They can have their own opinions, but not their own facts

Linda Oyon

Cross-posted from (Note: the links to sources dropped out of this document. You can click on the link above to go to the original document.)

The first session of the 53rd Legislature began yesterday and as we public education advocates “batten down the hatches” and plan our “assaults”, I thought it a good time to provide what I believe are some of the most salient facts about the state of education in Arizona today.

Educational Achievement. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count 2016 report ranks us 44th in the nation, Education Week’s Quality Counts 2016 ranks us 45th, and WalletHub 48th. Might there be a nexus to our other rankings provided below?

Per Pupil Funding. Our K–12 state formula spending (inflation-adjusted), was cut 14.9% from 2008 to 2016 leaving us 48th in the nation.

Propositions. The $3.5 billion Prop. 123 provides over 10 years (only 70% of what voters approved and the courts adjudicated) disappears in 2026. Prop. 301, which includes a 0.6% state sales tax, raises about $600 million per year for schools and self-destructs in 2021. There is now talk of increasing the tax to a full cent which would bring in around $400 million more per year or, adding an additional penny which would up it $1 billion.

Teacher Shortage. We have a critical shortage of teachers willing to work in the classroom with 53% of teacher positions either vacant or filled by an individual who does not meet standard state teacher certification requirements. With 25% of the state’s teachers eligible for retirement by 2020, this problem is only going to get worse. Pay is just one of the reasons teachers are opting out, but with Arizona ranking 45th in terms of teacher salaries against the national average, it is real. In fact, “Arizona’s teachers earn just 62.8% of the salary that other college degree-holders do in the state – the lowest ratio nationwide. WalletHub scored the state the third-worst for teachers in terms of ”job opportunity and competition“ and ”academic & work environment.” Providing them a $10,000 raise (more in line with national averages) would cost the state an additional $600 million.

Voter Support. In a December 2016 poll of Arizona voters, 77% said the state should spend more on education and 61% said they’d be willing to pay higher taxes to do so.

Double-Down Ducey. Our Governor has promised not to raise taxes but to propose a tax cut every year he is in office. This, on top of two decades of tax cuts that equal a cumulative impact on the 2016 general fund of $4 billion in lost revenue. In fact, more than 90% of the decline in revenue since 1992 has resulted from tax cuts versus economic downturn–our troubles ARE NOT a result of the great recession. And, Arizona ranks in the bottom third of states in terms of tax rates.

Good Ideas With No Way to Implement Is Called Philosophy. In her 2017 AZ Kids Can’t Wait plan, Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas has recommended an additional $680 million in common-sense, no frills funding for public schools but points out it is not her job to appropriate funds and the Governor’s Classrooms First Council spent over a year studying how to modernize the school funding formula only to determine that just rearranging the deck chairs won’t be enough…more money must be provided.

They Owe, They Owe, So Off To Court We Go. Over 20 years ago, the AZ Supreme Court voided the system under which districts were responsible for capital costs because of the “gross inequities” created. The Legislature agreed to have the state assume responsibility for building and maintaining schools but that vanished under Governor Brewer’s time as a budget-saving maneuver leaving us back where we started. In fact from 2008 to 2012, districts only received about 2% of the funding they needed for renovations and repair of school facilities and the problem continues. A new lawsuit is in the works.

It’s For The Poor Kids…NOT! Arizona’s educational tax credit (individual and corporate) and the Student Tuition Organizations (STOs) that funnel the monies to private and parochial schools will deny the AZ General Fund of almost $67 million in revenue in 2016/17 (the maximum allowed.) Due to a 20% allowable increase each year, the cap for corporate tax credits will be $662 million by 2030. By way of comparison, the total corporate income tax revenue for FY 2015 was only $663 million. And yet, even in 2011, As many as two-thirds of Arizona corporations paid almost no state income tax partially as a result of the program which predominantly serves students whose parents could afford the private schools without taxpayer assistance. Just for the original individual tax credit for example, 8 STOs awarded over half of their scholarship funding in 2014 to students whose families had incomes above $80,601. By the same token, Arizona’s voucher program (Empowerment Scholarship Accounts) is billed as the way for disadvantaged students in failing schools to have more opportunity. Truth is, in the 2015/16 school year ESAs drained $20.6 million from district schools rated “A” or “B”are and only $6.3 million from schools rated C or D. Besides, the mere existence of school choice in whatever form it takes does not in itself provide access and opportunity. As Charles Tack, spokesman for AZ Department of Education said, “The economic situation of a family will always factor in.”

Want A Voice? Stick With Where You Have a Vote! Parental and taxpayer oversight and voice is vastly greater in district schools with locally-elected governing boards, annual state-run audits, annual Auditor General reports on school efficiencies, AzMERIT test score results, and other required reporting. Commercial schools (charters and privates) do not have the same requirements for certified teachers and transparency and accountability; nor are they required to provide taxpayers any information regarding return on investment.

Apples and Oranges. Commercial schools do not – across the board – perform better than do our district schools. Yes, there are pockets of excellence, but those exist in district schools as well. Comparisons are difficult to make because the playing field is not level, with commercial schools often managing to pick the cream of the crop while district schools take all comers. A key point to note though, is that charter schools spend double the amount on administration than districts.

A Great Start Is Critical For All Kids. Full-day kindergarten is essential to ensure every child (especially those who are disadvantaged) has a more equal footing on which to start their education. In today’s fast paced, global economy, preschool is also critical and has been proven to provide as much return on investment as $7 for every $1 spent. Restoring all-day kindergarten statewide would cost an additional $240 million. We’ve had it before incidentally. In 2006, Napolitano made a deal with legislative leadership for all-day kindergarten in exchange for a 10% cut in individual income tax. Four years later, the Legislature cut full-day kindergarten but the reduction in taxes still exists.

District Schools and School Choice Cannot Co-Exist. When students trickle out to commercial schools, almost 1/5 of the expense associated with educating them remains despite the district’s total loss of the revenue. private-public-school-fundingAnd while private school enrollment dropped two percent from 2000 to 2012, tax credits claimed for the students has increased by 287%. This, while public school enrollment increased 24.1% during that same time but state appropriations (from General Fund, State Land Funprivate-public-school-fundingds, and Prop. 301 monies) decreased by 10%.

It is clear there are several current and looming crises in Arizona K–12 education. And yet, Senator Debbie Lesko (R), has been quoted as saying, “Balancing the budget is always the most important work of the state legislature.” Really? That’s why the people of Arizona elect our state lawmakers? I don’t think so. Rather, I think we want them to ensure our children receive a quality education, that our roads are safe to drive and our water is safe to drink, and that our police and other first responders protect us from danger. In short, we want the Legislature to ensure appropriate capability to provide for the common good and we send them to Phoenix to figure out how to do that. Yes, they are mandated to balance the budget but, I would argue, that isn’t their raison d’être.

Arizona voters have made it clear they are willing to pay higher taxes to provide more funding to our public schools unfortunately, not enough have made the connection between a lack of funding for public education and the legislators they elect that are causing that problem. Yes, the prohibition to raising the required revenue is pain self-inflicted by our Governor and GOP-led Legislature. And, we need only look to Kansas to see that cutting taxes to attract companies to our state is a race to the bottom. I guarantee over the long haul, quality companies prefer a well-educated workforce and good quality of life for their employees over tax cuts.

In his State of the State address yesterday, Governor Ducey said, “I have a commitment our educators can take to the bank: starting with the budget I release Friday, I will call for an increased investment in our public schools – above and beyond inflation – every single year I am governor.” What is notable about this statement is his reference to “public schools” and, the fact that he followed it up with the statement that “we won’t raise taxes.” Promising support for public schools isn’t the same thing as promising it for district schools. In fact, some lawmakers now equate the term “public schools” to mean any school that accepts taxpayer dollars.

Let me be clear. I believe any promise to provide significant additional monies to public education without a willingness to raise additional revenue, is total bullshit. The pie is only so big and there are only four basic ways to significantly increase its size. Either corporate tax cuts are curtailed, additional taxes are levied, funding meant for other purposes is siphoned off or, important programs are cut. Senator Steve Smith (LD11-R) who sits on the Senate’s education committee, suggested funding could be found by moving money away from state programs “that may not be working so well.” Perhaps he was thinking of Child Protective Services which has continued to flounder and endanger children (primarily because sufficient resources have not been provided) even after Governor Ducey promised fixes when he first took office in 2015?

Arizona simply cannot move the educational needle without a significant additional investment in our district schools. These schools are where close to 85% of Arizona’s students are receiving their education, doesn’t it make sense that this is where we should dedicate the majority of our funding and efforts?

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Linda Lyon retired as a Colonel (Thomas) from the U.S. Air Force in 2007 at Andrews AFB, Maryland where she served as the Mission Support Group Commander (city manager) for a 20,000 person community with 2,000 people under her command. After retirement from the Air Force, she managed a $28 million logistical service contract at the Department of Energy and served as Deputy Program Manager for the $30 million SBInet contract at L-3 Communications. Since moving to Tucson in 2008, she (and her wife Holly) created and ran four annual Wingspan charity golf tournaments bringing in almost $65,000, and she served as the organization’s Director for 14 months. She also served in key positions for five AZ legislative races. Linda is in her second term as a Governing Board member for the Oracle School District, was named Advocate of the Year for 2013 by the Arizona School Board Association and in 2018, served as the Association's President. She'll be the past president in 2019 and will also be serving as the Federal Legislative Chair for the Arizona PTA.


  1. Linda,
    You quote a series of news sites and expect us to accept them as facts. But are they really facts?

    All these sites do their ranking based on raw test scores, not quality of education. Our Black, Hispanic and Whites 8th grade students ranked 1st, 11th and 6th in Math in the NAEP exams. Yet, the average score of these three Arizona groups ranked 26th. The typical citizen can’t do a weighted average to understand why that is so, but the readers of this blog can actually do math.

    Are these sites ranking state education quality or state education challenge?

    The reason our eight grade rankings were so high is that our combined math and reading gains from 4th grade to 8th grade were the highest in the nation, giving Arizona a legitimate claim to having the best schools in the nation.

    Are you enlightening people as to what the facts are?

    • You hearken a lot about the NAEP exams, but I suspect I might be the only person here who has actually taken one for school evaluation.

      My assessment of the 8th grade exam (didn’t take the 4th grade one) is simply: ‘If this is the gold standard for educational assessment, then heaven help us all’.

      I took the math exam, and found it to be an utter joke. Another student, who took the reading/English portion of the exam, found it to be extraordinarily difficult, and this individual happened to have been probably the most well-read person I knew at the time.

      I think it’s also somewhat suspicious that it seemed like the people taking the exam were weighted toward the top end of the class, not selected at random. Less than a quarter of the 8th grade class was tested, yet a sizable fraction of the students in advanced math & science classes were in. Odd, that. Also, they are standardized exams, so things like test anxiety come into play – I never had that problem, but a lot of students do/did.

      I guess what I’m trying to get at is that I am not as optimistic about the usefulness of the NAEP exams for actual policy as you are. Also, I think that they are probably pretty accurate at measuring how the top 10-15% of the students are doing. Given how well the state has done at segregating schooling by parental involvement / education / income, and the fact that these are highly correlated with standardized test scores (I think I’ve read that parental income is among the single highest predictors of a student’s SAT score), I wouldn’t be surprised that current policy is delivering those sorts of results.

      Of course, we all know the problems which arise on account of teaching to the test, or in this case, setting policy to it.

      • You are alluding to sampling bias but your description doesn’t provide any evidence of that. Random rolls of the dice produces two sixes at a predictable rate. With a $140 million budget, it is likely that they do some type of stratified sampling.

        Also your description of the test as a “joke” presumably means that it was easy for you. Obviously, you are a fairly skilled mathematician judging from your posts. This test has to measure my students accurately a number of them who couldn’t say 9 when you say 5 plus 4.

        That’s why the test has a lot of very easy problems, there are a huge number of very low skilled students – over 400,000 students at the 4th and 8th grade levels.

        Test stress means nothing, there is nothing to indicate that it would be any different from one year to the next or from one state to another.

    • OMG John, having the highest gains in anything doesn’t mean you are the best. It could mean you had the furthest to improve! It is much harder to fine tune progress than to make significant gains when there is nowhere to go but up. And, the statistic we can all count on you to bring up again and again are our 4th and 8th grade math and reading gains. There are numerous factors that go into determining educational achievement and it is hard to show that with a snapshot. But, I provided the sources and folks can check it out for themselves.

      • You are saying that there is a negative correlation between test scores and academic gains – not true. Higher test score students do not experience lower academic gains on the academic scales, be it NAEP, AIMS or AZ Merit. Massachusetts is only 297 points on a 500 point scale where the typical state gains about 10 points per year.

        In 2011 our Black students trailed Massachusetts by 11 points at 4th grade math – 235 to 224. By 2015 they had climbed 45 points to lead Massachusetts 269 to 268 in 8th grade because Massachusetts schools were only able to add 33 points. Our schools took the lead because they were 33% more productive. Our students as a group had the highest combined math and reading gains in the nation.

        Are you publishing deceptive data?

        And, I will gladly accept your dismissing 150,000 NAEP test scores as a snap shot in time, there is more to education than test scores.

        That is why I look to our 1.1 million parents to see how our schools are developing their child. Over 50% of our parents rate the quality of their child’s school as excellent – this compares with 24% nationally – close to a 47 year low.

        • No, I did not say there is a negative correlation between test scores and academic gains. All I did say is that gains in and of themselves don’t prove one school or state is better than another; it depends where they started. No, I am not publishing deceptive data. I used data backed by facts, you choose to use other data, presumably also true. The weight facts are given though, can certainly distort the truth. That’s why I provide sources, so folks can sort that out for themselves. I am not dismissing the NAEP test scores, but unlike you, I believe there is more to educational excellence than test scores.

          As for parental satisfaction with their children’s schools, according to EducationNext, a conservative leaning journal, in their Spring 2017 edition, report parents of K-12 students have a satisfaction rate (national average) between 56% and 63% for district and public schools, not the 24% you report. And, in fact, a Gallup poll from Aug 2016, showed 76% of U.S. parents’ are broadly satisfied with their children’s education. I couldn’t find any parental satisfaction with education data in Arizona, but have to ask with the statistics I provided above, who’s misleading our readers?

          • Only excellence counts when it comes to quality. I am not quoting satisfaction scores, I am quoting excellence ratings.

            In August 2015, the last year of the 47 year series of Gallup polls for Phi Delta Kappa, 24% of parents rated their child’s school an “A”, the second lowest percentage in their 47 year history. A grade of an A is almost precisely equivalent to a rating of “Excellent” when polled side by side within the same poll.

            Last time I looked, their were 76 possible integers higher than 24.

  2. Brilliant analysis, Linda. The charter school industry nor the CTO industry doesn’t like their taxpayer funded gravy train discussed.

    • Thanks very much Frances! We just have to keep telling ourselves that facts matter, and then appeal to our “haters” in ways that encourage them to listen.

  3. Well done, Linda. I will immediately start using the term “commercial schools” to identify charters and privates.

  4. I can tell you have been talking the same points for a long time and have the facts to back it up. I am a recent convert (courtesy of Liza, a frequent and very eloquent poster here) to the reality that we have to find a way to fund education here in Arizona. If that means raising taxes specifically earmarked for education, then so be it. If you knew me, you would how the phrase “raise taxes” gags me, but in this case it is necessary.

    “In a December 2016 poll of Arizona voters, 77% said the state should spend more on education and 61% said they’d be willing to pay higher taxes to do so.”

    I don’t know how reliable those polls are. It always shows that amount of support, but then when they vote, or they elect their legislators, they vote against education funding and vote for legislators that will vote against education funding.

    “…not enough have made the connection between a lack of funding for public education and the legislators they elect that are causing that problem.”

    I don’t know, Linda. the problem with voting for legislators who would vote in favor of school funding is that you also elect a legislator that has a bevy of things you don’t want that they will vote for. You can’t just focus on one issue when it comes to electing your representatives.

    I know several of the State Legislators and State Senators (both Republicans and democrats) and have been, and will continue to, talk to them about funding education. So far, it has been mixed results so far, but I will keep trying. I am going to purloin your facts and figures here as part of my repertoire (if you don’t mind) and will continue trying to get the Republicans to be more receptive to finding funds for education.

    Keep up the good fight, Linda!

    • I do want to speak to one part of this post.

      “I don’t know how reliable those polls are. It always shows that amount of support, but then when they vote, or they elect their legislators, they vote against education funding and vote for legislators that will vote against education funding.”

      Sadly, I think the reality is that a great many voters, not just in Arizona, but across the country, vote almost entirely on the basis of party affiliation. When I ran for office this past cycle, I received a number of comments to the effect of “I would vote for you, but you’re not a Democrat”, and another person who ran said that he got similar comments ending in ‘but you’re not a Republican’.

      Sadly, partisan affiliation is a part of a great many people’s personal identity, and are highly resistant to voting against ‘their team’, even if they don’t agree.

      I also think that there’s a number of people who are thinking ‘I want more money for education, but guns/abortion/religion are my issue, and everything else is an afterthought’. Where I grew up in Oklahoma, we called these individuals ‘3-G’ voters, because they voted for ‘God, Guns, and (no rights for) Gays’.

      • I understand what you mean, Edward. I am one of those “issue voters” you described. It isn’t based on Party, but on the 2nd Amendment. If a candidate has a historic strong support for the 2nd Amendment – regardless of their Party affiliation – it goes a long way in helping me overlook other issues with which I may not agree with the candidate. I have been trying to change being that way, but it is very hard, especially with the unrelenting assault on the 2nd Amendment in recent times.

        • VERY interesting Steve, because I see virtually NO assault on the 2nd Amendment, but just the NRA continuing its assault on any effort to help improve gun safety. I honestly do not know of any Democrat who believes there is any point to trying to do away with the right to own a gun. But…many of us are sick and tired of senseless gun-related deaths. Guess where you stand depends on where you sit…

          • Well, I am trying to get over my tendency to be a one issue voter when it comes to guns. It isn’t that my passion for protecting gun rights is diminishing. I am just trying to develop a better rounded sense of who I vote for because there are other issues that are equally important.

            As far as gun violence is concerned, I am also very tired of it. If we are going to do something about it, though, it should be effective, and not just an ineffective sop that sounds good and pretends action while doing nothing. Most of the “gun control” measures offered by democrats punish law abiding gun owners and do nothing to solve the problem. I am as versed in the gun issues as you are in education issues. ;o)

    • Thanks SO VERY MUCH Steve. Appreciate your kind words and your willingness to fight for our kids! By the way, believe the “Liza” you refer to as a poster on this blog is actually me. (Don’t know of a Liza who posts here.) I’ve seen you use that name before in reply to my stuff. At any rate, really appreciate your reading and support!

  5. yet the voters prefer these evil people to democrats why? at least they are not phonies. you don’t think your phonies? example chris hayes tom hartmann and other elitist liberals talk about how they prefer uber to taxis why? because they are driven by middle class mostly white drivers. who drives taxis? black men immigrants ex-cons(who know one else will hire) poor people who can’t afford a newer car or any car. these are the people we liberals say we want to help and protect. this is the difference between you and non-ignorant southern white trash democrats like myself. so lets here how taking uber is helping the working class poor.

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