(Update) Public education under assault in Arizona


Sooo, Governor Ducey’s Classrooms First Initiative Council (that he co-chairs) has been meeting for three months and the best that they can come up with are some broad outlines? No specific proposals? I sure hope that taxpayers are not paying the members of this council for their “efforts.”

Governor Ducey, the ice cream man hired by Koch Industries to run their Southwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Arizona, has dictated that there will be no new additional tax revenues during his term as governor. To borrow the governor’s analogy, we are not going to grow the education pie bigger, we are going to slice the pie “more equitably” — which means a bigger slice of the pie going to his charter school cronies, necessarily resulting in a smaller slice of the pie left over for public schools. That’s a plan?


Howard Fisher can barely disguise his disgust for the governor’s so-called education funding plan in this report, Arizona panel crafting changes to school funding system:

A gubernatorial panel is crafting changes in how schools are funded in a way that, absent more money, is likely to create winners and losers.

And there is no new money in the plan.

Preliminary recommendations discussed Tuesday would equalize funding for all schools on a per-student basis. The idea, according to committee co-chairman Jim Swanson, is to minimize some of the differences between traditional public schools and charter schools.

But that equalization has major implications.

Charter schools get more state aid per pupil because they do not have access to local funds for things like voter-approved bonds and overrides. But the charters contend that still leaves them with less.

So that could mean boosting state aid to charters, taking away the ability of traditional public schools to get local money — or both — if the plan is to achieve the parity that Swanson said he and Gov. Doug Ducey want.

“We’re looking at an equitable funding system where every kid in our state has a chance of an excellent education no matter where they attend school,” said Swanson, the president and chief executive of Kitchell Corp.

But nothing in what the Classrooms First Initiative Council is proposing would be linked to the state providing additional dollars for education. And Swanson said that’s at the direction of Ducey.

“The governor, from the very first day I started doing this, has made it very clear that it’s not about the size of the pie, it’s about the pie,” he said.


Swanson said he told the governor there are “a lot of complex issues that involve money.” For example, there’s the question of how much additional state aid should go to schools that have to educate students with special needs.

But that, Swanson said, is not on the table. [See the special report in The Arizona Republic, “Arizona is shorting its school districts and charter schools an estimated $381 million a year in underfunded mandates for students with special needs.” Arizona shorting schools millions for special education.]

We’re trying to say, ‘how do we do this revenue-neutral,’” he said, without considering whether lawmakers and voters might approve Ducey’s plan to tap the principal of state trust lands for at least a quick cash infusion.

Swanson conceded that shifting resources with no net change in dollars means that what one school gains means less for someone else.

“We do not want to have a world where we take ‘haves’ and make them ‘have nots,’” he said. [But that is exactly what is being proposed.]

* * *

Differences between traditional and charter schools aside, the proposal also includes some other changes in how the state funds education.

For example, A-rated schools — those where students are excelling according to standardized tests — would be eligible for additional per-student funding. Ditto for those rated B or C if they showed marked improvement from the prior year.

But here, too, there are no additional dollars, which raises the question of whether the money would be taken away from other schools.

“ Obviously we need to settle the lawsuit before we talk about the money,” said Tim Ogle, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association.

A trial judge already has ruled the state owes public schools more than $330 million for failing to fully fund a voter-mandated formula to boost aid annually because of inflation. State lawmakers disagree and have appealed.

And there’s the separate question of whether schools are due more than $1 billion for prior years when the inflation formula was disregarded.

Note: The Yellow Sheet Report (subscription required) reports that the Tea-Publican leadership of the legislature is crafting a plan that would repeal Prop. 301 and its education funding inflation adjustment mandate. Leadership aims to gut K-12 inflation mandate: GOP leadership is indeed discussing options to repeal the law at the heart of Cave Creek v. Ducey. I told you that they have no intention of ever paying the judgment that these deadbeat judgment debtors owe. (Repealing Prop. 301, however, would require voter approval.)


“There is no money for those kinds of purposes,” Ogle said. And even if there were, he questioned whether it makes educational sense.

“While it makes sense in the private sector to incentivize that type of thing, there’s really no research across the country that that’s an effective way to increase student achievement,” he said.

Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association, zeroed in on a proposal to have vacant or underused public schools made available quickly for charter schools that need more classrooms. Morrill said while charter schools are technically public schools, they can be operated as for-profit entities. More to the point, their assets belong to the charter operator and even can be sold off if no longer needed or the school goes out of business.

“ How is that a reform?” Morrill asked. “It’s a money-laundering operation.”

The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) adds, Classrooms First Council wants K-12 formula overhaul, but details are scarce:

Morrill also raised concerns about the council’s proposal for allowing high-performing schools to use vacant district school facilities, which is part of Ducey’s achievement district plan. He said the plan would allow privately owned charter schools to acquire district facilities that have been paid for with taxpayer dollars.

This is a sort of money laundering operation where we start with taxpayer dollars and they are converted to private and corporate wealth by those who own some of Arizona’s charter schools, in the hundreds of millions of dollars by now,” he told reporters.


Under the council’s framework, A-rated schools would also get “regulatory relief” from auditing requirements and procurement rules. That didn’t sit well with state schools Superintendent Diane Douglas, a member of the 13-member council, who questioned what high-performing students have to do with auditing requirements.

“Certainly I’m a proponent of making things easier for our traditional districts and charters. But I’m also a little concerned, and we’ll see how the discussion moves forward, if we’re talking about giving waivers or not making people go through certain financial compliance based on student achievement,” Douglas said. “I’m not sure there’s a correlation between one to the other. There’s a lot of different things that get looked at in an audit process.”

Andrew Morrill was skeptical of a plan that he said would favor charter schools at the expense of traditional districts. He said “regulatory relief” often means watering down requirements, which he said charters often don’t have to follow anyway.

In fact, charter schools have almost no accountability.

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AZ BlueMeanie
The Blue Meanie is an Arizona citizen who wishes, for professional reasons, to remain anonymous when blogging about politics. Armed with a deep knowledge of the law, politics and public policy, as well as pen filled with all the colors stolen from Pepperland, the Blue Meanie’s mission is to pursue and prosecute the hypocrites, liars, and fools of politics and the media – which, in practical terms, is nearly all of them. Don’t even try to unmask him or he’ll seal you in a music-proof bubble and rendition you to Pepperland for a good face-stomping. Read blog posts by the infamous and prolific AZ Blue Meanie here.


  1. The terms “charter schools” and “education reform” are certainly oxymorons. As “Lisa Graham Keegan” and ” education reform”.

  2. The time is now to stop calling charter schools,”public schools,” they are not. They are privately operated schools, getting public money. Their boards don’t answer to voters, but to corporate overlords, or they self perpetuate themselves. If charters are different they certainly don’t need “equity.” Not one legitimate research would show this ALEC scheme improves student achievement. My previous analogy about repainting the deck chairs on the Titanic still holds. This committee just regurgitated what Ducey’s handlers wanted in the first place.

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