by David Safier
The headline for my column in the Weekly is, Craig Barrett might be the most powerful man in Arizona education, but should he be? That captures the column pretty well. I'm often surprised how few people know who Barrett is, but I shouldn't be. I'm so immersed in all things educational, I see his name and deeds cropping up on a regular basis, but he prefers to fly under the radar. He occasionally allows himself to be quoted in a news article or writes an op ed. He was reasonably visible when he helped campaign against Prop 204, the one cent sales tax for education. But his real power isn't in swaying public opinion. It comes from whispering in Governor Brewer's ear and steering the legislature toward adopting his educational ideas.
The purpose of the column is to let people know who Craig Barrett is — a politically conservative ex-CEO of Intel worth hundreds of millions of dollars — and what an outsized, potentially destructive role he plays in determining the future of education in Arizona.
I squeezed as much as I could into my allotted 750 words; there's much more I didn't have room for. The most important thing to know is, Barrett heads Brewer's Arizona Ready Education Council (AREC), and he has some dangerous ideas that will probably be turned into bills in the next legislative session. Here's a condensed version of the ideas coming out of Barrett, AREC and Sen. Chester Crandell, who is the point man for conservative "education reform" legislation.
Don't add a penny to K-12 school funding. Freeze it right where it is, even though we're spending about 20 percent less than five years ago and we're near the bottom of the nation in per-student funding.
Send more money to charter schools. That, of course, would mean less for district schools. And districts can forget about trying to pass bonds or budget overrides. Those funding options would be wiped out. But charters would still be able to float bonds to build new schools. So if Arizona's student population goes up, districts would have no way to handle the overflow, and charters would be more than happy to step in and fill the void.
Set teacher salaries based on student performance, not experience or education. Those lucky teachers in high-performing, high-rent districts could expect their salaries to climb at the expense of teachers in low-income areas. And schools, like teachers, would get performance bonuses, meaning those same high-rent districts would find themselves with extra cash while districts with low-income students who need the most resources would see their allotments shrink. And if any district slips into failing territory, the state would take it over. No extra money would go along with the takeover, just loss of local control.
Many of these are fairly new ideas which haven't been tried in other states. If they pass the lege and are signed into law by Brewer, they would once again put Arizona at the vanguard of the conservative agenda. And as we know all too well, where Arizona leads, other conservative state governments follow.