I would like to take a few moments of your time and respond to Diego Rivera’s special in the Arizona Daily Star this past weekend.  In no way to I wish to attack or belittle Mr. Rivera.  It appears he misunderstands the nature of the problem with education funding in Arizona and I’d like to offer some context.  These misunderstandings are worth addressing because this variety of misunderstanding is what has gotten us, as a state, into the situation we’re in right now with education. 

To summarize the special, in case you didn’t read it:  The claim of the article is that additional funding does not increase academic success, as demonstrated by graduation rates, so the Invest for Education Act should not be passed.

First, let’s establish what started the #REDforED movement.  

The #REDforED movement started in response to a growing teacher shortage. Across the state, on average, Arizona has a teacher vacancy rate worse than the worst districts in the entire country.  Approximately 7% of teaching positions were unfilled, or filled by uncertified people, in Arizona in 2017/2018. Nearly 900 teachers left the profession permanently during the school year. That’s 1.8% of teachers walked out of the classroom for good.

Why are teachers leaving?  Money. This gets complicated quickly, but here’s a snapshot of the situation.  Arizona’s population has grown by 14% since 2007, yet funding for education was $1.1 billion less in 2017 than in 2007.  On top of that, an additional $5 million was taken from public education to subsidize private education.

Let’s put that $1.1 billion into perspective.  It is such a large number that we simply cannot comprehend it.  Let’s consider a billion of something we have experience with, time.  For perspective, a million seconds is approximately 11 days, while one billion seconds is about 32 years!  And that “point one” behind the one billion, that’s another 100 million. $1.1 billion is a massive amount of money, and that’s the amount of the shortfall Arizona’s schools experienced this past school year compared to 2007.  For the record, in 2007, public education in Arizona was not stellar!

The premise of Mr. Rivera’s article is that greater funding for Arizona’s public education is not needed because there is “no definitive correlation between greater funding and student achievement.”  What Mr. Rivera uses as an indicator of student achievement is graduation rate. One would be hard-pressed to find a statistic in education that is less reflective of student achievement than graduation rates.  States like Arizona have removed high stakes testing from the list of graduation requirements, and to secure precious funding, schools across the nation have allowed social promotion to seep into the high school ranks over the past decade.  

In short, schools across the nation have lowered the graduation requirements so they could report higher graduation numbers.  Graduating high school means less than it did in the past. In fact, nearly 60% of community college students (high school graduates) need remedial courses, earning community colleges the nickname “13th grade.”

You can read more about the misleading data found in graduation rates here: NPR fudging graduation.

Now I certainly agree with the idea that just providing additional funding does not secure a better outcome, not in education, not in business or sports, not anywhere except in measuring how much was spent.  Accompanying the additional funding needs to be meaningful education reform.  But that reform, no matter how great, will be ineffective without quality teachers to implement it.  The act of education is performed by teachers.  A well-meaning, but unskilled “teacher” will render the best curriculum and resources ineffective.  In order for Arizona to have long term, sustainable growth and a healthy society, we must have a quality public education system!  That requires appropriate funding for education.  If we, as a state, do not attract and then retain, the quality educators needed, we will continue to experience the problems we are witnesses currently.

The last thing I’d like to address is that Mr. Rivera mentioned teachers were pushing forward with the Invest In Education Act despite getting a 20% raise from Governor Ducey.  The first thing people need to understand is that there is no 20% raise for teachers. This 20×2020 plan is nothing but a promise, the money is not secured. If Governor Ducey is not re-elected, the plan dies.  If he is re-elected, that plan being fulfilled is as good as his word. He has consistently cut public education, never without court order or a strike of 75,000 people done anything to increase funding to education.

The governor has said the money is a 20% increase for teacher salary. That is a total and complete lie.  The legislation has the ability to insure money gets directly to teachers. You can read about the details of this plan herebut to summarize, the new money received is a 5.7% increase in education funding.  That is a significant amount of money, but is still $800,000 a year short of funding levels a decade ago.

The reality of the situation is that Arizona has grown a lot in the past decade. Yet, despite the growth, education funding has been cut.  Viewed in the best possible light, the 20×2020 plan is far short of what is needed just to “stop the bleeding.”

Funding for education must be secured for us to enjoy continued growth and to continue the wonderful way of life most Arizonan’s enjoy.  

I’d like to share with you what I learned about #PurpleforParents over the past few weeks.  I will be careful to accurately represent the truth as I know it and to not mischaracterize the purple for parents group, individuals, or their objectives.

For those that don’t know, a few weeks ago I posted a video on Arizona’s Working Poor’s YouTube channel where I discussed the accusation from P4P (purple for parents group) that teachers were greedy and hurting children.  Many P4P members watched it and it resonated with them. The video was passed along to their founder (Forest), and he reached out to me. Forest wished to have a public discussion (on FaceBook live) in hopes that the nasty behavior and fighting on FaceBook groups and forums would diminish. (He was wise to try this because as Mike Broomhead discussed at the P4P town hall meeting, he was not allowed to promote the P4P cause on his talk-show because the conservative news station didn’t want to be affiliated with P4P.)  Forest hoped that if we could find some common ground that this would perhaps help de-escalate hostilities between the groups.

I was unsure if Forest’s stated goals were his true intention or not, but figured the risk was worth the reward.  The risk was that I’d be publicly admonished and ridiculed, that my #REDforED community would consider my actions to be collusion, giving voice to the devil, and subversive to the causes of promoting public education.  In addition, the P4P community could use my words out of context to promote their own causes.

 

The potential reward was along these lines.  There are layers of truth and understanding (without getting too philosophical).  There are things we know to be true (for example, we’re born and we die). Then there are things we believe because of interpretations of those truths (because I’ll die I need to make this experience count and be meaningful, or, none of this matters at all because I’m going to die anyway).  

I believed that the P4P were wrong about the basic facts, the first layer of truth and understanding. I hoped that by having a conversation with Forest I could bring to light some truths that were misunderstood.

After much discussion and some planning, Forest and I had the talk on FaceBook live.  To make that happen Forest added me the his group, P4P.  This infuriated a few P4P members as they saw him as colluding with the enemy, essentially letting a fox in the hen house.  

I stayed a member for a week, didn’t post at all, but did respond to some questions asked of me, and only saw what came across my FaceBook feed.  I didn’t search their page, I had a lot of things to do, like graduation, finals, and projects for Arizona’s Working Poor. A few members reached out to me personally in a positive manner and we talked about a few things.

All of that said, I am basing my “expertise,” about the P4P group on my conversations with Forest, my interview on FaceBook live, the interactions I’ve had with P4P members, and the conversations that transpired about me in the P4P group.

Here’s what I believe to be true about P4P and their platform.

  1. They were created in response to the walk-out (like nuclear fall-out).
  2. They believe the #REDforED movement is a nationally organized political ploy designed for the advancement of socialism.
  3. They want to punish teachers for participating in the walk-out.
  4. They believe educators that are not behind #REDforED are being persecuted and some even have been fired.
  5. They wish to take steps to “protect children,” and prevent such a walk-out in the future with legislation.
  6. They believe the voucher system is a must, even if it is unfair (so long as it benefits their child).
  7. They want to have a majority vote reserved on school boards for parents of children attending those schools.
  8. They believe teachers are indoctrinating their children for political gain.
  9. They vilify and belittle teachers, believing we are the ultimate problem with public education.
  10. They make associations and correlations between anything bad in education and #REDforED.
    1. For example, a sex education policy in California is proof of why “we” must stop #REDforED (see point two).

A few comments and observations:

  1. There is common ground, but perhaps only in common vocabulary, not outcome.  I will not discuss those things here, but perhaps in a future post.
  2. When writing this post I googled, “#purpleforparents.”  The first thing that came up was The Patriot Movement. You can read about that group here.  Governor Ducey took pictures with them, perhaps without understanding what they stood for, then denounced their actions and politics.
  3. However, the PurpleforParents group have political backing from Kelly Townsend and Diane Douglas.  These two have quickly aligned themselves with the P4P group and their platform.  (Interesting that the conservative newsradio station felt this group was too radical for them, but Townsend and Douglas jumped right on board.)  
  4. Forest was respectful and treated me as I’d like to be treated.  However, we do not appear to be on speaking terms any longer. I posted on social media that P4P wished to punish and teachers, that they took joy in vilifying teachers, and that they couldn’t move past the walk-out.  This was considered to be inflammatory and insulting. I was no longer “the reasonable” member of REDforED according to the P4P members.
  5. During the FaceBook live video I mentioned the amount of my salary.  The P4P group hears (and believes) a salary average of $48,000 or $52,000 for teachers in AZ. I’m going into my 12th year and the contract I signed this past March is a few dollars over $36,000.
    I was accused of lying and warned that I’d be exposed publicly as a fraud when they posted my contract amount (they were going to look it up since it was public).  I posted it myself and … they started attacking other things.
  6. They are absolutely furious about the walk-out because some parents, families and employees were financially damaged.  They initially discuss this anger being over kids being used as pawns (their phrase), but the conversation revolves around the financial consequences experienced by those who had no voice in the matter of whether to walk-out or not.
  7. Some are reasonable and willing to listen and discuss interpretation of facts.
  8. I left the group when it became apparent that they needed fuel for their rage to burn longer and my presence there was the fuel they needed.  I left with an invitation to any P4P members to reach out to me if they wanted to discuss any of the issues at hand. A few reached out after this, but were … less than civil.  
    1. I understand this post may be used as more fuel for their fire, but I wish to inform those outside of P4P what’s going on there.
  9. The group does not appear to be focused on anything regarding reforming public education. Their formation is an unintended consequence of the walk-out.   

To summarize, the P4P group was born out of anger sparked by the walk-out.  They seek to punish teachers and they believe #REDforED is a nationally organized political campaign against conservative politics.  They believe that teachers are indoctrinating children politically, and are generally very hateful towards teachers. They also believe that public policy should be whatever is best for “their” child, not what is best for all children.  

The following is an advertisement made by the P4P group.  I think this is good evidence of much of what I’ve claimed above.

Here’s another that the P4P group made that shows how they view the #REDforED movement and campaign.

 

In response to all of this, we must ensure that we educate the public.  If someone of opposing views has questions, please, respectfully explore those differences.  If someone is uninformed entirely, present them with the facts, let them decide on their own.  And perhaps most importantly, if you’re attacked, no need to respond, just move on. The attacks come when all else has failed.

Now that things have cooled down, let’s take a look at public education in Arizona.

Public Education and the Law

Arizona’s Constitution, article 11, states:

 The legislature shall enact such laws as shall provide for the establishment and maintenance of a general and uniform public school system…

Funding Sources Overview

The first thing to know is that our current system of improperly funding (general and uniform) public education is costing “Joe Tax-Payer” a ton of money.  Schools, and other social services like roads and fire departments, have been cut at the state level to the point where local municipalities must raise taxes.  A few key points here:

  • Schools receive over $1 million more in funding annually from local funding than from the state.
  • AZ’s local taxes average 6th highest in the nation.
  • Of our local taxes collected in Arizona, almost 8% pays for interest (we’re in debt).

When comparing the balance of local money to state money between states in the southwest, Arizona is the only state with this disproportionate relationship.

Private and Charter Schools

In Arizona, money earmarked for public education is taken out to subsidize private companies.  

  • The funneling of this money is done through companies called STOs.  
  • STOs keep 10% of the money funneled, right off of the top, in addition to whatever other profit they can take.
  • Many politicians personally profit (enormously), to  the tune of millions annual, on these programs.
  • Over $1 billion has been funneled away from public schools since the program began
  • No financial or education-related obligation is attached to this public money

There is a need for public and charter schools, without doubt.  However, when the politicians are profiting as they are, their motives and efficacy of their proposals is suspect, at best.

Corporate Tax Situation

Arizona has aggressively handed out corporate tax exemptions, even built a warehouse for Amazon to entice them to choose Arizona as its new shipping hub.  

  • Large corporations consider a quality public education system as a key component when deciding upon a state for expansion.
    • Amazon passed on Tucson and Phoenix as locations for their second headquarters because of the public education system in Arizona.
  • Corporate tax exemptions in 2017 surpassed the gross revenue collected in Arizona.
  • Corporate tax collections in 2018/19 are expected to be the lowest since 1993/94, despite being a top 10 state in terms of economic growth.
  • In 2018/19, approximately 1.5% of total government revenue will come from corporate tax collection. Utah, a conservative state that also aggressively recruits corporations, will collect nearly 6% of their revenue from corporate tax.  

 

Growth in Arizona

Arizona is growing, faster than the national average.

  • Since 2008, our population has grown by 14%.
  • Number of jobs have grown in Arizona.
  • Arizona’s economy is growing considerably faster than the national average.

Teacher Shortage

In Arizona there is a severe teacher shortage.  The governor’s response has been to ease the qualifications of a teacher.  

  • 49,000 teachers in Arizona
  • Almost 900 teachers left in 2017/18, mid-contract (leaving the profession)
  • 2,000 unfilled teaching positions in 2017/18
  • 3,400 teaching positions filled with unqualified people, despite the ease in qualifications
  • These rates are far beyond any single school district that struggles to find staffing in the United States … and Arizona does that on a state wide level!
  • Teachers leave the profession because they cannot afford to serve as teachers.
  • The teacher salary was a livable wage a decade ago.

Governor Ducey

Governor Doug Ducey has a history of taking money, sometimes illegally, from education.

  • Acting as State Treasurer, under then governor Jan Brewer, Doug Ducey illegally cut funding to Prop 301.
  • A lawsuit was filed against Arizona, naming Doug Ducey as a defendant.  Arizona lost.
  • Governor Ducey proposes Prop 123 and bills it as funding for education.  The proposition passes which means $0.70 for every $1.00 illegally take would be restored.
    • A federal judge ruled that Prop 123 violated the Arizona Constitution
    • The governor repeatedly points to Prop 123 as how generous he has been towards education.
  • Governor Ducey said that teachers would receive no more than a 1% raise in 2018/19.

Education Funding

Since 2008 no other state has received more cuts to public education than Arizona.

  • The budget for public education in Arizona in 2017/18 was $1.1 billion less than a 2007/08.
  • Funding is established on a per-pupil basis.  Funding per-pupil is down 37% since 2008.
  • Over that time the amount of money vouchers have claimed from public education has expanded.  $1 billion has been taken total.

Governor Ducey’s 20×2020 Proposal

Governor Doug Ducey has proposed a 20×2020 plan to increase teacher pay in Arizona.  Let’s take a look.

  • The program is a budget, not legislation.  It is good for one year only, not the three promised.
  • The 10% increase is really a 5.7% increase to education funding (not a bad thing, but not honest).
  • Many schools will receive less than the amount required to increase salaries by 10%.
  • No money considered for support staff, building maintenance, or programs.
  • Is almost $800 million short of restoring recession era cuts as it is advertised.

Take-Away

Arizona has frequently voted in favor of supporting public education. It looks like people will once again need to return to the polls and show their support for education in Arizona.  Maybe this time the politicians will listen.

For more information on what the propositions and ballots are, and who is running for what office, please stay tuned!  Consider signing up for our email list.

Consider helping support Arizona’s Working Poor by purchasing a t-shirt or wrist band.  All proceeds fund our programs.

Governor Ducey claims he is giving a 20% raise to teachers in Arizona by 2020.  Let’s dig in and see what it’s all about. As is often the case with politicians, what isn’t being told is very important, it completes the picture.  What is Governor Ducey hiding here?

But first, a little history to contextualize the source.  Under Governor Jan Brewer, Doug Ducey served as State Treasurer.  Money was illegally taken from Proposition 301 (education money), and a suit was filed.  The state of Arizona lost the suit and the money that was taken from public education was to be restored.  In response, Governor Ducey came up with Prop 123, which essentially settled the debt for around 7 cents for every dollar owed.  

The dark money sponsoring the governor and his programs billed the proposition as a boon for public education.  Arizona voters have consistently voted pro-education funding and so the proposition passed. Ever since then Governor Ducey has cited Prop 123 as how generous he’s been towards public education.

Despite the funding for public education in 2017/18 being $1.1 billion below the funding a decade before (not adjusted for inflation), the governor refused to provide more than a 1% raise for teachers.  Teachers mobilized and he came up with his 20×2020 plan.  Again, he has claimed that he has always invested in public education and worked hard to fund those programs that protect the most vulnerable of our citizens.

It is as if there were 20 cookies in the cookie jar and without permission he took 18 of them.  When caught he put two back, then pointed and claimed, “Look at how many cookies I’m putting in the cookie jar!  I’ve increased it by 100%!”

Now, also keep in mind this is an election year.  

Politicians are clever with how things are worded.  The 20×2020 plan has been said to be a raise for teachers, 20% by the year 2020, and 10% this year.  But, as you’ll see, this is really a 5.7% bump in education funding. Of course that is a desperately needed influx of new money, but the problem is it leaves us about $700 million short of what funding for education was a decade ago.  It falls far short of the claim that this plan, “Fully restores recession-era cuts.”

Here are the details about how the 10% was calculated and how it is being distributed, which are why it is a 5.7% increase in education funding and not a 10% teacher raise. Governor Ducey took the average salary for people that fit his narrow definition of teachers (many elective, art, and special ed teachers are not counted) and increased that amount by 10%.  He then took total and added it to the ADM (you can read about ADM here if you like).  For all intents and purposes, ADM is used to calculate the money that schools receive, like what might be thought of as a general fund.

The increase in ADM is about 5.7% over last year.  There is no legally binding language or even hand-shake agreements that earmark the money to go to teachers and or staff.  The governor can say the money is for raises to the press, but what’s written and legal is what is real. Districts have discretion to use the money however they see best, without any guidelines even suggesting it goes to staff.

Here’s the rub: People read the headlines and hear a 20% increase in funding (Often websites misrepresent this by saying the increase is in education funding, not teacher pay. CNN reports, Arizona teacher walkout ends with new education funding,).  Teacher pay is, of course, just a part of education funding.  And not all teachers were even considered when coming up with the total amount to be added to the “general fund.”  The actual amount of increase is far less than it appears and far less than needed.

 

And some districts will really suffer.  Districts will not receive a 10% increase based on their “teacher” salaries, but instead will receive the 5.7% increase of the ADM.  Some districts will be far short of the 10% of teacher salaries, other will be far ahead.

This is also very important because one the of the major victories that the #REDforED movement had was to get people to focus their attention on the state, not the local districts.  The expectation of a 10% raise can easily become a major problem for districts that do not have that amount of money! The governor can sit back, point his finger and say, “Go ask your district, I gave them the money and the freedom to make sure it goes where it’s needed!”

This can easily take the focus off of the governor and put it on local districts, and inappropriately so.

It gets worse.  There are two other major problems with this proposal.  The first is that the proposal is not a piece of education reform legislation but a budget.  Budgets are only valid for one year. They carry no legally binding value beyond that. If the governor is not re-elected, this “deal” is dead and gone.  If he is re-elected, the 20×2020 plan is a promise from a person who has repeatedly taken money from public education (even illegally), and who is likely to run for a national level position once his next term is complete (reads little concern for righting any wrong).

The second major problem is that a portion of the money injected into education will require certain districts to raise their property taxes. In order for this to be legal, according to the Arizona constitution, a ⅔’s majority vote would be required.  The governor has tried this before and it was struck down by the state supreme court.  It is entirely likely that a lawsuit will be filed over this unconstitutional raising of property taxes.

In the past Doug Ducey has defunded public education and has only stopped when he had little or not choice (lawsuit, 75,000 marching on the capitol).  He is up for re-election in a few short months and has whipped up what he claims is a 20% raise for teachers in a few years. This is a misrepresentation of reality, one that leaves education over $700 million short of its claim!

It is my humble opinion that this is a ploy to buy some time … time enough to get the election behind him.  And his ploy is working. Over 75% of Arizonans are in favor of the program.  What would that percentage be if they understood it was a 5.7% increase, leaving us $700 million short of where we were a decade ago?

 

Governor Ducey has learned a thing or two from recent history.  President George Bush promised no new taxes, saying, “READ MY LIPS …” New taxes were needed.  This certainly played a role in losing his re-election bid to Bill Clinton.

No new taxes, balanced budget … those are Ducey’s things.  They sound wonderful, I’d highly consider voting for someone who did both of those, especially a president!  But let’s look just under the surface.

The short-story:  Arizona is growing.  If the state does not provide additional funding for public services like health care, transportation, police and fire, and education, then local communities and municipalities must do so to care for their residents.  

Here’s how it works for education. Other things like fire stations and police departments work in a similar fashion.  Education is 18% of the state budget, which is around $10 billion a year.  It is well documented how that leaves public education in Arizona, ranking 51st in working conditions for teachers in the US (including Washington DC).  

To keep buildings maintained and busses running, schools must ask their local communities to help bridge the gap in the form of bonds and overrides.  These create extra costs themselves and are additional layers of government which are inefficient.  

Bonds are essentially loans that the community pays for with property taxes.  It costs money to run the election for the bond, to manage the bond money, pay back the bond, and then of course the interest the bond earns.  Bonds cannot be used to pay teachers or staff.

The amount of money a school can spend is set by the state.  An override is a locally voter approved measure that will allow a school to spend up to 15% more than the limit set by the state (this is a simplification of how overrides work, but this is the basic idea).  Schools rely heavily on these measures to keep programs running.

All of this is just for education, not fire departments, police departments, or other public services.

Nobody wants to pay more taxes, especially if the money is wasted, right?  It is nice to live in a state with corporate and personal tax rates that are friendly (low).  But, our local and state sales taxes are high, 6th highest in the nation!  In addition, almost 8% of the tax (sales and property) we collect goes to pay interest (see bonds above).

A dollar only goes so far.  The governor has had many things in place that essentially rob Peter to pay Paul, but it appears that gig is up.  A new tax on vehicle registration, technically called a fee, had to be introduced to help pay for transportation, roads, and highway patrol because neither Peter or Paul had any money left to spare.

Here is the kicker … Arizona forgave over $13 billion in corporate taxes in 2017 through tax exemptions and other programs!  But does that entice corporations to move to Arizona? One of the key features sought by companies like Amazon, who is looking to open a second headquarters, is a good public education system.  Both Tucson and Phoenix were removed from the list of potential cities because of the state of public education in Arizona.

 

To summarize, $10 billion isn’t enough money to pay for public services.  Local municipalities go into debt with bonds and have to raise local taxes to pay for those bonds.  A significant portion of the additional money raised by these taxes pays for the interest on those bonds.  

Local communities are scrambling to keep up with growth and service the public while the governor is handing out corporate tax exemptions that far exceed the state’s budget.  The claim is that businesses will be attracted to Arizona. Yet, without a quality public education system, Arizona’s appeal is knocked down several pegs.

Arizona’s corporate tax rate of 4.9% is the 9th lowest in the United States.  

Our state budget might be balanced, but our state is in debt.  

The governor isn’t raising taxes, or even collecting them from corporations.

I’m just a math teacher, I don’t know much about economies.  But this solution seems almost too obvious to state. Why not collect $10 billion of those tax exemptions and double the state budget.  We could build a quality public education system, better infrastructure for growth, and a state of the art health-care program (to attract our main commodity, snow-birds).

As the #REDforED movement moves forward, whether you support its call and actions or not, there’s a much larger problem at play here that needs the attention of everybody.  

In government and politics things are rarely what they seem.  This is no different. In exploring the funding of public education in Arizona I have stumbled upon some eye-opening problems with how our state government is set up and how what should be considered corruption is fully legal.  

Arizona has little to no oversight or legislation preventing conflicts of interests between our elected officials and their duties to serve the public.  While this is being exposed with education right now, once this comes to a close, regardless of outcome, these conflicts of interest will then turn to erode some other service Arizonans rely upon.

Let’s look at the defunding and derision of public education.  One key player (of many) is Steve Yarbrough. I do not wish to question or attack Mr. Yarbrough’s politics, but simply point out how our legislative system in Arizona is drastically flawed.  

Steve Yarbrough is the president of the Arizona State Senate and comes from District 17, basically the Chandler area.  Senator Yarbrough is also the president of The Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization (ACSTO) where he earns a base salary of $125,000 for his service to their organization.

That salary is chump change compared to the billing ACSTO received by a company called HY Processing.  For whatever services HY Processing does for ACSTO, they received over $600,000 in compensation in 2014.

This company, HY Processing, is owned by Steve Yarbrough and his wife.

The cash cow gets fatter, though.  Yarbrough owns the building where ACSTO rents office space, for over $52,000 a year.  

All of this is just one of the STOs related to Yarbrough.

Whether public education or private education is the key to securing a stable society in Arizona, it is clear that our elected officials have a massive conflict of interest on this account.  

Stepping even further back we can see that this is perfectly legal.  Where else is it happening? Unless we can get some saints, uninterested in power of money, from the Pope, simply replacing these legislators will only exchange who is being hurt by these conflicts of interest.