fbpx

Ballot measure to tax the rich for K-12 funding launched

Mesa High School teacher Joshua Buckley explains Friday why he and David Lujan, director of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, are proposing a large surcharge on income taxes paid by state residents who earn the most money to fund public education (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Mesa High School teacher Joshua Buckley explains Friday why he and David Lujan, director of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, are proposing a large surcharge on income taxes paid by state residents who earn the most money to fund public education (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

A coalition of teachers, parents and education advocates led by the Center for Economic Progress, a progressive public policy group, launched an effort Friday to raise income taxes on wealthy Arizonans to pay for the state’s public education.

The proposal, dubbed the Invest in Education Act, would increase the state’s 4.54-percent personal income tax rate to 8 percent for those who earn more than $250,000 or whose household income reaches more than $500,000, and would double the rate to 9 percent for individuals who earn more than $500,000 or whose household income is greater than $1 million.

Under current law, someone with a taxable income of $600,000 pays $25,162. That same individual would pay $14,200 more if the measure is adopted.

Consultants for the campaign estimate the proposal would generate $690 million annually in new revenue.

The coalition announced the ballot initiative on the second day of Red for Ed rallies at the state Capitol as schools statewide remained closed during mass walkouts.

Center for Economic Progress Director David Lujan and teacher Joshua Buckley, who will chair the Invest in Education Committee, refused to take any questions on Friday. They told reporters questions would be answered on Monday.

“Rather than lead, the politicians who run the state Capitol have spent years causing this crisis, choosing to serve donors and lobbyists while ignoring our students,” Buckley said in a brief statement after filing the initiative. “And when we the people have forced them to confront this crisis from time to time, we have only ever gotten half-measures and promises they never intended to keep.”

The measure would also designate 60 percent of the revenue from the tax hike for teacher salaries and the remaining 40 percent for operations, including full-day kindergarten and pay raises for student support employees as applicable uses for the funds.

Governing boards would be required to seek employee input on plans for the use of the additional dollars, and the act would define who is a teacher and who is support staff.

After Gov. Doug Ducey released his 20 percent teacher pay raise by 2020 plan, some in the Red for Ed movement questioned who among them count for such raises and criticized the plan for leaving out support staff.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce came out against the proposal less than an hour after it was filed with the Secretary of State’s Office.

“It is never a good time to raise income taxes on small businesses and their employees; that would just create a drag on the state’s overall economy,” said President and CEO Glenn Hamer in a statement. “The tax brackets that would be targeted under this initiative historically have the most volatile collections, with wild dips in economic downturns, which would put teacher pay at terrible risk.

“Should this measure to dramatically hike income taxes secure a spot on the ballot, we will oppose it strongly, and we will urge Arizona voters to do the same.”

The effort’s launch came a day after an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 Arizona teachers, students and other supporters marched on the state Capitol to demand better pay for teachers and all public education employees, increased per pupil funding and no new tax cuts until funding was restored to the public education system.

And it also comes weeks after the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, and other education groups gathered in early April to discuss going to the voters.

In a text to the Arizona Capitol Times, AEA President Joe Thomas said the state’s largest teachers’ union is a partner in the coalition.

Both the income tax increase and a sales tax increase were discussed at that time.

The Arizona School Boards Association was part of the April talks with AEA, and lobbyist Chris Kotterman told the Arizona Capitol Times the coalition leaned toward the income tax option.

ASBA, though, was not enthusiastic about going that route.

Kotterman said such a proposal would just be too big of a request in Arizona when the political winds typically prevail against such ideas.

Though ASBA would not come out against an income tax initiative, Kotterman said, the organization’s perspective was that it would draw too much outside money and outside pressure against it to ultimately pass.

Petitions for ballot measures are due on July 5, giving AEA just over two months to collect 150,642 valid signatures to get on the ballot.

Current state aid to K-12 schools is $5.39 billion. That compares with $5.15 billion a decade ago.

But in that same time, nearly 79,000 youngsters have been added to the system, bringing enrollment up about 1.1 million.

So the actual aid per student has $4,949 a decade ago to $4,760 now.

What really makes a difference, though, is those dollars have not kept pace with inflation. Once that is factored in, legislative budget staffers say the money per student is worth $1,000 less than in 2008.

Multiply that by 1.1 million students and that’s the $1 billion educators say is has been taken from schools.

Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report. 

Bills to restrict teachers reawakens Red for Ed movement

(Photo by Carmen Forman/Arizona Capitol Times)
One of many Red for Ed signs sits at the Arizona Capitol on April 26. (Photo by Carmen Forman/Arizona Capitol Times)

A handful of bills introduced ahead of the 2019 legislative session are already stirring up tensions in the education community, leaving some to wonder if the Capitol will again be awash in red.

Reps. Kelly Townsend of Mesa and Mark Finchem of Oro Valley have introduced proposed legislation that gets at several qualms they and their fellow Republicans had with the Red for Ed movement in 2018.

Finchem’s House Bill 2002 would require the State Board of Education to adopt an educator code of ethics explicitly prohibiting politicking in public schools. In a written statement, he said the bill is a response to calls from parents to stop politics in the classroom.

Arizona School Boards Association lobbyist Chris Kotterman said it does not appear to be a genuine effort to improve the teaching profession, but rather a list of grievances. Meanwhile, Phoenix New Times reported on January 3 that the language of the proposed code is nearly identical to that of the Stop K-12 Indoctrination campaign sponsored by the conservative David Horowitz Freedom Center, which bills itself as the School of Political Warfare.

And Townsend has so far introduced four education-related bills, two of which are drawing a lot of attention as they appear to be retribution for the Red for Ed movement.

HB2017, which Townsend said is a direct response to the movement and teachers’ decision to strike last April, would prohibit public schools from shutting down except during pre-approved breaks and holidays, or in the event of a variety of dangerous situations, from natural disasters to an invasion.  And HB2018 would require the attorney general to investigate any policy, procedure or other official action taken by a school district governing board or any district employee that lawmakers allege violates state law.

The reaction online was swift, including calls for another show of force from educators.

“Clearly the legislators were not listening,” Red for Ed organizer Rebecca Garelli wrote on Facebook in response to HB2017. “Perhaps we need to make our voices even louder.”

Dozens of educators and their supporters responded, slamming Townsend and calling for renewed action.

Garelli told the Arizona Capitol Times that they’re frustrated by where these lawmakers have put their focus – on punitive measures rather than funding a workable solution. And she said the Red for Ed movement will definitely return to the Capitol this year.

What that might look like, she doesn’t yet know.

“If our elected representatives are incapable of finding a bipartisan solution to the funding crisis, then every option is on the table,” she said. “It’s not up to me. It’s up to the members. No options are off the table.”

Townsend has also filed HB2015 to prohibit school district employees from using school resources to promote a political or religious ideology, and HB2016 to prohibit employees from harassing, intimidating or harming parents, students and their colleagues. There are laws already on the books to cover each of those offenses.

Whether Townsend’s proposals will lead teachers to defy her and walk out of classrooms again, that’s not for her to say either.

“They’re going to have to make the decision if they’re going to do that again to the people of Arizona,” Townsend said.

But Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, who will join her on the House Education Committee, said Townsend and Finchem are sending a dangerous message, potentially leaving educators feeling like they’ve been backed into a corner.

“These bills send the message that if you become vocal and if you become an advocate for your profession, then we will fight back with laws that will directly impact you economically,” Bolding said. “This sets a very bad precedent.”

He said legislators should not be running retaliation legislation against members of the public, especially those whose perceived crime was to participate in the political process.

The future of these bills is in no way secure, though. Townsend and Finchem will have to win favor in the House where the partisan split is now just 31-29 in favor of Republicans. And that’s if they can first get their proposals out of the Education Committee where they are likely to be heard.

Republicans do hold a greater statistical advantage there with eight Republicans and five Democrats serving on the committee; the split was originally 7-4. But Bolding said he hopes Rep. Michelle Udall, who will chair the committee, and House Speaker-elect Rusty Bowers won’t even “allow these bills to see the light of day.”

If they do, he said the education community will surely return to the Capitol tenfold.

“Once you awaken individuals in our community about policies that are directly affecting them, it’s hard to turn off that switch,” he said.

Udall was not immediately available for comment.

Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas, who has stood beside leaders of Red for Ed, said the movement last year was about so much more than teacher pay. He said teachers want to be in their classrooms, but if they have to pressure legislators on their own turf again, they will.

“We are in a system that’s been starved for so long that it’s at a breaking point,” Thomas said. “We saw some steam released last year. The legislators and the governor should really think long and hard about whether they want that to be a recurring event or not.”

If legislators thought the movement was a one-time phenomenon, Thomas said they are either blind, deaf or “just unwilling to see the crisis that they have been perpetuating.

Red for Ed first took shape online after Noah Karvelis created Arizona Educators United on Facebook. The platform attracted thousands of supporters within hours.

Still, if you’d asked Karvelis whether that would lead teachers to strike just a few months later, he would have told you that was crazy. Now, he said the movement will mobilize again if that’s what teachers believe they have to do.

“We certainly don’t want to go through that again,” he said. “It’s taxing. It’s difficult. It’s one of the hardest things anybody’s ever had to do in the classroom or outside of it. The simple way to end this is to come up with bipartisan solutions.”

Teachers feel like their voices have been entirely disregarded because this is the conversation ahead of the legislative session, Karvelis said, not the issues they believe to be vital.

Bolding said the Democratic caucus is working on legislation that would address those issues – increased funding for education, money for school infrastructure, a fix for the disproportionate student-counselor ratio and more.

“I would hope that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle will back up their campaign rhetoric with actual action,” Bolding said. “The public will judge legislators not by what they say during the election cycle but what they actually do during the legislative session.”

Board of Ed to sit on $20M earmarked for cops and counselors

classroom school money chalkboard dollar sign

Arizona schools may  have to wait another school year to hire new counselors and cops.

Lawmakers this year appropriated an additional $20 million to the state’s school safety program, which must be spent on school resource officers, counselors or social workers. The Arizona Board of Education is responsible for distributing the funding as grants, while school district leaders will get to decide which position they want to hire for at the local level.

But the Board of Education voted Monday to delay awarding new grants, possibly until all schools have a chance to apply.

At issue is the lifecycle of the school safety grant program.

Grants are awarded every three years, and by law, the next round of applications are due by April 15, 2020.

Schools that previously applied for a safety grant did so more than two years ago, at a time when the program exclusively funded school resource officers.

The Board of Education tabled a proposal Monday to spend the additional $20 million immediately at schools that previously applied to hire school resource officers. There’s $16 million earmarked in existing funds to pay for school resource officers, but that’s only enough money to hire officers at 114 schools.

Another 87 schools applied, but were put on a wait list until more money became available.

The Board of Education considered a plan to spend that $20 million this year by allowing all 201 schools that applied for a school resource officer grant to hire a cop, a counselor or perhaps both.

Chris Kotterman, director of government relations at the Arizona School Boards Association, said the proposal made sense given Gov. Doug Ducey’s initial budget proposal. In January, the governor proposed more than $9 million specifically to hire school resource officers at those 87 schools.

But most board members balked at distributing any of the $20 million before all schools have an opportunity to apply for the new funding. Board Member Michele Kaye said that the 201 schools whose previous applications were approved applied at a time when the funding was only available for school resource officers, not based on requests for counselors or social workers.

“That wasn’t the purpose of the grant at the time,” Kaye said.

And Board Member Patricia Welborn noted that there are entirely new schools up-and-running in the last two years – since the last grant application deadline – that wouldn’t have the same immediate access to the new $20 million in grants. Nor would schools who didn’t bother to apply because they didn’t want or need to hire school resource officers, Welborn added.

The Board of Education ultimately voted to set aside the $20 million in new funding until officials can create criteria and accept new applications. That may mean the state will have that $20 million sitting in the bank for another year, and schools won’t see additional cops or counselors until schools start in August 2020.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman was the lone board member to vote against stashing the money. Hoffman said that school safety is too pressing an issue, and “it makes me anxious to sit on [that funding].”

Catcher Baden, the Board of Education’s deputy director, later said that tabling the proposal doesn’t necessarily mean that the $20 million won’t be put to use during the upcoming school year. It’s up to board staff to research options for the Board of Education to consider, perhaps as soon as their next regularly scheduled meeting on August 26, Baden told the Arizona Capitol Times

“The $20 million they tabled until they got more complete information… nothing precludes the board on August 26 from approving” a way to spend the money, he said.

What’s unclear is how they’ll do that, considering state law requires the grants be distributed on a three year cycle, with the next round of applications due by April 15, 2020.

“It is challenging that the April 15 deadline is still in statute. However, I feel like that shouldn’t prevent us from trying to find ways to get dollars to schools,” Baden said.

Hank Stephenson contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include comments from Catcher Baden.

Ducey courts school districts with more K-12 money

Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Looking for a scapegoat a year ago, Gov. Doug Ducey accused school officials for the woes of the Arizona teacher, whose average salary is among the lowest in the nation.

He claimed school administrators weren’t budgeting properly and not because the state wasn’t giving them enough money.

Nearly a year later, the governor sounds like a changed man.

Ducey praised local school officials in his State of the State address on January 8, citing statistics provided by school business officials that touted a 5 percent hike in the average teachers’ salary since he took office. One lobbyist for school officials called it a breakthrough.

In contrast, Ducey said a year ago that there’s “plenty of money in there for additional money for raises for teachers,” referring to his budget plan. “That will be put on the superintendents and the principals. And I encourage them to give raises across the board.”

It’s the governor’s attempt to make nice with K-12 schools in the final year of his term, after 2017 saw protests at the Capitol, dissatisfaction with his proposals for schools and teachers, and a grassroots effort that blocked an expansion of vouchers for private schools he had championed.

Some lawmakers, particularly Democrats, remain distrustful of Ducey’s overtures. They had applauded Ducey’s vow of a pay hike for teachers in his 2017 State of the State address, only to balk at his offer of a 2 percent raise phased in over five years. Others find the governor’s overtures about increasing K-12 funding disingenuous, given that he had signed budgets that cut millions of dollars that he now wants to restore.

His allies, however, said the governor is offering significant infusions of cash, and it doesn’t always help to dig up the past.

But Ducey’s offer of more money have left school officials weighing the realities of their situation versus the best of expectations, and must decide how to reconcile the money the governor has put forward for K-12 schools amidst an ongoing lawsuit over the state’s failures to adequately fund education in the past.

Disingenuous

Ducey’s budget proposal provides $100 million in additional assistance to district and charter schools in fiscal 2019, but Sen. Steve Farley, a Tucson Democrat running for governor in this year’s election, quickly pointed out that doesn’t even cover the $116 million cut to the program Ducey had signed three years ago.

Sen. Steve Farley (D-Tucson) (Photo by Jessica Boehm/Cronkite News)
Sen. Steve Farley (D-Tucson) (Photo by Jessica Boehm/Cronkite News)

“If you burn down the house and call the fire department, you’re not the hero,” Farley said.

Ducey may boast of a proposed $2 million increase to fully fund career and technical education districts, better known as JTEDs. They currently receive $28 million annually, which covers 95 percent of their operating budget. But what the governor won’t mention, Farley said in a joint hearing of the House and Senate Appropriations committees, is that he was the one who cut the program in the first place.

The budget Ducey signed in 2015 eliminated the $30 million state budget for JTEDs, which lawmakers then scrambled to restore, although not fully, the next year.

“Now that everyone is talking about the need for education funding, he’s finding a way to be able to claim that he’s investing in education when he’s still putting back a fraction of what he cut,” Farley told the Arizona Capitol Times. “I just find that very disingenuous.”

Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak said Farley’s criticism ignores the financial woes Arizona faced when the governor first took office in 2015. Ptak noted that Ducey inherited a $1 billion budget deficit, and tough decisions had to be made.

“But in doing so, this administration has focused on protecting K-12,” he said.

Distrust

Chris Kotterman (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Chris Kotterman (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

There are bright spots in Ducey’s current budget proposal, said Chris Kotterman, director of government relations for the Arizona School Boards Association. But not everyone will view the governor’s latest pitch for K-12 funding in isolation, as there are too many memories of the “classrooms first” talking points and promises to K-12 public schools that failed to meet expectations.

Worst of all to some was the governor’s decision to expand a school voucher program for private education less than one year after claiming Proposition 123, which diverts trust land funding for K-12 education, is a first step toward better funding public schools.

“We did not appreciate that, so we have a little bit of trust trying to be rebuilt on both sides,” Kotterman said.

The governor’s abandonment of the blame-the-districts narrative is at least a sign that no one bought what Ducey and GOP legislators were selling during last year’s budget debate, according to House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix. Republicans, who are in charge of both chambers at the Capitol, were trying to deflect the blame for not allocating enough funding for schools and teacher raises, but “they didn’t want the public to recognize that.”

To Rios, the governor’s promise to restore recession-era funding cuts should be viewed with caution. She criticized Ducey for what she describes as an opportunistic State of the State address, speculated that he is deliberately trying to get plaintiffs of the maintenance and construction funding lawsuit to drop their challenge and questioned his sincerity.

House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios (D-Phoenix) (Photo by Paulina Pineda)
House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios (D-Phoenix) (Photo by Paulina Pineda)

“Unfortunately, I think it is a sad attempt to curry favor to get school boards and the others involved to drop the lawsuit. I hope I’m wrong,” she said.

Schools have been down this path before, and Rios said she’s concerned the governor and Republican legislators are setting up schools to accept less than what they’re owed – again.

Rios noted that Prop. 123 provides about 70 percent of what a Maricopa County judge had ordered the state to repay for years when lawmakers failed to adjust funding for K-12 schools to account for inflation.

Similarly, Ducey’s proposal to phase in the restoration over five years will get state spending back to statutorily obligated levels by FY2023, but not backfill what schools were owed in the past.

Rios said she won’t disparage or blame any organization that decides to drop out of the ongoing capital funding lawsuit filed by the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest on behalf of districts and education groups. The state has forced them into a situation where they’re “literally starving for funding,” she said. The Arizona Association of School Business Officials withdrew from the lawsuit.

But this reminds Rios of another criticism of Prop. 123 – it rewards lawmakers for ignoring a voter-approved mandate.

“They won with Prop. 123 by again paying far less on the dollar than what was owed. If this happens again with the capital lawsuit, that reinforces that behavior,” Rios said. “Starve them long enough, and eventually they’ll come around for the scraps.”

Doesn’t matter why

Ptak said Ducey hasn’t actually changed on the subject of putting more money into classrooms.

“The governor has always said that he wants to see money going to teacher raises,” Ptak said. “And last year, the analysis had not been done about where a lot of these dollars, like Prop. 123 dollars, were going. Now we have that data.”

To some local school officials, how the governor arrived at his budget proposal is largely irrelevant.

“We have to work with whoever is willing to do the work,” Kotterman said. “The governor proposed something that is undeniably good for schools.” As for trust issues with the governor’s office, Kotterman said they’re working on it. “We’re trying to do that by saying we’re not just going to slap away $100 million just because you’re you.”

That means that school officials are viewing Ducey’s fiscal 2019 budget proposal in a much more positive light, and are encouraged by the acknowledgment that more money is needed for K-12 education.

Chuck Essigs
Chuck Essigs

Chuck Essigs, lobbyist for AASBO, said he appreciates the governor’s “valiant” effort to work with what’s available in the state budget. It was AASBO that provided the governor with data showing school administrators are, in fact, investing in teachers.

“We’re still not able to pay teachers what they need to be paid, and we need to do a lot more work in that area, but it’s nice to be recognized that districts are taking their responsibility to try and do, with limited resources, everything they can to increase teacher salaries,” Essigs said.

Rep. Heather Carter, a Cave Creek Republican and vocal advocate of Ducey’s plan, said there’s already skepticism from some Republicans about borrowing money for new school construction and spending, and added that debating the past is only going to distract from getting the funding approved.

“It’s a better use of our time to spend it talking about how we can get more money into schools immediately, and this proposal does that,” she said. “So, let’s talk about this proposal right now, and we can get it done.”

It can be difficult to keep the past in the past, but Kotterman said it won’t prevent school officials from accepting a good offer.

“The impulse to be distrustful is high,” he said.

At the same time, “here’s a governor who, within his ideological construct, is willing to throw what he considers to be serious money at the issue,” Kotterman added. “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t take that deal, in terms of trying to help (Ducey) get that across the finish line.”

Geoff Esposito: Standing out in bold colors in a sea of gray

Geoff Esposito (Photo by Ben Giles/Arizona Capitol Times)
Geoff Esposito (Photo by Ben Giles/Arizona Capitol Times)

Geoff Esposito, a familiar face at the Capitol, has a new role. As a lobbyist for Creosote Partners, the Chandler native has long been active in local Arizona politics, dating back to his high school years and stints at the Arizona School Boards Association and Expect More Arizona.

Cap Times Q&AHow’d you get into politics?

I was born and raised out here, and back when I was in high school actually I got started. And my first job – actually paying political job – was helping out my then-state senator Slade Mead run for superintendent of public instruction. He was a Republican state senator that became a Democrat and ran for superintendent of public instruction and ended up losing in the primary. Good lesson.

How’d you get the itch for politics at a young age?

I was always sort of interested in it. My dad made me do the Kids Voting stuff. This is the nerdiest thing: When I was young, I’d make him stop whenever the “McLaughlin Group” was on TV and watch that. I think I just enjoyed watching people yell at each other.

Then you picked the right line of work.

Exactly. So, there were a lot of issues going on back then. The start of the Iraq War was, of course, a very formative experience when you’re in high school and you’re thinking about where things are going. There was also a lot of discussion around education. I was the first class to use AIMS (Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards) to graduate. There were a lot of changes to arts programs and funding, so it got me interested in how those levers worked.

What else did you do as a kid?

I volunteered in 2004 when I was a sophomore. I worked a few state, county races, local legislative races; worked on a Chandler City Council campaign – things like that. In 2010, I did a lot of campaigns, and then it all culminated in helping do the signature collection effort for the recall (Russell) Pearce campaign. I ran that under Randy Parraz. … After that, I realized I needed health care and a stable job. I ended up leaving for a year, went to Massachusetts, worked with the lung association out there, did some advocacy and lobbying work, and helped them build a campaign to pressure then-Senator Scott Brown – because they had a Republican senator at the time – to renew the Clean Air Act.

So, then, you came back to Arizona, worked for a couple of education organizations, and then you got local.

I worked for (Phoenix) Councilwoman Kate Gallego for a little bit there. I was her chief of staff … It’s a very different pace, but also, I think something I enjoyed the most was there was a very sort of immediate and direct impact that you can have with the work. Somebody calls you up with a problem, and hopefully, actually most of the time, you’re able to help them address it. Of course, there’s a lot where you still hit against those walls, but there is something immediately fulfilling about it, like helping someone fill a pothole.

Is there a political subject you feel is your area of interest?

For me, education policy is my area. That’s a big beast. It swallows up so much of the time and conversation, and I enjoy working with the people in it. I’m always happy to have a good debate with folks on that. … Something I’ve enjoyed is learning about all the criminal justice stuff we’ve been working on.

What’s your proudest moment in all these years of political activity?

Getting those signatures to throw Russell Pearce out. That was pretty satisfying, I gotta say. I think the other thing is, I have really enjoyed just the part where I help regular people figure out how to navigate the system. Some of the stuff I enjoyed the most with the School Boards Association and Expect More was building tools to just help people figure out what’s going on because, as the situation outside shows, people are mad about how things work. And a lot of times they just don’t know where to go to express it and what is causing their frustration. And being able to help folks figure that out, travel the state, and do trainings and talk to people and have it connect – have them realize that they had a voice and power down here – that’s why I keep doing it.

Are you also lobbying for different sartorial standards at the Capitol?

You know, I don’t know how to answer. That’s a good question.

All I’m saying is some of your suits stand out from the crowd.

I don’t know if I want to change the dressing habits of others. I like being the bold one down there. But I think we’d all do a little bit better with a lot less gray around. It’s already depressing enough down there. We need to liven it up a bit.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about your dogs and their good names.

I have a long-haired chihuahua named Teddy. He was the first. He’s the old man of the bunch. And then we have two dogs – and my wife’s going to get real mad at me for saying this – that are Predator-themed. We have Arnold, who’s a chihuahua. He’s a little mutt who showed up at our front door as a puppy, abandoned. We ended up adopting him. The other one is Snarl Weathers.

Plaintiffs push ahead with capital funding challenge against state

Plaintiffs in a lawsuit over school maintenance funding stand behind Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest attorney Tim Hogan. Standing on the steps of Glendale Landmark Elementary School on Monday, Hogan argued the state is not living up to its constitutional obligations to properly fund school maintenance and construction, allowing the burden to instead fall to districts' taxpayers. (Photo by Katie Campbell, Arizona Capitol Times)
Plaintiffs in a lawsuit over school maintenance funding stand behind Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest attorney Tim Hogan. Standing on the steps of Glendale Landmark Elementary School on Monday, Hogan argued the state is not living up to its constitutional obligations to properly fund school maintenance and construction, allowing the burden to instead fall to districts’ taxpayers. (Photo by Katie Campbell, Arizona Capitol Times)

The Arizona Association of School Business Officials may be out, but the lawsuit over school capital funding needs marches on.

Representatives of the Arizona School Boards Association and the Arizona Education Association, which are plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed by the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, said their organizations are not satisfied with Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposal to add $250 million in new spending to K-12 education.

“That doesn’t mitigate much, if anything, that the lawsuit’s really about,” said AEA President Joe Thomas. “The lawsuit’s not about a dollar amount.”

In their lawsuit, education groups, school districts and taxpayers argued that it’s the state’s obligation to fund school construction and maintenance and not put that burden on local taxpayers. The Arizona Supreme Court has affirmed that legal responsibility in three separate rulings in the past.

Thomas conceded money will facilitate a solution in the end, but said schools’ needs must be met for the long-term, not just in the more immediate future.

He noted Ducey’s proposal for fiscal 2019, which includes $88 million for new school construction, $35 million for building grants, $34 million to make a teacher pay increase permanent, and $100 million in additional assistance for capital expenses like textbooks and buses, is just that – a suggestion to the Legislature with nothing set in stone. And Thomas has been disappointed before.

“We’re in it to win, and we believe we will win it,” Thomas said. “Anybody who believes that they can buy off all the plaintiffs – I think they underestimate the resolve of the people working closest with students.”

Chris Kotterman, ASBA’s director of governmental affairs, said ASBA supports Ducey’s proposal but is also moving forward as a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

He said ASBA will help the governor’s plan come to fruition at the Legislature. But the association considers the lawsuit to be “sort of a separate track,” something he said had been in the works before the governor took office, given the association’s sentiment that the school capital funding system was in trouble and the state was risking running afoul of its constitutional obligations.

“We didn’t make a deal with the governor – the lawsuit for his spending plan – and he hasn’t approached us about that formally,” Kotterman added.

But the motivation behind the effort to settle the lawsuit and efforts in court to convince a judge she has no standing on the matter are obvious to Thomas.

“We can’t pretend that this isn’t going to be an election issue,” the AEA official said. “That’s why there is interest right now to have a stay, to settle the lawsuit with a dollar amount, to look like we’ve accomplished something.”

Still, he does not begrudge AASBO for its decision to trust Ducey and move on. Another plaintiff, a taxpayer, also removed herself from the lawsuit.

The Glendale Elementary School District had the unfortunate distinction of being the lawsuit’s poster child of sorts when it was announced, and its schools continue to show signs of decay, according to Associate Superintendent Mike Barragan.

Barragan said he’s grateful to see the governor offer “a step in the right direction,” but his district, too, remains a plaintiff and hopes to “create an a-ha moment for not only our community, our taxpayers, but also our policymakers.”

Barragan said he may not understand the ex-plaintiffs’ decision to leave the lawsuit, but he respects it.

“Last time I checked, we all have free will,” he said.

PTA group withdraws support from Ducey’s teacher pay hike plan

Beth Simek, president of the Arizona PTA, explains Monday that while a proposal by Gov. Doug Ducey for a 19 percent pay hike for teachers is not perfect, accepting it keeps the door open for future negotiations. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Beth Simek, president of the Arizona PTA, explains Monday that while a proposal by Gov. Doug Ducey for a 19 percent pay hike for teachers is not perfect, accepting it keeps the door open for future negotiations. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Calling the governor’s plan not sustainable, the Arizona PTA has withdrawn its backing for Gov. Doug Ducey’s teacher pay hike plan.

Beth Simek, the organization’s president, told Capitol Media Services this afternoon that her own research shows there is no way Ducey can finance both the pay raise and restoration of capital funding without cutting the budget for other needed programs. And Simek said she believes some of what the governor plans to slice could end up hurting the very children her organization is working to protect.

The change of heart comes just two days after Simek stood with the Arizona School Boards Association and other school groups to give their blessing to Ducey’s proposal.

Potentially more significant, one purpose of that press conference was to convince teachers to vote against a strike. And her new decision comes even as teachers are voting through today on whether to walk out.

And what is her message to teachers now?

“If they feel like they cannot afford in their personal financial household to walk out, then they should follow their heart,” Simek said. “If they feel they can afford this, or that it’s something they feel morally strongly about, then they should follow their heart and walk out.”

Simek said that she was not given all the relevant information about how Ducey plans to finance his plan when the governor first asked for support. So, what she did was strike out on her own and gather as much in specifics as she could from various other sources, including other state agencies.

Most crucial, she said, are the cuts being made elsewhere in the budget.

For example, Simek said, Ducey’s plan cuts $2.9 million that had been allocated for skilled nursing services in both the state Medicaid program and the Department of Economic Security. Also gone is $1.8 million aid for “critical access hospitals” and $4 million that the governor had proposed in additional dollars for the developmentally disabled.

“We can’t support that,” Simek said. “That hurts kids and it hurts families.”

The governor’s plan also cuts back $2 million in arts funding, which arts advocates say would decimate grants that fund programs that benefit pupils.

Gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato said nothing in the plan actually reduces existing funds. Instead, he said, this is simply Ducey deciding not to add money to these programs.

Simek, for her part, said she’s not convinced that deciding not to add those dollars – dollars that originally had been proposed as necessary – will not harm children.

More to the point, Simek said none of this was disclosed to her when she was asked to support Ducey’s plan.

Tim Ogle: Working on Arizona’s backbone

Timothy Ogle
Timothy Ogle

When Tim Ogle retires from his post as executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association later this year, he’ll mark the end of an eight-year term that included a high-profile school funding lawsuit and the growing prominence of public education in political discussions.

The association is looking for his successor, who will take the helm as the group handles an ongoing capital funding lawsuit and continues to fight to prove the importance of public schools.

What’s the next step for you?

Yet to be determined, but obviously I love the profession. I want to continue to be helpful, but it’s time for me to go climb a different mountain. I’ve been here eight years. It’s been a wonderful run. This is a tremendous organization, and I’m very proud of the accomplishments of this team. When we get to January, we’ll figure out the next adventure for Tim.

How is the world of school boards different now than it was when you started eight years ago? 

Obviously boards are elected officials, and as much as we try to stay out of politics and remain apolitical because ultimately we’re all about member enhancement, as much as we try to maintain that core principle, we sometimes get distracted from staying true to our center. That’s a challenge for the association. It’s a big, complicated state, and we are so proud that we represent every school district. There’s a big difference between what happens in Mohave County and what happens in Maricopa County and their needs. As an association, we really work on staying true to our core.

Do you think the approach to education at the Capitol has changed much during your years at the association? Does it seem like you’re being heard more?

I think we are. I do think that ASBA has been able to really amp up its footprint in the last eight years. We’re really proud of that. We’ve done that in a variety of ways. One would be the ability for us to use data and communications to tell the story of our members and tell the story of our profession. We think that’s been really helpful to build consensus. We also have developed wonderful partnerships with AASBO (Arizona Association of School Business Officials) and ASA (Arizona School Administrators) to kind of unify the mission of public schools. We’re really proud of that also. Perhaps our progress is in measured steps, but we really believe that we are changing the culture, and that ultimately is the success we’re after: changing the culture of support for children and building a backbone for a better Arizona. That’s why we’re doing this. We just fundamentally believe that public schools are the cornerstone of democracy and a free society and the absolute best delivery of education for children is at the intersection of strong leadership and local governance. If we remain true to that, I don’t think that any political force can deny that that’s the sweet spot to help Arizona get better.

Your tenure started as ASBA was the plaintiff in a major lawsuit. Was the resolution to that in Proposition 123 everything it could have been?

There were a couple of really marks in time during my tenure, of course. One was we were the lead plaintiff in the inflation lawsuit, and we were able to come up with a resolution that became Proposition 123. We worked with the Governor’s Office to get that over the finish line and really secured inflation protection for our members in perpetuity. That’s obviously a major accomplishment in the past few years. Now, we’re at the precipice of the capital litigation for which we’re also a plaintiff, and we’re really looking forward to that starting to matriculate through the court system in 2020. Clearly the facts of the case are in favor of the plaintiffs, and as we approach the 2020 legislative session obviously state policymakers are going to have to deal with us because we’re headed probably for the court system in ‘20.

Can you tell me a little more about that litigation?

A group of plaintiffs joined forces to file a legal challenge that the state of Arizona has not honored the Supreme Court commitments made in Roosevelt v Bishop to provide equitable facilities and capital opportunities for all schools and all children. As you see the big state, you recognize the disparities in opportunity in capital funding. This is truly gross, and so we have filed litigation to help resolve that. It’s a very unfair system, and the School Facilities Board has been underfunded since ‘09 and unable to resolve their own challenges because of a lack of support from state policymakers.

During the past couple years, it seems like education has moved more to the forefront at the Capitol. We saw the Red for Ed movement and the 20 by 2020 plan. What was ASBA’s involvement in all of that?

Well, obviously Red for Ed was just a gigantic positive turn of events for schools, and it got the attention of virtually every citizen in our state. You couldn’t not know about it, and we needed that. Our members are districts and districts are employers. So we love our teachers and we support their work at our very soul, but ultimately they’re our employees. We weren’t in the forefront of Red for Ed but we were participating on the sidelines.

What are some of the areas where the state still has to improve when it comes to public education?

We need to continue to work on changing the culture so that there is a common recognition that K-12 public schools are the quickest most efficient path to economic development and building a bigger, broader backbone for our great state. It’s an investment in infrastructure, in human capital. It is not an expense. And dollars spent on children pay huge dividends for future generations. When we can get the common belief out there, I think that’s the point at which you’ll say, “Wow. We’re changing. We’re moving on.”

Why a lawsuit is necessary for equitable, sustainable capital funding

opinion-WEB

It’s good to see the dramatic support for the belief that great public schools need to be part of Arizona’s recipe for success. And we are making progress toward having the best public schools in every community. The state is now keeping pace with inflation funding and more money is being committed to meet student enrollment growth, as well as making permanent and inflation-protecting the 1.06 percent increase in teacher pay.

Timothy Ogle
Timothy Ogle

In addition, a plan to restore some of the long-standing capital formula cuts is now being openly discussed.

At the Arizona School Boards Association, we believe in making the complex seem simple. Our mission is to help children, not politicians, and while we recognize leadership is a tough business, we know that without strong, timely decisions, our state will continue to flounder. Working together toward the common goals of Arizona is the only path to success.

While the political “noise” surrounding the opening of the legislative session swirls, work with policymakers to turn around on the education classroom crisis will continue. Arizona schools currently have 5,371 classrooms without a qualified teacher teaching our children each day. People vote with their feet, and we know teachers are leaving this state by the day, electing to “walk” to neighboring states to continue their work. We currently pay our professional teaching staff less on average than 49 other states. If this does not define a crisis, nothing will, as we are choosing to shortchange a generation of
children.

Seven plaintiff partners have joined ASBA in filing a lawsuit challenging the state’s past decisions regarding compliance with the ruling of the Arizona Supreme Court in Roosevelt v. Bishop that the state must provide a “general and uniform” method of providing for the building and upkeep of school facilities.

One would think a Supreme Court decision would inspire policymakers to want to correct poor historic decisions. However, this is not the case. While some might see the case as a “bargaining chip” or a lobbying strategy, the truth is the key issue in the case is quite simple. Honor the court’s directives from 1994. The capital lawsuit seeks a system that addresses school district needs in a way that is equitable, sustainable and consistent with what the Arizona Constitution explicitly requires.

The pending Proposition 301 renewal and expansion is needed immediately. School districts require predictability if they are to offer teachers additional pay. Delaying Prop. 301 action for another legislative session will only add to the elements of our crisis. To avoid drama with the development of school district budgets, which are developed 20-24 months ahead of adoption by school boards, we must have a reliable commitment for renewal and improvement of this critical voter mandate. Without it, prudent financial management will force district officials to reduce programs and people prior to 2020 to prepare for the potential loss of $640 million generated by Prop. 301 at its current rate.

Adding insult to injury, the additional State Land Trust support offered under Proposition 123 will expire in 2025, requiring the state to replace over $200 million in support of the temporary increase in trust distributions provided. And on the horizon is the November vote to repeal of the largely unpopular school voucher expansion for religious and private schools passed last year with the support of out-of-state dark money.

The Arizona School Boards Association stands ready and willing to work with every policymaker who wants to put more and adequate resources into our public schools, and to help resolve these looming funding crises. This includes Gov. Doug Ducey and his current education funding proposal. However, we would be doing our membership, consisting of every school district in Arizona, a great disservice if we do not also continue the pursuit of a permanent, equitable funding system for our state’s most valuable asset – its public schools.

Timothy Ogle is executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association

___________________________________________________________

The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.