Senator Heather Carter, a Republican from Legislative District 15 – my district – recently sponsored a bill to revamp funding for special education in Arizona. Senator Carter has long been a proponent of public education (she is definitely in the minority in her party) and this was another good bill from her. I say “was” a good bill because it is dead. To be honest, it was dead from the get-go. It was assigned to two committees: Education and Appropriations February 6. It would have to clear all three to move forward. This turned out to be moot because it was never heard… in any of these committees.
In a March 1, 2019 Arizona Capitol Times article, Chuck Essigs, director of government relations for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, stated that he was informed that this bill wasn’t killed by an overall lack of support, it was just that the Legislature “had too many other priorities this session.” Interesting.
As a member of Indivisible Valley of the Sun, one of my responsibilities is to watch and report on the Legislative sessions on a weekly basis. Let’s review some of the very important priorities:
Vouchers. It’s hard to prioritize funding education when you are busy prioritizing taking money OUT of public education via Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (aka vouchers). Five different bills have been put forward and gotten much further than Sen. Carter’s bill that expands the scope of privatization of schools in Arizona. These bills have sailed along despite the overwhelming defeat of Proposition 305 in November. The legislators pay no attention to these voices and prioritize the continuation of this very unpopular idea.
Voter Suppression. Yes, despite the record turnout in November – more accurately in response to the record turnout of voters – our current legislature is hearing at least four bills that aim to make voting more difficult, putting greater restrictions on voting. Especially early voting. That was the area that caused the party in power the most consternation and they want it stopped! Or at least made way more difficult. In addition, one prominent representative wants to make it a crime to be paid to register people to vote! True. This would include employees of the DMV, County Recorder’s office, libraries, and many voter registration organizations. Oh, and it’d be illegal to give water, lunch, gas, etc. to people registering voters. Again, this is a priority?
Making tax cuts for those getting the biggest tax cuts even bigger. With the tax bill passing last year, Arizona is in line for receiving some funding – no one knows exactly how much. Legislators want to pass that along to the few rather than follow Gov. Doug Ducey’s desire to put this money in the “rainy day fund.”
Making ballot initiatives more difficult. In response to the overwhelming success of SOS Arizona to stop and eventually strike down SB1431, and Outlaw Dirty Money’s record breaking signature gathering (only to get thrown out in a loaded Arizona Supreme Court) our legislators are trying to, again, stifle the voice of the people. Bills are moving forward to make it more and more difficult to get a citizen’s ballot initiative done.
Other interesting priorities –
- Allowing loaded guns in cars parked on school grounds – despite being told that 20 percent of stolen guns come from parked cars;
- Trying to overcome the voice of Arizona voters who backed an increased minimum wage – trying to reduce this for people between the ages of 18 and 22 who work part-time and are enrolled full-time in classes;
- Stripping the Department of Education of its oversight of the previously mentioned voucher system and giving it to the Treasurer – a department that has absolutely no understanding of this process;
- Lemonade – a cute bill to give Arizona a “state drink;”
- And finally, prohibiting the sale of “almond milk” in Arizona because “almonds don’t lactate.”
Now, this is not to say that there aren’t some good things happening in the current Legislature. There are. On both sides of “the aisle.” However, public education funding is, and has been, a crisis in Arizona for years and it’s not getting better. And when given an opportunity to do something positive about this crisis, the people in power have chosen to put other things in a higher position of priority. The result: time is wasted, nothing is accomplished, and students and teachers suffer.
But hey, at least we could get an official drink. How we survived 107 years in this desert environment without one is beyond imagination. Thank you 2019 legislators for your thoughtful prioritization.
Jeff Fortney has been teaching special education in Arizona since 2004.