Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Arizona: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Democrats have been, and will continue be, the champions of public education and Arizona’s teachers and students. This legislative session, Democrats proposed that the state invest $219 million more in K-12 and higher education. Among the investments that Legislative Democrats would make is $35 million dedicated to keeping experienced and successful teachers in Arizona, so our kids have great teachers.  Arizona badly needs this, and Gov. Ducey neglected to include it in his budget proposal.

On May 17, Arizona voters will weigh in on Proposition 123, the proposed settlement in the public school inflation funding lawsuit that began in 2010. Gov. Ducey and Legislative Republicans have spent months congratulating themselves over Prop. 123. Their self-congratulatory attitude is misplaced. Arizona’s schools initiated the lawsuit in the first place because the state’s Republican leaders refused to fulfill their responsibilities in funding education. Plus, Prop. 123 would only restore 72 percent of the funding our schools are owed. Prop. 123 is an important first step in restoring education funding, but it is only a first step because it does not solve all of the serious problems facing Arizona’s schools.

Actions speak louder than words and, unfortunately, the actions of many Republicans in the Legislature suggest they are not interested in funding public education. Take, for instance, HB 2401, a bill signed by eight Republican representatives that would eliminate the desegregation funding that sustains 19 public school districts and their nearly quarter of a million students. Prop. 123 funding will do even less for Arizona’s students and teachers, especially those in poor districts, if those very same districts lose more than $211 million in annual desegregation funding.

Apparently wanting to leave no public school student untouched by funding cuts, 16 Republican legislators introduced HB 2482, which would make Empowerment Scholarship Accounts—vouchers—available to any and all students in Arizona. The loss of funding that this policy would permit could be catastrophic to public education. It also directly undermines the idea behind Prop. 123: that public students deserve more from the leaders here.  Dick Foreman, president and CEO of the Arizona Business and Education Coalition, recently explained why the Republican actions are contradictory in an Arizona Republic article. “Here we are trying to create some positive energy, and we’ve got current-year funding slashing, we’ve got unlimited ESAs, devastating the public schools, and we’ve got (desegregation) phase-out, which is closing public schools that are doing the most good for the low-income students,” he said. As usual, the actions of many Republican leaders in state government demonstrate that, whatever they say, public education is not one of their top priorities.

As long as the Republicans leaders in this state continue to prioritize special interest tax cuts over schools, we can expect our classroom sizes to continue to grow, our teachers to continue to leave the state and business executives will continue to see schools as a “key weakness” for our state. Arizona Legislative Democrats have provided a different option. To see how Democrats want to invest in schools and our future, click here