really want to see K-12 succeed consistently vote for funding increases. I do, and I know you do too. The electorate as a whole doesn’t (and if the 2014 statewide election didn’t drive that home, I don’t know what will) and it’s pretty frigging depressing to ponder why.
Furthermore, I don’t believe it is solely a reflection of the right wing Norquist anti-tax cult that the Legislature got really parsimonious with school funding just as the K-12 and college student body started getting browner. They fret over “throwing money” at the schools and supposedly high administrative costs, while pointing to places like Washington, DC that spend a lot per pupil (and just so happen to have a large percentage of non-white students who rely on services provided by their schools to mitigate their poverty) as a reason to fund public schools as little as possible here in Arizona. It’s frankly preposterous to watch Governor Ducey and Republican lawmakers preen about how they are the ones who truly “care” about the very schoolchildren they have been kicking dirt on for years.
My hope is that the people who are motivated to improve education in Arizona outnumber those who aren’t in Tuesday’s bond/override elections, but I’m not overly optimistic about it.