Our lawless Tea-Publican legislature revealed their hand when, after sending Proposition 123 to the ballot in a special election in May, they immediately sought to privatize public education in Arizona with vouchers in violation of the Arizona Constitution, and sought to eliminate desegregation funding to school districts. Those efforts have now been temporarily delayed, so as not to jeopardize Proposition 123.
There is absolutely no good faith, and absolutely no reason to trust these lawless Tea-Publicans to live up to Proposition 123, any more than they lived up to Proposition 301, which the legislature referred to the ballot then willfully disregarded when it was convenient to them.
The editors of the Arizona Daily Sun lay out the right questions for voters to ask in this debate over Proposition 123 in a well reasoned editorial om Sunday. K-12 funding needs answers beyond Prop. 123:
There’s a conspiracy theory going around that Republican leaders in Phoenix will wait until after Arizona voters pass Prop. 123 on May 17 before approving private school vouchers and canceling $211 million in annual desegregation funding.
Except some of the rank-and-file didn’t get the word. GOP lawmakers were lining up behind bills to immediately enact both of those plans before leaders put them on ice.
Now they say further hearings on the bills have been postponed to a date uncertain. Could that be May 18 – or perhaps a special summer session if the regular session has already adjourned by then?
JUST DON’T GET IT
Pardon our skepticism, but when it comes to public school funding, most legislative Republicans in Arizona don’t seem to get it. No matter how much they believe in the power of school choice, students and schools aren’t going to thrive when funding per pupil ranks at the bottom of the 50 states. No amount of shifting the dollars among mainstream publics, charters and private schools is going to mask the fact that the amount Arizona spends on K-12 education isn’t up to the task.
And that task – producing students able to hold their own academically with others across the nation and the globe – is made even harder by the higher socioeconomic hurdles Arizona students face. Child poverty is higher in Arizona than the national average, more students come from families where English is not the primary language, and children of color are concentrated in schools with the highest poverty rates.
Put those together, and Arizona educators would already face daunting challenges even before some of the biggest cuts in school funding in the nation forced administrators to raise class sizes, reduce the number of classroom aides and cut teacher pay. So it’s no wonder that median scores on achievement tests remain below national averages, which themselves are not very high compared to other developed nations.
UNDERMINING PROP. 123
Voters approved extra funding for schools, but lawmakers ignored the mandatory yearly inflation increase. After losing in court but refusing to pay what a judge said they owed, lawmakers and the governor settled on a partial state payment supplemented by a higher drawdown of the state land trust fund for 10 years. Prop. 123, if approved, will hike state school subsidies by 8 percent – unless another voter-backed school funding referendum, Prop. 301, is allowed to expire in 2021, which means Prop. 123 will be a wash in its final five years.
Also undermining the value of Prop. 123 to mainstream districts would be the private voucher plan, which over time would give $5,000 to every Arizona student to be applied toward tuition at a private school. These schools can admit or reject any student they choose, and they are not held accountable for how they spend their money or how well students do on standardized tests.
And so far, according to studies, the vouchers that have been used are going primarily to students coming out of the wealthier districts, not those serving low-income students.
The charter movement has also not mirrored the racial and economic diversity found in Arizona schools as a whole. Proportionately, they have far fewer children with special learning and language needs, who require the most resources to teach effectively. And a new study shows charter administrative costs are twice as high as in mainstream districts.
TAKING AWAY MORE FUNDS
Now along come GOP lawmakers to take away so-called “desegregation” funds in districts where a high number of disadvantaged minority children were performing poorly. In Flagstaff, some $2 million in extra taxes are levied primarily to teach Navajo children in Leupp and to create an English-Spanish-Navajo school called Puente de Hozho. The FUSD school in Leupp takes on special significance in light of recent news of mismanagement and layoffs at the Navajo Nation school there. And Puente de Hozho is hailed as a model of not only bilingual academic success but a way to integrate students of all races around a multicultural curriculum.
Republicans say they don’t think 18 school districts should enjoy extra funding that other districts lack. But it’s not as if the money is coming out of state coffers.
If local voters don’t want to pay higher taxes, they can vote out their local school boards. So far, FUSD voters have shown a willingness to not only live with the higher desegregation levies but also raise school taxes by an extra 15 percent.
What appears to be at work in such Republican maneuvers is the defunding of a government institution – mainstream public schools – that has its roots not in choice but mandatory attendance laws. This is ironic since most districts now have open enrollment policies. And the college prep magnet programs within FUSD appeal to the same students and their families touting charters and private schools as the only realistic choices for advanced studies.
TIME TO COME CLEAN
If Prop. 123 is to have a chance at passage, we would urge Republican lawmakers and the governor to come clean on their intentions regarding private school vouchers and desegregation funds. It makes little sense to approve a measure adding $350 million a year on one hand if the other hand is going to reach back in and take out hundreds of millions more each year via vouchers and desegregation cuts.
The alternative, of course, is to hold lawmakers accountable at the ballot box in November if they won’t be accountable before May 17.
Either way, now that Republicans have tipped their hand, it’s clear that the Prop. 123 campaign can’t be conducted in isolation from other K-12 funding – or defunding – plans.
Arizona leaders have a lot to answer for on the education underfunding front. Let’s get some of those answers out on the table before May 17.
There are forums being held all around Arizona for Proposition 123. You the voters have an obligation to ask the right questions. The editors of the Arizona Daily Sun have been good enough to give them to you.