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.

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?