2-time US Senate candidate Ward seeks top Arizona GOP post

In this Aug. 30, 2016, file photo, Kelli Ward concedes to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in their contest. Ward, who is running to unseat Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said July 17, 2017, she has met with White House officials about the campaign. (David Kadlubowski/The Arizona Republic via AP)
Kelli Ward  (David Kadlubowski/The Arizona Republic via AP)

Two-time U.S. Senate candidate Kelli Ward said Monday she’ll seek the top post in the Arizona Republican Party and likely forego any effort to seek the late Sen. John McCain’s seat in 2020.

Ward said she believes her two Senate runs and background in the state Senate make her a solid candidate to shore up the party as Arizona becomes a battleground state.

“I think that it’s time for a new strategy, it’s time for a new leader, it’s time for the old guard to be moved out and people who embrace the entire party to move in,” Ward said.

Ward would likely face current chairman Jonathan Lines in a scheduled Jan. 26 election by party committee members. Party spokesman Robert Maxwell said Lines is expected to seek a second term, but had no further comment Monday on Ward’s announcement.

The state party has been fractured for years between moderates who embrace business-friendly strategies and avoid hot-button social issues and a more conservative wing that has embraced the tea party and President Donald Trump’s initiatives. McCain, who died last summer, was a frequent target of those conservative party activists, and Ward challenged him in the 2016 primary but lost by 11 percentage points. She ran again for Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat this year, but lost in a three-way primary won by Rep. Martha McSally.

Democrat Kyrsten Sinema beat McSally in the general election.

Despite her campaign losses, Ward said those two statewide efforts have given her insight into what Republican voters want and an understanding of the issues that others don’t have.

The physician from Lake Havasu City said she’ll focus on changing GOP messaging on education and health care that she says has been poorly managed. She said she supports school choice, and public school teachers, but that GOP message hasn’t resonated. The same is true with health care.

“I think that as the GOP chairperson I can help us at the state level, at the local level and at the national level to make sure that our messaging and our strategy are appropriate so that we take the state from the purple that’s it’s become under the last two GOP leaders and become strongly right once again,” she said.

20% teacher pay raise made to be permanent


With Arizona’s 2018-2019 state budget now signed by the governor, I wanted to clearly explain how the 20-percent teacher pay raise was determined, how it will be provided to schools, who will be receiving raises and how much should educators expect – as there has been a great deal of misinformation about how this actually works.

Sen. Steve Smith (R-Maricopa)
Sen. Steve Smith (R-Maricopa)

The questions that are often asked are, “What is the definition of a teacher?” and “Who will be receiving these raises?”

The Legislature does not define who a teacher is. Each local school district governing board makes that determination. We simply used what each district reports to the Arizona Department of Education for “Year-End Teacher Full-Time Equivalents (FTE)” to help us determine how much money would be needed to generate a 20-percent raise by 2020. How we provided the funding maintains Arizona’s long-standing emphasis on local control by allowing local districts flexibility in determining who will receive raises.

So how does the 20-percent pay raise work?

Arizona’s auditor general recently reported the statewide average district teacher salary is $48,372. That is an independent, nonpartisan number, and while some district teachers earn more and others less, that is the true average salary of district teachers in Arizona. To determine the 20-percent by 2020 teacher pay raise, we started by determining the amount needed for a 1-percent teacher pay raise based on the actual reported cost of the 1-percent raise we passed last year. Since we typically experience inflation each year and expect to have more teachers in Arizona classrooms in each of the next three years, a 1-percent raise in 2020 would be a bit higher and cost more than a 1-percent raise this year. To make sure we provided enough funding for this growth, we took the average over the next three fiscal years, added in funding for employment related expenses such as health and dental benefits, and determined the amount necessary for a 1-percent teacher pay increase to be $32.25 million.

Since we promised a 20-percent raise by 2020, we multiplied that 1-percent by 20, resulting in $645 million. The plan spreads the pay increase over three fiscal years (10-percent up front this year, 5-percent in 2019 and 5-percent in 2020), resulting in $305 million this year, $470 million added on top of that the next year, and then up to the total $645 million in 2020. That means over the next three fiscal years, we will cumulatively be providing $1.42 billion in new state funding for teacher salary increases. In other words, this funding provides the amount necessary to bring the statewide average of district teacher salaries up to $58,046 by 2020, or $9,674 above the 2017 level of $48,372 – a 20-percent raise by 2020 just as promised.

Furthermore, since the calculations for the 20-percent raise by 2020 are based on the statewide average, the funding provided for teacher pay raises through the state budget will actually provide the largest percentage increase to those teachers who earn a salary below the statewide average and are in need of a pay raise the most.

Some have falsely claimed this funding package is not a permanent pay raise and the money could be reduced in future years. This is completely untrue. The new money for teacher pay included in the state budget was included in the statutory “Base Level” amount of our state K-12 funding formula. Thanks to Proposition 301, the Base Level amount is inflated each year and cannot be reduced by a future Legislature, but by only a vote from the people. That is why we specifically allocated the new teacher pay raise dollars through this voter protected portion of the formula – to guarantee our teachers that this money is permanent, ongoing and inflated.

So who will be receiving these new dollars? The state Legislature does not attach red tape to our K-12 funding. Local school districts determine how general K-12 formula dollars are spent. The same goes for the new $1.42 billion that districts will receive over the next three years for teacher pay raises. Schools will receive their portion of the new funding based on their weighted student count, and each local district will be responsible for determining how to allocate the pay raises to teachers.

So, if a teacher does not receive their portion of the money appropriated for teacher pay raises this year, that would be due to a decision by their local district board, not the state Legislature. To make sure districts are held accountable, we included strong intent language directing the $1.42 billion to be used for teacher pay increases, and required schools to post their average teacher salaries, and the amount of year-over-year increases on their websites. Therefore, be sure your voices are heard in your local districts to ensure teachers receive the pay increases they deserve.

Finally, some will contend that while the 20-percent raise is great for teachers, schools have other needs like building repairs, upgraded school buses, raises for non-teacher employees, etc. We agree. So in addition to all new funding for teacher pay raises, we also allocated $503.4 million cumulatively by 2020 ($100 million this year, $167.8 million in 2019 and $235.6 million in 2020) in additional assistance funding that schools may spend to address these needs. That means new monies provided to our schools for teacher pay raises and additional assistance will total over $2 billion by 2020.

That just covers the major new spending provided in this newly passed state budget. Schools will still continue to receive base annual inflation funding, Proposition 123 monies, local bond and override dollars and capital funding provided through the School Facilities Board.

These are the legitimate facts regarding K-12 funding in the budget just passed by the Arizona Legislature, and signed by Governor Ducey. It dedicates 48-percent of the entire state general fund budget to K-12 education, clearly signifying that our students, teachers and schools are the most important asset in the state.

– Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee


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

2018 Legislative forecast: Finding money for public schools

(Photo by Ellen O'Brien/Arizona Capitol Times)
(Photo by Ellen O’Brien/Arizona Capitol Times)

Gov. Doug Ducey kicks off the legislative session Monday with a call for more education funding — but not with the tax hikes that some say are necessary to provide truly adequate funding for schools.

In an interview with Capitol Media Services, the governor said the state has made a “significant investment” in K-12 education, saying aid to schools is $700 million higher now than it was three years ago.

“More is needed,” he said, saying the details of his budget will have to wait.

But the governor rejected suggestions and proposals by several different education and business groups that the quickest — and easiest — way to raise the revenues needed is to boost state sales taxes, curb tax credits or close what some describe as “loopholes” in the tax code.

Gov. Doug Ducey
Gov. Doug Ducey

“I’m not raising taxes,” he said.

Instead, Ducey insists that he can find the money elsewhere in the budget.

“Our economy is growing,” he said. “Our state government is being operated more effectively and efficiently.”

But the kind of money Ducey can find through such savings is unlikely to satisfy those who cite not only Arizona’s reputation of being at or near the bottom of per-student funding but the problems in both attracting and retaining teachers. And that starts with 2,000 classrooms not having qualified teachers at the helm, instead being run by substitutes or students being forced into overcrowded classrooms.

Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs was more succinct in her criticism of the governor’s contention that the state can adequately meet education needs with savings elsewhere.

“We’ve got all the change from the couch cushions that there is,” she said.

It’s not just Democrats and educators who are critical of Ducey’s position that the state can fund education without additional revenues. He also is increasingly at odds with those who otherwise might be considered allies.

It starts with the debate of the future of the 0.6-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2000 specifically to fund education. Without action, it will self-destruct in 2021, along with the approximately $600 million it raises.

The governor said he supports simply asking voters to extend it, insisting it could be reformed in a way to generate more dollars. He also doesn’t want any action this year, a move that House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios called “incredibly irresponsible.”

Beyond that, others say education needs more than that 0.6-cent tax raises.

In this Nov. 16, 2017, photo, Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas addresses about 50 school district and charter school representatives at her department's annual MEGA Conference on programs and services for low-income students. In October, the Arizona Department of Education revealed it had misallocated millions in Title I funding, federal dollars for the state's most economically disadvantaged kids. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas  (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Diane Douglas, the state superintendent of public instruction, favors boosting the levy to a full penny, figuring to use three-fourths of that to boost teacher salaries by about 10 percent.

Jim Swanson, CEO of construction firm Kitchell Corp., thinks even more than that is needed, suggesting a doubling of the 0.6 cent levy.

And others, including Phil Francis, the former CEO of PetSmart, said it probably will take a 1.6-cent tax to produce the revenues needed.

Even the more fiscally conservative members of the business community are saying something more is needed to generate more dollars.

“Tax revenues are not matching the health of the economy, not just in Arizona but across the country,” said Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, blaming much of that to the increase in online purchases whose tax revenues are not captured. Hamer said he wants to look at reform, opening the door to expanding the list of items and services that are taxed, though he has no specific revenue number in mind.

And Kevn McCarthy, executive director of the business-oriented Arizona Tax Research Association, said he could support a tax increase. But he said that is contingent on cleaning up other disparities in education funding, like some school districts getting more money per student because of things like desegregation expenses.

desk-books-school-620All that puts Ducey in the position of being a holdout amid increased public focus on the state’s public education system and concern that children are being shortchanged because of the state’s failure to put more dollars into K-12 education.

There is no dispute over the numbers. Even Ducey press aide Daniel Scarpinato concedes that current per-student funding, after adjusting for inflation, is still not back to where it was before the recession.

There’s also the separate fact that Ducey, who convinced voters in 2016 to tap a special trust fund to end a lawsuit against the state, insisted that the cash that generates would be just the first step toward improving education funding.

But questions remain about what has been produced so far, with teacher salaries up just 1 percent this year.

Ducey promised another 1 percent for the coming school year. But that still leaves salaries far short of what they are in virtually every other state.

The question of how short depends on who you ask — and what ruler they use.

For example, the Morrison Institute says that elementary school teacher pay is the lowest in the nation, even when adjusted for statewide cost of living; high school pay is not far behind at 49.

By contrast, the Arizona Tax Research Association, which represents major taxpayers, has its own way of looking at it.

“While we do stipulate and recognize Arizona’s teach pay ranking has dropped in the last 20 years, we do not agree with the assertion that Arizona is last by any measure,” said Sean McCarthy, the organization’s senior research analyst.

So where does it believe Arizona falls? No. 28 adjusted for per-capita income.

Ducey said those numbers, even if correct, are not where Arizona should be.

“I believe we need to come up on teacher salaries,” he said.

“It’s very hard work to teach a kid, especially a kid that’s not learning,” the governor continued. “They’re putting the work in. They’re getting the results. And I want to see the dollars flow to them.”

But the governor sidestepped questions of where he believes teacher salaries in Arizona should be in comparison to the rest of the country, saying his focus is on the trendline.

“What I look at is how are we doing this year versus previous year and are we making improvements year over year,” he said.

There’s another big education decision facing Ducey and lawmakers: whether to block voters from getting the last word on the expansion of the program that provides vouchers to parents to send their children to private and parochial schools.

Foes gathered more than 100,000 signatures following last year’s vote, holding up up enactment until November when those who go to the polls would get to decide whether to ratify or reject what the Legislature approved. Supporters have responded by asking the courts to void the referendum, citing what they said are various irregularities.

If those legal efforts falter, the only way to quash a vote on what would be Proposition 305 would be for lawmakers to alter last year’s legislation.

That presents a political question for lawmakers.

If it remains on the ballot, that could bring out foes of expansion. And once they’re voting “no” on more vouchers, they could just as easily spread their displeasure with those who enacted it in the first place, including Ducey.

A legal challenge to that petition drive has yet to get a final ruling.

Other education-related issues likely to provoke debate include:

– Extending funding for special career and education programs now in high schools to ninth grade;

– Requiring all high schoolers to take a college-entrance examination;

– Revamping and reenacting a law voided by a federal judge aimed at “ethnic studies” programs that prohibit things like teaching ethnic solidarity;

– Capping the year-over-year increases in what corporations can divert from state income taxes to groups that give scholarships to help students attend private and parochial schools;

– Requiring parents to be notified when their student athletes suffer a concussion.

2024 spending spread from schools to a rodeo and more

A cowboy competes in the saddle bronc competition during the Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo, Wednesday, July 3, 2013, in Prescott. The rodeo is earmarked to receive $15 million from the fiscal year 2024 state budget. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

The budget crafted by Gov. Katie Hobbs and state lawmakers includes a tax rebate, big-ticket spending packages and – in a break from tradition – funding for scores of small, local projects.

The budget deal moved through the Legislature this week as a 16-bill package and will supply state funding for fiscal year 2024, which begins on July 1, 2023.

The $17.8 billion budget is balanced, meaning estimated revenues match planned spending under the plan, according to a Joint Legislative Budget Committee analysis published on May 10. But the deal includes plans to spend the state’s more than $2 billion budget surplus now rather than preserving the surplus going forward. It does not, however, touch the rainy-day fund.

The full budget comprises 16 different bills that, combined, run more than 200 pages. Below are some highlights of the deal.


In her State of the State Address earlier this year, Hobbs indicated that education was her top priority for this session, specifically saying she wanted to increase funding for public schools and to pay teachers more, so that more educators keep working in Arizona classrooms. The final budget includes substantial new funding for public education, but it also allows the state’s universal school voucher program to continue growing unabated – something that has angered Democrats and that Hobbs herself described as a compromise.

The K-12 education budget maintains a 0.9% increase in the base level funding and includes a one-time $300 million injection into the state aid formula by way of the Arizona Department of Education.

Districts also saw a $20 million increase in additional assistance, and $183 million was put toward school building renovation. Individual schools and districts can apply for a slice of that $183 million through the School Facilities Board. Other K-12 spending includes $15 million to dual enrollment programs, $10 million to increase administrative funding and $3 million for professional development for teachers and other personnel.

In higher education, there is a $20 million earmark for the Promise Scholarship program and $15 million for the Arizona Teachers Academy. There isn’t money to expand the Promise program to undocumented students – something Hobbs asked for in her executive budget proposal.

Both chambers passed resolutions to waive the aggregate expenditure limit for the next fiscal year, allowing schools to spend the new monies put toward the education budget this session.

And though Democrats did not get the cap on enrollment in the Empowerment Scholarship Account program that they wanted, the budget includes some additional reporting requirements for the program and House leadership agreed to convene an oversight committee to issue a report on administration of the program.

Senate Minority Leader Mitzi Epstein said of the study committee, “It will have to do … This, in combination with accountability measures, might lead to a better solution in the coming months.”

The city of Phoenix begins cleanup in ‘The Zone’, a downtown Phoenix homeless encampment in Phoenix. A judge ordered the city to clean up the city’s largest homeless encampment, citing it being a ‘public nuisance.” The state’s fiscal year 2024 budget puts $40 million to shelters and services and $150 million toward the Housing Trust Fund. PHOTO BY ALEXANDRA BUXBAUM/SIPA USA


Housing and homelessness also saw significant investments. The budget puts $40 million to shelters and services and $150 million toward the Housing Trust Fund.
The Housing Trust Fund, administered by the Department of Housing, invests in programs like a tax homeless credit for affordable housing developers, assists in improving access to federal housing funds and supplements state housing assistance programs like homeless shelters and eviction prevention.

The Mobile Home Relocation Fund also saw a $5 million deposit. Payouts available through the fund were increased when Hobbs signed a bill sponsored by Rep. Matt Gress, R-Phoenix, earlier this year.

Putting further funding toward housing comes as a court ordered the city of Phoenix to clear out “the Zone,” the state’s largest homeless encampment located just a few blocks from the Capitol. The city started clearing the area on May 10 and has made it clear in legal filings that they lack shelter space to accommodate every person pushed out of the area.

The Arizona Housing Coalition said the budget would deliver a “historic” investment to deal with housing and homelessness issues. The coalition is one of the state’s leading organizations working on housing and the current Department of Housing director, Joan Serviss, is a former director of the nonprofit organization.

Although they’re pouring money into the Housing Trust Fund, lawmakers haven’t been able to reach a compromise on other legislation seeking to address housing. A major bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, stalled earlier this year after facing opposition from cities and towns.


The major tax package in the proposal is a tax rebate that will send money back to some parents of dependent children. The rebate will be calculated based on dependents: taxpayers can get $250 back for each child under 17 and $100 for dependents 17 and up. Rebates can only be issued for up to three dependents per taxpayer – meaning the maximum rebate per taxpayer will be $750 – and the rebate will be calculated based on tax year 2021 returns.

There’s one other detail: rebates can only be issued to taxpayers with at least $1 of tax liability in 2021, 2020 or 2019. In other words, the lowest-income Arizonans, who have no tax liability at all, won’t get money under the program.

JLBC calculated that the one-time rebate will cost $259.8 million.

The plan looks similar to a child tax rebate proposal that Hobbs floated at the beginning of the year. But Hobbs’ proposal was different in key respects: the governor’s plan was to distribute $100 per child to low-income parents. That means Hobbs’ plan likely would have given money to low-earning parents who won’t qualify for benefits under the enacted budget, but it would have cut out higher earners who will be able to get a rebate under the enacted deal.

Ultimately, the tax rebate that made it into the budget was pushed by Republicans – something that GOP lawmakers were keen on clarifying.

“I’m proud of the fact that we have a number – quite a bit – of conservative Republicans who put money into this fund so that we could get a tax rebate to help Arizona families,” said Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek.

Republicans also passed an amendment to prohibit the Governor’s Officer from sending letters about the tax rebate.


It’s not uncommon for lawmakers to insert some smaller projects among the big-ticket items in the state budget. Adding a modest project to help out a particular lawmaker’s district can be a way to secure a vote from a legislator who is uncertain about supporting a bill.

But this year’s budget process went further than throwing a few pet projects into the final deal: Republican lawmakers divided up surplus cash and offered a “share” to individual legislators to fund their own projects, or to combine their shares to pay for larger projects.

Republicans in the House were allocated $20 million and, in the Senate, $30 million. Democrats as a whole were allocated approximately $700 million, but the caucus’ leadership opted not to divide that up among individual members. One of the Democrats’ spending items was the $300 million transfer to the Department of Education.
The result is that the fiscal year 2024 budget is chock-full of small-dollar, hyperlocal spending projects.

Without a full accounting from lawmakers, it’s hard to determine how many projects were requested as part of individual slice-of-the-pie budgeting process – and who asked for what. But it’s clear that dozens of projects made it into the final package through individual requests.

The JLBC analysis shows more than 20 “local distribution” projects that will be paid out by the treasurer, like $15 million for the Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo and $850,000 for a transportation study in Sun City. And there are almost 100 items listed under capital spending, many of which look like targeted, local projects.

A large number of capital projects fall under ADOT, indicating that they’ll fund various kinds of road work. There’s $1.5 million for a roundabout in Payson; $8.6 million for an Interstate 19 interchange near Nogales; $10.5 million to repave part of US 60 from Morristown to Wickenburg; $250,000 for a construction study for Cave Creek Road.

Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, told KJZZ that he used half of his share of the money for a deep well for the city of Peoria, and the other half as a contribution to a joint project for road work on State Route 30.

Livingston said the individual allocations “played a big role” in getting the budget done and argued that it’s an efficient way of divvying up state money.


More than $51 million is slated to go toward prison health care and an additional $100 million will cover prison building repair and capital projects as the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry faces a decades long lawsuit.

In April, a federal judge ordered the department to make sweeping improvements to state prison conditions and health care system, citing an “unconstitutional substantial risk of serious harm.”

Judge Roslyn Silver said the department had three months to make major improvements across record keeping, staffing and inmate mental and physical health care. Silver also required prisons to be free of garbage, mold, mildew, filth, vermin, insects and rust.

“As a matter of common decency, an Order should not be required to prompt Defendants to repair leaking pipes, repair inoperative toilets, or collect trash,” Silver wrote.

The budget also puts $2 million toward a grant to provide transitional housing and services for formerly incarcerated people.

And in juvenile corrections, the budget provides a $250,000 backfill for courts to cover juvenile monetary sanctions. A bill to repeal juvenile monetary sanctions is making headway in the Legislature, but the only opposition comes from the courts which feared the pitfall it would create in the budget.

A U.S. Border Patrol agent instructs a group of undocumented immigrants where to line up near a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint Thursday, May 11, 2023, in Yuma. Although the governor and lawmakers haven’t highlighted border-related spending in the fiscal year 2024 budget the package does make some significant modifications to funds that have already been designated for border projects. PHOTO BY RANDY HOEFT/YUMA SUN VIA AP


The governor and lawmakers haven’t highlighted border-related spending in this year’s budget, but the package does make some significant modifications to funds that have already been designated for border projects.

The $335 million that was earmarked last year for border projects will no longer be restricted to being used for physical barriers. Former Gov. Doug Ducey already spent more than half of the cash on a short-lived container barrier that was torn down late last year following legal action from the federal government. Cost estimates for building and disassembling the container wall are generally in the realm of $200 million, meaning there’s still a significant sum of money left over.

The budget also effectively renames Ducey’s Border Strike Task Force the Local Border Support fund. Hobbs has said she would eliminate the controversial strike force, but the JLBC budget analysis indicates the change basically amounts to renaming the project, which is funded through the Department of Public Safety and gets about $12 million per year. The budget includes minor changes to funding rules for the Local Border Support fund.


On top of the small-scale infrastructure projects chosen by individual lawmakers, the budget includes significant carve-outs for major highway projects. There’s $89 million to widen the I-10 from Phoenix to Casa Grande and $76 million to expand 1-17 from Anthem to Sunset Point. The interstate funding in this year’s budget comes after the state applied last year for federal money to support the I-10 widening project, but had the proposal rejected. The entire project is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, meaning this year’s appropriation won’t be enough to complete the work.

Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, said on Twitter that he had pushed for the for I-10 funding and that the state will need about $120 million in matching funding from the federal government to finish the project.


A long road to student recovery amid pandemic 

Oliver Estrada, 5, receives the first dose of the Pfizer Covid vaccine at an Adelante Healthcare community vaccine clinic at Joseph Zito Elementary School, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Phoenix. The pandemic has had a significant impact on students’ learning. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

With students now back in school, it’s time for Arizona to focus on the educational challenges the Covid pandemic created for educators, students and families.

While the full impact of the pandemic on student learning is still being determined, we do know that the impact has been significant, affecting nearly every student and school in the state.

When the pandemic struck, educators faced an unprecedented challenge to transition overnight to remote learning. As hard as educators worked, several factors — such as limited technology and student and teacher anxiety — restricted student learning. Ultimately, the educational needs of parents and students were not met.

Paul Luna

The return to classroom learning was a step in the right direction. Now that students are deeply engaged in classroom learning, it is clear that lost in-person instruction time will take several years to recuperate.

Arizona needs a comprehensive response that addresses the specific learning needs of students. The task is too large for educators to solve the problems on their own. They will need the support and help of business leaders, philanthropists and volunteers across the state.

From what we’ve learned so far, much of which is explained in “Increased Disruption, Decreased Progress,” which Helios Education Foundation produced in collaboration with Arizona Department of Education and Arizona State Board of Education, here are the key issues to address:

  1. Mathematics: At every grade level, mathematics scores have declined faster than in English Language Arts.
  1. Early Literacy: English Language Arts scores fell the most in the elementary school grades. If children aren’t proficient readers by third grade, they are unlikely to succeed in the upper grades.
  1. English Learners: During the pandemic, the existing achievement gap between English Learners and their English-proficient peers widened. Just as worrisome, enrollment of the English Learner population fell by 10% over two years. These vulnerable students will never be able to catch up if they don’t return to school.
  1. Vulnerable Students: Other students who were already behind before the pandemic — those who are low-income, Latino, Black, or Native American — now have additional gaps to overcome to catch up to grade-level learning.

These lingering effects on student learning have severe consequences for our students and our state, and we all need to focus on helping to address them.

Arizona will need to sustain a multi-year recovery effort structured around intentional strategies to address incomplete learning, accelerate student progress and provide targeted support to students and educators. It is essential that entities throughout the state prioritize sustained, collaborative studies of the pandemic’s impact on student learning and outcomes. We need to understand how students have struggled over the past two years and use proven methods to help them catch up.

Those solutions include intensive tutoring, additional instructional time in math and early literacy, as well as extensive outreach and support for vulnerable populations, which fell further behind during the pandemic.

The task is enormous. But there is some good news – researchers are starting to detect a rebound in student achievement during the 2021-22 school year. But Arizona cannot rest on those laurels. Students lost too much and fell too far behind during the pandemic.

This work is essential — and we all must participate. We can’t afford to lose a generation of Arizona learners.

Paul Luna is president and CEO of Helios Education Foundation.




A rundown of issues likely to rise in 2018 legislative session

While public education is expected to be the top issue when lawmakers return on Monday, a few other subjects are likely to command some attention.

Despite gains under Obamacare, roughly 800, 000 Arizonans do not have health care coverage. Insurance companies are tweaking policies in an effort to get those people to enroll.

Health care:

Look for the governor to propose statutory limits on the amount of opioids doctors can prescribe.

Gov. Doug Ducey, facing what he last year declared to be a health care emergency, already has laid the groundwork for what he wants. He ordered the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s Medicaid program, to limit the number of days of opioids someone could receive. That’s based on conclusions by state Health Director Cara Christ that prescriptions for more than five days lead to a sharply higher risk of addiction.

That same order also limits dosages.

Look for Ducey to propose similar — if not stricter — limits on what all other doctors in Arizona can prescribe.

Less clear is whether the medical community will go along with putting those into state statute.

In general, doctors do not like lawmakers telling them how to practice medicine. But a spokeswoman for the Arizona Medical Association said members of her group are working with Christ to come up with something accessible.

And there may be something else.

Several states have gone on the offensive, filing lawsuits against opioid manufacturers for improperly promoting their drugs.

In Arizona, that has taken the form of only a single lawsuit filed against Chandler-based Insys Therapeutics by Attorney General Mark Brnovich. But Ducey suggested that a more aggressive approach may be necessary.

“I think all bad actors need to be held accountable in this solution,” he told Capitol Media Services. “All should be looked at.”

Also on the health front, Arizona and other states are waiting for Congress to finally reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program. It provides nearly free care to children in families whose parents earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but still have trouble with commercial health insurance premiums.

Funding ran out Oct. 1. But some interim federal legislation and leftover state dollars are likely to keep the program operating here through at least March.

If Congress fails to act, it will be up to Ducey and lawmakers to find the cash — about $9.3 million a month — or tell the more than 24,000 children that their coverage will end.

ASU sign Arizona State University 620Higher education:

Four years ago, Ducey got elected governor at least in part based on claims that tuition at the state’s three universities was too high. The blame was put at the feet of Fred DuVal, his Democrat foe, who headed the Board of Regents.

Now it is Brnovich who is asking a judge to determine that current tuition runs afoul of a state constitutional provision that instruction be “as nearly free as possible.” And that, in turn, has Ducey defending the schools as “accessible and affordable” and swatting Brnovich for making a legal case out of it.

But the more immediate problem for the schools could come from Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, who previously has criticized the regents and their policies.

Legislation last year to rein in the board went nowhere. But this year Finchem is armed with a formal opinion by Brnovich saying that it is entirely within the purview of the Legislature to determine the role of the board in governing the schools.

The Colorado River is a major source of water for Arizona. The management of its supply involves numerous stakeholders and agencies.
The Colorado River is a major source of water for Arizona. The management of its supply involves numerous stakeholders and agencies. (Photo courtesy of Central Arizona Project)


State lawmakers are going to revisit the old adage that in Arizona whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting.

It’s been nearly three decades since the last comprehensive overhaul of state water laws, complete with details on who gets to use it and how — including separate rules for surface and groundwater — and where it can be sold or transferred. Those laws also can affect growth as developers in some areas of the state must show a 100-year assured water supply.

The issue has taken on new urgency with the ongoing drought.

Agreements governing who gets water from the Colorado River are based on years of higher flow. Now with Lake Mead reaching perilously low levels, Arizona needs to figure out how to deal with the issue as it has the lowest priority claim to water in the lake, meaning it will be the first to have its allocation cut.

There’s a separate turf fight brewing between the Department of Water Resources, which is under Ducey’s control, and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District which has its own elected governing board.

abortion-gavel-620Social issues:

While abortion has been legal in this country since 1973 that has not stopped foes from seeking to find ways to curb the practice.

In past sessions that has included various restrictions on how and where pregnancies can be terminated, and by whom. There also have been attacks on indirect funding — state and federal law cannot be used for elective abortions — by going after family planning dollars given to Planned Parenthood.

One potential target this year is moving up the date beyond which abortions cannot generally be performed to the 20th week of pregnancy. That is earlier than current laws which require doctors to try to save the lives of fetuses considered “viable,” generally not until at least 22 weeks.

There also will be some debate about how young someone can be to legally marry.

While would-be couples can get hitched on their own at 18, there is no minimum age for those who can obtain parental permission or, in some cases, also get the consent of a judge.

Legislators also are likely to take a look at marijuana from both sides of the debate.

On one hand, there will be legislation to legalize the drug for recreational use. But there also are bills to actually put some curbs into the 2010 voter-approved law allowing people with certain medical conditions to use the drug.

Also look for a renewed effort to keep minors from using indoor tanning booths

police-cop-620Law and order:

It wouldn’t be an Arizona legislative session if there were not a debate about firearms.

On one side of the equation is the new public awareness of “bump stocks,” add-ons to semiautomatic weapons that use the inertial energy of a fired round to rapidly reload the chamber and fire off another. It was just such a device that led to the massacre of concert goers earlier this year in Las Vegas.

But for the moment, such proposals have only Democrat support in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

On the other side, look for various measures designed to help further shield Arizona gun owners from any new federal regulations.

The thornier debate could be about whether Arizona needs to reconsider its mandatory sentencing laws that have put more than 40,000 people behind bars.

That has taken on urgency with the more than $1 billion budget for the Department of Corrections. But so far the potential of being criticized by prosecutors as “soft on crime” has left lawmakers only nibbling around the edges, like for programs designed to help keep those who have been released from reoffending.


Arizona’s road funds continue to come up short as the number of vehicles on the road increases but the gasoline taxes for construction and repair fail to keep pace.

Part of that is the gasoline tax is set by statute at 18 cents a gallon, a figure it has been at for nearly two decades even as inflation has eaten away at the buying power. But there’s also the fact that vehicles are becoming more fuel efficient, meaning people are driving more on fewer gallons.

And then there’s the increasing sale of all-electric vehicles which not only pay no gasoline taxes but get a discounted vehicle registration fee.

Efforts to boost revenues through higher state gasoline taxes have proven political nonstarters. But there are parallel efforts to give counties greater flexibility in raising funds locally.

handshakeBusiness issues:

Ducey has made deregulation a cornerstone of his administration, swatting down efforts by state agencies to curb ridesharing and even hair cutting by volunteers.

One new issue on that agenda is going to be what kind of training — if any — someone needs to style hair. That comes on the heels of increased popularity of ”dry bars,” places where patrons can go for a quick wash and blow dry.

Business interests hope to get a break from one provision of the 2016 voter-approved law hiking the minimum wage.

They can’t get lawmakers to overturn the statute that took the wage from $8.05 an hour that year to $10.50 now and eventually propelling it to $12 by 2020. But they are hoping for more flexibility in requirements for most companies to give workers at least five days off for sick time and certain other personal uses.

Other issues that could provoke some debate include:

– Revamping the existing gaming contacts the state has with Native American tribes, giving them the ability to expand their operations in exchange for more revenue sharing;

– Deciding whether the state should set rules for what happens when students show up for lunch but don’t have the money to pay;

– Bringing Arizona into line with federal law which outlaws laetrile, a chemical made from apricot pits that technically remains legal to possess and use in Arizona and whose use is promoted by some who say it can cure cancer;

– Permitting motorcyclists to ride in between lanes;

– Easing the restrictions local governments can place on home-based businesses.

A tale of two votes: One will walk, the other won’t – yet

Thousands of teachers, students and public education advocates rallied at the Arizona Capitol on March 28, 2018. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Thousands of teachers, students and public education advocates rallied at the Arizona Capitol on March 28, 2018. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Cheryl Foster is ready to walk out of her classroom.

She’s afraid it could mean the end of her 26-year career, and she worries deeply about what that could mean for her students.

But she’ll do it. She’ll do it for them, said Foster, who was among the wave of protesters who carried handcrafted signs during Red for Ed demonstrations at the Capitol in recent weeks.

But for Foster and her fellow teachers who carried the signs, anxiety about their careers and their students, and frustration over the voting process grew as they weighed whether to strike in spite of Gov. Doug Ducey’s plan for a 20 percent raise by the 2020 school year.

The decision on whether to walk out of schools across the state went to a three-day vote organized by Arizona Educators United and the Arizona Education Association that began April 17.

Cheryl Foster has been a teacher for 26 years. Though she fears that leaving her classroom could mean the end of that career, she supports a statewide walk-out for Arizona Educators United's demands. (Photo courtesy of Cheryl Foster)
Cheryl Foster has been a teacher for 26 years. Though she fears that leaving her classroom could mean the end of that career, she supports a statewide walk-out for Arizona Educators United’s demands. (Photo courtesy of Cheryl Foster)

Foster, a fourth grade teacher at Kyrene de la Sierra Elementary School, voted in favor.

She cast her vote after she and 12 other teachers met with the governor on April 17.

She said the meeting felt “impersonal” and “calculated. She said it seemed like a PR stunt rather than a genuine discussion about solutions that weren’t his own and that he “did it for the tweet” he later sent about the meeting.

She said he missed the heart of the movement, missed that their passion lies in the children they serve every day.

“Teachers are not just teachers of science and social studies and math,” she said. “We become caregivers, and we become so connected to our students.”

Ducey’s teacher raise proposal does not include dollars for additional school counselors or pay increases for school support staff or increased per pupil funding, so Foster was not satisfied.

Tiffany Huisman, a ninth grade teacher in the Phoenix Union High School District, was also among the teachers who met with Ducey, but she left feeling a bit more optimistic, and she ended up voting against a walkout.

“I added my own box that said, ‘not right now,’” she said.

She said she thinks the effect on end-of-year activities and graduations would be too great.

Huisman said she would support a walkout at a future time, though, if Ducey and the Legislature prove not to be committed to funding public schools beyond this election cycle.

She felt the governor was genuine and more candid then she expected, even if he did not seem to fully grasp that his plan addressed but a “sliver of the problem.”

Tiffany Huisman, a ninth grade teacher, was left cautiously optimistic about Gov. Doug Ducey’s plan for teacher raises after meeting with him and a dozen other teachers on April 17. She’s not yet sure she’ll stand with her colleagues if they choose to walk out of schools statewide. (Photo courtesy of Tiffany Huisman)
Tiffany Huisman, a ninth grade teacher, was left cautiously optimistic about Gov. Doug Ducey’s plan for teacher raises after meeting with him and a dozen other teachers on April 17. She’s not yet sure she’ll stand with her colleagues if they choose to walk out of schools statewide. (Photo courtesy of Tiffany Huisman)

Huisman said the move to vote felt rushed, and not enough was known about how the decisions to proceed with it or the voting process were made.

“I know we have momentum, but we must be thoughtful in our approach and look toward a longer-term strategy,” she said. “I’m just not sure this is the right approach.”

Huisman took what she called a Red for Ed field trip, meeting not just with Ducey but also with Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, and Rep. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, to learn about the legislative process.

The experience was energizing, she said, and she wished more of her colleagues would take it upon themselves to do the same.

Instead, they were taking a vote on whether to leave their schools without a clear plan: how long would a walk-out last, when would it even begin, what would happen to their students?

“This is stressful. This is my life. This is my livelihood. These are my kids,” Huisman said. “And I will do everything for them to ensure they get the best possible education in Arizona. Right now, they are getting substandard leftovers.”

A word to the candidates

Dear Editor:

The electorate wants to hear ideas on resolving major problems that affect them and their families. We have a pandemic that is not over and many are still sick.  Arizona education is in peril, and our pay scale is one of the lowest in the United States. This summer has been one of the hottest on record, and yes, climate change is real. Thousands of Arizonans have lost their jobs due to Covid-19 and are in dire need of financial assistance.

The upcoming Supreme Court hearing on the Affordable Care Act, and the thought of losing health care coverage, is a frightening reality.  These are the concerns of the people.  Candidates, when you want votes, stick to viable solutions, forget the name calling, and put the people before power and party.  Why not start today by showing voters you have respect, empathy, and ideas to bring the state together. Voters are looking to you for answers, so remember that together we will stand and flourish while the continued divisiveness is beneficial to no one.

Joanie Rose



Aaron Lieberman: Aiming to represent all

Aaron Lieberman

Aaron Lieberman is one of 19 true freshmen coming to the state House of Representatives, and one of four Democrats who overcame incumbent Republicans to claim his seat.

But he said he won because he told the people of Legislative District 28 that party labels weren’t more important than the one they all shared: Arizonan.

Lieberman once left Arizona to attend Yale University and kick-start his career, but now he’s back with his wife and two young sons, while his daughter follows in his footsteps at Yale. And he’s determined to represent all of his constituents, including Gov. Doug Ducey himself, who Lieberman described as a neighbor.

“I saw him at the polling place during the primary, and I told him, “I hope to represent you well,’” he said. “And I mean it. It’s 31-29 [in the House], but that’s 60 people who care about Arizona.”

Cap Times Q&AYou were one of five kids, and you went to Yale, which is no small expense. What was your life like growing up?

Growing up, I went to Madison Heights… and some great private schools here, too, Phoenix Country Day and Brophy. And particularly at Brophy, I really got interested in this idea of service to others. In the Jewish tradition, it’s called “tikkun olam,” like trying to repair the world. Sounds very lofty, but the basic idea is that you’re here to try to make the world a better place. I just kind of stumbled into a career building and growing organizations focused on helping low-income kids and particularly low-income preschoolers.

And you created a not-for-profit called Jumpstart while you were still in school?

I was a senior in college. I started it out of my college dorm room. … It was very tiny at the time. A lot of life is luck and timing, and I’m really blessed to have a lot of good timing. But my whole career, frankly including this run for the state House, has not been a part of any grand plan. … I’ve just been open to opportunities as they were presented.

I’m sure you’ve told that story a million times, so it comes out very casually. Tell me about that process in the dorm room.

I had worked at a camp in upstate New York that worked directly with low-income preschoolers in a residential setting. … Two-thirds of them had been physically or sexually abused. A lot of them were in foster care already at 3 or 4. But I had many parents or guardians at the end of the three weeks say, “This looks like a different little boy. Like this doesn’t look like the same kid that we put on the bus three weeks ago.” The power of that intervention was very, very obvious but also its limitations. … A group of us who worked at that camp had this idea of making it happen right in the communities we serve. … Like any new entrepreneur, we refused to take no for an answer and started working until something happened.

How do you think your experience at that camp affected you?

It’s had a huge impact on me. I was a pretty typical middle-class kid, and my parents had a strong set of values and said everybody has an equal opportunity. And then, I got out in the world dealing with low-income kids who had anything but an equal opportunity. I think it was that dissonance between what I wanted to believe, what I hoped was true and what I actually saw in the world. It was very motivating, but it was also real work.

That concept of equal opportunity is referenced a lot in Arizona in terms of school choice and to support things like school vouchers. What’s your perspective on that?

It’s a fine theory, but it’s completely contradicted by the facts. So much of the voucher spending has ended up helping better-off families pay for private schools. I went to some great private schools. I have nothing against private schools. I just think that if you want to send your kids to private school, you should pay for it.

Do you think you picked up any lessons working with preschoolers that will help you here at the Capitol?

Things can be messy, and that’s OK. … The biggest thing that motivated me to run was feeling like we were not making common sense investments that help build a better future for all of Arizona. I’m an entrepreneur. I want this to be a great state for business. It’s actually very important to me. At the same time, you can’t have great businesses if you don’t have great employees, and you can’t have great employees without a great K-12 system.

This is a great place to raise a family. This is a great place to start a company. This is a great place to build a company. We’ve been so caught in a lot of this political infighting that we’ve lost what’s a common goal for all of us, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Arizonans. … The governor signed some 350-plus bills into law last session – 95 percent of them were sponsored by Republicans. There’s no way any one party has 95 percent of the good ideas for the state.

What did your sons think of your decision to run for office?

I’d say it’s a split decision on the homefront. My older son has been very encouraging. My second son – I remember at one point, he said to me, “You’re not even going to go to my baseball practice.” And I said, “I’ve never gone to your baseball practice.” But he’s making his peace with it, and he did say last night, “If you lost, what would we talk about at dinner?” We have a lot of political conversations at dinner, and it’s fascinating to see their view of the world. They’ve had a very interesting life experience.

How so?

Both our boys were born in Ethiopia. We adopted them when they were children, so that’s part of it. They grew up when we were living back east, and we lived in Harlem. … One of the things I love about living in Arizona is there’s such a broad cross-section of political views. We’re not in a bubble like you can be in other places. I still remember when my son was in fourth grade, and he came home and said, “Harry says Obamacare is killing the economy with its taxes.” That was like a fourth grade conversation he would have never heard on a playground in Harlem, and I thought that was terrific.

ABOR chairman calls tuition lawsuit a publicity stunt

Regents Chairman Bill Ridenour, right, is briefed by Chad Sampson, the board's vice president of strategic planning and initiatives, ahead of Monday's closed-door session of the board to decide how to respond to the lawsuit filed against the board Friday over tuition rates. (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)
Regents Chairman Bill Ridenour, right, is briefed by Chad Sampson, the board’s vice president of strategic planning and initiatives, ahead of Monday’s closed-door session of the board to decide how to respond to the lawsuit filed against the board Friday over tuition rates. (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)

The head of the state Board of Regents said Monday that a new lawsuit over tuition could finally force the legislature to explain whether it is violating a constitutional provision to keep instruction at the universities “as nearly free as possible.”

On one hand, Bill Ridenour blasted Attorney General Mark Brnovich for what he said is a publicity stunt Friday — he called it “political pandering” — in suing the board and blaming its members for the steep hike in tuition in the last 15 years.

“The AG’s lawsuit, while it makes for good headlines, does nothing to change the burden for students and their families,” he said in a prepared statement. “The suit is full of attacks, but offers no constructive remedies.”

But Ridenour said Brnovich is right on at least one issue: The “seismic” shift in cost from the state to students to attend one of the state’s three universities.

What’s wrong with the litigation, he said, is that it seeks a solution from just the regents, ignoring the role he said lawmakers have played in the 300-plus percent increase in tuition since 2003. And Ridenour said if the issue is going to be hashed out in court, then the lawsuit needs to involve more than the regents.

“If it goes to that extent, the Legislature is an indispensable party,” he told Capitol Media Services.

“The question is, who’s going to pay for this education?” Ridenour continued. “Is it going to be the student, or is it going to be the state?”

But now, with Brnovich having filed suit which essentially says the regents — and the regents alone — are violating the Arizona Constitution, Ridenour sees an opportunity to finally get a definitive legal ruling on who really is responsible.

“This suit will allow us to present the facts to a court of law and seek clarification of our constitutionally mandated obligation to provide ‘instruction as nearly free as possible,’ ” he said. “We can now address who will pay for that mandate.”

Brnovich spokeswoman Mia Garcia defended the decision to sue only the regents and not the lawmakers.

“We do not believe the court can order the Legislature to appropriate more funding for higher education,” she said. But Garcia said a judge can order the regents to calculate tuition “based on actual costs” and determine if that meets the constitutional requirement.

The challenge to tuition has left the regents unhappy.

Ridenour acknowledged that everyone knew the attorney general was looking into the question of the legality of the universities allowing those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to pay in-state tuition. That followed a ruling earlier this year by the state Court of Appeals declaring a similar policy at the Maricopa community colleges is illegal.

But the lawsuit filed Friday not only challenged the DACA policy but the tuition for all students, with Brnovich claiming the current charges are unconstitutional.

“I think all this makes great headlines,” Ridenour said. “I’m not sure what the motives were behind expanding this suit from DACA.”

Politics aside, some research by Capitol Media Services also could undermine Brnovich’s contention that the hike in tuition has far outstripped the loss of state dollars.

Figures prepared by legislative budget staffers show that in 2008 there were 111,368 full-time equivalent students in the university system. That FTE measurement is designed to deal with the fact that some students are enrolled only on a part-time basis.

Total funding from both state aid and tuition totaled nearly $1.9 billion, or $16,986 per student.

By the just-ended school year, total funding exceeded $3 billion. But with 166,296 FTE students in the system, that worked out to $18,217 per student, a 7.25 percent increase over 2008.

And legislative budget staffers said if inflation is taken into account, the total amount being collected in both state aid and tuition on a per-student basis is actually 7.4 percent less than in 2008.

That means the tuition increases that Brnovich cites in his lawsuit did not keep pace with both the reduction in state funding and inflation.

Garcia said all that is irrelevant to the constitutional issue.

“It’s a simple question,” she said. “We want to know the true cost of tuition.”

Ridenour, however, said any look at tuition cannot ignore the declining role of the state.

A decade ago, he said the Legislature funded about 75 percent of the cost for an in-state student, not counting expenses for the University of Arizona Colleges of Medicine. This year, he said, that state-aid figure is just 34 percent.
Ridenour acknowledged the question of state funding of higher education is not an Arizona-only issue.

“What is unique is that in FY 2012, Arizona ranks 48th in per capita support for higher education,” he said.

The idea of legal action against the Legislature is not new. It was first raised two years ago by Mark Killian when he was chairman of the board who told Capitol Media Services that his colleagues should sue lawmakers if they do not come forward with more funds for the university system. That never happened, with Ridenour saying Monday that board members opted instead to work with Gov. Doug Ducey and lawmakers in hopes of reversing the trend, including a $99 million cut the governor signed into law. The results since then have been mixed.

The new budget approved in May provides an additional $15 million in one-time funding to universities.

But lawmakers also removed a one-time $19 million infusion they got last year.

And even that $15 million has strings attacked, with the University of Arizona having to use $1 million of its $4.2 million allocation to fund a so-called “economic freedom school” which was started with seed money from the Koch brothers, whose financial interests range from Georgia-Pacific paper products and Stainmaster carpets to jet fuel and cattle. And there’s an identical $1 million earmark out of the $7.6 million for Arizona State University.

Lawmakers also agreed to let the universities borrow close to $1 billion for capital needs, with the promise there will be funds in future years to pay that back.

Address Latino influence in Arizona


As a native Arizonan and product of our public education system, I have experienced many of the barriers that other Latinos have or will live through. These barriers represent lack of resources, lack of quality teachers, large class sizes, flawed policies, practices and strategies. Communities of color in Arizona have, for decades, been faced with injustice, poverty and overall lack of opportunities. These issues did not arise overnight and will in turn take undeniable dedication from our communities and leaders to solve. 

Stephanie Parra
Stephanie Parra

One of the issues is the significant gap in representation at all levels and positions of decision-making and power within our school systems. At 46%, Latino students make up nearly half of Arizona’s K-12 system population, yet only 16% of the teaching workforce and less than 13% of education-board members are Latino. This gap greatly affects student outcomes and success. The lack of lived experience has led to decisions being made that are not representative of what the communities we are serving need. As the executive director of ALL In Education, my work is to speak truth to power and ensure that this organization is taking the necessary steps to address the long list of issues that have been barriers to the success of Latino students and families. To shed light on the challenges faced by Latino students, we released MAPA: The State of Arizona Latino Education, Power and Influence.” 

MAPA evaluates and shares findings on the makeup of the entire system, from Arizona school boards, classrooms and Latino academic achievement. Our data analysis not only confirmed the gap in representation, we also found that Latino students and families are being pocketed into communities of high poverty and low performing schools. MAPA serves as an annual report to track ALL In Education’s progress toward increasing Latino representation and attainment. This will be the MAPA or roadmap for our organization to help guide the research and policy agenda while keeping us accountable in our progress. We cannot deny the impact that lived experience and representation has on the policies and decisions that affect our students. We know that when students see themselves reflected in the classroom, they tend to create stronger bonds with educators, and there’s data that shows that one single effective teacher of the same race of the student increases the likelihood of the student having better academic outcomes. That is why we have created three leadership development programs that will address these issues – the Parent Educator Academy (PEA), Adelante Fellowship and LISTO (Leaders In Support of Transformational Opportunities). 

PEA is a new innovative workforce development strategy to support parents and educators with distance learning. Adelante Fellowship will focus on exposing emerging leaders in our communities to what it means to be an advocate, how policies are formed and how the education system works. Lastly, LISTO will work with Latino leaders who are ready to serve on local and state education and organization governing boards. We believe these programs will help address these gaps in our education system while helping increase student outcomes. 

Arizona not only has a moral imperative to prioritize Latino student success, this is also our state’s economic imperative. We can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to what this will mean for our future. From an economic standpoint, if we do not create solutions for this population of students to gain access to living and high-wage careers – the future of our economy of Arizona is at stake. In the near future we will be dependent on our current population of students to enter the workforce with the skills needed to be successful. The longer we wait to address the needs of these students, the more we put our economy in jeopardy. 

As I look at the trajectory of Arizona, I envision a state that is thriving, welcoming and an environment that promotes opportunity and justice for all. When I think of the current state of Arizona, I am reminded that to get there it is critical for us to do the work now. We don’t have the time to wait. 

You can read the full report and watch the virtual summit here: allineducation.org/mapa 

Stephanie Parra is executive director of All In Education.  


After 8 years, Ducey hands off a changed Arizona to Hobbs

Gov. Doug Ducey speaks during inauguration ceremonies at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix. Ducey became the first governor since Bruce Babbitt, who left office in 1987, to complete two full, four-year terms. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Former Gov. Doug Ducey officially turned over the governor’s office to Gov. Katie Hobbs on Monday, marking a shift in party power at the state’s highest office and the end of a lengthy and consequential era in Arizona politics. 

Ducey, 58, becomes Arizona’s first governor since Bruce Babbit, who left office in 1987, to complete two full, four-year terms on the job. In eight years in office, Ducey presided over profound changes that will continue to affect the state for years to come. 

The governor signed conservative policies into law on everything from economic policy to education during his time as the state’s top executive. Beginning next year, Arizonans in all income brackets will pay a flat 2.5% tax and many families will get taxpayer money to cover education expenses – both products of legislation backed by the governor. 

In other areas, the ground has shifted under Ducey’s feet since he took office in 2015. 

The “Red for Ed” movement that led teachers around the state to go on strike eventually led to pay increases for teachers that the governor approved in 2018. The Arizona Republican Party, now dominated by figures from the MAGA faction of the party aligned with former President Donald Trump, is almost unrecognizable from the state party that helped elect Ducey to two terms in the governor’s office. 

Members of Arizona Educators United protest on April 10 as Gov. Doug Ducey gives his weekly KTAR interview. Dozens of teachers, students and other public education advocates marched outside as the temperature in Phoenix reached 100 degree for the first time this year. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Members of Arizona Educators United protest on April 10, 2018, as Gov. Doug Ducey gives his weekly KTAR interview. Dozens of teachers, students and other public education advocates marched outside as the temperature in Phoenix reached 100 degree for the first time this year. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Ducey frequently says that he’s left the state “better than (he) found it,” and he invariably cites Arizona’s economy as the prime example of his success. 

“He did a great job with the economy. There’s no doubt about that,” said longtime Republican consultant Chuck Coughlin. Specifically, Coughlin said, Arizona has added jobs not just in traditional sectors like home-building and development, but in a diverse range of industries, particularly high-tech manufacturing. 

The new manufacturing projects include battery and electric car makers who have set up shop in Pinal County and a semiconductor manufacturing plant that’s under construction in North Phoenix. Even President Joe Biden flew into Phoenix to help celebrate progress on the chip factory in December. 

In terms of lawmaking, Ducey’s signature accomplishments mostly came near the end of his tenure, and they run the gamut of conservative policy priorities. 

In 2022, his last legislative session, the governor signed a massive expansion of Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program, better known as school vouchers. The law removed eligibility requirements from the program, allowing any Arizona family to get state funds to cover their children’s education expenses, including tuition at private schools. 

Also last year, lawmakers delivered a billion-dollar package based on the governor’s vision for bringing more water to the state: desalination. A board set up to administer the more than $1 billion investment (which will come out of state coffers over three years) has already taken steps that could lead to financially backing a desalination plant in Sonora, Mexico. 

And in 2021, with the governor’s support, lawmakers passed the state’s historic flat tax. 

Those moves were possible, in part, thanks to Arizona’s growing revenues and enviable financial surplus. In 2015, his first year in office, Ducey signed a slim $9 billion budget. In 2022, that figure had doubled to $18 billion, but still included provisions to top up the state’s rainy-day fund, which now comes to more than one billion dollars. 

Daniel Scarpinato, a former chief of staff to the governor, credited the fiscal belt-tightening of Ducey’s first year – when the state faced a $700 million deficit – for paving the way for future spending packages. 

“I don’t think that we’d be in the position today of being able to do all these things if that (the deficit) had lingered,” Scarpinato said. 

The tax cuts and voucher expansion were, predictably, partisan endeavors, while the water project ultimately received widespread bipartisan support. In another area – public school funding – the governor’s legacy may still be up for debate. 

Even though Ducey ultimately signed the 2018 law that aimed to increase public school teacher pay around the state by 20%, Arizona remains close to last in average teacher pay across the country and public school class sizes have continued to grow in recent years. Scarpinato said that the bottom line is that teachers got a significant raise while Ducey was governor. 

But Stacy Pearson, a Democratic strategist, said Ducey shouldn’t be applauded for effectively restoring education funding that had been cut by former Gov. Jan Brewer, while allowing the state to remain far behind its peers. 

“That he’s trying to get us to celebrate going from dead last to second-to-last, or third-to-last, is laughable,” she said. 

Another important piece of legislation signed by Ducey might have a counterintuitive impact. 

A 2022 abortion law (passed in anticipation of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade) bans abortion after the 15-week mark of a pregnancy except in medical emergencies, but it may actually have the effect of loosening abortion restrictions in Arizona. That’s because the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled last month that the 15-week ban supersedes a more restrictive state law that dates to the 19th century. 

Outside of lawmaking, Ducey’s second term was largely defined by the Covid pandemic. Phoenix was one of the first cities to report a coronavirus case in January 2020 and, in March 2020, Ducey signed a series of emergency orders that largely shut down the state – closing schools, restaurants, gyms and other businesses.

But the lockdown was lifted abruptly in May and, that summer, the virus began spreading rapidly through the state. Hospitals were overwhelmed and thousands died, but the governor resisted calls to impose health and safety measures like a face mask mandate, arguing it would damage the state’s economy and that lockdowns imposed a toll on mental health.

By the time Ducey left office, more than 30,000 Arizonans had died of Covid and the state had the unwelcome distinction of the highest per capita Covid death rate of any state.


Gov. Claudia Pavlovich, Sonora, Mexico, and Gov. Doug Ducey, talk after a press conference Nov. 29, 2016, to announce Lucid Motors has agreed to open a plant in Casa Grande.

On border issues, Ducey in some ways brought a more restrained approach than his predecessor Brewer, who signed the controversial “show me your papers” law, SB 1070. He forged a close relationship with former Sonora governor Claudia Pavlovich and emphasized economic cooperation. But he also took some aggressive action aimed at border security. 

He initiated the “border strike force” in 2015 – a program aimed at stopping drug trafficking that eventually came under criticism for failing to live up to its name. And in 2022 started busing migrants to liberal cities on the east coast and building a shipping-container border barrier without federal permission – until the federal government secured a legal agreement to take it down. 

Ducey had the fortune of working with Republican-controlled legislatures during his time in office, but narrow majorities did lead to some conflict. In his final legislative session, he signed a budget that got bipartisan backing and included concessions to Democrats in the form of more public-school funding, after some hard-right lawmakers refused to get on board with Ducey’s budget plan. 

The Arizona Supreme Court from left are Justices Bill Montgomery, John Lopez, Ann Scott Timmer (vice chief justice), Robert Brutinel (chief justice), Clint Bolick, James Beene, and Kathryn King.

Among other actions that will reverberate long after he’s gone, Ducey’s numerous judicial appointments mean his judgement will help shape how the state’s legal system functions for years to come. 

Most notably, he expanded the Arizona Supreme Court from five to seven justices, though he insisted the move didn’t amount to court packing. As he leaves office, five of the justices are Ducey appointees. (The other two were appointed by Brewer.) 

Even while Ducey was still in office, the justices had a hand in securing some of his most important policy accomplishments. 

In 2021, the Arizona Supreme Court effectively quashed Proposition 208, a voter-approved initiative that would have raised taxes on high-earning Arizonans in order to provide more funding for public education. (The Arizona Supreme Court sent the case back to a trial court, but with instructions that basically forced the judge’s decision.) Had it taken effect, it would have significantly altered the flat tax program signed into law the same year. 

Compared to Brewer, who fought bitterly with the legislature and memorably wagged an accusatory finger at then-President Barack Obama when he visited Arizona, Ducey took a more low-key approach and, at least publicly, didn’t pick many fights. 

Even Pearson, for the most part a critic of the governor, gave Ducey credit for that. 

“I may not agree with his policies, but the guy did exactly what he said he was going to do … and he did it without scandal,” she said. 

Even so, Ducey had his own clash with a sitting president, in a moment that underscored the political shifts underway during his tenure. 

In 2020, as he certified Arizona’s election results, he silenced a call from Trump, who at the time was ramping up his claims that the election had been marred by widespread fraud. That led to a rift between the two men and was part of a broader schism between Ducey and more hard-right elements of the Republican Party. 

One question that remained unanswered as the governor’s office changed hands on Monday is what Ducey will do next. He declined to run for Arizona’s open U.S. Senate seat last year against Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly, but he has reportedly expressed interest in running the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In interviews in recent weeks, the governor hasn’t offered hints about his future plans. 

Editor’s note: This story was revised on Jan. 9, 2023 to include a passage on the Covid pandemic. 

AG clears Ducey of illegal electioneering allegation

From left are Doug Ducey and Mark Brnovich
From left are Doug Ducey and Mark Brnovich

Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich ended the investigation into Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, saying he did not violate state law when he encouraged small business leaders to vote no on Proposition 208 last year. 

Ducey was accused of electioneering using state resources while on a phone call in his office with state employees in September, but the attorney general said it closed its investigation and won’t take any further action. 

Deputy Solicitor General Michael Catlett found that the purpose of the call was to discuss the state of the economy as it relates to the Covid pandemic, and that Ducey’s rights under the First Amendment to “speak on matters of public concern” outweighed using said rights “during the work day and using the State’s telecommunications equipment.”

“The Office does not believe that the manner in which the Governor exercised his First Amendment rights in this case is sufficient to override his First Amendment rights or support a violation of A.R.S. 16-192 (A),” Catlett wrote.  

Brnovich has also previously explained that alleged electioneering happening during a “traditional work day” is “not a relevant consideration to evaluating if public resources have been expended” when the person in question holds elected office. 

Invest in Education, the organization that brought the complaint, did not provide any evidence that Ducey “expended additional resources because the Governor responded to a question from a constituent about his views on a matter of public concern,” so  Catlett said that the public resources would have been expended regardless of his response on the ballot proposition. 

During a call with business leaders, Ducey repeatedly told them to not only vote against the income tax hike for education, but to go on the No on 208 website to get more information. 

Ducey’s aides denied that he had broken any law about using public resources to influence the outcome of an election, but shortly after Arizona Capitol Times published the story on the call, Roopali Desai, the attorney representing Invest in Education, filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office, saying they were disturbed to read about Ducey’s potential violation. 

Ducey’s efforts proved to be unsuccessful as voters narrowly approved the measure with 51.5% of the vote, despite more than $20 million spent to defeat it. The measure adds a 3.5% surcharge on earnings above $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for married couples filing jointly and it iis expected to raise anywhere from $827 million to $940 million a year, depending on whose estimates are used.

In the Sept. 29 call in question, Ducey complained that the Invest in Education initiative was “a small business killer” and urged people to vote against it. 

“I’m asking the small business community to get the word out. Let’s keep our economy chugging along,” he said in an audio clip obtained by the Yellow Sheet Report, a sister publication of the Arizona Capitol Times. 

The Attorney General’s Office also pointed to a 2015 AG opinion explaining that elected officials should not be exempt from “expressing views on matters of public policy,” saying that opinion protects Ducey under the First Amendment as well.

Brnovich has previously issued opinions on similar violations including how elected officials may exercise their free speech rights without improperly using public money to influence elections. 

He also charged several elected officials including Ducey-appointee Andy Tobin, who runs the Department of Administration, for using the Arizona Corporation Commission letterhead in an email urging others to vote no on a ballot measure in 2018. Tobin and the others were each fined $225.

Agencies make case for new spending, but most requests likely doomed

Ask most state agencies, and they’ll say they need more money. Their lists of wants and needs range from small-dollar requests to eight-digit figures for major initiatives.

And one theme carries through most years – much of what the agencies beg the Governor’s Office for doesn’t ultimately get funded.

Every fall, the agencies send budget requests to the Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting, the branch of the Governor’s Office tasked with overseeing the state budget. Some of the requests may end up in the executive budget Gov. Doug Ducey rolls out in January, which then gets negotiated with the Legislature.

Many of the agencies hit on common ongoing needs. Lots of agencies ask for money for massive informational technology projects, most of which don’t get funded. For agencies that provide social services, there’s always “caseload growth,” or costs that need to be covered to maintain a program as it is. And then there are operational costs, like wages and benefits for employees.

Will Humble
Will Humble

Will Humble, the former agency head of the Department of Health Services under two governors, crafted budget requests based on what a governor was interested in, seeking money for things that aligned with the governor’s priorities.

“Part of being an agency director is being a mind-reader,” Humble said.

Humble didn’t want to put in requests that would raise eyebrows, but ones that stood a chance of actually getting the green light. Essentially, each agency is competing against the others, so it’s important to put the strongest, most-likely-to-succeed arguments up front, he said.

“I never looked at it as my wish list. I looked at it as my ‘what is it that I can sell’ list. I wished for a lot more,” he said.

Requests for money from the general fund, the state’s all-purpose kitty, are tougher to justify than those that come from other sources, like taxes, grants, fees or federal programs. Some agencies are largely self-funded, requiring no money from the general fund, while others rely heavily on general fund appropriations.

Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey’s spokesman, said the governor is looking for good policies that will improve services for citizens while keeping a balanced budget.

“And also certainly we’re looking for savings. We‘re looking for where can we save money, not just spend money,” he said.

Plus, he noted, the governor has priorities outside the budget requests, like putting more money into K-12 education. Things like a request from the Department of Corrections for reducing recidivism – which Scarpinato said is an investment financially and personally – will be looked at seriously and prioritized by Ducey.

“The fact is that there are limited resources and money doesn’t grow on trees,” Scarpinato said. “We really need to prioritize K-12 education and our teachers, and that means that the rest of state government has to figure out how to deliver essential services and improve services by saving money.”

ag-budget-webHelp us attack the cities

Attorney General Mark Brnovich wants nearly $1 million to pay for eight staffers in a newly established unit of his office aimed at government accountability and investigations of cities.

A law passed in the 2015 legislative session also tasked the office with investigating complaints from lawmakers about cities or towns that they claim aren’t following state laws. The AG wants more money to investigate these complaints, which could result in the state withholding revenues from cities and towns. The government accountability and special litigation unit, created to handle the lawmaker complaints, also focuses on election law complaints from citizens, open meetings law violations and misuse of public funds.

So far, the attorney general has investigated three complaints under the new law, two of which were resolved locally and one of which prevailed at the Arizona Supreme Court.

Because of the successful court case, the AG “anticipates several new complaints to be filed by legislators in the near future.”

Now, attorneys for the government accountability unit are funded through money brought in by enforcing the Consumer Fraud Act. But the AG’s office said the funding isn’t sustainable, and it takes time and money away from consumer protection duties.

“This workload places the (Attorney General’s Office) in the difficult position of choosing whether to neglect critical consumer protection enforcement in favor of lawmaker initiated S.B. 1487 investigations,” the budget request says.

AG spokeswoman Mia Garcia said the new law requires attorneys to work within strict time deadlines to investigate complaints against cities and towns, which requires resources.

“We weren’t given any special funding, despite the new mandate. The way this unit is funded now isn’t sustainable, and we need a permanent funding source,” Garcia said.

adoa-budget-webObserving World War I

Next November will be the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, and the Arizona Department of Administration wants to spruce up its monuments in anticipation.

The department expects an influx of visitors on November 11, 2018, and wants to use $25,250 to maintain and repair the monuments and mechanical equipment located at Wesley Bolin Plaza.

The money wouldn’t come from the state’s general fund, but a separate fund with more than $200,000 available that’s meant to go toward repairing monuments and memorials.

ADOA also has applied for a grant to restore the World War I memorial through an initiative sponsored by the World War I Centennial Commission and the Pritzker Military Museum & Library. If it doesn’t get awarded a grant, the department said it will first use the $25,250 appropriation to restore the World War I memorial. The department said it’s also actively trying to get donations from groups that support the various monuments on the plaza.

“If the funds are not appropriated this fiscal year, ADOA will miss the opportunity to repair and restore monuments in observance of the World War I Centennial,” ADOA’s budget request says. “In addition, there will be further degradation of the monuments and memorials.”

dcs-budget-webThink of the children

In order to help kids get adopted, the Department of Child Safety seeks $21 million from the general fund to cover the growth in its adoption subsidy program.

The subsidy largely provides ongoing money to help families cover expenses if they adopt children with special needs, DCS said in its budget request.

Families can get a one-time payment of up to $2,000 to help cover the costs of the adoption process, like court fees, attorneys, fingerprints and home studies. But for some families that adopt special needs kids, there’s an ongoing “maintenance subsidy,” averaging $700 per month, to help pay for some of the child’s costs, based on the family’s needs.

The money can be used by families to cover child care, insurance and educational needs, the department said in its request, but it’s not intended to cover all the daily living expenses of the child.

The number of adoptions has increased in the past few years, and the department expects there will be 14 percent more adoptions next fiscal year than this year, from 29,420 on average in this fiscal year to 33,539 next year. The numbers of adoptions spike in November, dubbed “adoption promotion month,” and more children get off the adoption subsidies in the summer, when many new adults graduate from high school.

If the department doesn’t get the funding needed to keep up with growth, it will have to drop the amount it pays in new adoption contracts, which would be a “financial disincentive to adopt versus keeping a child in foster care,” the budget request says.

“New adoptions may be stalled by a reduced ability to finalize new contracts, with increased time in out-of-home care leading to relatively higher costs to the State overall and reduced outcomes for children,” the budget request says.

adot-budget-webWhen will we think of the roads?

Ask any rural lawmaker: Do the roads throughout the state need help? During the 2017 legislative session, funds for highways became a battle-cry for lawmakers after the Governor’s Office didn’t include any money for roads in his proposed budget.

The Department of Transportation wants $25.6 million to help address crumbling highways throughout the state.

Typically, ADOT has used about $15 million each year on sealing deteriorated roads, said agency spokesman Steve Elliott. The $25.6 million request would be added to the $15 million, he said.

But that’s only a fraction of what the department estimates it needs to repair cracks, seal roadways and smooth out rough patches. The total need is more than $128 million, something ADOT recognized wasn’t doable because of the lack of state dollars and the difficulty of administering all the money at one time.

If money isn’t spent now to address road issues, the investment taxpayers put into roadways will deteriorate faster and negatively affect travel for both business and pleasure, the department wrote in its request.

And if the state doesn’t pony up more money for roads, the department won’t be able to preserve and extend the life expectancy of its highway system.

“These essential duties, if not properly funded, will result in more rapid deterioration of our pavement leading to more expensive reconstruction in the long run and more expense to the taxpayer,” the department wrote.

liquor-budget-webYou booze, you lose

Other requests are relatively small, but could have a big impact on an agency’s ability to do its job. Take the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control – the agency wants $35,000 to help with litigation costs and $102,000 for a full-time assistant attorney general.

Since the liquor department doesn’t have enough money now to fund litigation costs, it has to drop the amount it collects for fines in the hopes people won’t appeal them, the agency’s request says.

Now, if people with liquor licenses violate liquor laws, they get their fines reduced by half if they don’t contest the findings or judgments in legal hearings, the agency wrote.

“While there is no real way to measure direct impacts, a concern is that increased efforts to avoid contested cases could be jeopardizing public safety as well as adversely impacting services,” the agency wrote.

The agency currently has an assistant attorney general who spends one-third of their time on liquor department issues, but it wants a full-time person to focus on legal support and navigate complex liquor laws.

Without a full-time assistant AG, the department has missed opportunities to pursue more complex investigations related to racketeering, the agency wrote.

ade-budget-webWe don’t really want these epi-pens

The Department of Education is seeking $1.65 million to purchase injectable epinephrine for state schools, but its own officials deemed the request “unnecessary.”

The funds would be used to purchase two doses of adult and two doses of pediatric epinephrine for each of about 2,000 district and charter schools.

A 2013 law requires the department to make this exact request each year and to train selected staff to administer the potentially life-saving drug to someone experiencing a severe allergic reaction.

But the department would like an end to that mandate.

Epinephrine auto-injectors are sold in packages of two for a generic wholesale price between $300 and $400, or $800 per school. That leaves the remaining $50,000 for the same staff training each year.

But if the Legislature opts not to provide the funding, adding to the epinephrine stockpile is optional anyway.

“Schools are currently able to pursue other avenues to receive free or reduced pricing to stock epinephrine auto- injectors for emergency purposes,” the department wrote, “so the department believes this mandated budget request is unnecessary.”

In other words: We’re all set, thanks.

sfb-budget-webSave our crumbling school facilities

As school facilities age and degrade, emergency solutions have cost the state thousands of dollars at a time, according to the School Facilities Board.

Now, the board would like the authority and resources to predict failures and prioritize repairs.

Take the chiller (a cooling system) failure at Lake Havasu High School for example.

The board wrote the school’s two chillers failed, leaving the school without any relief from the heat. For months, the chillers had not been performing as expected, but nothing was done to preempt the inevitable.

The school had to be cooled, the board wrote. The replacement process took months despite being accelerated, and in the meantime, funding was provided to rent two trailer-mounted temporary chillers at a total cost of $325,000.

If the chillers had been replaced ahead of their failure one at a time, the rental would have been unnecessary.

In addition to the authority to predict such failures, the board is seeking expenditure authority from the Building
Grant fund to inspect school buildings every five years, to implement a tool prioritizing repairs and to partner with a third-party to gather information about the facilities and add it to that database, dubbed the Facility Condition Index.

“The information would roll up to a ‘dashboard’ giving the SFB an indication of a building system’s condition,” the board wrote. “The timing of repairs and replacements of those systems would be prioritized and managed to reduce avoidable costs and minimize disruption to students.”

Each school district would have its own dashboard to track scheduled maintenance, the board went on. Projects could be scheduled in advance and completed during breaks, and multiple purchases could be made at once to take advantage of bulk pricing.

The board included a draft for the proposed partnership, including anticipated costs well over $1 million,
though the board anticipates that cost would still pale in comparison to excess emergency costs.

Agreement on school funding ends at whether more is needed

Gov. Doug Ducey announces a plan to give teachers a 20 percent raise over the next three fiscal years. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey announces a plan to give teachers a 20 percent raise over the next three fiscal years. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Arizona’s public education system could use more money– a point few argue against. The disagreement comes when elected officials and education advocates start talking about how to get there.

Arizona School Boards Association lobbyist Chris Kotterman made that observation as he reflected on a proposal to increase personal income taxes for the wealthiest Arizonans.

He recalled a roomful of the education community’s representatives discussing the idea and his own trepidation about it..

An income tax hike would draw too much well-funded opposition to be successful, he said, but don’t expect ASBA to lobby against the proposal.

The proposal now billed as the Invest in Education Act may not be a perfect solution, but he said it’s a response from voters who look at the political establishment as not funding what’s important to them.

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

“For a long time, we’ve been on the ‘lower taxes are always better’ train, and the last 20 years have borne out that we haven’t been able to keep pace with the voters and what they say they want,” Kotterman said.

He said the state’s revenue structure does not match its priorities.

Education may be at the top of that list, but politics cloud the discussion around a workable policy solution.

Kotterman pointed to the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry as an example– both the chamber and ASBA are in favor of a strong public education system, he said.

But the chamber likes Empowerment Scholarship Accounts; ASBA thinks they are “harmful.”

“It’s not as simple as being able to set aside your differences and come to the table,” Kotterman said. “It’s that, literally, these organizations see things completely differently.”

The chamber swiftly came out in opposition to the Invest in Education Act, arguing it would harm small businesses, tie teacher pay to a volatile funding source and damage the state’s competitiveness.

But spokesman Garrick Taylor said the chamber is right there with the education community in that business leaders want to see more funding for schools.

He said that need is recognized on all sides, including the chamber and Republicans at the Capitol. He pointed specifically to their support for the extension of the sales tax under Proposition 301, which was accomplished this year even after the effort appeared dead, and the chamber’s backing of the budget that included Gov. Doug Ducey’s teacher pay raise plan.

Kotterman praised  the recently passed budget and additional dollars given to education, but he said that wasn’t enough to solve the problem entirely.

And the people are tired of promises of more to come.

“Red for Ed demonstrates that the hunger for vast improvement in a short period of time is very strong,” Kotterman said. “Incrementalism is not an approach that’s going to satisfy education supporters at this point.”

At the heart of the Red for Ed movement was the idea that there has not been leadership at the Capitol intent on improving education in Arizona.

“I don’t want to dismiss the frustration, but the idea that there are leaders at the Capitol who are just whistling past the graveyard is one that we would reject,” Taylor said.

Garrick Taylor
Garrick Taylor

Taylor said public education walked away with significant wins this session, and he believes more will come–perhaps not in 2018 with a ballot initiative to tax the rich, but perhaps sooner than we think.

“There is evidence that Arizonans of all stripes can coalesce around a policy solution,” he said.

That’s the problem as some education advocates see it, though. Not only is there disagreement about how Arizona achieves a more stable, well-funded public education system but also about what that system should look like in the first place.

“I have no idea what the right number is because we don’t even know what the right system is,” said Chuck Essigs, director of government relations for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials. “How can you say what it’s going to cost to build a house when you don’t even know what the house should look like?”

He referred to an oft cited number in the argument for more education funding: about $1 billion to bring the state back to 2008 levels.

But will that produce the public education system the people want? Essigs doesn’t know.

What about if the state returned to 1990s levels of funding? He said that would likely double the amount. And would that be enough? Maybe.

To know how much something is going to cost, he said, you have to know what you want it to look like.

He proposed an adequacy study to find out, to bring together the business and education communities to specifically describe what they want public education to accomplish. With common goals, perhaps the state could settle on a common price tag.

Stacey Morley
Stacey Morley

Stand for Children’s Stacey Morley added another layer to Essigs’ argument.

She pointed out that the state’s formula to disburse funds is grossly out of date compared to the education system now focused on choice.

She said the current school finance system was designed more than three decades ago for a system that only accounted for traditional district schools.

The public education system has since evolved around school choice, but the underlying school finance model has not.

And that, Morley said, has limited the state’s flexibility to adequately fund education while exacerbating tensions between charter and district schools.

Everyone has a “little kingdom” they’re trying to protect, she said. Everyone is afraid of losing what they have.

And no one is winning.

“Until we’re willing to put everything aside and really look at it holistically, I don’t know that we’ll ever solve it,” Morley said. “Even if we have enough for a few years, it’ll come back.”

So, too, may the hordes of angry educators.

Like ASBA, the grassroots group Save Our Schools Arizona was not excited by the Invest in Education Act. And like ASBA, SOS Arizona is content to let the Arizona Center for Economic Progress-led coalition behind the initiative lead the charge on income taxes.

But spokeswoman Dawn Penich-Thacker said there’s something to be learned from the proposal and the conversation it evolved from.

Save Our Schools Arizona spokeswoman Dawn Penich-Thacker joined thousands of public education advocates who rallied at the Capitol on March 28, 2018. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Save Our Schools Arizona spokeswoman Dawn Penich-Thacker joined thousands of public education advocates who rallied at the Capitol on March 28, 2018. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

She said the political establishment is between a rock and a hard place: Donors and the party playbook want one thing, and voters want something else entirely.

Lawmakers on both sides have told her about that struggle, she said, but the fact that they see a choice other than representing their constituents is the problem.

“I don’t think that anyone feels that’s how democracy is supposed to function,” she said. “You’re elected, but you don’t know whether you should do what your voters want or what your donors want? … Those two entities are at odds.”

And the people have shown they are ready to take matters into their own hands.

“If you’re not going to look at options that the rest of us normal people, regular people see as being on the table, then I guess we’ll just do it,” Penich-Thacker said. “Regular voters and regular people don’t care about the party playbook.”

Alicia Williams: An educator who can post up


Alicia Williams is often mistaken for a kindergarten teacher.

And sure, she’s put some serious thought into going that route one day, but she actually got her start in Arizona’s education system teaching middle school social studies.

“And if you can teach middle school, you can do anything,” she said.

Williams may not have entirely believed that herself before joining the State Board of Education, but now, she’s the executive director at 32.

Cap Times Q&AIt sounds like you progressed pretty quickly. What do you think put you on that trajectory?

I truly believe you meet people at the right time to push you into your next role or job or life event. … I didn’t know why someone would pick me for this job. Policy and politics and government is not my background. I’m a teacher. I’m an administrator. … When Carol Schmidt resigned last year, I didn’t apply. Like it was open for about a month, and I didn’t apply right away. And really, it was a lot of soul-searching, like could I do this job knowing the stresses that come with it. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared when they announced my name or when I knew the board was going to vote on my hiring. I was petrified. But I go back to my college basketball days. There’s always going to be someone who thinks you can’t do it, so prove them wrong.

The board noted you are a young leader in education. It seems that there are a lot of young leaders emerging in education. Do you identify with that trend?

I’m not a political person. I tend to be like straight down the middle, and ultimately, my goal is always what’s best for kids. But I think that we’ve seen a national trend with women taking higher positions in government, and I think it’s cool. I’m interested to see how the young people shake things up, not just women but the men, too, who are young and have fresh ideas. My role’s a little bit different, so my opinions sometimes don’t matter because it’s about the board. I’m a servant of the board, and I take that very seriously.

Your previous work for the board involved disciplining teachers. What was that like?

There’s no teacher oath, but you pledge to protect your students. You would do anything for your students. That’s like your mini family for 45 minutes before the bell rings. So sometimes when teachers cross those lines, it’s very difficult to read and understand. Look at an extreme case when the board votes to revoke a certificate. Yes, that teacher’s losing their livelihood, but at the same time, we’re protecting students from something terrible happening again. You want to ensure that you’re looking at the act that was done… but then also allowing that person to come to talk about what happened.

Do you ever find yourself thinking about teaching again?

All the time. … Member Jill Broussard invited me to go to a high school, and they were having their homecoming pep rally. Just to see all those high school kids, it was just so cool. At the end of the day, it’s really important for me and also for my staff to go to schools and to listen to the administrators and teachers and remember why we do this. That whole place was loud and they were cheering and the freshmen were going after the seniors, and it was just phenomenal. You kind of forget that when you’re out of the classroom. And as much as I love high schoolers, I love kindergartners, too. They’re learning new things every day, and it reminds you how fun learning can be when you sit with a group of 5-year-olds. They always ask the darndest questions. Usually, it’s when I’m reading a book and they ask a crazy question about the illustration. Like I don’t know why the dinosaur is purple. He ate a lot of grapes that day.

I miss just being able to go into a classroom and experience love. Even if I had to just give a kid detention–still happy to see you. Or walking into a cafeteria filled with kids, and they’re stoked to see you, telling you about their corn dogs.

You mentioned you played college basketball.

I remember in my senior year, I knew that whatever I did, my siblings would eventually follow. If I made good choices, my siblings would. But I didn’t know how I would pay for college, so I was thinking about joining the military. I went to a recruiter and all that stuff, and a week later, I got a call from the University of Mount Union. They wanted me to come play basketball for them. D-3 schools don’t give you full rides, so I was still working a lot at the grocery store and I did the team’s laundry. … I am very blessed.

Do you play anymore?

I do. I will go to the gym and shoot hoops. And I am great–ok, that’s a little boastful. I’m decent. … I cannot play a pickup game, and this is why. I’m always the only female on the basketball court. If a gentleman comes up to me and says they have nine players, will I be their tenth, I’ll be like, “Sure.” But in my mind, I am classically trained, which is a funny thing to say. It was a full-time job in college, so there are certain things in my mind that I cannot turn off. I know how to play. When I play pickup, sometimes pickup doesn’t follow the rules, and I get very frustrated with that. Plus, they do not pass me the ball!

I specifically remember this one time. I’m very tall. I’m a very big person. And I was a center. And I know how to post up. And I know how to do a hook shot. And I know how to make a layup. This guy who was probably 5’7” was guarding me. I’m posting him up, and they would not pass me the ball. I’m like, “Give me the ball. I will hip-check him, and I will score.” And I remember some random guy came in and started yelling at my teammate to pass me the ball. This is why I don’t play pickup. They just assume I don’t know how to play. … But I know how to move people out of the way.

All public schools should be owned by the public


Chuck Essigs
Chuck Essigs

Arizona needs to take action to ensure that all charter schools return to the purpose for which they were legally established more than 20 years ago, to expand choice for parents and students, not to expand the bank accounts of private investors. Today, of the 1,900 public schools in our state, 500 are charter schools. All of them provide educational services tuition free to students and both school districts and charter schools receive funding from the state, but a major difference exists between the two: The land and buildings in traditional school districts are owned by the public school district, more specifically the taxpayers who live in the district. Land and buildings owned by a charter school are not owned by the public; they are owned by the owner of the charter school.

In recent months, for-profit charter school owners have taken advantage of this significant difference by selling their schools’ land and buildings and personally reaping potentially millions of dollars in gains. Yes, Arizona, that is legal. But should it be? Does personal profit and self-dealing have any place in the mission of public charter schools going forward? It should not.

When tax dollars pay for the building of a public highway, a state building, a city or county building, or buildings in a traditional school district, the property belongs to the public, not a private individual or company. We need laws on the books now to ensure that all prospective land, buildings and improvements purchased with tax dollars – including those of charter schools–are owned by the public. All dollars invested in by the state should be to provide educational services for Arizona students. Capitalism is not the issue, educational investment priorities for Arizona’s future are.

— Chuck Essigs is director of governmental relations for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials.


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

Among challenges pandemic presents, opportunity also rises

FILE - In this June 18, 2020, file photo a discarded face mask and cigarette butt litter the sidewalk outside the Eastern Market in Washington. On Friday, June 26, Vice President Mike Pence said Americans should look to their state and local leadership for modeling their behavior during the coronavirus pandemic. The comments only days after President Donald Trump held two campaign events that drew hundreds of participants but few wearing masks. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
FILE – In this June 18, 2020, file photo a discarded face mask and cigarette butt litter the sidewalk outside the Eastern Market in Washington. On Friday, June 26, Vice President Mike Pence said Americans should look to their state and local leadership for modeling their behavior during the coronavirus pandemic. The comments only days after President Donald Trump held two campaign events that drew hundreds of participants but few wearing masks. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Since I was elected to the Arizona House of Representatives, I have tried to be a voice for the voiceless, advocating for those who haven’t always been able to advocate for themselves, including our state’s students. I have made education, at every level, a key legislative priority. Ensuring our state has a strong education system that supports students at every age is critical, but the ongoing pandemic has highlighted the urgent need to reform a system that has relied on the status quo for far too long.

In recent days, the debate heated up among politicians, parents, and educators about the best way to go back to school.  

As the new, albeit odd, school year approaches, the pandemic’s ongoing effects will challenge the education system to adapt in an effort to ensure students won’t be left behind since they’ve left the classroom. And while educators are doing their best to deliver the curricula, the public health crisis laid bare the existing inequity in our nation’s early and secondary education systems. While systemic change will take time, we have been given an unprecedented opportunity to take a good hard look at what is and isn’t working in the current system, and catalyze change to improve outcomes for all children.   

Jennifer Longdon
Jennifer Longdon

Historically, our education system has prioritized academic performance – typically measured with standardized testing – but those assessments measure a narrow range of skills and knowledge. Clearly, standardized tests do not incentivize educational approaches reflective of the fact that every child learns differently. We need to change the existing perception of “achievement” and take a more holistic view of the student involved in learning, focusing on the development of social, emotional, creative, cognitive, and physical skills – commonly referred to as the “whole learner approach” to education.

The stakes are high. There is already evidence of persistent learning gaps between children – even before the pandemic. And now, leading researchers predict this gap will only widen as schools are forced to continue with distance learning. But whole-learner approaches can narrow the gap.

Amidst the uncertainty families across Arizona are facing right now, whole learner approaches offer our students an opportunity to continue their academic pursuits, while also learning critical emotional and social skills that they will not only need to thrive in the future but cope with the changes they are facing because of the pandemic. And while the long-term effects of the pandemic are still unknown, we already see the emotional and mental toll the pandemic has had on kids, especially those from low-income communities. By creating an education system that empowers students to develop social skills like communication, creative problem solving, and managing and expressing emotions, they will be better equipped to confront challenges head-on.

The whole learner philosophy is predicated on research that found the interconnection between positive learning outcomes and systems that support a range of skills that all students need to thrive. By embracing this holistic approach to learning and development, we can create educational experiences that harness the diverse, dynamic ways in which students learn.

There are a lot of unknowns right now as the state of our country changes on a daily basis, but that unknown presents an opportunity. We need to take advantage of policy momentum right now in Congress and Phoenix, where elected officials are working toward transformative paths and mechanisms to embrace new modes of learning as a result of the pandemic. We might not ever get another chance like this to significantly affect our education system.

Rep. Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix, serves Legislative District 24.

Annette Reichman: School leader relearns to listen

Annette Reichman smiles next to a piece of art created by an Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and Blind student in Tucson. The piece features the American Sign Language sign for "I love you." PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Annette Reichman smiles next to a piece of art created by an Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and Blind student in Tucson. The piece features the American Sign Language sign for “I love you.” PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Annette Reichman seriously considered dropping out of high school.

She went to a school with 200 students from kindergarten through high school, and she was different.

And in that small farming community, she said, being different was not a good thing.

She was identified with a hearing loss at 6, which she said was late in the game, and was given cochlear implants. She also had vision limitations, all at a time when children begin to notice their differences and form cliques.

She said she didn’t have friends and was frequently bullied.

But that changed when she first found peers at a state school for students who were visually impaired and later attended Gallaudet College for the deaf and hard of hearing – now Gallaudet University – in Washington D.C., where she would later work for the United States Department of Education.

Now, Reichman serves as the superintendent for the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind.

“I really believe our children can be doing a lot better academically, socially and emotionally,” she said. “That was a challenge that I decided I wanted to take on.”

Cap Times Q&ATell me about your own experience with hearing impairment.

IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) did not come into being until 1975. I was 15 years old at that point, so all of those things we take for granted today were not in place back then. … By the time I got into high school, I knew pretty quickly I was going to become deaf. I decided I needed to learn sign language, and that’s when I learned about Gallaudet College. And I went from a western Nebraska farming community to Washington D.C., which was a tremendous change for a 19-year-old. And I stayed at Gallaudet. Most freshmen, if you don’t have adequate support, it’s really hard to get past the first year, especially for students who are first-generation college students. My parents had not gone to college, didn’t know how to support me. But at Gallaudet, I learned sign language, stuck it out for four years, got my bachelor’s degree and then came to the University of Arizona for my graduate degree.

I did become deaf at the age of 21, and for the next 30 years, I used sign language interpreters for most of my meetings. If I would be in a meeting with three, four or five people, I would have an interpreter to access professional meetings and different activities. And then, in 2011, I decided it’s time to try cochlear implants and became hard of hearing again essentially.

Do you prefer the implant?

I love it. I’ve found myself listening to music that I’d not listened to in 30, 35 years, which means I’m listening to the 70s, early 80s, relearning what I used to hear back then. It’s kind of like riding a bicycle. If you don’t do it for a long time, you never forget, but it gets rusty. You have to practice. It took six months with the first implant for me to relearn how to listen to the spoken language. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Can you describe that experience?

It was about a month after my first cochlear implant. I went into work. I was in the kitchen, putting my lunch away in the refrigerator, and a co-worker came in. She said something to me, and I responded. But I was looking at her, lip-reading her as I’ve been doing all my life. And then I turned my back to her, and I heard her say, “You have a good day, Annette.” I understood that without having to look at her and lip-read. So, it was that sense of – I heard that! … I was literally relearning how to listen.

What’s one thing you think people who haven’t had that experience misunderstand about people who are deaf?

That we are unique like everyone else, and we’re not homogenous. There are a lot of differences between us, but the most common assumption is, “I’ve met this one deaf person, and I know what everyone else is like.” And that’s not true.

There’s a positive and a negative to that. The positive piece is that once an individual feels comfortable with me, they’re more likely to feel comfortable with other individuals. … Then there’s sort of the halo effect. When that halo effect occurs, it means either I’m heroic or I’m a token. And neither one is positive. It really just perpetuates stereotypes and discriminatory behavior. And that to me – I’m not frustrated by it so much as I’ve become a little bit sad that I still, after 40, 50 years, have to address certain stereotypes.

Your own experiences seem to highlight the importance of reaching students early. Tell me about the Early Childhood and Family Education program.

The program really is about working with the parents or the grandparents or whomever is taking care of that child and teaching the parents to create a home environment that is accessible. … A simple example of that is if you have a child who is blind, they hear the vacuum cleaner running. But if they don’t see it, that sound has no meaning to that child. The parent has to learn how to explicitly teach the child who is blind to come over to the vacuum cleaner, to touch it, to feel it, have it running back and forth and explain what the vacuum cleaner is doing. … For a child who is deaf and hard of hearing, it really is all about access to language.

Have you had an experience with a family that really stuck with you?

There was a mother with an eight-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter. This mother had just separated from her husband, had just moved into this apartment. The apartment was in disarray. The son had just woken up. He had missed the bus to go to school, and the daughter was crawling around on the floor. She had cochlear implants, but the external piece had broken and had been broken for a couple of months. … And what really impressed me with this particular teacher was that despite the obvious frustration of that girl not getting access to any language in the way she needed, the teacher did not show any negative emotions. She praised what little was being done and really tried to support the mother.

Arizona cuts to college student support still among steepest in nation

ASU sign Arizona State University 620

State support for students at Arizona’s three public universities has fallen by 53.8 percent since 2008, more than three times the national decline over the same period, according to a new report.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said the Arizona cuts were the most extreme example of a national trend that has seen a total reduction in state aid of nearly $9 billion over the 10 years, as states scrambled to close budget gaps caused by the recession.

Despite efforts by states in recent years to reverse the trend – including in Arizona, where state support per student rose 4.25 percent last year – the report’s authors said they worry that those increases are slowing down.

“The clear majority of states have been reinvesting and that has been a broad trend over the past few years,” said Michael Mitchell, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in a call on the August 30 report.

“But there are indications that we can see that this reinvestment is trailing off and the amount of reinvestment that we’ve seen over the past few years just hasn’t been enough to make up for the drastic magnitude of cuts over the time period we’re looking at,” he said.

Those cuts average 16 percent per student nationally since 2008, the report said.

Arizona’s 53.8 percent reduction was largest in the nation, with Louisiana next-closest with a 44.9 percent reduction. In terms of an actual dollar reduction, however, Arizona’s per-student cut of $3,450 was fourth-highest, behind Louisiana, New Mexico and Alabama.

While the cuts have been partially offset by increases in federal aid – an average Pell grant grew 23 percent during the period – steady increases in tuition continue to make college unaffordable for many, according to the report.

“We have seen increases in federal student aid, but in states where tuition costs have increased rapidly those additional federal investments have not kept up with rising college costs,” Mitchell said. “The net cost of attendance has increased even for low-income students at four-year colleges.”

Vianney Careaga, student regent on the Arizona Board of Regents, said in an email that the report’s “findings do not surprise me, but rather echo similar findings in reports issued” by the regents.

Careaga and others pointed to recent efforts to improve the situation in Arizona. Those include the regents’ “50-50” plan, which aims to increase per-student aid for state residents from the 2015 level of 34 percent to a level of 50 percent – an improvement, but still well below the 2008 level of 72.2 percent.

Sarah Harper, a spokeswoman for the board, said in an emailed statement that the state budgeted $8 million toward that plan this year and $15 million next, adding that the regents are “grateful” for the support of the model by Gov. Doug Ducey and the Legislature.

Advocates also point to a law signed by the governor this year that they say will allow the state’s universities to fund up to $1 billion in infrastructure and research projects in coming years.

Rep. Paul Boyer (R-Phoenix)
Rep. Paul Boyer (R-Phoenix)

The prime sponsor of that bill, Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, said more support is needed, but the state is in a tough spot.

“We got here because of decisions the state made between fiscal year 2004 and fiscal year 2009, which brought about $4.7 billion in new spending,” said Boyer, the chairman of the House Education Committee. “We had ongoing permanent spending without an ongoing permanent revenue source.”

He said the state needs to have “taxation that is predictable” to increase higher education support. But education funding is a large part of the budget, Boyer said, making it a target for cuts.

Arizona has enough wealth to meet its needs — with new revenue


We need about $1 billion more in sustainable revenue to meet the needs of educators and school capital in Arizona, and there is a growing consensus in both parties that we need to find new revenue.

Last week, Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, bravely stood up on the floor of the House and proclaimed just that. He said that it is high time that we all make the tough choices to find the money to meet the needs of our state. I disagree with his proposed solution – it’s another increase to our already overburdened sales tax – but I respect his courage.

Had Campbell, or any Arizona Republican, made such a strong statement 15 years ago, he would have lost his job in a New York minute. Times have changed and here’s why:

Rep. Ken Clark
Rep. Ken Clark

Contrary to the protests of some of his fellow members, we need to understand one important fact – Arizona has enough wealth to meet its financial obligations.

We can absolutely find new revenue without causing economic distress to our state’s economy. The accompanying charts make it clear that the old tropes about our economy tanking from enhanced revenue simply do not hold water.

First, we need to understand how we got here. The Legislature has cut taxes in this state for 27 of the last 28 years.

I believe that most of those tax cuts have gone to very wealthy individuals and out-of-state companies, which drains dollars from our local economy.

Second, our state budgets have shrunk over the years in relation to our state’s wealth. We have the wealth to pay for our priorities – not only education, but also infrastructure and general well-being of our citizens.

In 1995, our budget represented 5 percent of Arizona Personal Income. At that same time, our state’s Gross Domestic Product was about $130 billion.

Now, our state’s GDP is just over $300 billion, but our state budget represents just 3.2 percent of Arizona Personal Income.

A Republican friend of mine said to me when I showed him this information that this is a good thing, that we are doing more with less. We know that is simply not true. We are doing less with less. That’s what the Red For Ed movement is all about.

As a state, we owe our educators about $1 billion just to get them to 2008 funding levels.

We have cut higher education funding by 40 percent since 2008.

We owe our school construction and maintenance more than $2 billion by formula since the year 2000.

And we need at least $260 million a year for the next decade just to maintain our current roads and bridges.

We have seen a 75 percent increase in homelessness in Phoenix over the last three years, according to the Central Arizona Shelter Service. Arizona has the wealth to meet its needs.

And what would we get for that investment? A strong, competitive education system and social safety network will attract more businesses to our state. We will ensure that we have an educated and healthy workforce. Arizona is a young, growing state. We will be able to address crucial infrastructure needs.

What does it take for us to get from here to there? It takes members of both parties to do just what Rep. Campbell did – lead. We need to tell you the truth, rather than shifting money around, just reeling from crisis to crisis putting out fires (with one hand tied behind our back).

I’m happy to see the conversation finally turning to revenue. I hope that you will join me to keep the pressure on your representatives to do what needs to be done.

— Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix, sits on the House Appropriations Committee.


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

Arizona lawmakers propose increase in base education funding


The proposed state budget released today marks some strides forward for public education funding, including a 0.9% increase in base level funding. 

But Democrats and public education advocates say the draft falls short of Governor Katie Hobbs’ initial commitment to creating steadier and sweeping new spending in education, which by-and-large hinged on a promise to eliminate, or at least slow, enrollment in the universal Empowerment Scholarship Account program. 

As lawmakers mull the budget, longevity and stability for public education remains at the forefront.  

“I know that we pushed very hard for education funding, and we’ve seen within the horrible framework that Republicans have given us, we have better education funding,” Sen. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said. “We were able to make some steps forward on that, but only for one year. Where are we after that?” 

The draft budget, released this afternoon, eliminates results-based funding, which frees up $68.6 million to make way for a 0.9% base level increase.  

The Arizona Department of Education would also be granted $300 million in one-time supplementary funding. A spokesperson for the governor said the funds are not specifically meant for ESA accounts.  

Other line-item spending for education includes $15 million to dual enrollment programs, $10 million to increase administrative funding, $5 million to broadband funding and $3 million to professional development for teachers and other personnel.  

And in higher education, the budget strips funding from freedom schools and invests the money back into the universities directly. There is also a $20 million earmark for the Promise Scholarship program and $15 million for the Arizona Teachers Academy.  

Though the budget draft marks some wins in education spending, the lack of a cap on the universal ESA program emerged as a point of contention for Democrats, public education advocacy groups and the attorney general.  

Hobbs made a repeal of the universal program a centerpiece of her 2024 budget proposal, but the promise failed to materialize. 

At a press conference this morning, Hobbs said “We can agree that the voucher program is a drain on resources that should be directed at public education, but I didn’t say we’re going to end it. It is a goal certainly, and we put that in our executive budget as the goal knowing that we were going to be in a place where we would have to negotiate.”  

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee projects the ESA program to cost the state $425 million as universal enrollment continues to soar. The estimate accounts for 55,180 enrollees. As of May 1, 53,945 students are enrolled in the ESA program.  

JLBC estimated enrollment to grow to 68,380 in FY2024. 

Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, and Reps. Laura Terech, D-Phoenix, and Judy Schwiebert, D-Phoenix, all tweeted their opposition to a lack of a cap ahead of the budget drop.  

Both Marsh and Terech noted the expansion continues to cause problems for the original recipients of the program, namely special education students.  

Tonya Reiner, longtime ESA parent with two students with disabilities and leader with the Arizona Coalition of Parents for Equal Student Access, said she fears the impact universal spending could have. 

“I worry that the administration will continue to favor ESA students who attend private schools and fund them over students with disabilities,” Reiner said. “What happens when there’s not enough money for everyone? Will the students with special needs suffer even more under current ESA leadership?”  

Beth Lewis, executive director of Save Our Schools, said school choice special interest groups are funneling in a swell of money to advertise the program and boost universal enrollment.  

“The intent is the full-scale privatization of education and Arizona is the tip of the spear,” Lewis said. “And if a Democratic governor decides not to fight against that and to allow the privatization of public education on her watch, then we know where her priorities lie.” 

Save Our Schools, Arizona Educators United, AZ Alliance of Black School Educators, Civic Engagement Beyond Voting, Equality AZ among other organizations are convening in a press conference Wednesday to rally in support of a cap. 

Other agencies are also feeling the strain placed by the universal ESA expansion. 

Attorney General Kris Mayes wrote to the governor over the weekend to express “alarm” that the AG’s office would not be receiving any new allotments from the general fund in a new budget “due to the catastrophic drain on state resources caused by universal Empowerment Scholarship Accounts.”  

Mayes sent her budget requests to Hobbs over the weekend and warned the lack of new funding could push the office to the “edge of a steep cliff.” 

The proposed budget bills are set to go in front of the House and Senate Appropriation Committees Wednesday. 


Arizona needs to increase student success for the other half


College move-in day is an exciting time for students and their parents. This month, just over half of all Arizona high school graduates are off to college. That’s great news for them and for Arizona, as college graduates are more likely to enjoy a lifetime of higher earnings and lower unemployment, among other benefits.

But what about the other half of high school students who are not college-bound? It’s easy to assume they are headed directly to work. Most are, but their path to success isn’t quite as clear, even in an expanding economy and tight labor market like Phoenix.

The majority of jobs available to working-age adults now require some education or credentials beyond high school. This workforce shift means millions of young adults in America are not working, nor are they attending school, including an estimated 22 percent in Phoenix. Collectively, they are often referred to as “disconnected” young adults.

The disconnect impacts minority students at higher rates, as they are more likely to live in poverty and lack the preparation and finances for college. Sadly, poverty is not an anomaly in Arizona schools: one in five Arizona children under 18 lives in poverty and 30 percent of children live in households where parents do not have secure employment. The numbers are much higher in Phoenix.

Take Phoenix Union, for example, Arizona’s largest and oldest high school district. Once segregated, Phoenix Union today is a majority-minority school district. Over 100 languages are spoken and 80 percent of its students are Hispanic. Family incomes are lower than average, so nearly 80 percent of all students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

Family income is a significant predictor of success in school which, in turn, generally determines lifetime employment opportunities and earnings. With nearly 30,000 students in Phoenix Union and another 135,000 students in their partner K-8 elementary districts alone, it’s easy to see how the economic future of Phoenix and Arizona is closely tied to the success of the K-12 system.

In response, Phoenix Union, like other high schools, has taken steps to revamp its offerings to confront the challenges of poverty and increase the preparation of its graduates, such as expanding career and technical (CTE) courses. Specialty schools like the Phoenix Coding Academy and Franklin Police & Fire High School, and the new Academies at South Mountain, prepare graduates with relevant work skills the day they earn their diploma.

More must be done.  We see an opportunity for Arizona to lead as demographics and the job market shift.  We must find new ways to increase student success by:

  • Creating new pathways for students to meet high school graduation requirements, such as apprenticeships and technical training, work and life skills, not just college prep academic coursework.
  • Expanding dual enrollment programs and reducing barriers so students can enroll in community college workforce training during high school and receive a certificate along with a diploma.
  • Changing state funding formulas to recognize the additional costs of educating students in poverty and reward schools for delivering high quality programs that prepare students for the workforce.
  • Making state financial aid more available. Right now, only students bound for state universities qualify for state financial aid. That pool should be expanded to include education and training at community colleges and technical schools.
  • Overhauling GED programs so the thousands of adults who did not graduate high school can earn a diploma and skills that will lead to work.

In the coming weeks, we are inviting leaders of business, education and philanthropy to learn more about the changing demographics of Arizona and explore how we can work together to improve opportunity for all high school graduates, no matter their life path.
Arizona has made great strides in improving its schools and outcomes for students, especially those who are setting out for college. It’s now time to shore up opportunities for the rest to ensure their future is just as bright.

Dr. Chad Gestson is superintendent of Phoenix Union, Dr. Maria Harper-Marinick is chancellor of the Maricopa County Community College District, Chris Camacho is president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, Eileen Klein is former state treasurer and president emerita, Arizona Board of Regents.

Arizona public schools find ways to adapt to funding cuts

Students in Tucson's Amphitheater district receive Chromebooks paid for by the nonprofit Amphi Foundation to help them learn. The foundation funds programs the district would not be able to cover. (Photo submitted by Matt Stamp, Amphi Public Schools)
Students in Tucson’s Amphitheater district receive Chromebooks paid for by the nonprofit Amphi Foundation to help them learn. The foundation funds programs the district would not be able to cover. (Photo submitted by Matt Stamp, Amphi Public Schools)

Arizona consistently ranks among the lowest in the nation for its per-student funding, a fact often cited by advocates hoping for a better financial picture for the state’s schools.

But, as funding levels continue to lag years after the Great Recession, schools find ways to make do.

Some turn to the internet, searching for donations. Many crowd kids into classrooms or have principals step in as teachers. Others go to four-day weeks.

Environmental innovations, like solar panels and artificial grass, can help cut costs. And there’s even a company dedicated to helping schools find ways to save money on things like utilities.

The most obvious way to adjust for low state funding is increasing taxes at the local level through bonds and overrides. But voters aren’t always willing to support tax increases, especially in a Republican-led state like Arizona.

Even so, don’t discount the creativity of educators, say those who have worked in schools and found ways to save money.

There is, of course, the question of whether schools should be forced into cutting costs creatively by low funding levels.

“It’s getting old, and it’s high time that our Legislature steps up to the plate and starts funding public schools the way they should,” said Jim Lee, superintendent of the Paradise Valley Unified School District.


Dozens of teachers ask friends, family and strangers to pitch in on basic classroom costs through crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe and DonorsChoose. Do a simple search for your city and the word “teacher” and you can find a seemingly endless stream of teachers to help.

Tanner Nielsen, a 21-year-old new teacher at Union Elementary School in Tolleson, wants to create a Super Mario Bros-themed classroom, so he created a GoFundMe to ask for monetary help. (Screenshot from GoFundMe)
Tanner Nielsen, a 21-year-old new teacher at Union Elementary School in Tolleson, wants to create a Super Mario Bros-themed classroom, so he created a GoFundMe to ask for monetary help. (Screenshot from GoFundMe)

Tanner Nielsen, a 21-year-old new teacher, wants to create a Super Mario Bros-themed classroom to excite his future students. The second grade teacher at Union Elementary School in Tolleson has raised more than $300 so far.

He said he has wanted to have a Mario classroom as long as he’s known he wanted to be a teacher. The money will help him buy the supplies needed to make the dream a reality.

“I want to be the teacher that I wish I had when I was in second grade,” he said.

One GoFundMe takes a big swing, asking for $14 million to match Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposed teacher raise. The campaign, started in February, has raised $195 so far.

But crowdfunding is hit-or-miss and requires legwork – including near-constant sharing on social media – from teachers or their supporters. There’s also a certain level of fatigue from people on social networks, who are always being asked to give money to GoFundMe campaigns for everything from health care to overseas adoptions.

In some cases, the easier ask may be for specific items, like library books.

More than 30 Arizona schools have received donated books from Kids Need to Read, a 501(c)3 that donates 200 books to libraries in high poverty communities through its Grow Your Library program.

Program director and Phoenix resident Gary Mlodzik was at the Globe Public Library, according to an April blog post, where donations satisfied the area’s “dire need of non-fiction books.”

The local elementary and high schools, he noted, have no libraries of their own.

And William T. Machan Elementary School’s library may be closed this fall after the library aide was fired following federal funding cuts. According to The Arizona Republic, volunteers need to raise $15,000 to keep the library doors open to its largely impoverished student body.


Budget constraints and the state’s ongoing teacher shortage go hand-in-hand. Schools struggle to attract new teachers in large part because of low salaries. In turn, the methods they use to adapt to missing teachers end up saving some money, though educators say they would rather find teachers to fill those vacancies.

Lee, the Paradise Valley superintendent, said there are three main ways schools adapt to vacancies, which end up cutting costs: increasing class sizes, skipping teacher prep periods, and putting principals in front of classrooms.

A few principals in the Paradise Valley district will teach classes, Lee said. One principal has a background in special education, so she filled in in that area when the school couldn’t find substitute teachers, he said.

Classes in the district’s high schools average 35 to 38 students, he said. The class size in smaller for middle and elementary school and depends on the specifics of each school in the large district, Lee said.

Numerous teachers don’t have a prep period and instead teach a class during that time, which increases their take-home pay, but saves the district overall because the person is already on the payroll, Lee said.

“We get awfully creative when we need to,” he said.

Most schools use some of the techniques Lee mentioned to some degree. They all find various ways to help their bottom-lines and do the best they can with the money they’re given, Lee said.

And while he’s proud of the way his district has found new ways to save and earn money, there’s a philosophical question about whether they should have to find gimmicks to get by. State leaders simply must do a better job of funding schools, he said.


For Tucson’s Amphitheater district and many others across the state, a foundation jumps in to help with costs that, under better financial circumstances, would be covered by the schools themselves.

Teachers in Tucson's Amphitheater school district get money for technology and other classrooms needs from the Amphi Foundation, a nonprofit that fills in funding gaps for the district. (Photo submitted by Matt Stamp, Amphi Public Schools)
Teachers in Tucson’s Amphitheater school district get money for technology and other classrooms needs from the Amphi Foundation, a nonprofit that fills in funding gaps for the district. (Photo submitted by Matt Stamp, Amphi Public Schools)

The nonprofit Amphi Foundation started in 1983 and was mainly funded by district employees for many years, though Executive Director Leah Noreng said it’s now mainly supported by the community, from parents to local businesses to corporate sponsors to grants.

“The sad reality is that we’re supporting some things that are otherwise unfunded. We’re not just adding to the top, we’re filling in where these things wouldn’t be funded otherwise,” Noreng said.

The foundation provides some services typical of charities, like a clothing bank and shoe program for needy students. But it also helps fund technology in classrooms, like laptops and 3D printers. And it recently started a mini-grant program, topped out at $500 per teacher, to help pay for equipment or new programs.

The foundation will be giving a $200 startup grant to every new teacher in the district to help them fill their classrooms with needed supplies, she said.

“We don’t want our teachers to have to pay for things out of pocket. No other profession exists where you’re expected to pay for things out of pocket and not get reimbursed by your company. Teachers are doing that every day,” Noreng said.

If the Amphi Foundation didn’t exist, the programs would simply go unfunded, she said. And while she’s constantly trying to grow the fundraising base, it’s impossible to keep up with demand in the 14,000-student district.

“Every year, I feel that the burden is even bigger,” she said. “The reality is, I will never be able to raise enough money because the need is so great.”

Partnerships with local businesses have also helped bridge financial gaps through ongoing investments.

Garden Lakes Elementary School students enrolled in the GCON Design and Build Academy gather around a guest speaker. Sponsors like the construction management company invest in a variety of educational programs across the Pendergast Elementary School District. (Photo courtesy of Pendergast Elementary School District spokeswoman Nedda Shafir)
Garden Lakes Elementary School students enrolled in the GCON Design and Build Academy gather around a guest speaker. Sponsors like the construction management company invest in a variety of educational programs across the Pendergast Elementary School District. (Photo courtesy of Pendergast Elementary School District spokeswoman Nedda Shafir)

Pendergast Elementary School District spokeswoman Nedda Shafir said her district started STEAM (STEM plus arts = science, technology, engineering, arts and math) academies three years ago with the help of business partners that give money to classrooms bearing their brands, building hands-on curriculum without additional costs to the district.

Maricopa Integrated Health Systems sponsors a medical academy exposing students to forensics and medicine, and architecture firm Orcutt Winslow adopted the building design and construction academy where students work with CAD software, a design tool used by professionals in the field. The list goes on.

Those same partners sponsor field trips to their facilities and guest speakers to offer guidance to the sixth, seventh and eighth graders in their elementary programs.

“The businesses are invested. They’re training the workforce of the future, so they’re excited about that,” Shafir said.


A simple Google search will show there’s no shortage of Arizona schools cutting costs with environmentally friendly features, like artificial turf and solar panels.

Shafir from Pendergast Elementary School District said cutting back on appliances like coffeemakers and mini-fridges in classrooms has saved about $20,000 on electricity alone, and other efforts to be more efficient are estimated to have cut the district’s energy costs in half.

But Arredondo Elementary School’s facelift, to be unveiled on August 3, strives to be the model for cost-saving solutions that also create a more comfortable learning environment.

Principal Alison Bruening-Hamati said some classrooms in the old building did not have windows, and lights had to be kept on at all times. Now, in the new facility, every classroom has energy-efficient light fixtures and access to natural light through windows or solar tubes.

Courtney Quesada, a project manager with the Tempe Elementary School District’s facilities department, described the tubes as mini-skylights going from the ceiling of a classroom to the roof where the sun enters the reflective tube.

The added tubes and windows allow the school to “harvest” daylight, Quesada said. Sensors in the classrooms measure how much natural light is allowed in and dim the artificial lighting to save energy.

The cafeteria was equipped with garage doors to let in fresh air in the cooler months rather than relying on A/C, and students are incentivized to turn off unnecessary lighting or utilize outdoor spaces with a weekly Clean and Green Classroom Award.

The upgraded Arredondo Elementary School in Tempe includes an amphitheater with artificial grass. The turf was intended to reduce maintenance costs while also providing an outdoor alternative to indoor classrooms during cooler months. (Photo by Amy Garza/Tempe Elementary School District)
The upgraded Arredondo Elementary School in Tempe includes an amphitheater with artificial grass. The turf was intended to reduce maintenance costs while also providing an outdoor alternative to indoor classrooms during cooler months. (Photo by Amy Garza/Tempe Elementary School District)

Artificial grass in the campus’ outdoor amphitheater and a paved area featuring shade trees have made the school’s outdoor spaces efficient alternatives to indoor classrooms.

While faux turf may be more costly upfront, Quesada said, it pays off over time with little maintenance required.

Bruening-Hamati credited Tempe taxpayers for making the renovations possible through bonding. Without those additional funds, her school and others in the district may not have been so lucky.

“In the state of Arizona, this is really an anomaly at this time because there isn’t a lot of money,” she said. “When it comes down to it, Tempe is really dedicated to their schools.”


Some districts switch to four-day school weeks, hoping to save money on transportation, utilities and administration.

According to the Arizona Department of Education, 53 school districts have four-day weeks – that’s approximately 8 percent of all districts in the state. Most of the four-day districts are in rural areas.

There isn’t a lot of long-term study into how the shortened school weeks affect students, though some research suggests morale and attendance improve for educators and kids. The instructional time remains the same, just in the form of four slightly longer days.

At first blush, it may seem like a district could shave off one-fifth of its budget by cutting out one-fifth of its school days. But the biggest line-item for schools – pay and benefits for teachers – is largely not affected by moving to a four-day week because many still work the same number of hours per week.

A 2011 analysis of the cost-savings aspect of four-day weeks by the Education Commission of the States, a policy think tank, found costs were reduced, albeit minimally. The report said the most a district could save is 5.43 percent by moving to a four-day week, though schools it reviewed saved between 0.4 percent and 2.5 percent on their total annual budget.

The Bisbee Unified School District moved to a four-day week in 2009. According to the ECS report, the district saved $154,000, or 2.5 percent, in its annual budget.


Keith Laake built his entire business on helping other organizations save money.

For a percentage of the savings his staff ultimately identifies, Laake’s Cost Control Associates combs through utility and telecom bills for errors and missed opportunities for less costly rates. Past unnecessary charges can be refunded and ongoing costs can be reduced.

“Even if we were to work with a school district and find nothing, they feel better that they’ve had an expert look it and make sure everything is being billed right and that their costs are optimized,” Laake said. “Fortunately, for most school districts, we do find things.”

And for districts working hard just to “scrape by,” every dollar counts.

The Gilbert Public School District saved more than $40,000 in the first year after the Cost Control Associates audit. The company found more than $10,000 in telecom refunds and an additional $23,000 in annual savings thanks to a rate change. Laake’s staff also saved the district $6,500 annually on electricity.

Teddy Dumlao, finance director for the district, said he believes the savings are really even greater than the initial dollar figure Laake quoted – perhaps tens of thousands of dollars each month when all is said and done.

Because of the audit, Dumlao explained, the district was able to justify energy-efficient updates to facilities, like lighting and air conditioning units, and access federal funds to cover the cost of those improvements.

Dumlao said school districts have been left “hurting and scrambling” in the wake of cuts to state capital funding, so being able to take advantage of more efficient technology has allowed his district to cut costs that could very well cover someone’s salary.

Other districts have seen even greater savings. At Chandler Unified School District, Laake estimated his staff found more than $100,000 in reduced costs there.

And even in smaller districts that may not yield such high dollar figures, Laake said something as simple as cutting utility costs could save jobs.

Arizona top teachers unload on Legislature


Three current and former teachers of the year lashed out Monday at lawmakers for failing to properly fund schools — and salaries — but were more forgiving of local school boards who actually set their pay.

State lawmakers agreed in the just-completed session to set aside $34 million for a 1 percent hike, with a promise of an additional 1 percent in the 2018-2019 school year. Questions remain, however, whether those additional dollars will be built into the base of state aid or could disappear.

But that amount is dwarfed by the additional more than $300 million schools statewide will be getting from the voter approved Proposition 123, which settled a long-running lawsuit. And just the change in the state aid formula due to inflation and student growth will add another nearly $128 million.

Beth Maloney, selected the 2014 teacher of the year by the Arizona Educational Foundation, acknowledged the dollars. But she said that ignores where the dollars are needed.

“I know the school board is looking out for teachers,” she said at a forum Monday that was attended by a handful of parents and three Democratic lawmakers. “But the pie just keeps on shrinking,” Maloney said.

State funding on a per-student basis was $4,487 in the 2007-2008 school year. This current year the figure is $4,324. And that does not include the effects of inflation.

There’s also the fact that the Proposition 123 dollars are actually designed to partly compensate schools for the inflation aid they did not get for years despite a voter-approved mandate. The ballot measure settled the lawsuit for a fraction of what was owed.

That, however, still leaves those inflation and student growth dollars.

During the legislative session House Speaker J.D. Mesnard proposed to require that schools use half of those dollars for teacher pay. He argued it is wrong to blame the whole problem of low teacher salaries — Arizona is near the bottom of all states — strictly on the legislature.

Mesnard withdrew the proposal without demanding a vote. But he said he may resurrect the idea next session.

Maloney, however, said it comes down to decisions by school boards to give the available money to direct student needs, like building maintenance, school buses, textbooks and even art supplies.

Christine Marsh, the latest teacher of the year, conceded that there may be additional dollars available that school boards could divert to teacher salaries.

“Is there waste in schools districts? I don’t know,” she said “Could they funnel the little bit of money that they get into different areas? Maybe.”

But Marsh said she compares the funding of public schools in Arizona to a family living at the poverty level.

“If they’re spending $6 a month on a pack of cigarettes, is that a problem?” she asked.

“Yeah, that’s a problem,” Marsh continued. “But moving that $6 a month back into the (family’s) pot of money, it’s still not enough.”

Monday’s forum had decidedly political overtones, and not just because the teachers are the same ones who earlier this year said that Gov. Doug Ducey had “betrayed” teachers who supported Proposition 123 by signing legislation to expand who can get state-funded vouchers to send their children to private and parochial schools.

The event was moderated by David Schapira. While he is a former member of the Tempe Union High School District governing board and currently a member of the Tempe city council, he also is a former Democrat state lawmaker.

Potentially more significant, Schapira is running as a Democrat for state school superintendent.

Not all the comments about the just-completed legislative session were negative.

Maloney cited changes in the teacher evaluation process as “a huge bright spot.”

Nancy Lindblom, the 2013 teacher of the year, said until now she got “graded” based on how students throughout her school did on standardized tests. But Lindblom, who teaches history and government, said many of her students are seniors who do not take the test; others who do are also taking math tests over which she has no control.

Maloney also was particularly pleased with the Arizona Teachers Academy, a program approved by the legislature where students can get a free year of college for every year they teach in public schools. She said new teachers who don’t have college debt tend to stay in the profession longer, at least in part because they don’t have to take a second job to pay it off.

AZ lawmakers seek review of Ducey’s use of federal funds

From left are Arizona U.S. Reps. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, and Greg Stanton, D-Phoenix.
From left are Arizona U.S. Reps. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, and Greg Stanton, D-Phoenix.

Two Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation are asking federal officials to review the legality of Gov. Doug Ducey using Covid relief dollars to benefit only schools that do not require masks. 

In a letter Wednesday to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, Rep. Raul Grijalva said the dollars from the American Rescue Plan that Ducey is using were intended to support states in their efforts to “reopen K-12 schools safely and equitably expand opportunities for students who need it most.” Yet what is happening, the congressman said, is the governor is punishing schools that actually follow the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. 

Those guidelines, issued in the wake of the spread of the Delta variant, recommend “universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.” And the CDC says children should return to full-time, in-person instruction “with layered prevention strategies in place.” 

Instead, Ducey announced on Tuesday he is dividing up nearly $163 million in rescue plan dollars among schools — but only those schools that do not have a mask mandate in place as of Aug. 27. And the governor set that date for compliance even though a judge ruled just a day earlier that the legislative ban on mask mandates does not take effect until Sept. 29. 

“Gov. Ducey is yet again pursuing reckless and inhumane proposals that will continue to exacerbate this public health crisis,” Grijalva wrote. “In addition, it puts into question the legality around him restricting public health mitigation measures in the first place.” 

Rep. Greg Stanton, in a separate letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, said he already is sure that Ducey is acting illegally. 

“This deeply irresponsible plan appears to violate the plain language of the law as written by Congress as well as the guidance issued by the Department of the Treasury,” he wrote. “These funds are not intended to be used for policies that undercut scientific research to pursue purely partisan ideological priorities.” 

And Stanton wants action. 

“I urge the Treasury Department to make clear to the governor that if he follows through with this reckless proposal, he risks losing these funds for Arizona,” he said. 

Whether the governor’s threat will have any effect on districts with mask mandates remains unclear. 

But at least one district, Scottsdale Unified, approved its own masking requirement Tuesday night, after Ducey’s announcement. 

That brings to two dozen the number of school districts that, for the moment, are openly defying the governor. 

It isn’t just that Ducey wants to use the grant funds only for schools that don’t have mask mandates. He also wants to provide vouchers of these federal dollars to provide $7,000 to parents. 

The governor, for his part, remains convinced he’s doing nothing wrong. 

“We are confident the program used to distribute these funds aligns with federal guidance,” said press aide C.J. Karamargin. 

An aide to Sen. Mark Kelly said his office was studying the legal issues of both the distribution of the aid and the vouchers. 

There was no immediate response from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema on the legal question. But Sinema made it clear what she thinks of the governor’s action. 

“This is the most absurdly dangerous and anti-science step Doug Ducey has taken (and that’s saying a lot, 2020),” she said in a Twitter post. 

“Unless kids under 12 have access to the vaccine, what are parents supposed to do?” she asked. “Just hope their kids don’t get sick and end up in the ICU?” 

Ducey has emphasized that nothing in state law or any of his directives prevents parents from putting masks on their children. But that still leaves them at least partially exposed to unmaked students and adults who may be contagious. 




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. 

Behind the Ballot: Down-ballot drama


Tracy Livingston, a Republican candidate for superintendent of public instruction, greets voters at the Arizona Capitol Times’ Meet the Candidates event on Aug. 1. Livingston has been embraced by many in her party as the GOP’s best hope at keeping the office red. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

The race for superintendent of public instruction has historically struggled to garner voters’ attention and donors’ dollars.

And this election cycle is proving no different even with the energy that erupted from Red for Ed earlier this year.

But in allowing that old attitude to take hold, the GOP is failing to capitalize on the moment, and that could cost Republicans the office responsible for implementing education policy and distributing billions in school funding.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes.


Music in this episode included “Creative Minds,” “Funky Element” and “Energy” by Bensound.

Behind the Ballot: Nerd alert


FILE - In this June 5, 2017, file photo, Arizona state Sen. Steve Farley speaks during a news conference in Tucson, Ariz. Two Democrats looking to unseat Republican Gov. Doug Ducey are officially going to battle it out in the primary. On Tuesday, May 29, 2018, David Garcia and Farley filed signatures to run in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. (Ron Medvescek/Arizona Daily Star via AP, File)
In this June 5, 2017, file photo, Arizona state Sen. Steve Farley speaks during a news conference in Tucson, Ariz. (Ron Medvescek/Arizona Daily Star via AP, File)

As was recently observed in the Arizona Capitol Times, Steve Farley can rattle off budget details until your eyes glaze over.

He’s hoping that attention to detail will earn him the governor’s seat. But will wonkiness actually win the day for Arizona’s highest statewide office?

He still has to face off against David Garcia before he’ll get his shot – presumably – at the incumbent; Gov. Doug Ducey is expected to win the Republican nomination over challenger Ken Bennett.

This isn’t the first time you’ve tuned in for a story focused on the gubernatorial race. Today, we’ll break down why it’s especially important in this election cycle.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes.


Music in this episode included “Creative Minds,” “Funky Element” and “Energy” by Bensound.

Big fights loom over few differences in GOP spending proposals

Male hand putting a coin into piggy bank

Cage fighting has begun at the state Capitol.

And while physical violence has been avoided, the stakes are high all the same. Somewhere in the ballpark of $12 billion in state revenues is up for grabs as lawmakers forge ahead on this session’s appropriation process, having bucked tradition by drafting separate legislative budget proposals in each chamber that need to be reconciled before negotiations can begin with the Governor’s Office.

Those proposals became public earlier in January, and Republican leadership and Appropriations Committee members from both the House and Senate have already held several meetings in the Joint Legislative Budget Committee offices, dubbed “the cage,” to hash out their differences on where the state should spend its money in the next fiscal year. Meetings with the governor, who released his budget proposal January 17, are on the horizon.

In broad strokes, the three Republican budgets are fairly similar. All call for increased funding for K-12 education, roads and public safety, and include some form of tax cut.

But there are key differences, mostly between the governor’s budget and the two legislative budgets.

Gov. Doug Ducey wants to close a prison, launch a new program to fund low-achieving schools and stash more money in the state’s rainy day fund. Republicans in both legislative chambers are agitating for more aggressive tax cuts than the governor proposed.

The Senate framework has detailed requests from individual members, including overhauling a special education funding formula that has gone unchanged since 1980, building a veterans’ home in Mohave County and providing state aid to cities covering the costs of firefighters’ cancer treatment. The House, meanwhile, has set aside around $51 million ongoing for member requests – an amount that would all but disappear if lawmakers acquiesced to some of Ducey’s spending requests.

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said discussions with House leaders are going well, but both chambers still have many questions for Ducey.

“Some of the things they have in their budget, we don’t understand what they’re doing or how they’re doing it or why they’re doing it,” she said of the governor’s budget plan.

Unknown Priorities

Chief among those questions is just how to handle the closure of Florence Prison, a move Ducey announced in his State of the State Address to the apparent surprise of Florence town officials. The governor’s budget staff estimated that moving prisoners to county jails or private prisons and reassigning correctional officers to the nearby Eyman Prison would save the state $270 million over three years.

But in the next budget year, closing the prison entails spending about $33 million to buy bed space for inmates in county jails and private prisons, according to the Governor’s Office, though neither the House nor Senate budget makes a similar appropriation. Legislative budget staff say questions over how much money is needed and where prisoners will go could remain unanswered until after the Legislature adjourns for the year.

“We’d like to have more details about that, as to how we’re going to go about transferring those prisoners and how those costs will be transferred to either the Eyman Prison or over to the county jails,” Fann said.

And legislative Republicans don’t know what to do with Ducey’s school-funding initiative, dubbed “Project Rocket,” which would spend $44 million to increase per-pupil funding at low-performing, low-income schools over three years. Neither legislative budget proposal carves out any funding for the new program, which Fann said most lawmakers didn’t know about prior to the governor’s State of the State Address.

While Project Rocket has support from Republicans, including House Education Chair Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, legislative leaders as a whole are skeptical of the program, which would eat up the bulk of the ongoing discretionary spending set aside for member requests if passed as written.

“Obviously we’re all for funding education, particularly schools that need the extra help to bring them up, but it’s a new program and so we have some questions,” Fann said. “How does it work? Who exactly is going to get the funds, and under what conditions?”

The program is modeled after a pilot that offered “results-based funding” in Avondale, Wickenburg and Deer Valley school districts, in effect increasing per-pupil spending. House Appropriations Chair Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, said she’s not sold on the initiative, and that she thinks it could be cheaper and just as effective if lawmakers narrow its scope.

“It includes D schools, F schools and it also includes C schools with 60% [free or reduced lunch] – that’s where that $44 million comes from,” Cobb said. “If you just did D and F schools, you could probably just drop it to $12 million.”

‘Bothersome’ Tax Cuts

And then there are differences on what to do with the state’s overflowing surplus. House Republicans want $350 million in tax cuts over the next three fiscal years, while the Senate calls for $275 million of cuts in the same time period, just about covering a wide-reaching plan introduced by Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, that would cut about $300 million over three years.

The governor, on the other hand, only calls for a reduction of $45 million, the result of a proposal to eliminate income taxes on veterans’ pensions. Ducey also wants to add $25 million to the rainy day fund, while appropriators have yet to propose an amount they’d like to see added to the fund.

Cobb called Ducey’s proposed tax cut a “carve-out of a carve-out,” not the kind of broad-based cuts sought by many conservatives.

She’d like to tinker with personal exemptions and charitable tax credits – perhaps in concert with the governor’s cut – to reach $100 million a year in ongoing cuts, plus a $50 million one-time cut in fiscal year 2021, which starts this coming July 1.

Regina Cobb
Regina Cobb

“I think that when you’ve got $1 billion in surplus, $100 million is not a lot of a tax cut to be given back to the taxpayers, especially since we’ve got …  an increase in income,” Cobb said. “We don’t want to live off of a nine or 10% growth rate. That’s unsustainable. So what we wanna’ do is live off of the lower growth rate.”

But the Legislature’s ambitious tax cut plans risk alienating moderates like Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, a north Phoenix Republican who faces stiff odds as she runs for re-election this year. Brophy McGee’s opposition to a tax cut plan Mesnard pitched last year that would have given more income tax breaks to wealthier Arizonans and increased taxes for the state’s poorest residents was one of the key reasons it didn’t pass.

Brophy McGee called the tax cut figures in the Senate and House budgets “bothersome,” but said she’s “somewhat interested” in Ducey’s narrowly targeted tax cut plan for veterans. The state still has $1.1 billion in K-12 rollovers and debt that has yet to be paid back, and should wait to go through another robust economic cycle before discussing cuts, she said.

“Let’s get back to where we were before the wheels fell off, and then we can talk about tax cuts,” she said.

The Dem Factor

Tax cuts also mean losing support from Democrats in either chamber who might otherwise be willing to support pieces of the budget, Senate Minority Leader David Bradley said. Sweeping tax cuts are a “poison pill” that will contaminate every budget bill, he said.

Democrats in the House and Senate plan to introduce their own spending proposals by next week, publicly laying out their starting point in negotiations as Republican leaders barrel toward a planned late-February budget passage.

The House and Senate budgets do more closely align with Democratic priorities in one sense – they both call for more funding to help homeless Arizonans.

Both legislative proposals would give $10 million to the state Housing Trust Fund, while Ducey’s budget allocates no money to the oft-neglected fund. State support for subsidized housing plummeted during the recession, but last year’s budget reversed course by providing a one-time influx of $15 million to the fund.

While the $10 million proposed in this year’s budget is a start, Fann said she and other Republican senators would like to spend more. Democrats in both chambers have made increased funding for housing a key part of their platform.

Bucking Tradition

Settling these differences and getting a budget passed will be something of a novel process. In the past, budget negotiations took place much later in the session, and the governor tended to set the terms of debate, whereas now the dual budgets from the Legislature give lawmakers a bit more bargaining power.

“It wasn’t necessarily contentious, but it was extremely slow,” said Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who for years served as House Appropriations chair. “We would make a proposal and it would take days to come back – then the change was minor.”

Now, Kavanagh, who still serves on the Appropriations Committee, senses a “spirit of greater collaboration,” partly because lawmakers want to finish the budget and hit the campaign trail as soon as possible.

And even once there’s a unified Republican spending plan, leaders have to fend off holdouts from rank-and-file lawmakers who have specific requests or who feel jilted by a lack of transparency in the negotiations process, a perennial complaint that has persisted this session. This is especially crucial in the House, where one Republican defection means that leaders have to seek Democratic votes to get a budget passed.

“Our votes are never secure,” said Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott. “We all want what we want for our districts and our constituents.”

As with any fight, cage or otherwise, everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

“The fun has yet to begin,” Kavanagh said.

Bill bans mask mandates in public schools

Angela Black, right, with her brother Luke Black at their home, pose for a photo Tuesday, May 11, 2021, in Mesa, Ariz. The students, a third grader and kindergartner, attend a school where mask wearing is optional. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Angela Black, right, with her brother Luke Black at their home, pose for a photo Tuesday, May 11, 2021, in Mesa, Ariz. The students, a third grader and kindergartner, attend a school where mask wearing is optional. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Republican lawmakers did an about-face on facemasks in schools in the most recent version of the state education budget bill. 

The initial language, one line of the deal Gov. Doug Ducey hammered out with Senate and House Republican leadership in May, would have codified school districts and charter schools having the final authority on face mask requirements. 

The new language does the opposite and would permanently prohibit school districts and charters from requiring facial coverings. Individuals would still be able to choose to wear them. 

The change came after lawmakers such as Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, and Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, threatened to withhold their votes. 

“And to think until I publicly exposed it, Fauci Followers in the AZ Senate Leadership along w/@dougducey were almost successful in sneaking language into the budget giving school districts the power to force students to wear masks for any reason & for as long as they want,” Michelle Ugenti-Rita tweeted on June 5.  

School districts and charters have had that individual responsibility since April. That’s when Ducey rescinded his executive order from July 2020 that required them to implement a face covering requirement for everyone over the age of 5. 

The change was met with confusion and, in some cases, outrage, as districts made individual decisions on how to handle their masking policy roughly five weeks before the end of the semester.   

While the school where Rep. Steve Kaiser’s children attend ditched its mask requirement, he accused local school boards of not listening to parents. He said the mask issue was a big one for the Republican base. 

“I believe in local control, too, but I’m not about to let local control decide what’s best for my kids medically,” the Phoenix Republican said during a caucus meeting late last month. “I should decide that.” 

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, pushed for the language to include visitors, noting an incident in Scottsdale where people came to a school board meeting to protest critical race theory but refused to wear masks, leading to the board to recess the meeting. 

Rep. Melody Hernandez, D-Tempe, said the flip-flop was to secure budget votes from lawmakers who tend to “thrive on disinformation about coronavirus, masks and the vaccine and the like.”  

Hernandez, a paramedic, said she doesn’t think such a move would have an immediate effect on public health because “hopefully we’re moving past the pandemic,” but that it seemed short-sighted. 

“If this is successful, it’s going to unnecessarily tie the hands of administrators and educators if there’s another airborne pandemic,” she said. 

Save Our Schools Arizona supports keeping mask mandate authority local. 

“We support keeping that authority at the individual district level where locally-elected board members were voted in to lead on their schools’ policies,” communications director Dawn Penich-Thacker said. 

Other states are also looking at the issue of who should be able to make mask mandates for schools. While most states either still have a state level mask mandate for schools or are allowing individual districts to make decisions, a handful are stripping that authority from the local boards. 

In May, Iowa banned mask mandates by schools and cities. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also signed an executive order prohibiting mask mandates in schools. In Georgia, there’s no outright ban, but an executive order from the governor says schools can no longer “rely on the Public Health State of Emergency as a basis for requiring students or workers to wear a face covering.” And in Idaho, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin signed a school mask mandate ban while Gov. Brad Little was out-of-state. When he returned, he rescinded it. 

Bill helps taxpayers avoid Prop. 208 surcharge

Calculating numbers for income tax return with pen and calculator

A veteran lawmaker is proposing what amounts to an end-run to allow some business owners to avoid paying the just-approved income tax surcharge for education.

The proposal by Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, would create an entirely new alternate tax category for small businesses, generally those organized in a way so their income passes through to the owners. That means the owners compute what they owe the state on their personal income tax forms after deducting all business expenses.

What makes that significant is that Proposition 208 imposes a 3.5% surcharge on adjusted personal income of more than $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for married couples filing jointly. That is on top of the current 4.5% rate that applies for income above those figures.

SB1783 would give business owners the option of instead paying a 4.5% tax on their adjusted business income.

More to the point, the surcharge in Proposition 208 would not apply because this proposed new tax category did not exist at the time voters approved the measure. So business owners could compute their tax liability using both the existing formula or the new one – and then choose the one that costs them less.

Mesnard told Capitol Media Services that creating this new category makes sense because it will allow lawmakers to craft special tax provisions targeted at helping small businesses.

He acknowledged, though, that a prime reason was to help business owners escape paying that new voter-approved surcharge. Mesnard said that’s justified.

“We heard time and time again this will not or is not meant to impact small businesses,” he said. “And so what this is doing is ensuring that’s the case.”

But David Lujan, who helped organize the Prop. 208 fight, said Mesnard isn’t telling the whole story. The way he sees it, the initiative does not target small business.

Lujan points out that what’s subject to the tax is not the gross proceeds of any business. It’s what’s left after an owner pays all expenses, from employee salaries to equipment purchases. It’s also what remains after any other deductions, like money a business owner puts into a 401(k) retirement account.

What that leaves, he said, is the net income the owner pockets. And Prop. 208 kicks in only on any net earnings above $500,000 for a married couple.

Lujan also pointed out that SB1783, which awaits a vote of the full Senate, doesn’t just set a new optional tax category for small business. It also creates this same 4.5% tax rate for income from estates and trusts.

All this leaves the issue of whether it’s legal to effectively alter what was the intent of the voters to subject certain income to the higher levy.

Attorney Roopali Desai, who represents the Invest in Ed committee that put Prop. 208 on the ballot, acknowledged that lawmakers do have the power to alter the state tax code and create new categories.

“The question is whether the Legislature is able to pass legislation that directly or indirectly changes the voter-protected law that was put in place through Prop. 208,” she said.

That goes to the Voter Protection Act, which bars lawmakers from repealing or making changes in anything approved at the ballot. The only exception is for amendments that “further the purpose” of the original law, and then only with a three-fourths vote.

Desai said courts have concluded that legislation runs afoul of the Voter Protection Act even if it doesn’t directly repeal the measure approved at the ballot.

“You can do something more surreptitious and more malicious by going to make other changes elsewhere (in the statutes) that would have the same effect, which is to undermine the ultimate will of the voters,” she said.

What isn’t known is how much would be lost from the anticipated income for education if lawmakers approve the measure.

Estimates of what the initiative, as originally crafted, would raise have ranged from $827 million to $940 million a year. So far, legislative budget analysts have not produced a fiscal impact statement of SB1783, which was approved earlier this month by the Senate Finance Committee on a party-line vote.

Lujan noted that there was some IRS tax data brought into court last year by business interests who tried, unsuccessfully, to keep the measure off the ballot. The expert suggested that close to half of tax filers in that income category claim at least some of their income from businesses that pass their earnings on to owners.

Still, Lujan, who heads the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, said that doesn’t necessarily translate into a dollar-for-dollar loss for the education programs that Proposition 208 is designed to fund.

“That doesn’t tell you if it is 100% of their income or do they just have a side business,” he said. “So it’s hard to gauge.”

But Lujan said SB1783 is likely to affect a “significant portion” of the anticipated revenues.

Half of whatever is raised is earmarked for schools to hire teachers and classroom support personnel, a category that also includes librarians, nurses, counselors and coaches. Those dollars also could be used for raises.

Another 25% would be for support services personnel. That covers classroom aides, service personnel, food service and transportation.

There’s 12% for grants for career and technical education programs and 10% for mentoring and retaining new teachers in the classroom. The last 3% is for the Arizona Teachers Academy, which provides tuition grants for people pursuing careers in education.

No date has been set for Senate debate on the measure.


Bipartisanship to be tested in House with 31-29 split

(Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
(Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

No election cycle would be complete without a cadre of candidates preaching about the importance of working across the aisle.

But that line will really be put to the test in the Arizona House of Representatives in 2019.

Nineteen true freshmen will join the chamber, 13 of whom are Democrats. And four of those Democrats represent districts where the minority party was able to flip a seat out of Republican hands. Their combined effort now leaves the House with a 31-29 split.

That means Republicans still have the majority, but their losses this year significantly reduced their ability to pass legislation without Democratic support. Just one or two stray Republicans who disagree with their party on, say, funding for public education could upset that delicate balance of power.

For now, plenty of current and incoming representatives are still promising bipartisan efforts in the next legislative session. But it’s no surprise they rarely agree, and it doesn’t take much to coax the party politics out again.

That was evident when a panel of lawmakers talked about the next legislative session at a November 16 conference of public school board members, administrators, and finance officials.

Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, was optimistic about bipartisanship.

“Everything good about the state of Arizona has happened because Democrats and Republicans worked on it together,” she said.

Fernandez will lead Democrats in her chamber as House minority leader starting in January.

Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, will serve in leadership with her as co-whip.

He said Democrats are open and ready to work with the majority from day one, but he put the onus on the Republicans to include them.

“Members of the majority will have to step back and ask themselves if they want to really work with the other side,” he said.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, was the contrarian.

Mesnard will be joining the Senate in 2019 after fending off a challenge by Democrat Steve Weichert in Legislative District 17, but he had some parting thoughts for the House and its new dynamic.

Despite the tight split coming to the House, he said Republicans would still be in the majority in both chambers. Conversations will have to happen on both sides, but he said they’re bound to diverge.

“That’s just the way politics is,” he said. “We’ll get along when we can. … Obviously, we have disagreements, and I think that will continue to be the case.”

He certainly had his disagreements with Bolding, who placed blame for Arizona’s education funding crisis squarely on the shoulders of the GOP.

“If you consistently are cutting taxes 25 of the last 26 years, you don’t have revenue, and then a crisis occurs, then you have to sell the buildings – you were in the majority,” Bolding said. “You made the decision, and now we have to suffer.”

Mesnard did not take the critique lightly.

“Time and again, this is the Republican perspective, we see the Democrats being late to the game, saying, ‘Oh, you should’ve done this.’ Except when we tried to do that, you opposed it,” Mesnard said, referring to a proposed temporary tax increase that went to the voters during the recession. “Whatever we do is wrong, according to you.”

Mesnard offered the 20 by 2020 teacher pay raise plan as an example.

He said Democrats would never say the plan was a good thing, and he criticized them for characterizing the plan as a drop in the bucket.

Fernandez did applaud Republicans for the raise, but not without a caveat.

“Yes, the Republicans did pass the 20 by 2020 plan,” she said. “But by golly, it took about 70,000 people in red to come to state Legislature to make it happen.”

And she said the people who marched on the Capitol were there for much more.

“It wasn’t just teacher pay raises that they were coming for,” she said. “They were talking about their classrooms not being equipped with the resources that they need. They were talking about their roofs leaking. They were talking about classrooms that had 30 kids and 25 desks. This is what the teachers asked of us. … Our constituents wanted public education funded.”

Mesnard acknowledged the Red for Ed movement had an effect on everyone, not just lawmakers, but he said to suggest Republicans weren’t already heading in that direction before the teachers’ strike earlier this year was factually inaccurate.

Ultimately, it was just another disagreement not likely to be resolved anytime soon, with or without Democrats closing in on the majority.

And it’s a disagreement that is sure to arise again in the upcoming session.

Board of Education delays discipline discussion for striking teachers

Teachers rally outside the Arizona House of Representatives Monday, April 30, 2018, in Phoenix on their third day of walk outs. Teachers in Arizona and Colorado walked out of their classes over low salaries keeping hundreds of thousands of students out of school. It's the latest in a series of strikes across the nation over low teacher pay. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Teachers rally outside the Arizona House of Representatives Monday, April 30, 2018, in Phoenix on their third day of walk outs. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The state Board of Education won’t be weighing whether to discipline tens of thousands of teachers who walked out during the #RedForEd strike — at least not yet.

Board President Lucas Narducci on Friday yanked the subject of the board’s authority to sanction educators from the agenda for Monday’s meeting, calling any discussion of the issue “premature at this time.”

`The board does not have enough information or legal advice to have a constructive discussion,” he said in a statement, saying the board will “seek more guidance through legal counsel in due course.”

Narducci’s move is a setback for state schools chief Diane Douglas.

It has been Douglas who, even before the strike started, that teachers should be investigated — and, if appropriate, disciplined — for breaching their contracts. And while it was Narducci’s decision to examine the issue, Douglas said it was with her backing, and that the call for a discussion was a “mutual” determination.

But the superintendent of public instruction has made no secret for months of her belief that teachers who didn’t show up in class were acting illegally and should be punished in some way, saying Friday she told teachers “right from the beginning” that a strike is illegal in Arizona.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas (Photo by Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services)
Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas (Photo by Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services)

Only thing is, Douglas, by herself, is powerless to do anything: Only the full Board of Education, on which she serves, has the ability to take disciplinary action, whether a reprimand or censure, at one extreme or the more severe suspension or revocation of someone’s teaching certificate.

But Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, said there’s nothing for the state board to investigate about individual teachers.

“The district made a decision to close the school,” he said, though he conceded that took place when administrators found there would be too few staffers in attendance to open a building. But Thomas said if the school was closed — whether for lack of staff or simply bad weather — a teacher who doesn’t show up has done nothing wrong.

As to other cases of teachers who did not show up, Thomas said school districts all have various policies that allow teachers to take personal time.

From his perspective, he said the whole push to look at the issue of whether teachers should be disciplined is political.

“If there wasn’t an election in November, this wouldn’t be an issue,” he said, referring to the fact that Douglas is seeking reelection.

“This is saber rattling,” Thomas said. “The superintendent is playing to her base.”

The issue does have political overtones. In fact, it came up Wednesday during a televised debate among the five Republicans who hope to be state schools chief for the next four years.

“They didn’t strike,” said Tracy Livingston. “The doors were closed.”

“The doors would have never been closed if the teachers didn’t vote to walk out,” Douglas responded.

Livingston, who is a teacher, said while she didn’t support the walkout, she does not believe those who did stay away from class should be disciplined.

And Jonathan Gelbart said while he, too, did not support the walkout, he said there’s “no realistic way” to discipline those who stayed away from their classrooms, some for more than the week that some schools remained closed.

On Friday Douglas conceded the practical problems of trying to discipline teachers who did not go to work.

It starts with how to separate out those teachers who stayed away on purpose to strike versus those who may not have wanted to strike but simply found their schools closed. But Douglas said there was a way — if only teachers would have followed her advice.

“I very, very loudly and clearly for a week before that strike told any teacher who disagreed with this and didn’t want to walk out that they should very clearly, in their personnel file, make sure their district is aware of their thoughts and their intent to come to school and work,” she said. Still, Douglas has no idea how many actually followed her advice.

There’s an even more basic issue: Should the state consider suspending or revoking the teaching certificates of those who went on strike given that Arizona already has a shortage of certified teachers.

“I don’t know,” Douglas responded. “That’s a very theoretical question.”

But the superintendent told Capitol Media Services she remains convinced that some sort of sanction is necessary, at least to set a precedent.

“Do we let our teachers just walk out on children any time they feel like it at the behest of any political operative who comes along and pulls their strings?” Douglas said. And Douglas said it would be wrong to see the issue of teacher discipline in this case as something special or unusual.

“We routinely censure teachers who walk out on their contracts,” she said. “I guess the rhetorical question is, if you do something wrong that you normally get disciplined for, if you do it with enough people, do we then just say it doesn’t matter anymore?”

As much as Thomas sees the push by Douglas for discipline as political, she has her own take on the issue, calling the whole walkout ” a political stunt.” She said the governor’s offer of a 19 percent pay hike by 2020 “was already on the table before they even voted to strike.”

But Thomas said that’s telling only half the story, noting that lawmakers had yet to consider the matter by the time teachers and other staff showed up in front of the Capitol.

“You had thousands of educators that wanted to see this process all the way through,” he said.

“I don’t think that anyone could have guaranteed that that would go through,” Thomas continued. “I think it went through because we were out there.”


Both sides of voucher war prepare for battles after vote

Stacks of voters' signatures were delivered to the Arizona Secretary of State's Office on Aug. 8 after Save Our Schools Arizona collected more than 110,000 signatures in three months. If it survives legal challenges, the referendum will appear on the 2018 general election ballot as Proposition 305. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Stacks of voters’ signatures were delivered to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office on Aug. 8, 2018, after Save Our Schools Arizona collected more than 110,000 signatures in three months. If it survives legal challenges, the referendum will appear on the 2018 general election ballot as Proposition 305. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Opponents of Proposition 305 may soon cry victory over its defeat, but the fight over school choice and Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts will not end in November.

The American Federation for Children is officially a “no” on Prop. 305 despite the group’s pro-school choice stance, and Americans for Prosperity won’t be organizing support for the ballot measure.

A no vote will mean the Republican-controlled Legislature’s 2017 expansion of the ESA program will not stand, while a yes vote means it will.

But the group responsible for sending the ESA expansion to the ballot, Save Our Schools Arizona, is not taking the vote for granted, nor preparing to wind down after November.

SOS Arizona spokeswoman Dawn Penich-Thacker said the dwindling support for Prop. 305 does not signal a change of heart by pro-voucher groups. Rather it tells her that they are willing to take a loss this time and try again during the 2019 legislative session.

So she wants to send a message in the November 6 general election – that even Arizona, a school choice pioneer, will reject the expansion of school vouchers.

“We don’t just want Prop. 305 to lose. We want it to go down in flames,” she said.

Arizona’s empowerment scholarship account program pays parents or guardians 90 percent of the money that would have gone to a student’s public school. The money can be spent on private school tuition, tutoring and home-school curriculum. The program began in 2011 for only special needs students and has grown to allow an array of students, such as ones from failing schools and children whose parents are in the military.

The Legislature in 2017 expanded the program to allow for all Arizona students to be eligible, but capped the program’s enrollment at about 30,000 by the 2022-2023 school year.  

The fate of Prop. 305 may be mere speculation at this point, but that isn’t stopping advocates and opponents from contemplating what should come next.

Penich-Thacker said SOS Arizona has discussed ideas for an education funding mechanism that could rally bipartisan support.

That mechanism would have to ensure the funding it generates is not then drained by programs like ESAs, though.

“Coming up with a great education funding mechanism is all fine and well,” she said. “But if we’re going to be poking holes in that bucket and draining it right out through unregulated ESAs and STOs, what’s it for?”

She said SOS Arizona has also had preliminary conversations about possibly running or supporting a bill to address accountability and what they see as other shortcomings of the ESA program.

But Penich-Thacker knows they’re not the only ones likely preparing for another shot.

“This is one battle that they’re willing to lose because they’ll be back in January with a different bill number but with the same goal of unregulated, universal ESA voucher expansion,” she said.

There is hope for a compromise, but she’s not so sure if the pro-voucher crowd is on the same page.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said he does not see the point of declaring a position on Prop. 305.

He said there will always be a robust conversation around school choice at the Legislature, and ESAs are part of that no matter what happens with Prop. 305.

He has expressed trepidation over the expansion as written before, particularly because the law and it’s cap of 30,000 students would be protected under the Voter Protection Act. But he can see both sides of the dilemma for school choice advocates like himself.

In the future, he said more consideration could be given to specific carve outs for certain student populations or which enrollment cap may be more “legitimate.”

Brnovich files appeal in tuition dispute with regents

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich announces a lawsuit against the Arizona Board of Regents on Sept. 8. The suit alleges ABOR is not adhering to a constitutional requirement that tuition for residents attending state universities be “nearly as free as possible.” (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich announces a lawsuit against the Arizona Board of Regents on Sept. 8. The suit alleges ABOR is not adhering to a constitutional requirement that tuition for residents attending state universities be “nearly as free as possible.” (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Attorney General Mark Brnovich wants the Court of Appeals to rule he has the right to sue the Board of Regents over what he claims is illegally high university tuition, arguing that he has a constitutional right and obligation to protect taxpayer funds.

In new filings Wednesday, Brnovich argued that Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Connie Contes got it wrong earlier this year when she ruled that his office can sue only when specifically authorized by statute or when given permission by the governor. She rejected his arguments that he has broad powers to sue when the state has an interest. Gov. Doug Ducey, who is openly hostile to the lawsuit, has not given Brnovich the go-ahead.

But Brnovich said his office was set up in the Arizona Constitution as a separate and independent agency. And he warned of implications of requiring him to get permission to go to court, particularly to enforce constitutional rights.

“If specific legislation is required to permit the attorney general to enforce those rights, the Legislature and governor may decline to provide it and thereby possibly avoid the check on their powers the people intended,” he contends. And Brnovich sniffed at the idea that his powers to go to court are subject to permission from Ducey, saying such a ruling would interfere with his ability to get a court to take a look when state officials were acting beyond their legal powers.

“The alternative is that the governor or other executive-branch officials can simply decline to follow the law, which would promote executive supremacy at the expense of other branches, the people, and the rule of law,” Brnovich argued.

The fight is over contentions by Brnovich that the regents, in allowing tuition to increase by more than 300 percent since 2002, are violating a constitutional mandate that instruction be “as nearly free as possible.” He said the hikes far outstrip inflation overall and even increases at other public universities.

Board members have argued that the sharp price hikes became necessary because of cuts made in state funding.

A decade ago per-student aid from the general fund was $7,962; for the current year the figure is $4,098. And if inflation is factored in, current aid is worth only $3,572.

Brnovich argues that costs for students have gone up more than the reduction in state aid. But ultimately the lawsuit comes down to the question of whether the regents, in running the university system, are complying with that “nearly free” mandate.

Key to that is the attorney general’s contention that the regents have effectively ignored that mandate in their annual tuition-setting process.

“ABOR’s official policy did not even include as a criterion — let alone give primary weight to — the actual cost of instruction when setting tuition,” Brnovich said. Instead, he said, the regents look at other factors, ranging from the availability of financial aid to how much public universities in other states charge their students.

The entire appeal would be unnecessary had Brnovich secured Ducey’s consent to filing suit. But Ducey, who won his first election four years ago on claims of excessive tuition increases, has been openly dismissive of the attorney general’s litigation.

“Our universities are accessible and affordable,” the governor told Capitol Media Services last year, calling them “quite a value.” And Ducey said he believes that the universities are in compliance with that constitutional “nearly free as possible” requirement.

Ducey said he and lawmakers had to make some difficult decisions in prior years, making sharp cuts in funding for higher education and other priorities. What that means, he said, is the regents are doing the best they can to keep tuition not only affordable but maintain a high level of education.

He even took a slap at Brnovich for filing suit, criticizing the attorney general for going to court without first trying to talk with the regents.

Even if Brnovich gets the appellate court to rule he does have a right to sue, that still leaves other legal hurdles.

The most significant is a 2007 ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court tossing out a lawsuit filed by then-state Rep. John Kromko and other students challenging a nearly 40 percent year-over-year increase in tuition.

The justices acknowledged the constitutional mandate. But they effectively called the language nebulous — and judicially unenforceable.

“At best we would be substituting our subjective judgment of what is reasonable under all circumstances for that of the Board (of Regents) and the Legislature, the very branches of government to which our constitution entrusts this decision,” wrote Justice Andrew Hurwitz for the unanimous court.

Hurwitz said the regents set tuition “after making a series of policy decisions” about the quality of the state universities and the level of instruction to be offered. Once those decisions are made and the Legislature decides how much it will fund, the remaining costs are covered through tuition.

The justices acknowledged the cost of tuition could be reduced if the regents and lawmakers made different policy decisions, like reducing faculty salaries or increasing class size. And they said the students, in challenging the tuition, effectively are arguing for different decisions, something the justices said is beyond their powers.

Brnovich contends this case is different, as he is challenging the legality of how the regents set tuition, not a specific increase.

But if the courts don’t buy that argument, Brnovich has a fallback position, telling the judges they should reconsider — and overrule — that 2007 ruling.

Budget calls for school districts to divvy up pay increase

MRebuffing last-minute protests by educators picketing the Capitol, Republican lawmakers took the first steps Monday to providing a 9 percent raise this coming year for teachers.

But not necessarily all teachers.

The final version of the budget deal negotiated between GOP leaders and Gov. Doug Ducey puts $273 million into the $10.4 billion spending plan for the coming year specifically for teacher pay hikes.

But unlike Ducey’s original proposal, each school district will get its share as a bulk dollar amount. That, then leaves it up to board members to decide how to divide it up.

What that could mean is a larger bump at the bottom of the pay scale, both to attract new teachers and keep them in the profession. The state Department of Education estimates that 40 percent of new teachers leave after two years.

Some of that is because the job isn’t what they expected or other non-financial issues like workload. But state schools chief Diane Douglas, who has been a prime proponent of higher pay for teachers for years, has said that money is clearly a factor.

That same plan for bulk salary grants to school districts also will apply for the 5 percent pay hike proposed for the following school year and an additional 5 percent the year after that.

Along with that flexibility, the spending plan unveiled Monday also calls for more transparency, with new requirements for school districts to annually report on their web sites their average teacher salaries. House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said that ensures “this is all out there for people to see.”

Teachers rally outside the Arizona House of Representatives Monday, April 30, 2018, in Phoenix on their third day of walk outs. Teachers in Arizona and Colorado walked out of their classes over low salaries keeping hundreds of thousands of students out of school. It's the latest in a series of strikes across the nation over low teacher pay. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Teachers rally outside the Arizona House of Representatives Monday, April 30, 2018, in Phoenix on their third day of walk outs. Teachers in Arizona and Colorado walked out of their classes over low salaries keeping hundreds of thousands of students out of school. It’s the latest in a series of strikes across the nation over low teacher pay. (AP Photo/Matt York)

None of this satisfied educators who remained on strike for a third day on Monday as they marched around the Capitol in what they hope will be a successful effort to convince lawmakers not to adopt the budget and pay-hike plan that Ducey has proposed. And all indications are that many teachers will remain on strike through at least today — and possibly until the budget is enacted at the end of the week.

Ducey and Republican lawmakers question the protests, pointing out it provides for a 19 percent increase in teacher pay, at least on average. But education groups are not confident that the funds will be there, particularly in later years, leaving open the possibility a future governor and future lawmakers could rescind the promise.

What’s also missing as far as educators are concerned are specific dollars earmarked for support personnel like janitors, reading specialists, counselors and bus drivers.

Ducey counters that his budget includes $100 million in additional district assistance, money that schools can spend on whatever priorities they have, whether repairs or other pay increases. But that, however, is only part of $371 million a year schools are supposed to have been getting all along for books, computers, buses and other minor repairs.

But the biggest complaint is that state aid on a per-student basis is less now than it was a decade ago, even before the effects of inflation are considered. The education groups want that $1 billion difference restored.

That question of whether the funds will be there to finance higher teacher pay is what’s behind an initiative to hike personal income taxes, at least on the wealthiest Arizonans, in an effort to raise $620 million.

But David Lujan, who chairs the Invest in Education campaign, denied Monday that financing increased aid to education this way is a kind of class warfare.

“Right now, lower and middle-income people are paying a larger portion of their income in taxes,” he said. “I think this is a fair way to go.”

In criticizing the plan, Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that one big flaw is that there are not that many people in Arizona who are in those top tax brackets. The result, he contends, is that it would take only a few of the richest choosing to move — or find other ways of shielding their income — to drop the bottom out of the anticipated $620 million in annual revenues.

Lujan brushed that concern aside.

“The answer to volatility is making a more diverse economy,” he said.

“How do you get a more diverse economy?” Lujan continued. “One of the biggest ways is to invest in your public education system.”

But the most recent figures from the state Department of Revenue — from 2012 — suggest there aren’t a lot of people at the top end of the income scale to bear the burden. It found there were fewer than 15,000 filers in Arizona with a federal adjusted gross income of more than $500,000 out of more than 2.4 million tax returns.

Lujan also said that the proposal simply brings the taxes back to where they were before lawmakers started making cuts.

That, however, is not true. The tax rates that the initiative seeks to impose are actually higher than they’ve been in decades.

Prior to 1990, couples with taxable income of more than $15,480 paid income taxes at a rate of 8 percent. That year the Legislature put in a tax schedule closer to what exists now, with the top bracket being 7 percent for couples with taxable income of more than $300,000.

The initiative spells out that couples earning more than $500,000 pay $20,622 — a 4.1 percent blended rate for that first $500,000 that is identical to what they pay now — plus 8 percent of anything over that figure.

And at $1 million the tax bill becomes $60,622, a 6.1 percent blended rate for that first $1 million, as compared to a current bill of $43,322. Plus they would owe 9 percent of anything in excess.

“We wanted to hit it where it was people who were going to be able to afford it, who benefited from past tax cuts,” Lujan said.

The initiative actually differs in one key way from the original plan that had been unveiled late last week.

That would have required school boards to get approval from teachers and support staff for how they spend the money, essentially mandating collective bargaining on school districts. Lujan said Monday that controversial language now is gone.

Budget includes property tax increase for some school districts

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

Homeowners in more than a dozen Arizona school districts will pay additional property taxes after lawmakers approved Gov. Doug Ducey’s budget deal May 3.

Those 18 school districts levy additional property taxes to provide funding for desegregation and student achievement efforts. They include programs designed to meet the demands of federal court orders or agreements with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in districts found to have racial disparities in their schools.

In nine of those districts, the additional levy contributes to taxes that exceed Arizona’s 1 percent cap on residential property levies. The state supplements the difference to ensure that taxpayers don’t bear the cost of taxes exceeding $10 for every $100 of property value.

But a simple shift in how desegregation taxes are classified will absolve the state of an estimated $18.9 million in supplemental funding in places like Tucson Unified School District, one of the state’s largest school districts and also one of the largest beneficiaries of desegregation funding. Budget analysts estimate that state dollars supplement TUSD desegregation funding to the tune of $16.7 million.

A provision in the budget deal struck by Ducey and GOP legislators shifts taxes for desegregation programs from the primary to the secondary property tax levy.

The move frees the state from having to provide money to offset taxes that exceed the 1 percent cap – the cap only applies to primary, not secondary, property taxes.

That means that TUSD homeowners would see their property taxes increase – enough to cover the $16.7 million the state would no longer provide to protect them from paying taxes above the 1 percent cap.

That translates to a 9-percent hike in property taxes for homeowners within the district’s boundaries, according to a letter sent to legislators by TUSD Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo.

Secondary taxes are typically voter-approved measures like bonds for K-12 school construction and maintenance, or overrides to provide schools additional dollars to spend. But language in the budget is said to specify that the desegregation levy doesn’t require voter approval.

Other desegregation school districts are also affected, though to a lesser extent, because a portion of their homeowners rebate will no longer apply to the desegregation levy. That’s because the homeowners rebate, like the 1 percent cap, only applies to primary property taxes, according to Chuck Essigs, lobbyist for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials.

Initially, there was one district where homeowners were protected from a property tax increase: Maricopa Unified School District.

The shift in tax structure will cost the district $602,600 in funding that would have been provided by the state, but a supplemental appropriation of state aid matches that amount, which ensures that homeowners who live within the boundaries of Maricopa Unified won’t see their tax bills increase.

The key difference between Maricopa Unified and the eight other districts affected the most by the desegregation shift? It’s represented by Republican legislators, said Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix.

“It’s just partisan dirty tricks,” Hobbs said. “You’ve got six people representing the small town of Maricopa, and they’re all Republicans. Everybody in Maricopa County loves to hate Tucson, especially Republicans, and loves to screw them over. This is one more way to do that.”

Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, said politics had nothing to do with the effort to grant a reprieve for MUSD.

“The district that’s being exempted, they are the lowest per pupil funded district out of this group of deseg schools,” Smith said May 1 in a committee hearing. The extra aid for Maricopa was later amended out of the budget.

GOP lawmakers have for years tried to get rid of desegregation dollars for schools, arguing that segregation and racial disparities are no longer an issue in Arizona.

“I don’t think these are Bull Connor racist schools that need money to force themselves into desegregation,” he said. “This is about simply giving extra cash, and requiring taxpayers throughout Arizona to pay for extra cash.”

Other organizations, like the Arizona Tax Research Association, have argued that it’s unfair that some, not all, school districts get to levy taxes for more dollars than others. Kevin McCarthy, president of ATRA, said the maneuver in the budget deal appears to co-opt at least one of his gripes with desegregation funds – that all taxpayers in the state are subsidizing extra taxes in a handful of school districts.

At least now taxpayers in desegregation districts will be the ones responsible for paying those extra personal property taxes, he said.

Democrats like Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix, likened that argument to “victim blaming.”

“This would effectively force those school districts that suffer the most from segregation to pay for desegregation,” he tweeted April 30.

Business leaders calling for big tax hike to fund public schools


Business leaders are advocating for a permanent expansion of a sales tax that funds public schools by nearly three times the current amount.

In a commentary submitted to The Arizona Republic, former State Board of Education President Reginald Ballantyne III, Brewer Companies and Benjamin Franklin Plumbing CEO Mike Brewer, retired PetSmart CEO Phil Francis and Whiteman Foundation President John Whiteman proposed increasing the voter-approved 0.6-percent sales tax to a 1.5-percent tax.

“The governor’s recent budget increased teacher pay, but we should help him do more,” they wrote. “There is a growing teacher shortage in Arizona and many district superintendents report low salaries as a top reason for teachers leaving the profession.”

Voters, who approved the tax in 2000 as Proposition 301, would have to OK any increase. The tax is set to expire in 2021.

Teacher pay was at the top of the businessmen’s priorities for the additional tax dollars, with a proposed $340 million over a minimum of six years intended for salary hikes. The plan also proposed $240 million to fully fund all-day kindergarten, $278 million to restore the School Facilities Board’s building renewal fund formula, and $25 million each for teacher training and private sector grants for workforce development programs.

The commentary focused heavily on Gov. Doug Ducey’s vision, which the businessmen lauded, noting that it’s unrealistic to expect a governor who was “elected with a commitment to lower taxes” to propose new ones.

Instead, they appealed to their friends in the business communities and Arizona voters to create a supportive coalition behind their plan, which they said champions the priorities that Ducey has laid out.

“Ducey has signaled his support for extending Prop 301 and has said he does not want Arizona to ‘fall off a cliff’ when the funding program expires,” according to the commentary. “Supporting Ducey’s vision, our business-led initiative must include permanently extending Prop 301 to protect more than $600 million in recurring funding for our universities, community colleges, local district and charter public schools.”

Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato declined to comment directly on the proposal to expand and extend Prop. 301, but his broader statement suggested the business community is not likely to win the governor’s support.

“The governor does not support tax increases,” Scarpinato said via email.

Ducey, who has pledged not to raise taxes, has expressed support for extending the Prop. 301 tax but has been ambivalent about proposals to increase it to a full cent.

In March, Scarpinato said Ducey is open to the timing of getting a measure on the ballot and other ideas for altering the tax, including expanding it.

Organizers of the plan to increase Prop. 301 did not specify when they hope to put the measure on the ballot, but Ballantyne told The Republic it needs to be done “ASAP” and that “the sooner we can get going, the better.”

With Prop. 301’s end in sight, the only options for the business community proposal are 2018 and 2020.

Ducey is also up for re-election next year.

Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas said waiting until 2020 would be “a dangerous game.”

“Legislators have an opportunity every year to intervene, and the only actions that we’ve seen them take in the last decade is cutting education and calling it the new normal,” Thomas said.

“In the end, a lot of what will move forward depends on where the governor’s support is,” he said. “The governor needs to come out and talk about what his priorities are around renewing Proposition 301. We don’t know when this is going to happen. We need to get money into our classrooms now.”

But before anything is put on the ballot, Thomas said the business and education communities need to come together to work out the specifics.

Thomas said the business leaders’ plan for the tax expansion focuses on broad, big picture ideas, leaving him with questions on items like a $25 million allocation for workforce development.

He shared the same criticism for other plans touted by officials like Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas, who has also advocated for a permanent expansion of Prop. 301.

Still, both plans do address the one thing Thomas considers paramount to a successful effort.

“They’re both very broad, but they both do focus on the teacher retention crisis that we have in this state,” he said. “That is going to be a necessary component of any 301 expansion.”

Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry spokesman Garrick Taylor was also cautious about analyzing the plan in its early stages, echoing comments chamber President and CEO Glenn Hamer made to The Republic.

“Prop. 301, or the funding mechanism, has to continue,” Taylor said. “What form that will take going forward is what needs close analysis and deep discussion.”

He recommended ensuring business, education and government leaders are aligned behind whatever is put before voters, which he noted appears to be what the business community is striving to do.

Still, it’s too early to tell.

“When we heard about this idea, it was via the (Republic) reporter,” Taylor said. “Absent a more formal proposal and a sense of what the electorate is thinking about these sorts of issues, it’s difficult to give an assessment, especially not knowing what other proposals might emerge.”

Jeremy Duda contributed to this report.

Campaign to tax rich for schools turns in signatures for ballot


The vast majority of Arizonans may get a chance to decide whether the top 4 percent of wage earners should be paying more to support education.

Petitions filed Thursday would add a 3.5 percent surcharge on taxes on income above more than $250,000 a year for individuals and $500,000 for married couples filing jointly. The measure, if it makes the ballot and is approved, would raise about $940 million for public education.

Of the 435,699 signatures backers said they submitted, 237,645 need to be found valid to put the issue on the November ballot.

As crafted, half of the funds would be spent both to hire teachers and classroom support personnel like nurses and counselors, and to increase compensation. Another 25 percent would be for classroom aides, school safety officers and transportation.

There’s also 12 percent for grants for career and technical education programs, 10 percent to help mentor new teachers, and 3 percent to increase funding for the Arizona Teachers Academy which provides free tuition at state universities for those who agree to go into the classroom.

David Lujan
David Lujan

“We’re doing it because Arizona is 48th in the country in per-pupil funding,” said David Lujan, director of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, which helped craft the proposal. “It’s time to finally give our schools the money and the resources they need.”

He said state lawmakers cut funding for schools during the Great Recession.

“And we still aren’t back to those (pre-recession) levels,” Lujan said. “So this will give Arizona public schools the funding to make real change.”

An analysis of K-12 education by legislative budget staffers shows the state was providing $4,163 a year in 2001. That figure is now $5,762.

But that same analysis shows that, when adjusted for inflation, state aid now is actually 4.5 percent less than in 2001.

Lujan defended putting put the financial burden for improving education on the top wage earners.

“I think particularly during tough economic times like we’re in it makes sense,” he said.

“This will not raise taxes on families that are struggling to put food on the table or struggling small business owners,” Lujan said. “They will not pay one additional cent in taxes with this.”

As crafted, the surcharge applies only on incomes greater than the cut point.

Garrick Taylor
Garrick Taylor

So an individual earning $400,000 a year would pay taxes at existing rates on the first $250,000, with a surcharge on the $150,000 above that. And the same scheme works for married couples whose tax rates would remain the same for the first $500,000, with the higher rate only on whatever exceeds that amount.

“Those are people who have benefited from recent tax cuts,” Lujan said. “And so we think to make Arizona’s tax code fairer and to find a good revenue source that that makes sense to do it this way.”

Opposition is being led and financed by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Spokesman Garrick Taylor said the change will harm small businesses.

The reason, he said, is many of these businesses are organized as “S Corporations,” named after Subchapter S of the Internal Revenue Code. These corporations pay no income taxes, with any earnings, losses, deductions and credits being attributed to their owners — and reported on their individual income tax forms.

Raising the taxes on these business owners, Taylor said, will delay the state’s economic recovery.

“We are depending on small businesses to begin creating jobs again to help us recover from this downturn,” he said.

But Lujan said the foes at the Chamber are not being honest about it.

“This is only on the profit of the small business owners,” Lujan said, not on the total revenues of their operations.

“So if a small business owner is making and taking home more than $500,000 in net profits, that’s most likely not going to be your typical small business,” he said. “The vast majority of small businesses fall way under the threshold of what this is going to impact.”

Taylor said his organization still believes the surcharge will be bad for the economy — and ultimately for education.

“This will put downward pressure on economic growth and make investing in schools and teacher salaries more difficult going forward,” he said.

Taylor acknowledged that the Chamber led the effort to quash a similar measure two years ago — before any sign of a recession — making the same arguments about economic harm. But he said that the message remains the same.

“This is a blunt-force instrument that has been designed without regard for small businesses,” he said.

Taylor said he is not saying that there is enough money in education.

“What we disagree with is the best way to put more resources into teacher pay is by this risky scheme,” Backers offered a similar proposal two years ago, only to have it challenged by the Chamber.

In a 5-2 ruling, the Arizona Supreme Court kicked it off the ballot after concluding that organizers failed to properly explain in the legally required 100-word description how much taxes rates would go up in the plan were approved.

This version, with its more simplified surcharge on existing tax rates, seeks to avoid that same challenge.



Candidates for top education office have concerns about charter schools

Kathy Hoffman and Frank Riggs
Kathy Hoffman and Frank Riggs

Charter schools, insufficient public school funding and Proposition 305 were some of the topics in the first debate in the race for state superintendent of public instruction.

Republican Frank Riggs and Democrat Kathy Hoffman met at the forum hosted by the Arizona Association of School Business Officials on September 12.

Here is some of what they had to say.

The candidates’ responses have been edited for length. You can view the entirety of AASBO’s September 12 meeting here

Attorney General Mark Brnovich is now asking lawmakers to hold charter schools more accountable for how they spend their money. Should the Auditor General’ Office be authorized to take a more active role in looking into charter school expenditures?

Hoffman: I see charter schools as another school community that we need to make sure is being run well, that children’s needs are being met, that teachers’ needs are being met. And I’ve seen cases when there have been issues with this. … I look forward to continuing to learn more about what we can do to improve this. And I do think that charter schools need to be held accountable, especially when there’s a lot of money at stake. … And I do believe that it is the auditor’s responsibility to do that. That all circles back to fiscal responsibility. … I think that we need to look at it more globally and make sure that all of our students have what they need. But I do believe that charter schools have a place here in Arizona.

Riggs: No charter school should be chartered, no charter school charter should be extended unless there are a majority of disinterested individuals on that charter holding governing board. I’m talking about independent members on the governing board who are not related in any fashion, family, business or otherwise, with the founder and operator of the charter school. Number two, all of those individuals need to go through formal training in nonprofit and charter school governance, including their legal and fiduciary responsibilities. They must acknowledge in writing those responsibilities, including their duty to very carefully examine any related party transaction. And I intend to push for the state board of charter schools to implement that policy on day one, and if they don’t, I’ll be up at the Legislature.

Special education students require specialized programs and services as mandated by state and federal law. What should the state be doing to make sure the required services are provided and that funding is available to do so?

Riggs: The federally mandated share is inadequate. … It’s like so many federal programs where the cost-burden shifts over time to state and local education agencies, so what’s a federal law then becomes an underfunded federal mandate. … I just had a meeting with the new superintendent of Mesa Unified School District, Dr. Conley… and she told me something that stunned me, I mean stopped me dead in my tracks. She said, “I just want you to know, Frank, we’re preparing for the children of opioid-addicted parents who will be entering into our schools.” … We’re going to have to redouble what we’re doing for these students and for special ed across the board.

Hoffman: These are our most vulnerable and marginalized children in our schools, and they absolutely need highly trained teachers and providers with that special education training. Last year, actually the year before, the Legislature passed a law that said that any certified teacher can provide special education services. This was very alarming to me because the special education teachers and providers go through extensive education and training. It’s also an issue of attracting teachers to the profession. … If we want to be attracting highly qualified, passionate teachers to the profession, we need to treat them with the respect that they deserve and make sure that they have competitive pay.

Arizona leads the nation when it comes to providing students educational options other than traditional school districts. Should the state continue to expand programs like charter schools, empowerment scholarship accounts and private school tax credits?

Hoffman: We should not be expanding the ESAs and vouchers because our schools are so severely underfunded… and to take funds out of our public schools to fund private school tuitions – private schools only make up about 3 percent of Arizona schools. We need to make sure that all of our students, all of our public schools have the funding they need to be successful. And I know that on average these vouchers are about $5,000, but a private school tuition is on average about $15,000. So it doesn’t cover the tuition for a low-income family. It serves people who can already afford a private school tuition. It doesn’t provide more options in a neighborhood where there are no options available. … We need to solve our public school funding crisis before we take more funds out.

Riggs: I think parents have a fundamental right and responsibility to choose and direct their child’s education. … But with respect to Prop. 305, as a longtime school choice advocate, I’m a no on Prop. 305. … And I’m very concerned about the origin of the scholarship tuition tax credit program, and without calling out any particular legislators, I’m just going to say this: We absolutely have to have tight financial conflict-of-interest laws in our state that simply say that… if you, a family member, a business contact or associate stand to derive a financial benefit, you cannot author, you cannot sponsor, you cannot debate, you cannot vote on that legislation. And if you refuse to disclose your conflict of interest and recuse yourself, you would be subject to sanctions by the legislative body or legal action.

Chad Heinrich: How politics and policy are in the blood


Chad Heinrich was a farm boy who dreamed of being a bureaucrat.

Born and raised on a cattle ranch in South Dakota, Heinrich said he envisioned himself as a city manager or some such fixture in local government. But that dream collided with his future when he landed a job working at the state Capitol in Pierre. There, he got his first taste of lobbying.

“At that point, lobbying, state policy, those types of things just kind of get in your blood,” he said.

Now, Heinrich owns his own public affairs firm, Heinrich LLC, and is using his talents to advocate for Arizona’s small business community as the new state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Cap Times Q&ADid you never dream of just staying on the farm?

Probably wasn’t a dream back then, but could be a wish right now. There are many days where you can long to be out on the ranch fixing fence or dealing with the cattle or doing some chores out on the farm versus being in the city.

I’ll tell you one thing I’ve learned about Phoenix in my nine years here: Phoenix is a small town just in a big city. Relationships matter in this big city just as much as they matter in a small town. … It doesn’t matter where you’re from. You can move here, and when you get into your industry or whatever your work is, you’ll find that your community becomes like a small town. In that way, you can have all the benefits of a metropolitan area and all the conveniences but really build a network and a career that’s all your own.

You’ve written about a variety of education-related topics. Is there anything from your time in school that has informed your views on education now?

There were a few times in my high school years where I was struggling in class. It was Algebra I in my freshman year … and because we had a small class, we were able to get a lot of attention. Any question we had, we could ask. And I was a little shy at that point, and I wasn’t asking a lot of questions. The teacher made a deal with me about halfway through the semester. He said, “If you just come ask me one question a day, I promise you’re going to do a lot better.” And he was right. I followed through on that deal, and it helped a lot. That may be one aspect that a small school setting like mine, where the entire high school was 100 [students]… there’s a personal relationship there.

You’re not a fan of the Invest in Education Act.

The income tax increase is a full-out assault on small business. What many folks who may be a W-2 employee don’t realize is that a majority of businesses in Arizona are small. These owners, they’re the ones that are opening up the shop in the morning, they’re the ones that are closing it in the evening, and they’re taking care of payroll and other back-office operations outside of business hours. They’re running these businesses as sole proprietorships. And they may be organized as an LLC or an S-corp, which means that all of the profits and expenses flow through their personal tax returns. So, on the margin, when you’re looking at nearly doubling the income tax that they pay on the profits from their business, you’re going to impact the employees that they have, you’re going to impact their business plans and their ability to expand their business.

Invest in Ed stemmed from the Red for Ed movement. Do you think Red for Ed could be dangerous for small businesses, too?

The Red for Ed movement as it was at the Capitol was looking to increase teacher salaries, which the governor and the Legislature followed through with with the 20 by 2020 plan. The income tax increase is a completely different formula, so I think those are two different debates. I think we all understood that from a basic pay perspective, teachers deserved and needed a raise in Arizona. … Through the 20 by 2020 plan, the governor and the Legislature showed that we can invest more in our schools without raising taxes. I think it’s very difficult to make the leap and say now we need to tax business owners, small businesses to a greater extent to provide, honestly, an unstable source of revenue and an unreliable source of revenue. We’re in an economic expansion right now, but how long is that going to last?

You include this quote in your Twitter bio: “Politics will always be the art of the possible, but no one promised it would also be artistic.” Can politics be artistic?

It always is artistic. It probably doesn’t look like that to folks who are viewing it from the outside or, frankly, folks who are viewing it from the inside sometimes. But it absolutely is artistic. It is the art of the possible. Not everyone views the same art as beautiful. But within the public policy area, I think having a meaningful debate about issues and being passionate about beliefs and what is right, that all puts together the tapestry that is the art.

What does this election cycle mean for Arizona?

I think voters have a choice: Do we want to continue the trend of growth in Arizona? We’ve been on a very stable trajectory of growth out of a very deep recession. Now, we still trail the nation on our unemployment rate. I think it’s about a point higher than the national average, which is concerning, so obviously, there’s still room to grow. And I think the concern that should be on voters’ minds is that we’re on the right track, but we also have a risk of going off-track and really harming the fuel of our economic engine right now.

Charter group: Excluding advanced math 8th graders skews test results

The exclusion of nearly 20 percent of eighth graders from the state’s public schools achievement test drove down math results in 2016, according to the Arizona Charter Schools Association.

Ildi Laczko-Kerr, the chief academic officer for the association and the Center for Student Achievement, found that about 16,000 eighth grade students enrolled in accelerated math classes took high school level end-of-course exams that year, but the results were not included in the state’s AzMERIT pass rate. AzMERIT is an annual statewide test that measures student performance in English language arts and math. The pass rate for eighth graders was reported at 26 percent. However, according to Laczko-Kerr, the pass rate is actually 36 percent when those 16,000 missing kids are factored into the equation, along with their general math peers.


In an op-ed written for the Arizona Capitol Times last week, Laczko-Kerr warned that the exclusion and lack of transparent data on accelerated students “creates big hurdles for policymakers who aim to advance policies that will drive academic excellence.”

Laczko-Kerr elaborated following the publication of that piece.

Without complete data, she said, policymakers, teachers and parents may be left to make assumptions about the effectiveness of accelerating students thus far.

“Our parents might think that our students don’t have the capacity to be accelerated,” Laczko-Kerr said. “It’s just being fair to our communities and transparent in the data so that we can make good, informed decisions. The bottom line is, right now, we don’t have the transparency we need, so we may be making poor decisions.”

But according to Arizona Department of Education spokesman Stefan Swiat, the state Board of Education made the decision not to include those taking advanced exams based on how the data has traditionally been reported to the federal government for eighth graders and others. Swiat said that data has been reported based on grade level and assessment taken.

“Essentially, what they’re asking in this editorial is just a different question, a different way of reporting what’s already there,” he said. “That case was made before the board, but the board decided to go with the historic way. As the state, we’ll report it however everyone wants it reported.”

To include the accelerated students’ scores would certainly help the overall pass rate, Swiat said, but it would also be “comparing apples to oranges.”

General math students are tested on subject matter that differs from, say, that of the Algebra I exam. To lump the two groups together struck Swiat as an unusual idea, but if the Arizona Charter Schools Association wants that data, he said the department would be open to providing a report including the accelerated students.

Beyond that, he said, the association can go before the board and make an argument of why the way the data is reported should change.

Ildi Laczko-Kerr
Ildi Laczko-Kerr

But Laczko-Kerr argued that choices driven by this method of reporting now could be detrimental to students for years to come.

Laczko-Kerr said eighth grade is a pivotal year in terms of continued access to math education – something Gov. Doug Ducey acknowledged when he included algebra proficiency by eighth grade among his “Education Matters Arizona” goals.

“What we know is students who have accelerated math in eighth grade actually have more opportunities to take math in high school and to take higher level math classes in high school,” Laczko-Kerr said. “So, if the endgame really is getting more kids college and career ready as a state, then we need to understand what that means to accelerate students and also to track it.”

The best remedy, she said, would be to include all students’ scores in the statewide pass rate. Additionally, she recommended reporting the accelerated student’s scores separately to better track and support their success.

When AzMERIT was first implemented in 2015, schools could not test students outside of their grade levels. But in 2016, schools had the option of giving high school level exams associated with advanced math classes, including Algebra I, Algebra II and geometry. Some schools, according to Lazcko-Kerr, had accelerated students take both exams, but that’s not reflected either.

And she cannot know what 2017’s results will hold.

Eileen Sigmund
Eileen Sigmund

Eileen Sigmund, president and CEO of the Arizona Charter Schools Association who co-authored the op-ed piece with Laczko-Kerr, said they only discovered the exclusion through their own efforts to check on charter schools’ performance. The statewide data included both district and charter schools. Now, she said, they are presenting their findings for the sake of accuracy.

“We just want to have credit for really doing better than what the numbers are showing,” said Sigmund. “We need to measure and report math performance for all of our students in eighth grade no matter what test they take… What you measure you can always improve upon.”

She said there are “reverberating impacts” on the business community when Arizona’s performance may look lackluster compared to the rest of the country.

Sigmund said concrete consequences of the exclusion have not been identified at this point. She was certain, for example, that results-based funding was not impacted. But when school letter grades dictate whether a school can even keep its doors open, she said measuring performance with complete data is of the utmost importance.

Charter schools should embrace criticism and become better


Last month, the ACLU of Arizona released “Schools Choosing Students,” a report detailing the illegal or exclusionary enrollment policies at many of the state’s charter schools, which lead to students being denied equal access to a high-quality education. Every piece of information in the report is specific, sourced and designed to help families and schools.

I have children in two Phoenix charter schools, and the findings concerned me. Using this report, the Arizona Charter School Association could have been an ally to Arizona students. It could have looked at the numbers, read the stories and used the solutions to improve. It could have insisted that if a school accepts public funds, it must follow the law.

Jeannette Domask
Jeannette Domask

Instead of taking responsibility, however, the Arizona Charter Schools Association decided to ignore the facts, calling the report an “attack on charter schools.”

The report doesn’t attack charter schools. It defends students and parents, like me, across Arizona. The report’s goal is not to attack school choice; it means to ensure that more families have real choices.

The ACLU of Arizona looked at public information—including statements written into charter schools’ enrollment documents and handbooks—regarding academic and behavior requirements, special education and disability requirements, parental requirements and more.

The results were disturbing.

“Schools Choosing Students” showed that some charter schools are illegally capping the number of special needs children they accept. It showed that 59 charter schools illegally refuse to admit students with prior suspensions or imply that prior suspensions could affect their admission. It showed that 72 charter schools hid their policies and ignored public record requests altogether.

With its defensive response, the Arizona Charter Schools Association showed it doesn’t care.

That’s unfortunate for the children of Arizona. As charter supporters, we need to take responsibility for the flaws in our system and fix them. The solutions in “Schools Choosing Students” are meant to help charter organizations, schools, and families make sure that every Arizona student is offered the promise of school choice as required by law.

As charter supporters, we can be better. After a similar report came out in California, charter schools worked with the ACLU to bring their policies into compliance. California’s Legislature passed an accountability law to protect students and families. And when schools updated their policies, the ACLU made sure to celebrate their efforts.

Here’s what needs to happen in Arizona:

The Arizona Department of Education must clarify, promote and enforce charter schools’ legal obligations, especially those laws that enable oversight, such as public record and open meeting laws.

The Arizona Department of Education or the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, which oversees most charter schools, should create standard enrollment paperwork for charter schools that complies with state and federal laws and does not contain exclusionary or discriminatory language.

Parents should closely examine enrollment forms, handbooks and other materials that charter schools provide. If they identify illegal or exclusionary policies, they have a right to contact the school’s administration, charter network and, if necessary, file a complaint with the Charter Board.

While some Arizona charter schools may currently be violating statutes, marginalizing certain types of students, or hiding their policies from public scrutiny, many others are doing their best to follow the law and serve all families who choose to be there. A better way forward than what has been offered by the Arizona Charter School Association would be to acknowledge the problems identified in the ACLU report and then work hard for Arizona’s students to make sure those problems are eliminated.

— Jeannette Domask is a parent whose children attend charter schools in Phoenix: Great Hearts Archway North Phoenix and Great Hearts North Phoenix Prep.


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

Chris Kotterman: Former Boy Scout committed to seeing children succeed

Cap Times Q&A

Chris Kotterman, the Arizona School Boards Association director of governmental affairs, likes to help people – “It’s the Boy Scout thing.”

He volunteers his time as a certified EMT – but says no one is walking around today simply because of him – and works as a firefighter when NASCAR comes to town. But he has devoted his life to helping those in an arena the Kotterman “brand” has been a part of for decades.

His mother worked for 25 years as an educator here before becoming president of the Arizona Education Association.

Penny Kotterman ran unsuccessfully for superintendent of public instruction against Republican John Huppenthal in 2010. And with her blessing, her son became an unusual addition to Huppenthal’s administration.

For years, Kotterman always got the question, “Oh, are you Penny’s son?” But recently, as he has settled in his career, that question has flipped.

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

What was working with Huppenthal like as a Democrat?

Obviously, it was understood that he is a Republican, a more conservative guy. There were going to be things that he wanted to do that I didn’t agree with, and that was fine. He runs the joint, so he got to decide… People try to make politics personal all the time, and people may draw conclusions about me based on my political past. But at the end of the day, I try very hard not to make it personal. We, obviously, get invested in the issues emotionally, and we try to “win” for our side… His strength as superintendent was knowing what he didn’t know.

What’s your take on the current administration at ADE?

Superintendent Douglas has a very – and I don’t say this pejoratively – righteous view of what public education should be. She has a very specific idea, and she doesn’t want to deviate from that. That’s great when you’re running a campaign, but it’s really hard to adhere to that when you’re running an agency. I’ll give her this: She’s very true to the principles that she has laid out. They’re not always compatible with efficient governance, but she is 100 percent committed… She’s independent. She exists in her own space. That can make it hard to get things done politically sometimes because you need allies. But I give her credit for being committed to her vision.

What’s your take on what we’re seeing in Arizona’s education system?

First of all, I’m optimistic. From my time at the department through today, I’ve worked with people who are super committed to making sure that students get the best education that they can get. I don’t think that people on the outside understand the level of commitment. The idea that adults get really excited when they’re able to help children learn – that can come across as very corny. Educators are true believers. They live to see children succeed. It’s crazy – crazy in a good way. It’s not contrived. It’s not corny. It’s legit… But I’m also frustrated because I see that happening, and in the world that I operate in daily, there’s a greater level of cynicism on the part of policymakers about the true motivations of teachers, administrators. A distrust of government generally and it’s ability to do good things. That’s unfortunate… They really want to help students reach their full potential, and right now, in some ways, they can’t. And that’s sad.

What’s the biggest obstacle facing Arizona’s education system?

The 800-pound gorilla of school policy right now is, far and away, Proposition 301. Not just the renewal of it but how we’re going to find enough resources to both maintain the level of funding it provides but also find us enough resources to get back to the level that the funding formula provides… And then, on top of that, is teacher recruitment and retention. Resources are the overarching issue that drives all of these things, but that issue is the number one thing that is of concern to public schools. We don’t pay our teachers enough for the work that we ask them to do, and they’re not staying because of it. I said earlier that they are insanely committed individuals, and they are. But we have to break through this idea that just because you’re committed to the success of children means that you don’t deserve to make as much money as you otherwise might somewhere else.

Stepping back from the state level for a moment. Your Twitter account seems to suggest you see the president as something of an obstacle for the country.

I am not a fan of the president. Not because I want him to fail. I actually don’t… I don’t want a president who shoots off the cuff. I want someone to undertake reasoned decisions, even if those decisions are things I don’t agree with… I’m known as a more liberal Democrat, but this flag right here, John McCain had that flown over the Capitol for me when I became an Eagle Scout. I am raised from solid, Midwestern, Republican stock. My father was a registered Republican. I own a firearm. I have a lot of respect for institutions. I respect the presidency, so I won’t say terrible things about him, like “not my president” or anything like that. I’ll criticize him politically. But this Boy Scout thing, when he says the leader of the Boy Scouts called him and told him it was the best speech that had been given to them ever. And then, of course, they say, “No, we didn’t say that.” Now, either the Boy Scouts are lying or the president is lying. That’s somewhat of a microcosm, but in my view, the president of the United States should not put himself in that position. It’s just not smart… Do your political thing. You’re going to pursue policies that I don’t agree with, and that’s 100 percent appropriate. You’re the president, and you get to do that. But it bothers me because it tends to undermine America. And despite the fact that I’m a registered Democrat, I like America.

Christine Thompson: Fired (up) over Arizona’s education policy

Christine Thompson (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)
Christine Thompson (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

Christine Thompson may be most known for the drama that very publicly unfolded when Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas tried to fire her from her position as executive director of the State Board of Education in 2015.

But over the past four years she also experienced a different sort of “whirlwind” as the rising president and CEO of Expect More Arizona, an advocacy group for world class education, and she is raising twin boys.

The experience has given her a new perspective on a world she has played a role in since she was the state House Education Committee intern. That was her introduction to state policy, and she’s been hooked ever since.

Cap Times Q&AHow has your involvement in the education sphere impacted your approach to your own children’s education?

It definitely gives me a different lens, and I have a different appreciation now that I have kids as consumers of the system. I’ve talked to several friends about school choice and how wonderful it is to have school choice. But at the same time, making that choice, for those of us who have the luxury to be able to do it, is hard because there is rarely a perfect choice for your kid. I hope it makes me a little less of a “helicopter parent” because I am keenly aware of the professionals that educators are, and I want them to be the leaders.

What’s the plan for your boys moving forward? Sticking to district schools or taking a different route?

We live in a very strong district, so I think we’ll stay with the district. But it’s going to depend on what their needs are. I’m going to let their needs dictate where we end up going.

So, you’re making a transition over to Expect More Arizona. But you were just at Achieve 60 AZ where the focus is on the college attainment rate. Why is that so important for Arizona right now?

We’re behind. The whole nation really is behind where we need to be. The greater the amount of post-high school attainment a person has, the less likely they are to be unemployed, the higher their earnings are, the less likely they are to be involved in criminal activity or requiring social safety net services. We really see the increasing post-high school attainment as a mechanism to raise the economic success not just of individuals but also of the state.

Expect More on the other hand has several goals for the state to work toward. Does any one stand out to you?

In the years I’ve been involved in education at various levels, there’s always K-12 – talking about K-12 issues. Early ed, pre-K talks about their issues. Higher ed is in their own space. And it’s been a relatively recent phenomenon that they are cross-pollinating more. And I think the (Arizona Education) Progress Meter is the perfect example of how intertwined all of those sections are. You can’t expect to have increased attainment if you’re failing on the lower end of the goals. If you’ve got low participation in quality pre-K programs or third grade reading is low and eighth grade math is low . . . all of these things are building blocks to meet that attainment goal.

Why do you think Arizona’s education system is at the point it is now?

We have a number of challenges, and some of them are not unique to Arizona. Educators in general have a challenge being viewed as the professionals that they are in part because everyone has experienced a classroom. Funding has been very difficult over the years. Our resources are shrinking, and our population is growing. We’ve also had an environment where we have pushed innovation, which is a good thing, but at the same time, we’ve done so at a pace where we might not understand how well things are being implemented. It’s been about the change-of-the-week.

What was that feud with Diane Douglas like for you?

It was a challenge. I think the superintendent and her staff were doing what they thought was in their best political interest, and that’s what I was doing for the board – ensuring that constitutional body had its appropriate representation. It was an interesting political time to be involved in, and it will probably always be associated with my name, which I’m not sure how I feel about. It is what it is. It happened, and I think it’s good for the state that it’s been resolved. But it’s always going to be a part of some cocktail party conversation wherever I am. I’ve had people tell me my name sounds familiar, and I’m like, “Yeah, you may have seen me on TV.”

You and your deputy at the time, Sabrina Vasquez, actually returned to the office after being “fired.” How awkward was that?

We knew we had a job to do and we continued to do it. It was a challenging time. And it was awkward because the state board offices at that time were on the fourth floor, same as the superintendent’s office, and uh, there’s only one ladies’ room on that floor.

Were you satisfied with how that ended?

I’m just happy it was resolved, frankly. I think it’s healthy that there is now a clear separation in the budget and in statute between the state board and the superintendent.

What do you think of Douglas now? Is she the right person for that job?

She’s doing a fine job as superintendent, but I think there’s more that could be done. There’s times when state boards work very closely with superintendents. There’s times when state boards and superintendents don’t get along. And it really is a cycle. It happens more often than you might realize in the press. In this last round, there was a lot more tension between the elements. There’s a lot of work to be done to build those coalitions back to where they were before, and I don’t know that the superintendent has yet been successful at doing that.

Circumstances sweep away some of Ducey’s agenda

Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, middle, pauses as he gives his state of the state address as he is flanked by House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, left, R-Chandler, and Senate President Steve Yarbrough, right, R-Chandler, at the capitol, Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, middle, pauses as he gives his state of the state address as he is flanked by House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, left, R-Chandler, and Senate President Steve Yarbrough, right, R-Chandler, at the capitol, Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Gov. Doug Ducey has faced difficult legislative sessions before.

He has handled tight budgets, contentious issues and a slew of criticism from legislative Democrats.

But this session was on another level.

The “Red for Ed” movement and corresponding teachers strike that closed schools across the state were new for Ducey. As was working to ink a budget deal as tens of thousands of angry, crimson-clad educators protested outside his office.

For Ducey, this session — the final one in this term — was a wild, new lesson on governing.

This session was far less predictable than those prior, said lobbyist Chuck Coughlin.

Education issues took over the discussion and completely dominated the later half of the session.

But that education fight has been quietly festering for years, since Ducey took office in 2015 and proceeded to cut nearly half a billion from existing programs in order to right the financial ship, Coughlin said.

The fight for more K-12 education funding has been percolating ever since, until it spilled out into the public this year as a result of national momentum and Ducey being up for re-election this fall, he said

“It was all a prelude to this dance here,” Coughlin said. “It was a boiling point.”

Even though some of Ducey’s priorities — like school safety and water policy reform — fell to the wayside as he focused on the teacher pay issue, necessitated by the horde of teachers on the Capitol lawn, the governor considers this to have been a successful session.

He brokered a budget deal with the Legislature to boost Arizona’s average teacher pay by 19 percent over the next three years.

“Of course these dollars are there to reward our teachers. They’re also there to retain our teachers and to bring new teachers into K-12 education,” Ducey said after session. “We’re excited we were able to get it over the finish line.”

Not everyone is as excited about the pay raises as the state’s top executive. “Red for Ed” leaders and the teachers camped out in front of the Capitol criticized Ducey’s plan as not going far enough.

And Ducey’s teacher pay plan was enough to convince former Secretary of State Ken Bennett to jump into the governor’s race, potentially giving the governor an intraparty challenge. Bennett has called Ducey’s plan fiscally irresponsible.

Even at the beginning of session, Ducey planned to boost K-12 funding this year. In his January “State of the State” speech, Ducey promised to boost K-12 funding and direct 80 percent of new funding toward public education, but that funding boost only initially included a 1-percent raise for teachers.

Arizona teachers demanded more. After weeks of demonstrations around the state, Ducey partially delivered.

But before he could, he received some negative feedback from his predecessor Gov. Jan Brewer, which was unusual in and of itself. As teachers marched on the Capitol, Brewer took aim at Ducey for creating the situation.

In a TV interview, she acknowledged that it is unusual for a former governor — one of Ducey’s own party no less — to criticize the sitting governor. Normally Brewer is a “good former governor” and keeps her mouth shut, she joked. But the teachers strike was too much for her to keep quiet.

The former governor said the days-long “Red for Ed” rally was totally out of control, putting some of the blame on Ducey. She doubted Ducey’s plan for pay raises would pass, and she called the Senate’s choice to adjourn on the first day of the teacher walkout a “slap in the face” to the governor as he worked to iron out a budget deal.

Ducey faced a few other bumps throughout session, but none as prominent as the “Red for Ed” strike.

In March, a pedestrian was killed by a self-driving Uber vehicle. Ducey has long championed autonomous vehicle research, but some blamed the governor for the pedestrian death because he has welcomed the emerging technology to the state with little-to-no oversight.

Ducey suspended Uber’s autonomous vehicle testing, after the technology company had already done so, pending the results of an investigation into the incident.

A federal judge ruled against Proposition 123 — a funding package pushed by Ducey that boosted school funding disbursements from the state land trust. The issue is still wrapped up in court.

In offering teachers larger raises, Ducey had to limit some of his other priorities this session. Among others, he had to pare back a proposed increase in a tax exemption for veterans.

But after a tough session, things could be looking up for Ducey as he heads into election season.

“To his credit, he can claim the mantle of education governor now,” Coughlin said. “People can critique it, and they will.

“I think he can run on that in this state, and he will run on that and be successful.”

Closing educational gap for kids in foster care

Deposit Photos

Maggie* entered foster care when she was a toddler. By first grade she had attended four different schools. By third grade she still could not read, was a grade behind in math and she received frequent out-of-school suspensions for acting out her trauma.

Instead of finding her a stable home, Arizona’s child welfare system constantly moved Maggie between shelters and group homes — twisting her educational experience into another source of frustration, disappointment, and pain. Too many abused and abandoned children share Maggie’s experience.

Jessica Barnett

On every educational metric, Arizona’s foster children place near last compared to every other at-risk student group — including those experiencing homelessness, those in poverty, and those who speak English as a second language.

Collective and distinct adversities drive this educational achievement gap. Childhood abuse compounded by the complexity of foster care creates behavioral and learning struggles — traumas exacerbated by constantly changing schools. These students are four times more likely to transfer midyear — and 14% will attend at least three schools in a single school year. Seldom are they sent to high quality schools best suited to their needs.

Students report being disheartened and disincentivized. Even previously higher performing students veer off track, with less than 20% meeting Arizona’s testing standards. As a result, just 40% of Arizona’s youth in foster care graduate in four years.

Stability in education is crucial. Even one less school move can double a student’s chances of graduating and reduce the high risks of arrests, homelessness, and poverty that plague foster students. In fact, federal law already states children should only move schools if it is clearly beneficial to them.

So why do schools frequently fail to even identify students as being in foster care, let alone prioritize their unique needs? Without clarifying and reinforcing foster student-centric policies via state law, schools will continue to struggle to help these children succeed.

Arizona’s most vulnerable students have a right to attend the school and receive the services that will best help them thrive — from their first day of entering foster care, no matter where they live. Arizona lawmakers can equip educators to break the cycle of instability and propel these children to their full potential.

First, state law must require school placement decisions be dictated by the child’s best interests by imposing clear deadlines and responsibilities for determining the best school for the child, waiving enrollment and activity fees, awarding credits and recognizing completion of prior schoolwork, as well as providing reliable, free transportation and notifying students and caregivers of their rights.

Too often, Maggie’s needs took a backseat to adults’ convenience, including when the hassle of figuring out transportation kept her from a school with specialized services that would have addressed her trauma and learning needs.

Next, lawmakers can ensure that, instead of punishing students for trauma-induced outbursts, as Maggie was, students receive the right resources to graduate and thrive. Despite needing special education services twice as often as their peers, many foster students don’t receive proper education support to overcome trauma-induced learning challenges.

State policy should provide immediate screening of foster students for necessary support like special education, implement these supports quickly, and routinely monitor student progress. Students in foster care should also presumptively qualify for educational resources and programs that exist for other at-risk student populations and streamline access to those programs.

A quality, stable education helps counteract the trauma children experience when they are removed from their homes. Simple solutions can make school a haven where they experience safe relationships, gain confidence, and prepare for the future.

Luckily, Maggie finally found an adoptive family committed to meeting her educational needs. Though she still suffers the long-term effects of missed foundational learning, she is approaching junior high with hope. By implementing simple reforms, Arizona can ensure promising futures for more children like Maggie.

*Name and details changed to protect the child’s privacy.

Jessica Barnett is a foster care policy analyst at The Center for the Rights of Abused Children.

Confusion abounds over Ducey’s public-school performance pay plan

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

Gov. Doug Ducey’s signature performance pay plan for excelling schools still has districts questioning when they will receive money and how exactly it must be spent.

The results-based funding plan was one of the biggest chunks of new spending in Ducey’s budget proposal. The money rewards high-performing schools by giving them more money to spend on teachers or expansions of successful programs and practices.

The program, totaling $38 million this year, will provide schools that score in the top 10 percent on the 2016 AzMerit tests additional money per student. Next year, schools will be assessed based on the letter grade they receive in the state’s rating system.

Districts are relying on a list of about 250 schools compiled by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee in the spring, but the official list of schools that will receive money, and how much they receive, has not been finalized by the Arizona Department of Education.

Districts, which adopted their budgets in July, haven’t been told when to expect payments from the results-based funding initiative. They haven’t been directed, beyond what’s in the approved budget, on where they can use the money.

“This budget item and this funding was really well-intended, but it wasn’t thought out as well as it should have been,” said James Lee, superintendent of Paradise Valley Unified School District. “Districts are scrambling to figure out how to use it.”

All this as students are getting ready to begin the school year in the coming days and weeks.

The Department of Education will provide additional information, including the dates and amounts of payments, to schools on the results-based funding program within the next month, department spokesman Stefan Swiat said in an email.

Swiat said the schools should receive results-based payments in September and May, though multiple school districts told the Arizona Capitol Times they have not yet been told when they will get the money.

The majority of the money should be used to hire more teachers or pay them better, or for teacher professional development, the law creating the performance funding plan said. Some of the money can be used to expand or replicate the successful schools’ models, including adding more spots for students at those schools, physically expanding schools, or mentoring other schools.

It could be tough for schools to add new teachers using the results-based funding this year, considering teacher contracts are typically signed in the spring. And since the funding is based on performance in a given year, districts are wary of including it in teacher salaries.

Low-income schools, defined as those with 60 percent or more students qualifying for the free or reduced lunch program, would get $400 per student if they score in the top 10 percent of all low-income schools.

High-income schools, meaning those with less than 60 percent of students on free or reduced lunch plans, would get $225 per pupil if they score in the top 10 percent of all schools.

Several districts that were identified on the JLBC list put the anticipated money into their official budgets, but still don’t have firm plans on how to spend it.

For example, five schools in the Washington Elementary School District qualified for the additional $400 per student, based on the JLBC list.

The district’s business manager, Cathy Thompson, said a school could spend the money on professional development programs for teaching math, mentoring, training or additional small-group learning opportunities for students.

Matt Strom, the assistant superintendent at the Chandler Unified School District, said he’s not concerned about the timing of the payments since he knows the program is funded. Chandler Unified will treat the money as one-time funding, as it has with previous governor-initiated programs, Strom said.

“Sometimes these things are here this year and gone the next,” he said.

The additional money could be used for operating costs like teacher salaries or on expanding access to the successful schools, Strom said. Chandler Unified’s legal counsel has reviewed the budget language to make sure the school spends the money as allowed by law, but Strom said the district would still like guidance from the Department of Education on where the money can go.

Lee, who heads Paradise Valley Unified School District, has 12 schools that could receive the additional funding, based on JLBC’s list. The district put the money in its budget, but hasn’t allocated it to any specific areas yet.

Lee said the idea of performance pay for teachers in some of his schools instead of the whole district could hinder his ability to keep or hire teachers in the ones that don’t get the added funding. He said he wants to hear how other districts will use the funding and get some guidance on some of the parts of the law that he considers open to interpretation.

The confusion over how to spend the money and how to allow for it in school budgets isn’t uncommon for new programs, said Chuck Essigs, director of government relations for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials.

“Any new legislation that passes, like the results-based funding, is hard for districts to get in place and get them operating in the next school year. That doesn’t mean the Legislature shouldn’t do new things, but first year is always difficult,” said Essigs, who has worked in school finance for several decades.

Essigs said there are still questions over what districts have to do with the money and what they may do with the money based on the budget language. And the law says the schools have to be making “steady improvement” in order to continue getting funding after three years, but doesn’t specifically say what that entails, Essigs said.

Handling the timing of payments shouldn’t be tough for most districts, said Chris Kotterman, head of governmental relations for the Arizona School Boards Association. It’s essentially a cash flow management issue, and schools are good at managing cash flow, he said.

But these kinds of questions, over timing of payments and where funds can be used, come up when special programs are created to target certain districts instead of the school system as a whole, Kotterman said.

“As a general rule, ASBA would advocate for schools to be funded in a way that provides the greatest predictability and equity across the board,” he said.

Coral Evans at home as Flagstaff mayor, represents even foes

Coral Evans (Photo by Jenna Miller)
Coral Evans (Photo by Jenna Miller)

Coral Evans grew up living in public, low-income housing in Flagstaff, a place her family has called home for three generations. Now, she is proud to represent her city as the mayor. But that isn’t the only thing on Evans’ plate.

She recently published a self-help book, which features her own original poetry and is also working on a PhD in sustainability education. Full of energy after a little less than a year in office, Evans says she is hopeful about the direction the city is headed.

Cap Times Q&AWhy did you decide to run for mayor?

Right now we’ve got this hyperbolic, partisan, B.S. thing going on. Everything is being, in my mind, dumbed down – it’s either you’re liberal or you’re conservative. You’re a Democrat or you’re a Republican. We’re literally dumbing the conversation down, because nothing is that black or white, nothing. I feel that my role as mayor, I represent the people that elected me, but I also represent the people that didn’t vote for me. They voted for somebody else. I represent the people who can’t vote for me. That includes people under the age of 18, people who have criminal backgrounds and can’t vote, and people that are undocumented here in my community. They also need to be heard – I think it’s important that you hear them. I think it’s important that you listen.

Do the state legislators understand the northern half of the state and represent your interests?

No. I feel that a lot of times because you have a larger population down south that the bulk of the attention happens there. I do think that sometimes our state representatives forget that a lot of people live outside of Maricopa County. Flagstaff is the largest city in northern Arizona, we do have needs. Other rural cities and towns, not only in northern Arizona, but there are rural cities and towns all around the map of Arizona. We need highway infrastructure, it’s extremely important. Poverty, because of the lack of job opportunities that are available. The cost of living, because of the isolation, sometimes that’s an extreme problem. So I don’t think that there is enough attention given to rural Arizona and rural Arizona needs and I would like to see more of that.

How is Flagstaff’s minimum wage different from the rest of Arizona and why did the city decide to implement the changes over a slower, five-year scale?

So the minimum wage statewide went to 12 bucks an hour, here it went to $15. It’s not $15 now – it’s supposed to be $15 in five years. And the way it rolled out was in the local ordinance that was passed. Our minimum wage has to be two dollars higher than the state’s minimum wage. That was pretty interesting. In January we went to $10 as a state – ours would have gone to $12. That would have truly negatively impacted a lot of our small businesses. We want people to be paid fairly for what they do, and understanding that the cost of living here in Flagstaff is a lot higher than other areas. Understanding the balance of making sure that people are able to live here and be paid fairly, but then protecting our small businesses. So we were able to come to a medium, a consensus, a middle ground and it’s worked out well.

What is a “dark sky city” and why is that important to Flagstaff?

We are the world’s first dark sky city. Pluto was discovered here in Flagstaff at Lowell Observatory. We also are home to the Naval Observatory, as well as the Discovery Channel telescope. That was a huge project. We value the dark skies. We value the fact that you can see the stars. We think it’s important that you’re able to see the stars – that you’re able to look up and really understand where you are and your place in the world in comparison to everything. Kind of like when you first see the ocean, you realize there’s a lot more than just you. You realize that you’re part of this bigger planet.

 What qualities did you try to bring to your office?

I wanted everybody to feel like they are reflected in this office. I purposely didn’t hang any of my degrees on the wall. I’ve been a community activist for a long time. You go to my office, any office I’ve ever had, my degrees aren’t on the wall. Because one, I didn’t get the degree for you to stare at it, I got the degree for myself. Number two, I don’t want you to feel that there is any type of inequity going on for us to have a conversation. I think that’s extremely important. When you get in here, I want you to just relax. I want to have a conversation because I want to hear about you. I want to know about you, I want to hear what the issue is. I want to see how I can help you with it. I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable. I remember I told the city manager, I’m like, “Do I get to paint my office any color?” He’s like, “Whatever you want Coral.” I was like, “I want it to be purple.”

What are your goals for the upcoming year?

We set a goal, our council, we are dang well focused on it. We want some affordable housing units here in the city and we don’t want like one or two. Right now we are short like 600 affordable housing units, we need them. So we are hell bent, I guess you could say. I’m trying to figure out a more dignified way to say it, but we are hell bent on getting the affordable housing units.


Cost to fix millions in misallocations to schools $105,000 – so far

In this Nov. 16, 2017, photo, Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas addresses about 50 school district and charter school representatives at her department's annual MEGA Conference on programs and services for low-income students. In October, the Arizona Department of Education revealed it had misallocated millions in Title I funding, federal dollars for the state's most economically disadvantaged kids. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
In this Nov. 16, 2017, photo, Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas addresses about 50 school district and charter school representatives at her department’s annual MEGA Conference on programs and services for low-income students. In October, the Arizona Department of Education revealed it had misallocated millions in Title I funding, federal dollars for the state’s most economically disadvantaged kids. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

The Arizona Department of Education has spent more than $100,000 to correct problems that led to the misallocation of millions in federal funds, and those costs could continue to rise.

In October, the department revealed that hundreds of charter schools and school districts had received more Title I funding for low-income students than they were entitled to while others were shorted between fiscal years 2014 and 2017.

The misallocations were due to numerous errors identified in the department’s allocation process, which began under former Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal but compounded in the years that followed.

Two weeks after the department announced the Title I error, it also alerted schools to similar issues with federal funding for special education programs.

Dan Godzich, the department’s director of communications, said the initial contract with Washington D.C.-based Afton Partners cost $105,000 for the auditor to identify errors in the Title I allocations process.

Afton assisted the department in preparing the fiscal year 2018 allocations, which were released in October after being verified by the U.S. Department of Education. Afton has also recalculated the funds the firm believes each district and charter should have received in the last four fiscal years. Those estimates have not yet been verified.

Godzich said the department has been discussing the potential for retaining a third-party – be that Afton or another firm – to continue to review allocations. He anticipated that cost would be significantly lower because the initial work by Afton required a deep dive into years of data.

The funding for Afton’s contract and any future partnership, he added, would come out of the 1 percent of federal Title I funding intended for administrative costs, such as Title I staff.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas said it was “a cost of doing business” to ensure funds are properly distributed in the future.

On November 15, Douglas spoke to about 500 district and charter representatives at the department’s annual Title I conference to address ongoing concerns.

She said the department sent its proposed plan to correct the problem to the feds on November 14, but she does not know when they will approve or reject the proposal.

If the state has its way, districts and charters that received too much funding will not be asked to return the over-allocated dollars, nor will their future Title I allocations be reduced. And the department has proposed making the under-funded schools whole by allotting the additional funds owed to them over the next two to five years.

The same plan will be submitted later this week regarding the inaccurate federal special education disbursements.

Given the federal department’s strictly verbal response thus far, Douglas is confident the proposal will be approved.

“I don’t expect any hiccups,” she said, “but they are the federal government. They do get to decide.”

Douglas also noted the misallocated funds were still used to support Title I programs.

“No one embezzled money. No money disappeared and we don’t know where it went. We know that it went to the students it was intended to serve,” she said.

According to calculations Afton presented at the Title I conference this week, about $43.6 million was over-allocated to nearly 300 charter and district schools, and nearly 200 additional district and charter schools were shorted an estimated $9.7 million.

“I’m hoping and I’m optimistic that this is it,” Douglas said. “We’ve worked out these problems, but can I promise you that? No, I can’t. We will keep looking at things as long as I hold this office.”

Court rejects bid to put hold on surcharge on wealthy

A new income tax surcharge on the wealthy to add more dollars to public education can take effect.

In a 21-page ruling Tuesday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah Jr. rejected a series of arguments by business interests and some Republican lawmakers that Proposition 208 was so flawed that he needed to immediately quash it. Hannah said that’s not the case.

The judge said there appears to be little merit to the claim that only elected lawmakers are authorized to raise taxes. If nothing else, he pointed out that the Arizona Constitution makes the people co-equal with the legislature.

Similarly, he said when voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds vote for new or increased taxes, they worded it so as to apply only to the legislature and not to their own initiatives. And Hannah found little merit to the claim that the 3.5% surcharge on earnings above $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for married couples filing jointly is not a sufficient revenue source for the money that will go to public schools and other education issues.

Finally, in declining to issue an injunction, the judge also concluded that enacting the tax, by itself, likely does not run afoul of constitutional caps on total spending on education. He said there are legitimate ways to interpret Proposition 208 in ways that make it legal.

John Hannah
John Hannah

And even if there is a legal problem — a point Hannah does not concede — he said it would require a full-blown trial, complete with evidence, to reach such a conclusion.

In the meantime, however, he said there is no immediate reason to declare the law or this provision illegal.

Hannah pointed out that while the higher tax rate officially took effect Jan. 1, it won’t really be an issue for most people until April 2022 when they pay their income taxes. And even for people whose income is high enough to require them to pay estimated taxes, the judge said the worst that could happen is they pay a little more now and then could get a refund if Proposition 208 eventually is declared illegal.

All that technically leaves the door open for the foes of the tax, who tried unsuccessfully to keep the measure off the ballot in the first place, to renew their arguments at a trial. But they have an uphill fight.

In refusing to issue the injunction, Hannah had to consider whether the challengers had a likelihood of success. And he said that does not appear to be the case.

Jonathan Riches, an attorney for the Goldwater Institute, called the ruling “unfortunate.” But he pointed out that Hannah is giving foes another chance to make their case at trial.

“We are confident that once constitutional flaws with Prop 208 are fully and finally litigated, our courts will act to protect Arizona taxpayers against the grave threat of its burdensome and permanent tax increase,” he said.

The ruling is a key victory for the backers of Invest in Education who convinced 51.7% of those who turned out in November to support the plan to add new dollars for education. It is expected to raise anywhere from $827 million to $940 million a year, depending on whose estimates are used.

Half of the dollars are earmarked for grants to school districts and charter schools to hire teachers and classroom support personnel. Those dollars also can be used to raise teacher salaries.

Another 25% is for student support personnel, with 10% earmarked to retain teachers in the classroom, 12% for career and technical education and the balance into a fund to help pay the college tuition of students who go into teaching.

Opponents argued that it would be bad for small business. And they pointed out that, for the most wealthy, it effectively would raise the top tax rate in Arizona to 8%, a move they said would put a damper on economic growth.

But with Arizona’s tiered tax system, only the earnings above that $250,000/$500,000 threshold are subject to the higher levy. Estimates are that only about 4% of Arizonans would be affected.

One of the key legal arguments by foes involves the question of who can raise taxes and what margin is needed.

Hannah brushed aside the claim that only the legislature has that power, pointing out that the Arizona Constitution specifically empowers voters to create and defeat legislation at the ballot box.

As a fallback argument, challengers pointed to the constitutional requirement for a two-thirds vote of the legislature for higher taxes, claiming that same margin also applies to voters. The judge found little merit to the claim that’s what voters meant when they approved it in 1992.

“It expresses the electorate’s intent to make it more difficult for the legislature to increase taxes,” Hannah wrote. “But it does not follow that the voters intended when they enacted (the constitutional provision) to repeal or limit their own separate, co-equal power to increase taxes by initiative.”

That issue of the education expenditure limit is a bit more complex.

The Arizona Constitution sets a spending limit for all school districts in the state by taking the current revenues and adjusted for the number of students and inflation.

In anticipation that Proposition 208 could bust the spending limit, the drafters of Proposition 208 specifically said that the dollars raised by the new levy are exempt from that limit. But Hannah said that’s not so simple, as the initiative is a law which, by definition, cannot overrule a constitutional provision.

The judge said, though, that Proposition 208 could be read so that the funds raised do not fall within the cap. He said the new dollars could be considered “grants” which are not covered by the constitutional limit.

And even the new cash is subject to the limit — a point yet to be proven — Hannah said there is no evidence on the record that the extra cash will, in fact, exceed the revenue limits.


Covid affects students’ math, English performance 

Coronavirus Outbreak. Lockdown and school closures. School boy with face mask watching online education classes feeling bored and depressed at home. COVID-19 pandemic forces children online learning.

The Covid pandemic continues to negatively impact students’ success in math and English, and education leaders say it’s imperative to address these unprecedented declines in proficiency quickly.

“We have to recognize that like in any situation where you’re trying to catch up, the work is harder,” Helios Education Foundation President and CEO Paul Luna said. “There’s also a sense of urgency, right? We don’t – we don’t have time. The students will continue to progress from grade to grade, and so you don’t have a lot of time in order to help students catch up to grade level.”

The Helios Education Foundation has collaborated with the Arizona State Board of Education, the Arizona Department of Education, The Center for Assessment, Abt Associates, and the ASU Helios Decision Center for Educational Excellence to analyze data regarding Covid’s effects. A recent brief outlines the decline in the 2020-21 school year.

Representatives of these groups discussed the brief and Covid’s effect on learning during an Arizona Capitol Times “Morning Scoop” on July 27.

Luna said that part of why it is essential to improve students’ proficiencies that have suffered as a result of pandemic disruptions is because education affects the future of the state.

“At the core of why that’s important is that as we know, and as we’ve learned through other research, the future of our state and our economy will be driven by our ability to educate our students to be able to move into the type of jobs and careers that are going to be available to them, but which significantly require some type of post-secondary education success,” Luna said.

Across the board, proficiency in mathematics was at 31% and 38% in English Language Arts, compared to 42% in English Language Arts and 42% in Mathematics in 2018-2019. Native American, African American and Hispanic students saw greater decreases.

Arizona State Board of Education Deputy Director Catcher Baden said before the pandemic, proficiency levels were trending upward a few percentage points per year. The large changes in percent proficient during the pandemic are highly unusual.

“These are really unprecedented changes in proficiency that are obviously going in the wrong direction,” Baden said. “I want to make clear when I say proficiency, those students were still learning during Covid, during the learning disruptions that the state experienced – they were just not learning it anywhere near the rates that we had been experiencing pre-pandemic.”

So far, the groups’ analysis has shown that younger grades’ academics were more impacted than older grades, particularly in English Language Arts, according to a brief released in April. That’s significant because early literacy is tied to students’ success later in life, Baden said.

“There’s voluminous research that suggests that for students who are unable to read at grade level by third grade, their chances of succeeding in school and life dropped precipitously,” he said.

Overall, mathematics has taken the hardest hit across age groups.

Last year’s figures also showed that the pre-pandemic trend of English learners falling behind more than their English language proficient classmates continued into the pandemic. The percentage of English learners who achieved proficiency in English Language Arts dropped six points, and the percentage of those who were proficient in mathematics fell seven points.  Native American, African American and Hispanic students have also experienced greater drops in proficiency than their peers.

“Those students who were already experiencing gaps in opportunity and achievement – for years that we have been trying to work collaboratively to try to address – those students got hit the hardest, and it’s really unfortunate,” Baden said.

Student mobility also played a role in pandemic disruption, something evident by the fact that fewer students enrolled in 2020-21, despite “more students than ever” moving to the state. Helios plans to release a report on chronic absenteeism soon and is meeting with school leaders and superintendents next week to discuss the issue.

While Helios stated that it was essential to compare data from 2020-21 and beyond to pre-pandemic data, it noted that pandemic disruptions also impacted participation rates in testing in spring of 2021, which affects comparative analyses and necessitates caution when interpreting the information.




Dan Hargest: The man who clothed ‘Red for Ed’

Dan Hargest (Photo by Carmen Forman/Arizona Capitol Times)
Dan Hargest (Photo by Carmen Forman/Arizona Capitol Times)

Dan Hargest, owner of Acme Prints in Phoenix, started screen-printing T-shirts in his back yard in 1999. A singer in semi-famous power-pop band Pollen, the group was looking for a cheap and effective way to print T-shirts. Hargest decided to print the shirts himself — a hobby that turned into a career when Pollen broke up.

Nowadays, Hargest is more well-known as the printer who churned out nearly 25,000 “Red for Ed” shirts in the past two months for teachers across the state. The bright red shirts became a symbol of the education-funding movement, and many print shops across the state cranked out their version of the latest hot commodity. For weeks, Hargest’s shop was overflowing with colorful shirts and teachers coming to pick them up.

How did you get started printing “Red for Ed” shirts?

I’ve always thought that it’s insane that teachers aren’t regarded very highly in our country, it seems. People think that paying them a really low wage is OK, and the truth is that you’re going to have people who need to pay back their student loans, and they’re going to probably end up working in a different state as a teacher or get a different job in this state, which means that kids are going to have less qualified teachers, which means the kids are going to have not as good of an education. Arizona’s got a serious problem of that. So, I would have been behind it regardless.

The actual catalyst was that a teacher had decided to print T-shirts at home for free for other teachers when this all started up. So, she posted something online where you have to order by midnight. She was like, “Yeah, I can do 50 or 100.” When the orders came in, it was almost 3,000. She was in a panic. She called us. We printed the almost 3,000 shirts for free, which was almost $6,000 worth of printing services. We’re a very charitable company, even though we’re not that big. I’m a total bleeding heart with animals and people. I’ve been printing like all of PETA’s stuff for over a decade at cost, and I’m just really into helping when I can.

Cap Times Q&AWhen did she contact you asking for printing help?

Sleep deprivation really messes up your ability to tell time very well because the days just start melting into each other, and that’s what it’s been like for over a month. Whenever it [the “Red for Ed” movement] first started, it was like brand new and just starting to hit the news. Whenever that was.

You joked about sleep deprivation. Have you been working long hours?

We’re set up to print bulk, and even though we were actually able to print these orders, we’re not used to getting tens of thousands of individual customers. It just turned into we were a “Red for Ed” call center all of a sudden. Every phone call, we’d pick up and be like, “Red for Ed headquarters.” It was just crazy.

After the first 3,000 shirts you gave away, did you sell the others?

After the initial run, then we sold them for $6 apiece. Normally, retail shirts are going to be $15 or $20 each. That’s what most people were selling them for. Essentially, it was at cost because we were having to hire temps. It was at an extremely discounted rate at least. I expected to make essentially nothing on it.

About how many “Red for Ed” shirts did you print?

Overall, it was just shy of 25,000 shirts that we printed.

Have things slowed down now?

Oh, yeah. It has essentially stopped. We still have some people who are buying some shirts, and we are still going to be printing. We’ve gotten a lot of requests for shirts that say “Remember in November” so because we’ve got a lot left over, we’ll probably print that on the back, and we’ll offer shirts with that on the front on the website, and a few other products.

The “Red for Ed” mania has subsided.

Now that things have calmed down, have you gotten more rest?

I’m doing my best to do that. I’ve been trying to catch up on that. As of yesterday, I’ve got my first assistant manager. I started printing on my back porch, and having somebody who’s there means I can potentially go and visit my family and stuff. I was supposed to go surprise my mother for her birthday. I had already booked a trip to Florida. And I had it all planned out how we were going to surprise her. We had to postpone it, and then I had to cancel that because “Red for Ed” stuff was to the point that I was working, then falling asleep, then working.

What do you normally print at your shop?

It’s like everything. We do sports team stuff, we do a lot of businesses that need bulk shirt orders, but we also print one-off shirts. If someone wants a full color picture of grandma on a shirt for her birthday, we do that as well.

Did you make any profit printing the “Red for Ed” T-shirts?

It didn’t seem to hurt us in the very least, so that’s good. If it was really painful, I would have noticed it by now, but I haven’t. Even if it was just a wash, we got to communicate with so many potential customers so that’s where I’m really excited. Even if we didn’t make a penny off of it, we have maybe 20,000 people who directly interacted with us. The organic word-of-mouth sort of marketing has been amazing.

How did it feel to see your work clothing the “Red for Ed” movement?

It’s great when you support something like that. It’s really nice to see that it’s helping people, especially when you’re thinking that all those people there are people who don’t get paid very well. Knowing that you saved all those people $10 or $15 is really nice. You’re actually helping. I think that’s why we’ve gotten more appreciation for this than anything we’ve ever done. They appreciate that we made it affordable for them.

Danny Adelman: Learning the law in the public’s interest

Danny Adelman (Photo  by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)
Danny Adelman (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)

Before graduating from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, Daniel “Danny” Adelman knew he wanted to study law. Accounting was something he “fell into,” but studying law was something he was passionate about. Adelman, founding partner of Adelman German law firm, was recently named executive director of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest. He will replace outgoing director Tim Hogan, who has led the center for 26 years, in early 2018.

The center has long played a role in Arizona politics, tackling issues pertaining to public education, child welfare and the environment. How does it feel to take over such a big-name nonprofit law firm?

It’s clearly an awesome responsibility. I understand a lot about how much the center has accomplished over the years and it’s really mind blowing how much such a small organization has been able to accomplish. The work that the center has done for children, for public education, for the environment is truly amazing, so I’m humbled by it, but I’m up for the challenge.

You’ve served on the center’s board for 23 years. When did you first become involved with the center and why?

I actually learned about the center when I was in law school at ASU like 32 years ago. … When I got out (of school), I was already involved in some charities that helped children and part of what we did was we would go to different schools to try to get children for this camp for underprivileged kids that I helped run. The schools were just atrocious, the disparity between the haves and the have nots. That was while the center was prosecuting the lawsuit that had the Arizona school finance system declared unconstitutional. And after the center won that lawsuit I would go back to those same schools and it made a huge difference. They were able to rebuild and refurbish and make the schools really good. … (The center has) always been a big part of what I’ve cared about in Arizona.

In your private practice you focus on personal injury and medical malpractice cases. How will that experience translate to your new position?

You’re always going up against huge corporations or insurance companies that have unlimited resources. Well, that is definitely a thing that I’ll be doing in all the litigation that the center does. I do a lot of work involving medical malpractice. I’m not a doctor, but in each case I have to learn a whole new area of medicine and sort of become an expert on this one little issue. Well I’m going to have a lot of learning to do as the executive director for the center. And I think those skills of finding the right expert and really learning a whole new area will serve me well.

The center has focused on public education, the environment and health care. Do you see yourself continuing to pursue those themes? What other areas are you interested in tackling?

Continuing those topics is definitely a big part of where I see the center going in the future. So I do not have a goal to totally change the direction of the center. … Recently the center took on a case for families with children with autism where insurance companies, either public or private, are denying services to children with autism. If you looked five years ago, that wasn’t a case that we were already doing, but it was a good area to expand into. So I want to look for areas like that that we can expand our mission to as long as the idea of the mission, advocating for people who otherwise would have no voice, stays consistent.

Going forward, what are some of your goals for the center?

One of my goals for the center is to reach out to more people so that they can kind of see what the center is and support us. We don’t take any government money so we just have small individual donations from people who care about children and health care and we’re constantly going to battle with people and institutions with a ton of power, so it really is a true grassroots kind of organization. … I want to help get an educational system that isn’t so unequal. People can argue about whether they have privilege or whether other people should overcome odds, but in Arizona our Constitution says that the government needs to provide this and it’s not fair that kids in an affluent district have so many advantages, just as to the structure of their school, that children in poor districts don’t have. I want to fight that.

You play in a band called The Philosophisers.

I play the guitar, rhythm guitar, in a rock and blues band, which actually sounds way more exciting than it really is. I also play the harmonica in the blues part of it. I started playing the guitar right out of high school and was a song leader at a camp. And then a group of friends just decided to put together a band. … It’s a lot of fun and it’s good to keep the other half of the brain engaged.

You also wrote a fiction novel about two NASA scientists who develop technology that can solve world hunger. How did the idea come about?

I started writing the book as a whim. My son, who was a journalism major, and I decided we’d write a book. And I wrote the first chapter and then he was going to write the second chapter but he was too busy being in school and having fun so then I wrote the second chapter and just kept going. … So it was just for fun. I self-published it on Amazon. I have my idea for my next book. The star character will be a preschool teacher. And of course it will be a murder mystery.

Darcy Olsen, longtime Goldwater Institute CEO, ousted by board

Darcy Olsen
Darcy Olsen

Goldwater Institute CEO Darcy Olsen was forced out after the organization’s board of directors voted narrowly to remove her from the position she held for 16 years.

Attorney John Masterson, who represents Olsen, confirmed July 12 that the Goldwater Institute board of directors voted 7-6 to terminate Olsen’s employment agreement on June 27, nearly two weeks before the organization announced her departure. Olsen had headed up the conservative think tank since 2001.

Goldwater Institute board member Randy Kendrick said the seven members who voted to remove Olsen were “only trying to (do) the right thing for our values, our ethics and the future of the Institute.” And she said board Chairman Eric Crown was “acting on behalf of the entire board and in its best interests.”

“Not a single person took pleasure in this unfortunate situation,” Kendrick said via email, calling it a “sad event.”

Kendrick did not comment on why the board fired Olsen.

The Goldwater Institute declined to comment on the reasons for her ouster, and wouldn’t confirm that Olsen’s departure was involuntary. Spokeswoman Starlee Coleman said the organization’s thoughts on the matter were all in a press release announcing Olsen’s departure, which praised her 16-year tenure with the organization.

“(N)o one formerly associated with Goldwater can speak to the Board or staff’s current feelings towards Darcy,” Coleman said. “We are grateful for her many years of service to the organization and have nothing but well wishes for her future endeavors. She feels the same about Goldwater.”

Several allegations against Olsen were highlighted in an internal report compiled for the board in 2014, during a previous, unsuccessful attempt to remove her that led to the resignation of the board’s then-chairman, Tom Patterson.

The allegations included that she routinely had staffers run personal errands for her, that she frequently mistreated staff, that she refused to meet with high-dollar donors to the Goldwater Institute, and that she spent excessively on things like expensive hotel rooms while traveling for business.

Masterson said the allegations in the report were investigated and found to be without merit.

“After the investigation was completed, Ms. Olsen continued as CEO of the Goldwater Institute with the support of the majority of the Board of Directors,” said Masterson, of the firm Jones, Skelton and Hochuli. “The Goldwater Institute, under Ms. Olsen’s accomplished direction, continued to exceed expectations and remains one of the most successful organizations of its kind in the country.”

Coleman said old complaints from former employees that formed the basis for the 2014 report weren’t the reason for Olsen’s departure. She wouldn’t say whether similar, more recent complaints played a role.

In the initial press release announcing her departure, Olsen cited family needs for leaving the Goldwater Institute. She is a foster mother who has adopted three infants who have stayed in her home.

“I’m looking forward to charting a new course that gives me more time with my family and involves greater advocacy for children,” Olsen said in a statement. “My first love has always been to vindicate the rights of children and the innocent, and I look forward to concentrating on this work.”

Before joining Goldwater, she was the education policy director at the Washington D.C.-based Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank.

Supporters and critics alike praised Olsen for building the Goldwater Institute into a nationally recognized powerhouse with a track record of high-profile successes in the policy and legal arenas.

Olsen made the decision in 2007 to create the Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation, which transformed the Goldwater Institute from an intellectual heavyweight to a legal juggernaut. It has since won major cases that will change the political landscape both locally and nationally, including the CityNorth case in which the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that government subsidies for private development violate the Constitution, unless the developer offers benefits of equal value in return.

Olsen spearheaded the Goldwater Institute’s efforts in passing “Right to Try” laws, which allow drug makers and people who are terminally ill to bypass the federal government and use unproven drugs. Laws to that effect have been adopted in 37 states.

Olsen literally wrote the book on the Goldwater-pushed movement: “The Right to Try: How the Federal Government Prevents Americans from Getting the Lifesaving Treatments They Need.”

Olsen is the second high-profile departure from the Goldwater Institute in as many years. Clint Bolick, formerly the institute’s lead attorney, was appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court by Gov. Doug Ducey in 2016.

Victor Riches, a former deputy chief of staff to Ducey and the president of the Goldwater Institute since 2016, will assume the duties of CEO.

Delivering for Arizona’s students


In a session to be celebrated for many historic accomplishments, from passing the Drought Contingency Plan to securing raises for the men and women who put their lives on the line for us every day, one stands above the rest – Arizona’s continued growing investment in public education.

If you want to see what a state prioritizes, look at how it spends its resources. In Arizona, there’s no question. Education continues to be our number one budget priority, with more than $700 million in funding increase for K-12 and higher education. And what stands out about many of these investments is that they are directly tied to reforms and improvements that will benefit Arizona students.

  •         State General Fund spending for K-12 public schools will total roughly $5.5 billion.
  •         Of new General Fund spending in FY2020, funding for K-12 public schools totaled $660 million, or 54 percent of that increase.
  •         Since 2015, Arizona has added over $4.5 billion new dollars to K-12.
  •         During that time, per-pupil spending has increased by over 17 percent.

In total, this year’s budget adds $518 million above and beyond inflation for K-12 public schools – a far cry from the lawsuits and divisive fights of just a few years ago. These dollars represent permanent, ongoing resources that teachers, principals, superintendents and school board members can count on.

Gov. Doug Ducey

It should be no surprise that the biggest difference makers in the classroom – our teachers –receive the biggest share of education dollars. The budget adds $165 million to fulfill the second installment of 20 percent teacher raises by school year 2020. These new dollars come on top of last year’s $306 million investment, an amount that will grow to $645 million every year for teachers by school year 2020.

We also know, and had many discussions about, the importance of flexible spending that schools can put toward their biggest needs – whether that’s textbooks, building upgrades or raises for classified staff.

That’s why this budget accelerates the restoration of what’s known as “additional assistance,” operational funding that was cut during the recession, by adding $136 million, bringing the total restored money over the last two years to $236 million.

In addition to resources, this budget focuses on results, especially in places where educators and kids are beating the odds. Every child in Arizona should have access to an excellent education, no matter where they live or what circumstances they were born into. Results-based funding has provided many schools the resources needed to expand successful approaches. This year’s budget provides a total of $70 million to incentivize and grow programs proven to work, with a sharp focus on improving access for students in low-income neighborhoods.

As our economy continues to evolve, so too must education. That’s where Career and Technical Education (CTE) can help. This year’s budget adds $10 million for the creation of a new program that incentivizes schools to offer more CTE instruction, and rewards them for every student who graduates with a certificate for an in-demand field. In addition to this, there’s also a renewed investment in our community colleges because we know these programs work hand-in-hand.

Another priority high on the list – school maintenance. School districts across the state increasingly are facing end of life cycle repairs that need to be addressed. This year’s budget meets that demand, providing a total of $80 million for building renewal grants in fiscal year 2020, a 56 percent increase over the last fiscal year, and a $25 million supplemental to fulfill the existing requests needed for the current fiscal year.

In addition to funding for repairs, the budget adds $76 million to construct 10 new schools, paired with an important policy change to move Arizona back to two-year projections for new school construction. Changes made during the recession reduced that timetable to one year, putting school districts outgrowing their facilities in a bind and forcing them to rely on temporary structures as new classrooms are built. The restored 2-year outlook will help relieve overcrowding and save school districts money through more cost-efficient design and construction timelines.

One area where we can always do more: improving school safety. We know that school counselors play a vital role, and this year, Arizona is investing in them. The budget provides $20 million for the hiring of additional school counselors or cops on campus – the first dedicated funding for school counselors in state history.

We’ve managed to make all these investments in a fiscally conservative way without raising taxes. In fact, this year, even with these investments, we were able to pass tax relief for Arizona families and greatly simplify our tax code – the most significant tax reform in a generation. Additionally, we’ve brought our Rainy Day Fund to a record-breaking $1 billion, so we are better prepared for the future.

Four years ago, I talked about what’s needed in our educational system to allow every child to have a world-class education – resources and reforms. Arizona has led on both. We have more work to do. But progress is evident all around us. By working together, we can keep up this momentum and keep delivering for Arizona’s students.

Democrats almost had a voice in budget process, but Republicans didn’t hear them

Democrats and Republicans can agree on one thing this year – the minority party in Arizona had a rare opportunity to have some say in the budget process, thanks to the initial resistance of some GOP lawmakers to a borrowing plan for public universities.

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

In the end, Gov. Doug Ducey got his $1 billion bonding capacity for higher education, and Democrats got what they routinely get: Left behind.

Republicans say Democrats overplayed their hand. Ducey and GOP leaders were willing to talk, but Democrats asked for too much and were too firmly entrenched in their request to make negotiating a reality.

Democrats charged that Republicans, like always in recent years, have no interest in ever working across the aisle, no matter the offer, even on issues that are obvious candidates for bipartisan support.

In this case, a plan to let Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University borrow up to $1 billion over the next 25 years was initially rebuffed by almost all Republican senators and representatives. They were wary of allowing the state to borrow that much money, and of a mechanism to divert sales taxes from state coffers to finance the borrowing plan.

Knowing the bonding plan, Ducey’s signature proposal, lacked enough Republican support in both the House and Senate to pass without Democratic votes, minority leadership in each chamber united their members. Democrats would unilaterally oppose the bonding plan, preventing Ducey from proclaiming a bipartisan victory when, as in past years, a single Democrat or two broke ranks and voted for a bill or budget.

Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs
Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

“What you saw happen was the Democrats stuck together with a unified request,” said Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix. “If you asked every individual Democrat, they would’ve told you the same answer: Teacher raises and TANF.” TANF is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which provides short-term cash assistance to families.

The Democrats’ demands, in exchange for their vote on bonding, was in line with their policy priorities for the session. The minority party had blasted the governor for his initial proposal of a teacher pay raise – 2 percent phased in over five years – as wholly inadequate. And they had spent the better part of two years criticizing Ducey for signing into law cuts to TANF in 2015.

Hobbs acknowledged that their initial request was more than Republicans were willing to pay for. A 4 percent teacher raise, whether it was in one year or phased in over two, would have added more than $100 million in spending.

“So for them it was less expensive to buy off Republicans individually,” Hobbs said.

Barry Aarons
Barry Aarons

Longtime Capitol lobbyist Barry Aarons said the request was a part of what undercut Democrats’ efforts to be taken seriously in a negotiation.

“I don’t think the Democrats gave themselves enough opportunity to find some wins for themselves, and that’s because they limited their offer to some things that were non-starters to begin with,” Aarons said.

Experience might have something to do with it, Aarons said. Not since Rose Mofford occupied the Governor’s Office have Democrats been given a chance to take part in the budget, he said, with the exception of the passage of Medicaid expansion in 2013.

Republicans began the trend of passing Republican-only budget under former Gov. Fife Symington, who served from 1991 to 1997, according to Aarons.

“I think that is a result of years and years in the desert,” Aarons said. “Basically when it came to negotiating, I think they had not had the experience of going through a legitimate negotiation. Now whether it would’ve come to pass regardless, I don’t know.”

Several Democratic lawmakers said the teachers’ raise and TANF was just an offer, not a demand.

House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios
House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

“If you’re going to meet someone to negotiate, you need a starting point. And it was simply a starting point,” said House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix. “That was my opening offer to the governor.“

Rios said it was “naive” for critics to say the minority party overplayed their hand when the governor never seriously considered working with Democrats. A meeting between Rios and Ducey was cordial, though brief, she said. Negotiating was never on the table, so there was never an opportunity to give Ducey room to counter, she added.

Rather than work across the aisle, Ducey ultimately mustered enough support from Republicans to get the bill through. To some Republicans, that was, as it often is, always the goal.

Senate President Steve Yarbrough
Senate President Steve Yarbrough (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

“I wanted desperately to deliver 16 Republican votes on the university bonding,” said Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler. Delivering 16 Republican votes on the university bonding was a very high priority for him personally, he said.

“And I obviously was extremely pleased when we were able to accomplish that,” Yarbrough said.

Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, said it’s understandable for Republicans to desire to work within their own party. What bothers Contreras is the lack of any consideration of ever working with Democrats.

“It comes down to the unwillingness of the governor to even think about wanting to work with us as Democrats as a whole,” Contreras said. “He chose to go around and make his deals like everyone knows with numerous Republicans before even talking with us about what we were asking.”

Aarons said “there is probably a better than even chance that . . .  Republicans would have said screw it, we’re not going to do this with you,” no matter what Democrats had offered.

Daniel Scarpinato, a Ducey spokesman, did not dispute that the meeting wasn’t a negotiation of any sort, but he did dispute the reason why.

“I wouldn’t even characterize it as negotiations because they were not willing to negotiate. They provided some demands of what they would need, and were unwilling to move at all,” Scarpinato said. “And the problem with that is, what they wanted on TANF, there were not 16 and 31 for that under any circumstance. It was just really something that wasn’t even possible to achieve.”

As for the Democrats’ proposal to increase the teacher pay hike, “we certainly were open to ways to improve that, but certainly you need to be able to pay for these things,” Scarpinato said.

Yarbrough said a larger raise in the budget also would’ve made it more difficult to secure enough Republicans, along with 13 Democrats in the Senate, to approve a spending plan.

“It’s hard to see how that would’ve worked,” Yarbrough added. “The higher teacher raise, the challenge there is, show me the money… That’s a big number. What would we have done? How would we have paid for that. They never came to me, because that would have been my question.”

Scarpinato said Democrats overplayed their hand, and as the final votes made clear, weren’t negotiating in good faith because Democrats were negotiating against issues that they inherently supported. For example, when it became clear that the university bonding plan would pass with or without the help of Senate Democrats, eight of the 13 Democrats in the chamber voted for it.

Had Democrats simply signaled their support for a bill they liked all along, the university bonding could have been sent to the governor’s desk much sooner, and Ducey wouldn’t have had to make deals with individual Republicans – deals that Democrats aren’t happy about, Scarpinato noted.

“We could have passed bonding sooner, and there’s probably some stuff that ended up in the budget that Democrats don’t like that may not have ended up in there had they just supported bonding from the onset,” he said.

Perhaps if Democrats had offered more in exchange for their votes on bonding, Aarons said, the session would’ve played out differently. Decades ago, Republicans frequently approached Democrats to get their help to pass budgets. In the Senate, it was then-Minority Leader Alfredo Gutierrez’s role to barter with the GOP for votes.

Gutierrez would give Republicans a long list of demands, enough to “choke a horse,” Aarons said, but it gave Republicans ample room to trade with Democrats and approve a coalition budget.

This session, Democrats “didn’t put enough stuff on the table, so they didn’t have enough negotiating room,” Aarons said.

“When you’re negotiating for something you don’t come with one thing. You come with a whole pot full of stuff . . . You give the other side an opportunity to go along with you, and then you’re able to declare victory.”

Dems for sales tax hikes before they were against them


Arizona Democratic leaders oppose a sales tax hike to provide new revenues for teacher pay raises, despite supporting sales tax increases in previous years.

At 8.33 percent, Arizona already has one of the highest combined state, county and municipal sales tax rates in the country, wrote House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, and other top Democrats in an April 24 letter to Gov. Doug Ducey.

“Another increase would unfairly put the burden on the poor and working class, who pay an inordinately larger share of their income on sales tax,” the lawmakers wrote.

Allies of the governor were quick to point out that Democrats have supported sales tax hikes in the past. Democrats voted earlier this year for the extension of Proposition 301, a six-tenths of 1-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2000. And Hobbs was among 12 Senate Democrats who sponsored a measure in 2017 that not only would’ve extended Prop. 301, but increased the tax from six-tenths of 1-cent to a full 1-cent. Rios and House Democrats backed the measure as well.

Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry spokesman Garrick Taylor said it’s hard to keep track of Democrats’ “shifting positions” on sales tax, noting that Democrats were boasting of their proposal to increase the Prop. 301 sales tax only months ago.

“It’s tricky,” Hobbs said when asked about the Democrats’ position on sales taxes.

The party’s views on sales taxes have always been more nuanced than simply supporting tax increases, Hobbs said. She noted that in 2010, Democrats were split on Proposition 100, a temporary three-year sales tax for education championed by then-Gov. Jan Brewer. Some supported it, while others voted against referring the measure to the ballot.

And Hobbs noted the obvious – Democratic-sponsored legislation rarely gets approved in Arizona. Sponsoring a measure to increase the Prop. 301 sales taxes was intended to start a conversation about education funding. Democrats had no expectations the proposal would become a reality, she said.

Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, who sponsored the 2017 measure to increase Prop. 301 to a 1-cent tax, said a certain level of sales taxes are acceptable. But some Republican efforts are too reliant on the sales tax, when there are other means of boosting state revenues, he said.

Proposals such as Rep. Noel Campbell’s call for a three-year, 1-cent education sales tax are an example of Republican efforts to solve all the state’s education funding woes with sales taxes, Quezada said.

Campbell’s proposal “shifts the burden of funding our public schools system onto those who can least afford it with a sales tax. That’s just flat out wrong,” said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, who’s running for governor against Ducey this fall.

Campbell, R-Prescott, criticized Democrats from the House floor for opposing a plan similar to those they’ve supported in the past.

“It is a solution to all the problems that we’re dealing with in education,” he said, adding that though the idea has been around for a long time, no one was interested in tackling it.  Campbell called tax hikes “the forbidden word,” but noted that lawmakers know that’s the only way to generate new revenue.

“Maybe it’s not perfect but it solves the problem,” he said. “This will do everything that you, Democrats, say you want done.”

If other members have an idea, they should put it in writing, too, or “shut up,” Campbell said. “Let’s quit trying to play for the election. Let’s get something done here.”

Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, told Campbell his isn’t the only proposal on the table. Policymakers should look at spreading the burden of funding education more equitably.  “But that compromise has to include a less regressive way of raising that money,” he said, referring to Campbell’s proposal. “Your plan only proposes one way.”

Democrats have for years called for the elimination of certain corporate income tax cuts and the rolling back of income tax breaks for high earners, Farley said.

“There are people who are doing well in this economy, a whole lot of people who are not. If you shift the burden of funding public schools onto those who are not doing well, that’s not what most people in Arizona believe you should do,” he said.

District spent on desegregation without programs in place

The Roosevelt Elementary School District levied and spent $13.5 million earmarked for desegregation activities, but without operating any specific programs for that purpose, according to the an Arizona Auditor General’s Office report on the district’s spending in fiscal year 2016.

The auditor found that the district spent $13.3 million on salaries and benefits for teachers and other instructional staff, and the remaining $200,000 was spent on administration.

Under Arizona law, school districts are able to levy additional local property taxes to comply with federal court orders or agreements with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Districts are also able to budget for and receive desegregation funding even after they are found compliant and such orders have been terminated.

In the same year the Roosevelt district levied the $13.5 million, 17 other districts across the state budgeted for desegregation funding, about $211 million total.

The auditor’s findings highlight a well-known struggle at the Capitol.

Sean McCarthy
Sean McCarthy

The Arizona Tax Research Association has pushed for efforts to eliminate the funds for years.

ATRA research analyst Sean McCarthy said each of 18 districts statewide levying for extra cash is spending it on the same costs all schools face, mainly staff salaries and benefits.

He said the districts don’t dispute that, but officials argue they have a wide latitude to spend the money.

McCarthy said the Roosevelt district isn’t alone; desegregation funds rarely seem to be alleviating the alleged violations, which McCarthy said auditors have pointed out in the past.

“And we all move on, and that’s how it goes,” he said.

But bills sponsored by former Sen. Debbie Lesko in 2015, 2016 and 2017 failed to pass.

That’s because there isn’t an appetite to take money away from public schools.

“It’s real money that the schools are dependent on, that they have built into their budgets,” McCarthy said. “So pretty much everyone acknowledges that it’s a program that has outlived its usefulness, but taking away money from schools is not palatable to many lawmakers even if it creates this unfairness and higher taxes in those districts.”

The conversation always seems to turn to a broader reform effort sometime in the undetermined future.

That effort won’t be realized in this session though. McCarthy said he’s taking a break from the fight – for now anyway.

According to a state Senate Research Staff report from 2016, districts may budget for desegregation activities if the expenses incurred for those activities were initiated before the termination of the court order or an Office for Civil Rights agreement. Districts must also “ensure that desegregation expenses are educationally justifiable” and result in equal educational opportunities.

OCR cases stem from findings of noncompliance with federal rules or complaints alleging discrimination in districts that receive federal funding.

Districts found in violation may reach voluntary agreements that dictate how noncompliance should be corrected. And if a district refuses, the matter may be tried in federal court.

The Roosevelt Elementary School District was found out of compliance in 1983, specifically at three schools found to have racial disparities. The district entered into a voluntary agreement with the feds that included the creation of magnet programs, and the district was found compliant in 1993. Federal monitoring ceased, but the magnet programs were only operated until 2006, according to the auditor’s report.

The district entered another voluntary agreement in 2000 after a complaint was filed alleging discrimination against students with limited English proficiency, referred to as ELL.

The new plan was to be implemented by August 2001, and district officials claimed the district was found in compliance. But according to the auditor’s report, officials had not retained any documentation to demonstrate that the case was closed, nor had the district operated any ELL programs specific to the agreement for at least the past several years.

And according to the FY16 audit, the district was not even in compliance with state ELL requirements.
Specifically, the district was misusing parental waivers for dual-language programs and did not properly implement ELL performance standards in applicable classrooms and lesson plans.

In response to the auditor’s report, the Roosevelt district claimed it had spent the desegregation dollars on a variety of services aimed at students with limited English proficiency.

It employs a “holistic approach” by using administrative staff to assess students among other things, the response said.

Superintendent Dino Coronado did not return requests for further comment.

Dreamers at Arizona universities will still pay in-state tuition – for now

Dreamers at the state’s three universities will continue paying the same tuition as other Arizona residents, at least for the time being.

The Board of Regents voted Thursday to continue its policy of interpreting Arizona law to say that those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals are entitled to the same legal – and financial – considerations as anyone else who meets state residency requirements.

Thursday’s vote comes a week after the Arizona Court of Appeals concluded that a similar policy by the Maricopa community colleges violates Proposition 300, a 2006 voter-approved law that says those not in the country legally are not entitled to in-state tuition. The same law prohibits tuition waivers, scholarships or any other aid funded with public dollars.

Bill Ridenour
Bill Ridenour

But regents Chairman Bill Ridenour noted that the Maricopa board voted Tuesday to appeal that ruling to the Arizona Supreme Court. Ridenour, who called the appellate court decision a “difficult lose” for DACA recipients, said he wants to wait to see what the state’s high court decides before making any policy changes.

Ridenour also noted that students begin returning to campuses for the fall semester in August.

“We are very appreciative of the need for some kind of certainty for those students with our universities,” he said. Ridenour said there is no reason that the current tuition policy, adopted two years ago, should be scrapped unless and until there’s a final Supreme Court ruling.

Only regent Jay Heiler voted against keeping tuition for dreamers at the in-state rate.

“We have a Court of Appeals decision founded largely in state law as enacted by the voters,” he said. “I feel this board needs to honor that.”

Jay Heiler
Jay Heiler

But Heiler does not want to require DACA recipients – there are less than 300 in the state university system – to pay the full out-of-state rate.

He pointed out that the board already has a policy on the books allowing students who graduate from Arizona high schools but do not meet other residency requirements to pay a “differentiated rate.”

In essence, this is designed to cover the actual costs of educating students, avoiding the prohibition against subsidized tuition in Proposition 300. The regents have set that rate at 150 percent of in-state tuition.

It is not being used by DACA recipients because the regents decided to offer in-state tuition after a trial judge ruled in favor of the policy adopted by Maricopa County colleges.

Heiler found himself in the minority as other regents said they were content to leave the tuition for dreamers where it is right now.

“I believe that, until we have settled law that is contrary to our ability to do this, that it’s the right thing for us to continue to offer the in-state tuition,” said Rick Myers.

Regent Ron Shoopman agreed.

“One of the things this board strongly believes is that we want to provide access and as low a possible tuition as possible within the confines of the reality that we find ourselves, so all students who attend the universities and especially those that graduate have better futures guaranteed,” he said. “We want that for all our young people.”

And Ram Krishna said there’s another fact to consider.

He pointed out that both the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University have programs that are designed to guarantee incoming students that their tuition will remain unchanged for the four years to get an undergraduate degree.

“We need to comply with that,” Krishna said.

Arizona State University has no such policy but has promised to limit year-over-year increases.

Ridenour, who is an attorney, said after Thursday’s meeting he is making no predictions on what the Supreme Court will conclude.

“I think it will be well briefed,” he said. Ridenour said he expects input not only from the parties involved — the Maricopa colleges, which implemented the policy, and Attorney General’s Office, which challenged it — but also others who have an interest in the outcome.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of politics involved,” he said. “There’s laws involved.”

He agreed with Heiler on one key point: The best outcome would be for the federal government to clarify the status of DACA recipients.

It was the Obama administration that enacted the DACA program in 2012, entitling those who arrived in this country illegally as children to remain and to work.

But Brnovich argued – and the appellate court agreed – that decision by the administration not to deport dreamers did not give them legal immigration status, making them ineligible for in-state tuition.

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump vowed to rescind DACA on his first day in office. But now, five months later, the program not only remains but his administration has said it continues to study what to do next.

There are those, however, who are pressuring the Trump administration to live up to that promise.

In a letter Thursday to the U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the attorneys general from 10 states urged that the DACA be phased out because it was enacted “without any statutory authorization from Congress.”

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich was not among those who signed the letter. But Brnovich has argued in court documents seeking to deny driver’s licenses to dreamers that there is no legal authority for DACA.

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.


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.


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.”

Ducey explains student journalist veto


Gov. Doug Ducey said May 23 he believes in First Amendment rights for high school journalists, but only if they are supervised and can be overridden by school principals and administrators.

“I’m a believer of course in free speech and have been supportive of the First Amendment,” the governor told Capitol Media Services on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after vetoing legislation that would have limited the ability of school officials to censor what their students write. But Ducey said there are limits to those constitutional rights.

“These are minors,” he said.

“We believe that some supervision and making certain that the principal is in charge of a school and the school’s direction is important,” Ducey continued. “And that’s what resulted in the veto.”

The governor’s move disappointed Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix — and not only because she shepherded her legislation through the Senate without any dissent and picked up 41 votes in support in the 60-member House.

This cartoon was drawn by Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, when she attended Greenway High School. Although this work was published, some of the senator's cartoons were censored by public school officials, which led her to sponsor legislation to protect student journalists.
This cartoon was drawn by Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, when she attended Greenway High School. Although this work was published, some of the senator’s cartoons were censored by public school officials, which led her to sponsor legislation to protect student journalists.

It was Yee’s personal experience as a student journalist in 1991 at Greenway High School in Phoenix, having her stories and cartoons quashed by administrators that first sparked her interest. In fact, she even convinced the state Senate the following year to enact legislation protecting student publication rights.

That 1992 measure died when it could not clear the House. So Yee, now the Senate majority leader, decided it’s time to try again.

“I know Kimberly’s history on this personally,” Ducey said. But “that happened over 20 years ago.”

Nor was the governor persuaded by the reporting done earlier this year by students at Pittsburg High School in Kansas who found out that advanced degrees claimed by the new principal came from a university that apparently was not accredited. She subsequently quit.

“I’m certainly aware of the Kansas issue,” Ducey said. “But I don’t know we need to be solving Kansas issues in Arizona.”

But there was testimony earlier this year there is a problem in Arizona, not just from student journalists but also faculty.

Peggy Gregory who advises the student paper at Greenway High School told lawmakers about an incident where students were working on a new story about a testing program the district liked. That article, she said, quoted a teacher who was critical of that testing.

Gregory said the school superintendent instructed the principal to tell her to kill the story — or lose her job. Censorship aside, Gregory said these kinds of situations undermine what she and other journalism teachers are trying to teach.

Sen. Kimberly Yee
Sen. Kimberly Yee

“If they’re only allowed to publish puff pieces, how will they ever learn the power of the press to bring about change, to challenge ideas, to take the responsibility of their words, and to take up the mantle of the great journalists who have preceded them?” she asked.

“We don’t want administration to censor stuff,” the governor said. “These kids enjoy the same First Amendment rights that you and I do.”

Well, not exactly.

In 1969 the U.S. Supreme Court declared that student press freedom was protected by the First Amendment. But in 1988 the court partly reversed itself, ruling that public school newspapers do not have the same level of constitutional rights as other publications.

Gov. Doug Ducey

The bottom line, Ducey said, is his belief there needs to be someone to second guess the judgment of writers who could be as young as 14.

“We just wanted to make sure there would be adult supervision and that we wouldn’t strip teachers or principals of authority,” the governor said.

“That is the misperception of how journalism works in schools,” Yee said.

“Of course there is adult supervision,” she continued. “You have a certified teacher as the journalism adviser and you often have an assistant, who is also an adult.”

And Yee insisted that the language of her legislation was broad enough to give some oversight even to principals and school officials.

As approved, her legislation required each school governing board to adopt “written content standards or guidelines for school-sponsored media.” And the measure allowed school officials to kill stories that create imminent danger of inciting students to violate the law or district regulations “or materially and substantially disrupts the orderly operation of the public school.”

Yee said those provisions likely would have given administrators the ability to quash even embarrassing stories.

She said that language resulted in the Arizona School Boards Association deciding not to try to kill the legislation. But ASBA lobbyist Chris Kotterman said many local board members still had concerns.

“It would hamper their ability to prevent the publication of material that they thought was problematic,” he said. “And that is their right under the (1988 Supreme Court) case.”

The easiest thing to do, Kotterman said, was simply stay out of the fight.

Ducey said he’s willing to consider a similar bill next year — but only if its scope is limited.

“If this had been something for college students or above it would have been an easy signature,” he said.

Ducey goes on veto spree to push teacher plan

Gov. Doug Ducey announces a plan to give teachers a 20 percent raise over the next three fiscal years. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey announces a plan to give teachers a 20 percent raise over the next three fiscal years. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Gov. Doug Ducey let legislators know today he wants a budget – now.

Ducey, playing hardball with state lawmakers to get his teacher-pay raise plan passed, vetoed 10 Republican-sponsored House bills in an attempt to force the legislature to finish the state budget.

The message included in each of the 10 veto letters reads the same.

“Please send me a budget that gives teachers a 20-percent pay raise by 2020 and restores additional assistance,” the letter reads. “Our teachers have earned this raise. It’s time to get it done.”

The vetoed bills were not particularly contentious. Among those struck down, the governor vetoed bills that would have codified provisions for electric bicycles, created additional protections for sexual assault victims and authorized the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family to work with various agencies to teach young children about the dangers of illegal drugs, alcohol and marijuana.

Ducey’s veto rampage comes a day after the Arizona Education Association and Arizona Educators United announced teachers will go on strike April 26. Lawmakers could pass a budget before Thursday if it is introduced in the Legislature on Monday.

Teachers have demanded a 20-percent pay hike, no new tax cuts and competitive pay for support staff like school counselors and custodians.

Ducey has proposed to give teachers a 20-percent pay bump by 2020. While most Republican lawmakers appear to be on board with Ducey’s plan, there has been some consternation surrounding funding details.

Despite the 10 vetoes, Ducey didn’t clear all the legislation on his desk. He still has six House bills and five Senate bills awaiting action.

Ducey struck down more bills on Friday in one day than he has dismissed all session, bringing the total number of bills vetoed to 16. The governor’s vetoes this session have surpassed the number of bills he vetoed in 2016 and 2017.

A bill by Rep. Paul Mosley, R-Lake Havasu City, was one of the casualties of Ducey’s onslaught. The bill that would have allowed real estate agents or brokers to complete their training online was the only bill of Mosley’s that made it to Ducey’s desk.

Obviously, Ducey was sending a message, but the way he went about it isn’t going to win him any support, Mosley said. He’s telling House lawmakers that he doesn’t want to work with them, he said.

Ducey is the one who threw lawmakers under the bus by forcing them to find a way to pay for his proposed pay raise for teachers, Mosley said.

“He’s basically trying to be the CEO of the state instead of the executive. … He was the CEO of Cold Stone so obviously he thinks it’s OK to treat people like they’re not important,” he said.

Ducey’s veto spree came hours after his spokesman, Daniel Scarpinato, said the governor’s office received reports that House leadership planned to pay for the teacher raises with the increased district additional assistance dollars Ducey promised schools. The governor’s office finds the House GOP plan “very troubling,” Scarpinato wrote in an email to reporters.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard floated a teacher pay plan last week that would have usurped from the district and charter additional assistance to pay for teacher raises. Talk of Mesnard’s plan was quieted when Ducey unveiled his own plan.

On Friday, Mesnard denied pushing back against Ducey’s pay plan in favor of one that would reroute other education funding to teachers raises. Calling the accusation inaccurate, Mesnard said the Legislature is working to make all of the puzzle pieces fit so the state can give teacher raises and a bump in district and charter additional assistance.

“We certainly can afford one or the other. We can afford parts of both. But right now we’re trying to figure out how to go the full distance and fully fund both,” Mesnard said.

Mesnard did not comment on the governor’s vetoes.

The governor’s actions caught House GOP leaders by surprise.

“We try real hard to send up good policy bills,” said House Majority Leader John Allen. “These were vetoed because of politics, not policy.”

Bills vetoed by the governor Friday:

HB2089 – Carter
HB2121 – Leach
HB2207 – Grantham
HB2260 – Toma
HB2263 – Toma
HB2266 – Thorpe
HB2290 – Cobb
HB2398  – Thorpe
HB2399 – Mosley
HB2471  – Leach

Capitol Times Reporter Paulina Pineda and Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services  contributed to this report.


Ducey offers teachers 20% pay raise by 2020

Arizona teachers march in protest of their low pay and school funding in front of a local radio station waiting for Republican Gov. Doug Ducey to show up for a live broadcast Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Phoenix. Arizona teachers are threatening a statewide walkout, following the lead of educators in other states. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Arizona teachers march in protest of their low pay and school funding in front of a local radio station waiting for Republican Gov. Doug Ducey to show up for a live broadcast Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Phoenix. Arizona teachers are threatening a statewide walkout, following the lead of educators in other states. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

As Arizona teachers threaten to strike over low wages, Gov. Doug Ducey unveiled a revised budget proposal April 12 that offers educators a 9-percent pay bump in the next school year.

The governor’s latest plan still won’t raise taxes to generate new revenue. And unlike a competing proposal floated by House Republican leaders, it won’t sweep money from other sources of funding proposed for K-12 schools, like the $371 million Ducey pledged to school districts for capital needs like new school buses, textbooks and facility maintenance.

Just days ago, Ducey had characterized teachers rallying behind the “Red for Ed” movement as engaging in “political theater.”

On Thursday, Ducey had a much different response.

Gov. Doug Ducey announces a plan to give teachers a 20 percent raise over the next three fiscal years. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey announces a plan to give teachers a 20 percent raise over the next three fiscal years. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

“I’ve said I’m on the side of the teachers, and we’ve been listening and I’ve been working,” Ducey said.

Ducey’s proposal relies on a variety of sources, like higher-than-average state revenues and new dollars available from the legislative extension of the Proposition 301 education sales tax. Ducey has also proposed reducing state government operating budgets to pay for the proposal.

State budget analysts recently estimated there may be $46 million in ongoing revenues available thanks to strong revenue collections.

The governor may also roll back some of the legislative initiatives he proposed this year, including a tax break for some veterans. Another item that could be on the table is funds Ducey earmarked for enforcement of a new, wrong-way driving law that charges drivers who go the wrong way on the highway with a felony.

“Our economy has been growing, we have surplus revenues and we’re going to put these toward teacher pay,” Ducey said. “That’ll be the commitment. We’ll have to make other adjustments.”

Ducey’s initial budget proposal in January included a 1-percent pay raise for teachers, following through on the promise of a 2-percent pay bump phased in over two years.

The new plan boosts teacher pay by 9 percent in the upcoming school year, for a total raise of 10 percent since 2017. That amounts to $274 million for teacher pay in the proposed budget for next year, Ducey said at the press conference.

Under Ducey’s plan, when teachers start teaching in the fall they will be paid, on average, $52,725 — up from the current average of $48,372. By 2021, Arizona teachers will make $58,130 on average.

The governor is also promising future raises of 5 percent in fiscal years 2020 and 2021 for a cumulative total of 20 percent over a four-year period.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard and Senate President Steve Yarbrough, both Chandler Republicans, offered their initial blessing of Ducey’s plan, as did other legislators flanking the governor when he announced the planned pay hikes.

Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, said it was crucial that Ducey maintain the promise to restore cuts to capital funding and boost teacher pay.

“(Capital funding) is a critical component of any budget that we have moving forward, because it is important to realize that it is time for us to start restoring a portion of that formula funding that has been suspended for a number of years,” Carter said.

Mesnard, who this week floated a proposal that would have swept capital funding to boost teacher pay, said he supports Ducey’s concept to fund both needs.

“If we can do both additional assistance and teacher pay, that’s fine. If I have to choose, I’m always going to choose teacher pay,” Mesnard said. “Teacher pay has to be the priority.”

To do this, Ducey must now convince a majority of legislators to approve his proposal and give teachers a 9-percent raise this year.

Raises offered in the out years are no guarantee.

Ducey is up for re-election this year, as are all members of the Legislature. Future budgets may be tighter, and a Legislature with a different makeup may resist pay raises Ducey promised in previous budget years.

The governor’s latest proposal comes in the wake of an inspired protest from Arizona teachers, who’ve watched their colleagues in states like West Virginia and Oklahoma spur state leaders to boost funding for K-12 education.

Locally, Arizona teachers hopped on the “Red for Ed” movement this legislative session calling for higher teacher pay and more school funding.

Leaders of Arizona Educators United have called for 20-percent raises. While they haven’t specifically said when they want the raises, they could be dissatisfied with Ducey’s proposal to spread out the pay hike over four years. But Ducey was flanked by dozens of superintendents and other education advocates as he made the announcement.

Ducey’s earlier dismissals of teachers’ demands have left educators so incensed they’ve threatened to strike. Earlier this week, Ducey called the “Red for Ed” movement “political theater.”

Teachers at roughly 1,000 Arizona schools held “walk-ins,” in which educators rallied outside their schools before morning classes began on April 11.

Ducey’s message to those teachers is, “I heard you guys,” Maricopa County School Superintendent Steve Watson said.

“I think it was a great mobilization and movement by the teachers, and it wasn’t just teachers,” Watson said. “It was community members. My kids wore red to school on Wednesdays to show their support and gratitude for teachers. So I think it was the teachers’ ability not just to mobilize themselves, but the entire community.”

Even if education advocates do get on board with Ducey’s proposal, there’s still a chance that lawmakers could tweak the plans as they hash out the state budget.

Ducey proposes pay raises for nearly half of state employees in $11.4 billion budget

Gov. Doug Ducey

Gov. Doug Ducey wants to grant pay raises to nearly half of all state employees, with an emphasis on boosting salaries for law enforcement and corrections officers.

About 45 percent of the state workforce, or 15,000 of Arizona’s roughly 33,200 employees, would see salary increases of 5 percent or more in the $11.4 billion budget plan Ducey released Friday.

Most of the $74 million allocated in the budget for pay hikes goes to law enforcement officials, such as corrections officers and highway patrol. Pay raises at other agencies are awarded only to those employees certified by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board.

Corrections officers would get a 10-percent pay bump. Officials expect the higher salaries — average pay would increase from $37,000 to $40,700 annually — to help reduce the department’s nearly 20 percent turnover rate for corrections officers. Ducey plans to follow through with another 5-percent pay raise in the next budget cycle.

Ducey also proposed 10-percent pay raises to Department of Public Safety troopers, and a 5-percent pay bump for non-police officers within the agency.

As the Department of Child Safety continues to fail to meet benchmarks set for hiring caseworkers, Ducey plans to attract more workers with a 9-percent pay increase for agency caseworkers and case aides. DCS has a 35-percent turnover rate and has yet to hire the 1,406 caseworkers mandated by state lawmakers, according to figures provided by the Governor’s Office.

Most other law enforcement employees throughout the state would receive pay raises of about 5 percent, with the exception of those that work within the Department of Juvenile Corrections and Department of Health Services, who would receive 15-percent raises.

Ducey’s budget also provides a roadmap to his other spending priorities, including education, infrastructure and some of his pet projects, such as his school safety plan and additional funding for career and technical education and the Arizona Teachers Academy.

Thanks to an estimated $1.1 billion cash surplus, the governor has a sizable chunk of change to spend with this budget cycle. Instead, he proposes saving approximately half of that amount in Arizona’s rainy-day fund and spending the other half on various initiatives.

As the governor outlined in his “State of the State” address, Ducey wants to boost the rainy-day fund by $542 million, which would bring the balance up to $1 billion. That’s roughly 9 percent of total revenue estimates for FY20.

Deposits to the rainy day fund could be even greater if there’s a windfall for state coffers from tax conformity, though the governor’s budget does not account for those potential revenues.


college-books-webThe governor’s plan fulfills the next step in a three-year plan to boost teacher pay, boosting funding for K-12 public schools by a total of $233 million. That’ll translate to a 5-percent pay raise for teachers, and new dollars to school districts for additional assistance.

Performance-based funding would go to more than triple the current number of schools under Ducey’s plan, which overhauls the process by which schools qualify for those dollars and more than doubles the amount of funding available to high-performing schools.

Ducey’s budget would add $60 million to the Results Based Funding program on top of the $38 million provided in FY19, for a total of $98 million in FY20. Those dollars will go to 675 schools throughout the state, roughly half of the 2,000 district and charter schools in Arizona.

The dramatic increase in the number of schools affected by those funds — only 285 receive such funding in FY19 — is due to a shift in the formula to qualify.

Currently, schools are judged based on AzMerit test scores. But that standard can no longer apply universally after the Legislature adopted a bevy of possible tests to track student achievement at the high school level.

Instead, the new standard will rely on the A-F letter grades assigned to schools by the Department of Education, and the grading system that takes a more holistic approach to judging schools for their performance. All schools with an “A” grade would be eligible for Results Based

Funding, a total of 454 “A” schools with at least 60 percent of the student population on free-and-reduced lunch would receive an extra $400 per pupil, while all other “A” schools would receive $225 per pupil. “B” schools in low-income areas, those schools with at least 60 percent of the student body on FRL, would also get $225 per pupil.

The Governor’s Office estimates that of those 675 schools eligible for the funding, 83 percent are districts schools, while 17 percent are charters.

Overall, roughly 36 percent of the schools are in low-income areas where most students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

The new funding comes with new reporting requirements. While no details were immediately provided, the governor wants to ensure that schools are reporting not just how they’re spending those dollars, but where. That’s because the Results Based Funding is distributed not to specific schools, but to school districts.

At minimum, 51 percent of those funds must be spent at “A” or “B” schools, but remaining balance can be spent elsewhere in a school district. That leaves open the possibility that dollars earned by one high-performing school can help other struggling schools in the same district.


(Photo courtesy Arizona Motor Vehicle Division)
(Photo courtesy Arizona Motor Vehicle Division)

With a new vehicle registration fee to pay for public safety freeing up nearly $100 million of Highway User Revenue Fund money, or HURF, half of which goes to the state, Ducey is looking to widen Interstate 17.

Work has already begun to expand the road between Sunset Point and south of Black Canyon City, but Ducey’s budget calls for an additional FY19 appropriation of $40 million to start work on a third lane between Anthem and Black Canyon City on the northbound side and several miles of southbound.

The governor also projected another $45 million in both FY20 and 21 to finish the project, for a total of $130 million worth of new investment in that stretch of congested highway, saying expanding the road would increase safety.

That’s all in addition to the State Transportation Board’s scheduled allocation of $193 million to design and construct the I-17 expansion project.

The governor is also calling for an additional $10.5 million from HURF to fund preventative road surface maintenance, bringing the total budget for that up to $51 million, enough to fully fund all ADOT’s preventative maintenance requests, according to the Governor’s Office.

In the last decade, the Mariposa Port of Entry on the west side of Nogales has dropped from the top site for fresh fruit imports to the third place slot behind Laredo and Hidalgo, Texas. After spending millions in recent years to expand the port, Ducey is proposing a $700,000 investment to construct a cold inspection facility, with local partners including the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, putting up the remaining $300,000.

The administration and local business groups hope that will incentivize produce importers with avocados, berries and other temperature sensitive fruits to run their product through Nogales.

That could mean up to $30 million in product traveling through the state annually, and pulling in up to $4 million per year in state and local tax revenues, according to the estimates from a University of Arizona study.

Other spending priorities

The budget allocates funding for several initiatives Ducey mentioned in his “State of the State” speech Monday.

After pledging, then failing to deliver, $11 million in additional funding for school resource officers last year, Ducey is proposing $9 million for school-resource officer grants this year, which he says will provide an additional 89 officers, totaling about 200 provided by the grant program.

The proposal would supply officers to about one out of every 10 schools in the state, fulfilling requested demands for police officers in schools, according to the administration.

Since the grant funding has not kept up with demand for so long, many school districts have simply quit applying, and have found other ways to pay for officers, meaning demand is likely much higher than the governor is estimating.

The governor wants to pump $21 million into the Arizona Teachers Academy, a program that was launched in 2017 with no additional funding in the FY18 budget for the universities to execute it. Instead, universities were left to find the dollars needed to provide free tuition for teachers who agree to teach in Arizona schools in their existing budgets, opening the opportunity up to only about 200 students to start; there are currently about 230 students enrolled.

With the money proposed by Ducey in his executive budget, enrollment is expected to expand to about 3,800 students, according to the Governor’s Office.

That far exceeds the Board of Regents’ growth expectations back in 2017. With no help from the state government to cover the cost of the program, ABOR expected to have just 730 students enrolled in the academy by its fifth year. The governor also wants to expand eligibility to juniors and seniors who are majoring in STEM fields and to non-resident and post-baccalaureate community college students.

Ducey’s proposal would also allow students to request tuition benefits for up to four years — students have so far been able to receive up to two years — and would provide for annual $1,000 stipends for students who agree to teach in critical-need areas after they graduate.

Backed by $36 million, Ducey is also pushing for increased investment in career and technical education.

His budget creates a $10 million incentive program that would provide a $1,000 payment to career and technical schools for each high school student that earns an industry certification in specific high-demand fields like manufacturing, health care and construction, among others.

Ducey also wants to direct $20 million to Pima Community College’s Aviation Technology Center. The contribution is designed to meet growing workforce demands from in-state aviation companies like Boeing.

The governor also aims to direct $6 million to expand healthcare training at Maricopa Community College District.

Unsurprisingly, Ducey’s budget also includes the $35 million in state funding he previously promised in an attempt to solidify Arizona’s drought plan, which in turn, means the state could sign onto the multi-state Drought Contingency Plan.

Ducey signs bill mandating two recess periods for students

First graders in Irene Hammerquist's class at Bales Elementary School put together paper pumpkins decorated with fall-themed spelling words. Hammerquist said she teaches all of her students that sometimes a lesson has to be taught in a variety of ways to reach everyone. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
First graders in Irene Hammerquist’s class at Bales Elementary School put together paper pumpkins decorated with fall-themed spelling words. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Arizona’s elementary school children should be a little less stressed this coming year.

Gov. Doug Ducey today signed legislation mandating two recess periods a day for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. And youngsters in half-day kindergarten programs will get at least one break.

The legislation is the culmination of a decade-long battle by some lawmakers and education advocates who have argued that letting kids get up and move around will actually help with their academic performance.

Prior efforts were sidelined amid concerns that more time on the playground would mean less time for actual reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. But Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, crafted the final version in a way to blunt some of their concerns.

For example, it spells out that the lunch break can be counted as one of the two recess periods if students are allowed to interact with others or engage in physical activity. It also does not specify how long each the recess period has to be.

Potentially more significant, it spells out that schools need not extend the school day to make up for the lost class time.

That is significant as state law requires students in grades 1 through 3 to have at least 712 hours of instruction a year to be counted when the Arizona Department of Education divides up financial aid. That’s four hours a day over the normal 180-day school year.

For those in grades 4 through 6, the minimum is 890 hours, or 5 hours each day.

Allen, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said in pushing the bill, she is convinced that youngsters need a break.

“Our children are very stressed,” she told colleagues during hearings earlier this year.

Some of that, Allen said, is due to home life and the breakdown of the family. And she said some of it follows the increased pressure on schools for academic performance.

Allen said schools can’t have students under those kinds of stresses and expect them to perform academically.

“Recess is allowing kids to go out and let it go,” she said.

The measure drew some opposition.

Chris Kotterman, lobbyist for the Arizona School Boards Association, said he appreciates that the new version, unlike prior proposals, does not mandate the length of the recess. But he told lawmakers they should leave these decisions to locally elected school boards, saying they are looking out for their students.

“School districts do not make purposeful decisions that harm children,” Kotterman said.

Allen, however, cited testimony from parents who said they have approached both school superintendents and school boards seeking multiple recess periods, only to have their requests spurned. The senator said that’s why legislators need to intercede.

It wasn’t just parents urging lawmakers to mandate the dual recess periods.

“There’s actually empirical evidence that this is effective in improving academic achievement and attention,” testified former state Health Director Will Humble, who is now working with the Arizona Public Health Association.

And Scott Turner, founder of the newly formed Healthy Futures U.S. program, told lawmakers that the increased focus on academic performance at the expense of free time has resulted in a sharp increase in the number of children with diabetes.

Ducey takes on budget risk to fund teacher pay hike

Gov. Doug Ducey announces a plan to give teachers a 20 percent raise over the next three fiscal years. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey announces a plan to give teachers a 20 percent raise over the next three fiscal years. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

As Arizona clawed its way out of the Great Recession, Gov. Doug Ducey sought to ease the state’s reliance on borrowing and gimmicks to balance the budget.

It worked. In 2016, after signing a $9.6 billion spending plan, the governor boasted that the state’s budget was structurally balanced for the first time in years. That means Arizona’s recurring revenues exceed their recurring expenses.

Ducey accomplished this through conservative budgets that cut spending, including millions of dollars in funds for K-12 schools and universities in 2015, and relied on cautious revenue projections in a state wary of repeating the mistakes of the 2000s, when lawmakers relied on doubt-digit revenue growth that rapidly declined when the recession hit.

Now the governor is taking on some risk.

It’s Ducey’s latest response to a grassroots protest effort by Arizona teachers, who spent years complaining about a dearth of new funding for education. Per pupil spending in Arizona still hasn’t reached the levels of funding the state provided before the Great Recession. Arizona teacher pay ranks among the lowest in the nation.

As public opinion has shifted in favor of the teachers’ plight, so too has Ducey’s approach to budgeting.

The governor’s budget analysts now project more than $1.5 billion in new revenues over the next five years — a timely announcement given that a week ago, Ducey responded to threats of a teacher strike with a promise to boost teachers’ salaries by 20 percent in the next three years.

Economist Jim Rounds said the governor’s revenue projections are “within the range of being reasonable,” but a change from the Governor’s Office’s typical conservative budgeting practices, he said.

The projections the Governor’s Office are now touting are more in line with what Rounds called a “best-guess forecast,” an attempt to predict as closely as possible what new revenues the state will collect in the years to come. That’s their prerogative given the political climate, Rounds said.

“It’s the level of risk they’re willing to accept,” he said. “They’re not starting with an optimistic forecast. It’s about middle-of-the-road. But they’re not going to have as much flexibility down the road if things slow down,” he said.

Economic upswing

There’s nothing suspicious about the governor’s grand announcement of a 20 percent raise for teachers and the subsequent release of rosy revenue projections, according to Ducey’s budget team.

There have been signs that Arizona’s economy has grown, and will grow, at a rate that exceeds the more traditional forecasts Ducey and the Legislature have used when crafting budgets the past three years.

“The economy was indeed doing better than what was thought before,” Dennis Hoffman, an economist at Arizona State University, said April 17.

The revisions to revenue projections that Ducey’s staff made this week are in line with what Hoffman said he had projected months ago. Hoffman, an independent consultant to the governor’s budget team, dismissed the suggestion that the governor’s staff had simply projected revenues that would allow for Ducey’s ambitious proposal for a teacher pay raise.

“I think the notion that I’ve somehow come forward in the last few days and said, ‘Hey, here’s all this money’ really misrepresents the facts,” Hoffman said, adding that the revisions made by Ducey’s staff line up with projections he modeled in November.

Matt Gress, the director of the Governor’s Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting, cited revenue estimates made by the Finance Advisory Committee, a team of economists that advise the Legislature on the state’s financial health. The committee’s analysts recently projected that state revenues for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 would exceed estimates by $245 million — enough to fund the $240 million Ducey needs to accomplish a 9-percent teacher raise this fall.

Those same analysts also cautioned that of those dollars, only $46 million may be recurring revenue.

That’s where Ducey’s budget analysts disagree. The committee’s revenue projections are far too conservative, they say. The governor’s staff projects ongoing revenues of $100 million, at minimum.

And new federal employment data has Ducey’s staff convinced that there will be more tax-paying Arizonans to boost the state’s General Fund in the years to come.

“It all feeds back into the state of Arizona’s economy right now,” Gress said. “It’s strong. It’s growing.”

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee predicts the state will face a $265 million cash shortfall in fiscal year 2020 and
$302 million in fiscal year 2021 under the governor’s plan. Legislative Democrats victoriously pointed to the committee analysis to further their point that Ducey’s teacher-pay plan is unsustainable.

The Governor’s Office “strongly disputes JLBC’s revenue estimates,” Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said. The committee’s projections are based on a single faulty analysis that underestimates state revenue growth, estimates that historically, have been shown to be lower than actual collections.

Strong revenues

Arizona lawmakers have taken advantage of substantial growth in the past, and relied so heavily on that growth continuing in ways they would later regret.

Arizona’s history of promising new spending without identifying new sources of revenue to sustain spending should give pause to legislators who want to vote for Ducey’s plan, said David Lujan, vice president of the Arizona Center of Economic Progress.

When former Gov. Jane Hull signed the Students FIRST bill in 1998, it created a promise, in law, to invest state dollars in school construction and facility maintenance. The bill eliminated a local property tax that had previously been used to fund school construction, but no new tax was created to supply state dollars needed for Students’ FIRST.

When the economy dipped, the Legislature went years without allocating funding for new school construction and spent millions of dollars less on building renewal, causing school districts to sue the state in 2017 for failing to meet the Students FIRST funding commitment.

Former Gov. Janet Napolitano instituted a full-day kindergarten program prior to the Great Recession, with funding reliant on state revenues that grew by roughly 7 percent a year at the time.

When the economy tanked, full-day kindergarten was one of the cuts made to balance the budget.

Lujan is optimistic about the ability to give teachers the immediate 9-percent raise Ducey proposed. It’s what happens after 2018 that worries him.

“I think they should be applauded for that because that revenue for this year would be there, but for future years, I think it’s relying on gimmicks and some very optimistic revenue projections that past history has shown us often do not come through,” he said.

In a radio interview this week, former Gov. Jan Brewer had similar thoughts.

She said Ducey’s office can really only ensure the pay bump for next year because the way the state’s annual budgeting process makes it hard to require future Legislatures to boost teacher pay.

Brewer was also skeptical of how Ducey plans to fund the pay raises.

“This is a difficult situation and to come up with this kind of money over a three-year period is going to be very, very difficult in my mind without a guaranteed revenue source,” she said.

Scarpinato said the governor’s past budget choices have made a less conservative outlook possible. The budget is structurally balanced and the state has a rainy day fund in the event revenues don’t deliver as the governor’s budget team anticipates, he said.

“We aren’t going to promise more than we can deliver. We aren’t going to make false promises,” Scarpinato said. “Those were made in the prior decade. I think people remember those. They don’t want to see that happen again.”


The governor’s plan – and the revenue projections used to finance it – don’t come without risk. The stakes are higher for policymakers at the state level than they are for most economists, Rounds said.

Rounds presented a hypothetical situation in which a person is betting on a basketball game. Say you guess the final score will be 89-75. There are no ramifications if the predication is off, he said. But the situation is completely different if someone tells you to predict the final score of the basketball game, but you have to pay $10,000 if you go over, he said. Your guess is going to be significantly lower in that case, Rounds said.

That’s how the state has traditionally budgeted under Ducey — lower projections are a safer bet.

The fight over revenue projections is always the first step toward a Republican budget agreement each year. The Legislature relies on its own budget analysts, who historically project revenues in a more conservative fashion than the governor’s staff.

Even by those standards, Ducey’s staff has erred on the side of caution. In January, the governor’s budget proposal predicted $90 million more in revenues than analysts with the Joint Legislative Budget Committee projected. That’s the closest the respective budget gurus have been in years.

With his latest projections, Ducey already has the tentative buy-in of legislative Republicans. Rounds said neither branch of government is out of line in ditching the cautious approach.

“They’re not being irresponsible, they’re just not being as conservative as we’ve seen in the past when it comes to that kind of public policy,” he said.

In response to Ducey’s proposal, Democratic lawmakers have argued it’s irresponsible to commit large sums of money to teacher-pay raises without new, sustainable revenue. Rounds concedes that the concern is valid. However, Ducey’s plan is feasible, Rounds said.

“This isn’t one of those scenarios where you have a forecast and people are saying, ‘It’s too high,’” Rounds said. “When things are more in the middle, it’s kind of hard to describe it as being either really good or really bad. I get it. It’s reasonable.

“Is it good policy? I guess we’ll have to see,” he said.

Ducey talks Trump, education ahead of primary

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

Gov. Doug Ducey is running for a second term amidst a political environment unlike any that Arizona has seen before.

As part of his re-election bid, Ducey sat down with the Arizona Capitol Times to discuss numerous issues, including education, Arizona’s economy, his re-election bid and the challenges he faces along the way to a second term. Here are the highlights.


When talking about education, Ducey touts his 20-percent teacher pay raise plan, passage of Proposition 123 and the extension of Proposition 301 as his major first-term achievements, and promises he’s not done investing in K-12 education.

But Ducey also points to a longstanding rift between state government and K-12 educators, and asks that he only be judged for his actions during his first term.

“I can’t be accountable for what’s happened the last 30 years,” he said.

One of Ducey’s accomplishments, which was touted shortly after its passage in TV commercials by the Republican Governors Association, was his proposal to grant teachers 20-percent pay raises spread out over three years. His initial budget proposal included a 1-percent pay bump for teachers this year.

Since Ducey signed the raises into law, he said lots of teachers have been grateful for the pay hikes that start this school year. His main focus now is making sure those dollars get to the classrooms, he said. He also said that with another term he wants to put more money into K-12 education, over and above inflation, but he would not specify how much.

But “Red for Ed” supporters opposed Ducey’s teacher pay proposal and representatives for the movement say teachers have an inherent distrust of Ducey and his administration because he has made empty promises before.

Ducey argues that distrust stems from before his time in office.

“I think there’s been a long history of conflict between state government and K-12 education,” he said. “I’ve worked very hard over the last three-plus years to not play divide and conquer, to not pick one section of our education system over another, but to say that these are all of our kids here.”

But K-12 education advocates have also criticized Ducey for his support of charter schools and an expansion of Arizona’s school-voucher program that he signed into law last year.

Ducey signed legislation to make all public school students eligible for state money to attend private and parochial schools.

Some parents and teachers say the expansion of school vouchers to any public school students, as opposed to just those who are disabled or attend failing schools, will starve public schools, causing public school students to receive a subpar education.

The voucher expansion also pushed Democrat David Garcia over the edge and into the governor’s race.

But Ducey attributes teachers’ opposition to charters and ESAs to misinformation from the Arizona Education Association — the teachers’ union that Ducey declined to meet with during the “Red for Ed” strike.

“That’s because people in the union are misinforming those teachers,” he said. “Our policies have put public districts and public charters on equal value in terms of the opportunities for improvement.”

President Trump

Citing a growing economy and President Trump’s push to appoint conservative judges to the U.S. Supreme Court, Ducey praised the president’s leadership.

Ducey pointed to growth in Arizona and across the country, which many conservatives attribute to Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, as a sign that Trump is working to build an economy of the future.

He also cited the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court as proof the president is doing a good job.

But Ducey does not agree with Trump on everything. A supporter of free trade, he has spoken out against new tariffs imposed by Trump’s administration.

He also expressed some opposition to Trump’s zero tolerance, saying “no one wants to see families separated,” but he didn’t go as far as some governors who reacted by withdrawing National Guard forces from the border.

Ducey also wouldn’t say that he wants Trump’s endorsement this fall. When asked if he’ll seek the president’s endorsement in his re-election bid, Ducey sidestepped the question. Personality-wise, Ducey couldn’t be more different than the bombastic president.

It’s hard to know whether Trump’s endorsement would hurt or help Ducey. Republicans seeking the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Jeff Flake have eagerly vied for Trump’s endorsement in an attempt to prove their conservative bona fides. But in an election year where anti-Trump sentiment is growing, a presidential endorsement could hurt more than it helps.

Election challenges

Ducey brushed off the perception that he’s vulnerable this election cycle, and seemed unfazed by his primary challenger, former Secretary of State Ken Bennett.

As talk grows of a “blue wave” hitting Arizona this election cycle, Ducey does not plan to sit back and rest on his laurels during the campaign.

“I think in any business, you want to prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and that’s why we have that challenger’s mentality,” he said.

Elections are competitive and Ducey said he’s not taking his incumbent status for granted. Similar to his bid for state treasurer eight years ago and his first gubernatorial bid, Ducey plans to campaign across the state and tout his record.

But Ducey dismissed polls showing his favorability rating dropping. He also dismissed the perception that he’s vulnerable this election cycle because of anti-Trump sentiment and the continued opposition he faces from “Red for Ed” supporters.

“I think the media loves a horse race, so they would love to see a horse race,” he said.

As for his primary challenger, Ducey doesn’t see Bennett’s candidacy as a failing of his governorship.

“It’s a free country. The water’s warm. People are going to jump in and make their case,” he said. “The voters will decide on August 28.”

Ducey has refused to debate Bennett leading up to the primary, claiming his challenger’s comments about Sen. John McCain disqualified Bennett from public office. Ducey did not address the Democratic gubernatorial candidates in the interview.


After entering office in a post-recession era wherein the state was still strapped for cash, Ducey takes credit for helping grow Arizona’s economy and lower the state’s unemployment.

He brought his business background to governing. Ducey, who slashed state regulations and cut taxes every year that he’s been in office, thinks the best move for government is to stay out of the way as Arizona sees unprecedented revenue and population growth.

The governor attributes the growth to Arizona’s tax and regulatory environment and the state’s infrastructure, education system and reliable water supply, among other things.

“We have a momentum that’s really building on itself,” he said. “It’s time to pour the gas on.”

Holding true to a campaign pledge from his first gubernatorial bid, Ducey still aims to reduce the state’s income tax to as close to zero as possible.

Ducey’s plan to lower the state’s income tax includes working with legislative leaders to revamp Arizona’s tax code around tax conformity and a recent Supreme Court decision that cleared the way for states to collect sales taxes from online purchases.

In essence, Ducey envisions a 21st-century tax code.

“It’s not one issue that you can look at in a vacuum, he said. “I mean, the idea of reforming or improving a tax code is ideally so that you’re bringing in more revenue because you have a state that’s growing.”

Ducey, Garcia debate centers on education


In the first gubernatorial debate, Gov. Doug Ducey touted a record of improving the state’s economy and providing 20-percent pay raises to teachers while Democrat David Garcia accused him of breaking promises and leaving Arizona’s education system in crisis.

While Ducey and Garcia’s hourlong verbal grudge match on KAET-TV, the Phoenix PBS station, centered predominantly on education, the candidates addressed a myriad of other issues such as border security, the economy and a now defunct ballot initiative that would have increased taxes on the rich to better fund K-12 education.

Ducey repeatedly accused his opponent of lacking an education plan. The governor did not present any details of what he would do for K-12 funding with a second, four-year term, but he did tout education highlights from his first term and said he would divert more state funding to education in his second term.

During the debate and in a follow up interview with reporters, Garcia failed to provide specific details on an education plan. He said only that education needs a permanent funding source and that he would allow Arizonans to have a say on the plan at the ballot box.

“I want to go to the Legislature and challenge them and work with them and the business community to put an initiative on the ballot,” he said.

Garcia also questioned why so much of the debate was centered on the Invest in Education Act — a defunct ballot initiative to boost education funding that Garcia supported since its inception in April. The citizens initiative, which would have boosted taxes on the state’s top earners was a major prong of Garcia’s K-12 education plan.

He would not say if the ballot initiative he wants to push through the Legislature would be the same or similar to the Invest in Education Act.

Ducey said the citizens initiative, which the Arizona Supreme Court struck from the ballot last month, would have driven Arizona’s economy off a cliff.

When Garcia said the initiative was torpedoed by Ducey’s “stacked” Supreme Court, the governor accused his opponent of trying to “rig” the election with the misleading language of the Invest in Education Act.

Accused of not doing enough for education, Ducey touted signing an extension of Proposition 301, which extended a sales tax for school funding, and praised Proposition 123, which increased school funding disbursements from the state land trust. And he stood by his budget that granted teachers 20 percent raises spread out over three years.

Garcia called Ducey’s first term a slew of half-measures and broken promises.

“We had a crisis when Doug Ducey walked into office, and we have a crisis when he’s leaving office,” he said.

Ducey argued he couldn’t be held accountable for decades of poor education funding in Arizona, but said he would take responsibility for the past four years. He also stressed the state’s dire financial outlook upon his entering office right after the Great Recession.

“I was in a straightjacket four years ago with a $1 billion deficit in our state budget,” Ducey said.

He repeatedly touted that Maricopa County is now the fastest growing county in the country.

Garcia accused Ducey of being a weak leader who only commits to policy changes when feeling the political pressure of an election year.

He pointed to Ducey’s newfound support for charter school reform after legislative Democrats have called for changes for years. Garcia also cited Ducey’s change of heart on teacher pay raises after teachers threatened to strike amidst the “Red for Ed” movement.

“I want a governor who will lead and not follow,” Garcia said.

Ducey pushed back, citing previous investments in education. He also said he boosted proposed pay raises for teachers when he saw a major influx of funding coming into the state coffers. He initially proposed 1-percent pay raises for teachers this year.

Garcia touted signing the “Red for Ed” pledge promising to boost education funding and asked Ducey if he would do the same.

“What I have signed is a budget that will deliver them a 20-percent pay increase,” Ducey said. “I don’t sign activist pledges. I sign state budgets.”

On immigration, Garcia pushed back against a narrative pushed by the GOP that he is soft on border security and said he does not want to abolish the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency nor has he called for open borders.

Garcia has called for a top-to-bottom reform of ICE, but he doesn’t want to do away with the agency.

“To give this idea that in any way, I would make for unsafe conditions for Arizona is against who I am,” Garcia said, citing his service in the U.S. Army.

Garcia stood firm in his opposition to President Donald Trump’s border wall and called for 24-hour, seven-day-a-week border security. He cited a recent Arizona Republic article that said the Border Strike Force, which Ducey’s administration created, has not achieved round-the-clock border security like Ducey had previously promised.

Ducey defended the Border Strike Force, saying the border is under constant watch with the help of the strike force and local law enforcement.

He also attacked Garcia for previously calling to remove U.S. National Guard forces from the border and pledging to eliminate the Border Strike Force.

“This is a really radical departure from what public safety has been in the state of Arizona,” Ducey said. 

Green Party candidate Angel Torres also took part in the debate, stressing the need to grow the economy for people at the bottom. He also proposed reforms to make it easier for workers to unionize.

Ducey, legislative leaders arrive at teacher pay deal

Gov. Doug Ducey announces a plan to give teachers a 20 percent raise over the next three fiscal years. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey announces a plan to give teachers a 20 percent raise over the next three fiscal years. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Arizona House and Senate leaders have reached a deal with Gov. Doug Ducey on a plan to fund his proposal for a 20-percent pay hike for teachers, but they won’t disclose how they’ll pay for it.

After reiterating his vow to deliver on a pay raise even as teachers marched to the Capitol, Ducey issued a joint statement with House Speaker J.D. Mesnard and Senate President Steve Yarbrough on Friday afternoon that the plan is now a “reality.”

“Today, we are pleased to announce that this plan is a reality. Arizona is delivering on its commitment to our students and teachers,” the leaders said.

But the announcement, which came on the heels of the “Red for Ed” movement announcing Arizona teachers will press on with their strike next week, didn’t include details. Leaders said they want to brief their members first. Leaders still have to persuade members to support the deal.

The development also followed the filing of a ballot initiative pushed by the state’s teachers’ union and education advocates that seeks to raise income taxes on the wealthiest Arizonans and earmark those new revenues for K-12 public schools.

Teachers were wary of Ducey’s proposal because it didn’t include a new revenue source, and it relied on rosy economic projections for funding. Other critics noted that the plan, as originally proposed, would sweep funding from other programs to pay for the salary hike. They also doubted whether Ducey can get it through the Legislature.

Ducey makes promises he can’t keep, said “Red for Ed” leaders Joe Thomas and Noah Karvelis. All they have seen is a news release and a tweet from the governor, and that doesn’t indicate a deal, they said in a news release.

“We have no bill. We have no deal,” they said.

The announcement signifies that legislative leaders have not only agreed to Ducey’s teacher pay raise plan, but have also come to a consensus on how to fund it, said Mesnard, R-Chandler.

But they still haven’t finalized a full budget – something Ducey said they will work through the weekend to complete.

When asked about details of the plan, Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said the governor’s office will likely have more to share after budget analysts and appropriations staffers work through the weekend to fine-tune the details.

“We feel this is a sustainable plan. You’ll see the total package is one that is fiscally responsible,” he said.

Mesnard would not share details of the deal until he can brief rank-and-file Republican legislators. But one breakthrough that helped GOP leaders reach an accord is a new levy on vehicles that Ducey signed into law earlier this week. Mesnard said he’s confident the budget will have the necessary votes to pass in his chamber.

Legislative Republicans are counting on the new fee to generate more than $160 million annually, which is higher than the previous estimate of $148.9 million.

That will free up dollars that, in the past, have paid for the state’s Highway Patrol operations and funding for road maintenance and construction. The director of the Department of Transportation will be responsible for setting a fee to generate the necessary budget amount Republican lawmakers are targeting.

Legislative analysts estimate that the new vehicle fee will free up $107 million in state revenues, which can then be spent on education.

Presumably, those dollars will be combined with higher-than-expected state revenues to fund the pay bump for teachers.

Legislative leaders plan to introduce a budget early next week. Scarpinato said the goal is to have a complete budget introduced on Monday.

“I’m excited to have a deal with the governor and the president,” Mesnard said. “Now we’re going to work on finalizing the details of the overall budget, and we’ll be doing that through the weekend.”

Yarbrough, R-Chandler, could not immediately be reached for comment. But he has long indicated that Senate Republicans fully support Ducey’s plan.

Ducey’s pay boost for teachers includes a 9-percent raise for teachers this fall — on top of 1 percent this year — and subsequent raises of 5-percent increments in the following two school years.

Reporters Ben Giles and Paulina Pineda contributed to this report.

Ducey, Legislature scrape together revenues for $10.4 billion budget proposal

State lawmakers are moving to adopt a $10.4 billion spending plan for the coming fiscal year, balancing the books — and finding the dollars for a teacher pay hike plan — at least in part by passing along expenses to some local taxpayers.

The budget is built on the premise that additional auditors at the Department of Revenue and other tax enforcement measures can bring in an additional $55 million. It also relies on getting an extra $35 million out of hospitals, saving $52 million in prescription drug costs and taking $20 million from a consumer fraud settlement that Attorney General Mark Brnovich is negotiating with Volkswagen.

And there’s something else: Taxpayers in 17 school districts will pay more in local taxes through an accounting maneuver on desegregation programs.

The two districts most affected are Tucson and Maricopa unified school districts. But a political maneuver by Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, will protect taxpayers in that district, leaving only Tucson residents with a big hit.

FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2018, file photo, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey speaks prior to signing the order calling the Legislature into a special session at the Capitol in Phoenix. Arizona Gov. Ducey is pushing lawmakers to approve his proposal for big teacher raises Monday, April 23, 2018, as school districts make plans to shut down if educators statewide walk off the job as planned this week after calling the Republican governor's plan insufficient. (AP Photo/Matt York, file)
Gov. Doug Ducey  (AP Photo/Matt York, file)

This spending package has enough leeway to allow Gov. Doug Ducey, up for reelection this year, to keep the promise he made when he was campaigning for office four years ago to cut taxes every year.

The plan increases the amount that those receiving military pensions can exempt from state income taxes. The figure is currently $2,500.

But that increase will be to just $3,500 rather than the original $10,000 proposal the governor made in January. And it has a delayed effective date on that until 2020.

And there are some other carrots in the package for various political interests.


The package also includes $2 million for the arts, $1 million for food banks and $13 million for programs for the developmentally disabled, about $1 million more than last year.

Also in the spending plan is $7 million to pay the state’s share of new veterans’ homes in Flagstaff and Yuma and $4 million for rural fire departments to help in fire prevention.

The big ticket items, however, are the $273 million for the 9 percent pay hike being offered to teachers this coming year and $100 million to finally start restoring money the state took in prior years in aid to schools for things like computers, books and minor repairs.

To make the books balance, however, the governor has given up on his proposal to have the state pay for more resource officers as part of his yet-to-be-approved school safety plan. And his request to hire more Department of Public Safety officers for the Border Strike Force and capture wrong-way drivers also is taking a hit.

Added together, legislative budget staffers predict all the additional revenues will leave the state with a “structural balance” of $150 million by the end of this coming fiscal year. That is the surplus of ongoing revenues compared with ongoing expenses.

But Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, pointed out that structural balance is set to decrease to less than $45 million the year after that — and a relatively minuscule $2 million by the following fiscal year.

That, said Farnsworth, is not a good trend line.

“That’s a valid point,” acknowledged Richard Stavneak, staff director of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. “The direction is not encouraging.”

But House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, seemed less concerned, saying it simply reflects the big investment in teacher pay in the next three years.

The budget plan also has a variety of odds and ends designed to get votes or solve specific issues.

For example, it would allow Coconino County Community College to ask voters to increase its primary tax levy more than the normal year-over-year amount allowed. Budget staffers said that college started out with a very low levy, making it difficult to keep up with expenses.

But once again there will be no state aid for Pima and Maricopa community colleges.

And there’s $1.7 million in the budget in special appropriations to Pinal, Yavapai and Mohave counties.

Ducey’s office paid $695,000 in losing legal battle

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

Gov. Doug Ducey’s office paid nearly $700,000 to private law firms in a losing effort to defend an embattled ballot initiative that increased school funding disbursements from the state land trust.

The Governor’s Office paid five lawyers at two firms $695,077 to argue Ducey’s position that the civil suit brought by Phoenix resident Michael Pierce to Proposition 123 lacked merit.

Judge Neil Wake of U.S. District Court ruled last month that previous money transfers under Prop. 123 — a plan created by Ducey to increase school funding — violated federal law because it diverted millions from the land trust without prior authorization from Congress.

Ducey’s outside legal team worked 1,133 billable hours, which amounts to pay of approximately $613 an hour.

Michael Pierce (Photo by Carmen Forman/Arizona Capitol Times)
Michael Pierce (Photo by Carmen Forman/Arizona Capitol Times)

For comparison, Pierce, 66, filed the lawsuit on his own, and was later aided by Phoenix attorney Andrew Jacob on a pro bono basis.

While Ducey’s general counsel, Mike Liburdi, was involved in the Prop. 123 case, the Governor’s Office hired outside legal counsel to handle in-court appearances, said Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak.

Ducey’s office paid global megafirm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher $406,093 for work related to the Prop. 123 case, according to information provided by the Governor’s Office. Ducey retained legal counsel from former U. S. Solicitor General Ted Olsen, who just last month declined to join Trump’s legal team. Matthew McGill, of Gibson Dunn’s Washington, D.C., location, also worked on the case.

The Governor’s Office also retained several lawyers from Phoenix firm Fennemore Craig. Ducey’s office paid $288,983 for the work of attorneys Teresa Dwyer, Timothy Berg, and Kevin Green.

“What’s at stake is $3.5 billion for Arizona schools,” Ptak said. “It’s important for the state to have appropriate legal representation to protect these dollars for our schools, and we will spend whatever is necessary to ensure that happens.”

Ducey created the Prop. 123 funding package as a response to a lawsuit brought by the schools that alleged the state violated portions of an earlier ballot measure requiring the state to annually increase its aid to schools. Ducey’s fix would infuse into the state’s underfunded schools an additional $3.5 billion over 10 years.

Pierce’s lawsuit argued that Prop. 123 was illegal because the state should have first received congressional approval for the constitutional amendment before allowing voters to decide on the referendum.

Attorneys representing the state argued that Pierce didn’t have standing to bring the lawsuit, and urged the judge to dismiss the case.

Arizona received congressional approval for Prop. 123 this year — about two years after the ballot initiative passed.

The legal battle over Prop. 123 isn’t over yet. At question now is the $344 million in land trust funds the state disbursed to Arizona schools before receiving congressional approval of Prop. 123.

In his ruling, Wake recommended the parties settle. But if they cannot come to an agreement, the parties will return to court to spar over what is to be done about the $344 million, in which case, Ducey’s lawyers could rack up additional legal fees for the Governor’s Office.

Ducey’s school-safety plan disliked on bipartisan level

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

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey may want bipartisan support for his plan to address school safety in the wake of another mass shooting, but he’s instead facing bipartisan opposition.

Legislative Democrats don’t like the Safe Schools Arizona plan because, they say, it doesn’t go far enough. Valley students agree, and have continued to protest at the Capitol calling for Ducey to push his proposal even further with gun control measures.

Some legislative Republicans are already concerned Ducey has gone too far, and are looking for guidance from gun-rights groups that have begun attacking the governor as weak on the Second Amendment.

The resistance has forced Ducey to defend his plan as the byproduct of the political realities of Arizona.

“Politics, guys, is the art of the possible,” Ducey told KTAR-FM Radio on March 20. “I believe that this is possible right now, but if somebody has a good idea, a better idea, it’s welcome. We’ll put it on the legislation, and we want to pass it as quickly as we can.”

As is, the passage of Ducey’s proposal is actually far from certain. Legislative leaders like House Speaker J.D. Mesnard and Senate President Steve Yarbrough, both Chandler Republicans, have expressed optimism for the governor’s plan.

Not all their fellow Republicans share that hope. As rank-and-file GOP senators have met with Yarbrough to digest the governor’s plan, Yarbrough noted that many are looking not to Ducey, but to the National Rifle Association and the Arizona Citizens Defense League for guidance.

The Citizens Defense League has made clear its disgust for Ducey’s plan, and note they were not among a host of stakeholders the governor consulted before crafting his proposal. The organization asked its followers to lobby their senators and representatives to oppose what they call a “gun control plan,” a label Ducey has studiously tried to avoid.

“You may want to wrap your head with duct tape to prevent it from exploding when you read it,” the group warned in a March 19 email. “It looks like a propaganda piece from one of (former New York Mayor Michael) Bloomberg’s Astroturf groups.”

If GOP lawmakers follow suit, Republican support for Ducey’s plan may be waning. Yarbrough indicated that could be the case.

“I have members who pay a lot of attention to those organizations, and so I think they will probably be communicating back and forth and that may influence some of them,” the Senate president said.

To students with the March For Our Lives movement, the policies the Citizens Defense League opposes are the few bright spots in Ducey’s agenda.

Backed by other advocates for tighter gun regulations, Mountain View High School junior Jordan Harb details Monday how students plan to walk out Wednesday and come to the Capitol to advocate for new gun laws designed to protect themselves and their teachers. (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)
Backed by other advocates for tighter gun regulations, Mountain View High School junior Jordan Harb details Monday how students plan to walk out Wednesday and come to the Capitol to advocate for new gun laws designed to protect themselves and their teachers. (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

Jordan Harb, a junior at Mountain View High School in Mesa, said March 21 there are some positive developments proposed by Ducey, such as a plan to create a Severe Threat Order of Protection, or STOP order, by which law enforcement, family members or other individuals can petition the court to order that a person’s firearms be temporarily confiscated.

But at every step, Ducey’s plan falls short of ways to truly make an impact and prevent future mass shootings at schools and address gun violence at large, Harb said.

STOP orders are fine, but won’t stop dangerous individuals from acquiring firearms without universal background checks, Harb said. And $8 million isn’t going to significantly address the need for mental health resources in Arizona public schools.

“Unfortunately, it is obvious that the governor is just trying to appease independent voters by creating a woefully inadequate plan that has low impact and low resources to appease the press and make it appear that he is taking leadership on an issue that is so vital,” Harb told reporters.

Harb said legislative Democrats have assured him that they won’t budge on Ducey’s school safety plan “because it just does not do enough.” House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, has called the governor’s proposal a “partisan plan and a plan that falls far short of a comprehensive gun prevention plan.”

Without Democratic support, Ducey has little room for error – support lost within his own party could jeopardize efforts for any school-safety bill to become law.

Yarbrough warned against asking for too much from the governor and Arizona legislators. It’ll take 31 votes in the House and 16 votes in the Senate to pass anything, and without the majority’s support, Yarbrough asked, “What’s the point?”

“That’s always the challenge, is that the rubber does indeed hit the road at some point and it always has to come down to what can we actually enact and get votes for. At the end of the day, is that going to be the very best thing we can do? I don’t know,” Yarbrough said. “But it doesn’t mean you don’t try to do what you can do just because you might not be able to do the very best thing.”

Education alliance sues to end mask mandate prohibition, other new laws


A coalition of school board members, educators, child welfare advocates and others is asking a judge to void a host of changes in state law approved in the waning days of the legislative session.

Attorney Roopali Desai is not alleging that any of these new laws, individually, is illegal. They range from whether schools and even universities can impose mask mandates and changes to election laws to banning the teaching of what legislators and Gov. Doug Ducey have incorrectly labeled “critical race theory.”

The legal problem, she said, is that these were combined with other unrelated provisions into what lawmakers call “budget reconciliation bills,” essentially a grab-bag of issues.

That, said Desai, violates constitutional provisions which clearly state that each piece of legislation “shall embrace but one subject and matters properly connected therewith.” And that same provision requires each element to be laid out in the title.

What that means, she is telling Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper, is that each of the challenged provisions was illegally enacted — and cannot be enforced.

If Desai wins the case, the implications go beyond nullifying the challenged provisions and, most immediately, ending the legal risk that now exists for schools, colleges and universities which are requiring staff and students to wear masks while on campus. It also would force a major change in the long-standing practice of lawmakers doing what she called “horse-trading,” piling unrelated issues — many which had previously failed on their own — into a single package designed to corral the necessary votes.

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said she could not comment until she reviews the lawsuit with attorneys. There was a similar response from Ducey who has opposed mask mandates and signed all the measures into law.

All this comes as the Department of Health Services, whose director Dr. Cara Christ has said she backs the decision by the governor and lawmakers to bar mandated mask use in schools, reported more than 3,000 new cases, a level that hasn’t been seen in six months.

At the same time, hospitals reported 1,590 in-patient beds — 18% of capacity — occupied by Covid patients. And 22% of intensive-care beds were being used by Covid patients.

Roopali Desai
Roopali Desai

The question of whether the Legislature violated the requirement limiting each measure to a single subject and having the title properly reflect what is in the bill starts with HB 2898, which has the language banning not just school districts but also counties, cities and towns from requiring the use of face coverings or proof of vaccination against Covid to participate in in-person instruction.

What’s also in the 231-page bill is a provision prohibiting teaching curriculum “that presents any form of blame or judgment on the basis of race, ethnicity or sex.” That includes concepts like saying a student “should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of the individual’s race, ethnicity or sex” and even authorizes the state Board of Education to suspend or revoke an offending teacher’s certificate.

Only thing is, Desai said, HB 2898 is titled “appropriating monies, relating to kindergarten through grade twelve budget reconciliation.” The reality, she said, is the bill includes “substantive policies that have nothing to do with the budget.”

“It’s bad enough that the titles don’t describe what’s actually happening in these bills,” Desai told Capitol Media Services. “But the legislature went out of its way to mislead people about what’s in the bills.”

For example, SB1824, dubbed as “appropriating monies; relating to health budget reconciliation,” says students cannot be required to be immunized to attend school using any vaccination that has only been given “emergency use authorization” by the Food and Drug Administration. That, for the moment, is the status of all Covid vaccines.

And another section bars local governments from establishing a “vaccine passport” or requiring proof of vaccination to enter a business.

Then there’s SB1819 which, according to its title, deals with “budget procedures.” But that bill includes “fraud countermeasures” for paper ballots and strips power from Secretary of State Katie Hobbs to defend election law challenges. What’s also in that bill is setting up a special committee to review the findings of the audit of the 2020 election, changes to the governor’s emergency powers, investigating the practices of social media platforms and even language about condominiums.

“None of these subjects have any logical connection to each other,” Desai said.

She argued this is more than just an academic discussion.

Desai said one purpose of the single-subject rule is to prevent “logrolling,” trying to pull together the support for a series of measures that would fail on their own by adding items designed to convince foes of any particular provision to agree to support the whole package because it also contains something they want.

For example, she cited statements by Rep. Joseph Chaplik, R-Scottsdale, that he would not support HB2898 unless it also included a ban on mask mandates for students.

Desai also pointed out the measure about the teaching certain concepts about race, ethnicity and gender actually failed to get the necessary votes when offered as a separate bill. But it then was then tucked into that same K-12 education reconciliation bill to get the votes of those who had previously opposed it.

“Never before has the legislature so ignored the normal process and procedure for enacting laws as they did for this session,” Desai wrote. She said if the courts do not enforce the single-subject rule it would be “rendered wholly meaningless.”

In her filing, Desai said these are not simply academic and legal concepts.

She said if the provisions in the K-12 measure are not voided “public schools could be left powerless to protect their students and staff.” And she said that teachers who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit could find themselves disciplined for violating a “vague prohibition” on what can be taught about race and gender.

No date has been set for a hearing on the new lawsuit.

Education board rebuffs Christian-centric academic standards

State schools chief Diane Douglas details Monday why she wants education standards crafted by a Christian college to have to be used in Arizona schools. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
State schools chief Diane Douglas details Monday why she wants education standards crafted by a Christian college to have to be used in Arizona schools. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

The state Board of Education on Oct. 22 rebuffed a bid by schools chief Diane Douglas to adopt standards for Arizona’s public schools crafted by a Christian college.

But whether schools can use the standards crafted by Hillsdale College remains an open question.

Several board members said it might be appropriate to have that as an option for schools that choose not to follow the standards that the board adopted for history, social studies and science by a 6-4 vote. Jared Taylor, one of the dissents, said he hopes to revisit the issue at future board meetings.

What is clear is that the new standards incorporate some last-minute changes proposed by the Arizona Science Teachers Association. The most notable change includes a clear statement that “the unity and diversity of organism, living and extinct, is the result of evolution.”

Sara Torres, the group’s executive director, said these standards will “protect teachers of science from being put in a position of teaching non-scientific ideas.”

After the vote, Douglas insisted she is not against the teaching of evolution. And Douglas said she even is willing to concede that “science, to some degree, has proven adaptation of species.” Where she parts company is taking the next steps.

“Show me where any scientist has proven or replicated that life came from non-living matter or that, in the example we see in the museums, that man evolved from an ape,” Douglas said.

“There’s no proof to that,” she continued. “Let’s teach our children all those different things and let them study them.”

The process of revising the standards started two years ago. But it came into sharper focus after some revisions, some initiated by Douglas and her aides.

What they prepared to present to the board last month proved unacceptable to the science teachers.

The science teachers sought – and got – restoration of language that says students should be asked to analyze geoscience data and results from global climate models “to make evidence-based predictions of the current rate and scale of global or regional climate change.” And they wanted students to be able to construct an evidence-based explanation for how the availability of natural resources and changes in climate have influenced human activity.

They specifically convinced the board to adopt the language about evolution.

Douglas, for her part, said her objections went beyond any specific change. She argued that the standards the board adopted are, in effect, just minor modifications of what has been going on for decades, a system that she said is failing Arizona students.

For example, she said 56 percent of third graders cannot read or write at grade level. And 47 percent cannot do basic arithmetic.

And she said that 60 percent of students entering the Maricopa community colleges need remedial classes.

“Hillsdale are the best standards for our students if – and that’s a big if – giving them the education to which they are entitled, which, I define as for success post K-12 and as citizens of our great state and nation, is more than just lip service,” Douglas, who is also a member of the board, argued to others on the panel.

But the Hillsdale proposal came under scrutiny at least in part amid concerns that they are not so much standards as actual curriculum of what is to be taught. And then there is the emphasis on Judeo-Christian teachings, far more than in current state standards in teaching comparative religions.

For example, under the concept of lasting ideas from ancient civilizations, the standards mention the idea of a “covenant” between God and man, and “important stories” like creation and the calling of Abraham. That continues into the New Testament with stories on the baptism of Jesus, walking on water and the resurrection.

Douglas bemoaned the proposal as just another in a long line of so-called “reforms” that are “just more fads, gimmicks and tricks, with lots of testing added on for good measure.” And then, she said there has been “inadequate” input from parents and the community.

“They should be telling us what they expect and what they need for their children’s education and not being told what will be put upon them,” she said.

That lack of community input also bothered Patricia Welborn, another board member, though she wondered aloud if more could be done. She was one of the four votes against the new standards.

Taylor, the chief executive of Heritage Academy, a charter school, had more specific objections to making these standards mandatory. One, he said, was the failure to provide “age-appropriate” content to students in kindergarten through third grade.

“You ask them to do a lot of conceptual work,” he said. “And their brains aren’t ready for it.”

Taylor said schools should be free to adopt either the standards approved by the board on Monday or the Hillsdale standards, which were developed for charter schools.

Rana Singh Sodhi asks members of the state Board of Education to expand its requirements to teach religion to include Sikhs, saying that ignorance resulted in the death of his brother, Balbi, following the 2001 terrorist attacks. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Rana Singh Sodhi asks members of the state Board of Education to expand its requirements to teach religion to include Sikhs, saying that ignorance resulted in the death of his brother, Balbi, following the 2001 terrorist attacks. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Not all of Monday’s debate surrounded issues of science or even teaching history.

A group from the Sikh community urged board members to ensure that its own faith is taught to students when they learn about world religions.

Rana Singh Sodhi reminded board members how his brother, Balbi, was killed at his Mesa gas station and convenience store four days after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks by someone who apparently decided that he must be a Muslim terrorist because he wore a turban.

“If we can save one person’s life through education, even, I think it is worth it,” he said.

The board took no action on the request.

Education divide: Dems Farley, Garcia clash on K-12 education policy

Steve Farley and David Garcia
Steve Farley and David Garcia

Sen. Steve Farley has finally embraced the campaign to raise taxes on wealthy Arizonans to boost education funding after weeks of taking a wait-and-see approach to the Invest in Education Act.

David Garcia, who is also running for governor, endorsed the idea soon after the initiative was launched.

The winner of the August primary will face Gov. Doug Ducey in the November general election.

Farley and Garcia, the top contenders for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, share similar views on Arizona’s K-12 education priorities, but Farley’s belated endorsement of the ballot initiative offers a glimpse into the nuances separating the candidates and their stances on education.

K-12 education is a major issue this election cycle, and the “Red for Ed” movement that spurred a teachers strike and an unprecedented level of political activism this year pushed it further to the front.

Farley endorsed the Invest in Education ballot initiative at a Democratic gubernatorial debate on July 10, after those pushing the measure turned in signatures to get it on the ballot. Garcia is an early supporter, and his campaign volunteers often collected signatures for the initiative as they knocked on doors for the governor’s race.

At the debate in Scottsdale, Garcia – a former candidate for superintendent of public instruction – slammed Farley for only recently “jumping on board” with the initiative.

“Our team has been standing with teachers from the very beginning,” Garcia said.

Kelly Fryer, who is also seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, is another early supporter of the Invest in Education Act. The CEO of the YWCA Southern Arizona was a late entry to the governor’s race and is trailing Garcia and Farley in funding. Polls also show her at a distant third.

Farley always insisted he would support the measure if it got on the ballot. But his hesitancy to endorse the initiative stemmed from his belief that raising taxes is not the key to adequately fund education in Arizona.

Farley believes the state can properly fund K-12 education by eliminating myriad corporate sales tax loopholes. Such a move, he argues, would allow the state to lower its regressive sales tax and boost K-12 funding.

Farley said he held off endorsing the initiative because he didn’t want to steal the spotlight from the teachers.

“I didn’t want to make this about me. I didn’t buy a school bus,” Farley said. Garcia’s campaign is renting a school bus as its primary mode of transportation.

Farley insists that his hesitation to endorse Invest in Education does not hurt his standing with Arizona’s teachers, touting his 12-year record of championing education issues in the Legislature.

Farley also hearkened back to meetings with a seemingly endless slew of teachers during the “Red for Ed” strike.

“Teachers understand I’ve had their backs for 12 years,” he said. Farley, a graphic designer, is the Senate assistant minority leader.

While both candidates want to boost K-12 funding to pre-recession levels or higher and accuse Ducey of not doing enough for K-12 education, they had staked out opposing positions on the Fiscal Year 2019 state budget, which included the governor’s plan to boost teacher pay by 20 percent over three years.

Farley voted for parts of the GOP-backed state spending plan, while Garcia, who is not a member of the Legislature, said he would have voted against the budget.

Democrats often voted against most aspects of Ducey’s budget proposals. This year, Farley was one of four Democratic lawmakers who supported the governor’s K-12 education budget. The Republican-controlled Legislature would have passed the budget with or without Farley’s support.

Farley said he voted for the budget as a way to support how far teachers had moved the needle on K-12 education funding.

But Garcia insists that the state budget and the income tax ballot initiative are intertwined. He said he would have voted against the budget because it was cobbled together by a mix of cuts and rosy revenue projections and it didn’t include a new, guaranteed revenue source for K-12 education. The Invest in Education Act dedicates new revenue for K-12 education by raising income taxes on people who earn more than $250,000 per year.

“Our teachers did not walk out for a start. They walked out for a solution,” Garcia said on KTAR last month.

Even before the ballot initiative was launched, Garcia was already calling for raising taxes on top earners in order to correct what he described as an unfair tax system. He also advocated for closing tax loopholes to better fund education, and has called for increased transparency and accountability within charter schools. Both Farley and Garcia did not offer specifics on which tax loopholes they would eliminate.

Garcia’s other education stances have raised eyebrows and sparked criticism from opponents. Garcia supports school choice and Common Core, although he rails against standardized testing every chance he gets.

Farley’s campaign has also tried to tie Garcia’s campaign to former Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan, who was responsible for the legislation that created charter schools in Arizona. Garcia, a professor at Arizona State University who has a background in statistics and data analysis, had worked for Keegan years after the charter school legislation was passed.

In response, Garcia said nearly everyone who has worked in Arizona’s state government in the past two decades worked for a Republican at some point.

Garcia’s opponents also criticized him for sitting on the board of the Arizona School for the Arts, a charter school. Garcia served on the board while one of his daughters attended the school. He resigned in November.

But Garcia clinched the Arizona Education Association’s coveted endorsement in March. At the time, AEA President Joe Thomas – speaking on behalf of the 20,000 teachers and education-support professionals the group represents – said Garcia can boost teacher pay and improve schools.

Education inequality has impact on public health


As we recently passed the one-year anniversary of Arizona teachers walking out and demanding action from their policymakers, it is clear that to address education inequality we must continue to advocate for improved education funding in Arizona.

Since this issue is consistently wrapped in politics, we find it important to view it from a different perspective: what is the public health implication of education inequality and how is the way we treat our teachers interconnected? Facts are nice, so let’s include those, particularly regarding large class sizes, classroom funding, and shortage of teachers and how these relate to education inequality.

According to the Arizona K12 Center, the average classroom size for an Arizona teacher is 23.5 students per high school teacher and 24.5 students per elementary teacher. This is far higher than the national average of 17.7 per high school teacher and 21.6 per elementary teacher.

Large class sizes jeopardize learning and negatively affect the teacher’s ability to be productive and successful. Numerous studies show that when class sizes are smaller (19 students and less), students report learning more, enjoying school more, and being more engaged.

When so much pressure is put on students, teachers, and schools to produce positive test results, starting with the right class size matters. And so does wanting to attend school – if students don’t like their learning environment, or cannot connect to it, then they are less likely to complete school. If teachers are too stressed with crowd control, they are less likely to remain in their jobs. Education inequality begins with access to high quality learning experiences.

Classroom funding – or lack of – played a large role in the Arizona teachers’ strike. More than just basic raises (if you consider getting a pay bump up to $40,000 a “raise”), classroom funding ensures school supplies for students, updated technology, and again, a positive learning environment for both student and teacher.

Arizona spends approximately $7,500 per student each year, placing 49th position on funding per student in the United States. A recent study by the Department of Education suggests that approximately 94 percent of teachers spend their own money on school supplies to make up for this lack of funding, equating to approximately $479 per teacher per year.

Teachers are hard pressed to support themselves, in addition to providing for their classrooms. The average Arizona teacher makes around $48,000 a year, while the average starting teacher salary in Arizona is closer to $34,000 per year. Arizona ranks in the bottom 10 when it comes to starting teacher salaries across the United States, which can deter future teachers from coming to or remaining in Arizona to begin their careers. Teachers have consistently provided for students in need. Now, who can provide for teachers in need?

These reasons, and many more, have led to the Arizona teacher shortage. Alarmingly, according to the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association survey, 23 percent of teacher vacancies remained unfilled in 2018. This only perpetuates the cycle: shortage of teachers begets larger class sizes, begets less capital to support classroom (particularly out of teachers own pockets), begets longer hours worked, and so on and so forth. Inequality is always rooted in poverty. Education inequality is no different – it is rooted in poverty of social capital, political support, and money. And it is reflected in the way we treat our teachers.

Instead of formulating bills to gag teachers and prevent them from labor actions, as were proposed in the current legislative session, we should understand the many negative implications that result from burdening teachers and the learning environment. Education inequality is indeed a public health concern. Over one million students attend public schools in Arizona and these students are our future leaders. By not supporting their teachers, we as a society are setting those students up for failure. This is not about being money hungry, it’s about fairly paying teachers for the hard work they do to benefit our society; it’s about attempting to decrease education inequality. For this reason, we believe increasing teacher wages and education funding is incredibly important. In the words of Malcolm X, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today,” our teachers are the key to students accomplishing this.

Jordan Arias, Lisa Balland, Jonathan Bell, Adam Berryhill, Wrandi Carter, and Emma Connors are graduate students at University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.

Education panelists spar over school choice

While school choice has sparked a divisive debate in Arizona, panelists at the Arizona Capitol Times Morning Scoop on the topic Tuesday seemed to find common ground on one point: The state system for school funding could be due for a reboot.

Stacey Morley (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Stacey Morley (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Stacey Morley, government affairs director at Stand for Children, said the funding formula was not created with today’s problems in mind, leaving the state to add things to a system that was never designed to handle those needs. That has led to a system that is not equitable in Morley’s view.

She pointed to the “unintended consequences of choice,” namely that when district schools lose students to charter or private schools, they also lose funding with no certain way to make up the gap in their budgets.

School districts, she argued, do not have the benefit of knowing they’ll definitely welcome a certain number of students, making planning ahead more difficult than it may be at a charter school that accepts a set number of students.

While the Morning Scoop debate was more tame than may have been expected, the panelists – and sometimes members of the audience – did find occasion to exchange terse words.

Kristi Sandvik (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Kristi Sandvik (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Buckeye Elementary School District Superintendent Kristi Sandvik said the market in Arizona is “saturated with choice,” creating inefficiencies in an outdated system, and that taxpayers deserve to know whether they’re getting a return on investment.

A for Arizona Executive Director Lisa Graham Keegan interrupted.

“The saturated market of choice created the best academic performance this state has ever seen,” Keegan said. “To say it hasn’t had an academic affect, to say that Arizona has not gone from the bottom third of academic performers to about average … that’s just dishonest.”

Keegan won some of the crowd’s approval with that remark but drew ire with what came next.

Lisa Graham Keegan (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Lisa Graham Keegan (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

According to focus groups, she said, parents don’t even know whether their children are in district, charter or private schools.

“They know they’re in a school and one that works for their child,” she said to the disapproval of hecklers.

Despite some of the negative feedback she and her fellow pro-voucher panelist Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, received – largely from members of the audience dressed in Save Our Schools Arizona T-shirts or the group’s trademark red – Keegan said school choice is not about us versus them.

Rather, she said, it’s about everyone against the failure of students.

In that regard, Keegan said expanding school choice has achieved its goal of improving schools by introducing other options.

Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Lesko, sponsor of SB1431 to expand the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program, said it’s just common sense.

“If there’s competition out there, and parents are allowed to move their child out of a district school and into a charter school or a private school and online school, [district schools are] going to up their game,” she said.

Lesko also cited 31 unnamed “empirical studies” on the effects of school choice, saying 29 showed district schools do improve when they face competition; the other two, she said, demonstrated no change either way.

Sandvik didn’t see the same success, even in her own district, describing her view of Arizona’s educational future as “catastrophic” if changes are not made.

Instead of helping families, Sandvik said the system has pit parents against each other.

Parents with gifted children are asking for the same money parents of students with disabilities plead for, and in the end, she said no one wins.

As for Sandvik’s wish for more fiscal transparency from charter schools, the panelists were in agreement that such a thing could only be a positive. But how it materializes is yet to be seen.

According to a Grand Canyon Institute report released Sunday, 77 percent of Arizona’s charter schools use taxpayer dollars on related-party transactions, such as contracting services from a member of the charter’s board and hiring teachers from an employment service owned by a charter holder’s relative.

Save Our Schools Arizona supporters sit in the audience of the Arizona Capitol Times Morning Scoop on school choice on Sept. 19. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Save Our Schools Arizona supporters sit in the audience of the Arizona Capitol Times Morning Scoop on school choice on Sept. 19. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Lesko declined to comment on specifics in the report and possible solutions, but said she believes in transparency and accountability across the board in education.

To meet that need, she said she added fiscal and academic accountability measures to SB 1431, including a required ESA open checkbook on expenditures and an ESA review counsel.

“Unfortunately, all of those new accountability and transparencies have been put on hold because of the referendum, and so we’ll see what happens,” Lesko said, jabbing back at the hecklers who were giving her what she called “the evil eye” throughout the morning.

Emails reveal ties between construction firms, school officials

handshakeEmails obtained by the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting from four school districts show the depth of the relationships construction company executives have cultivated with school district administrators.

For instance, builders and school officials took trips together to Mexico and French Polynesia. The emails also show numerous invitations to golf outings and several visits to a restaurant co-owned by several building companies’ owners and executives.

School district officials also regularly sought out the companies to ask for money for various projects, the records show.

In February 2010, the owners and executives of an architecture firm, a general contractor and two subcontractors, who all later went on to win a significant portion of the bond project work in Maricopa County over the next several years, created a company called 4S&P LLC. The company’s address was the same as the address of architecture firm ADM Group, Inc. The portion of the required state corporation filing that discloses the “purpose of the company” was left blank.

Ben Barcon, who owns ADM Group and was one of the partners in 4S&P, said in November 2017 that the LLC was used to purchase a condominium in Mexico and a “party bus” that was kept in Arizona. (Through a spokeswoman, Barcon now says 4S&P didn’t own the condo, but that he owned it in partnership with three executives of a construction subcontractor, two of whom are also partners in 4S&P.)

David Peterson, the former superintendent of Scottsdale Unified School District, visited the condo in Mexico in 2016, a spokeswoman for Barcon said in an email. Peterson, who also accompanied Barcon on a trip to Tahiti in 2014 while he was still superintendent, told Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting he always paid his own expenses when he took trips with Barcon.

Barcon’s spokeswoman said the condo was also “occasionally offered to districts as a raffle or silent auction gift for fundraising events,” and other school district officials could have used it without his knowledge.

In May 2011, the same group of architects, contractors and subcontractors, along with two co-owners of another general contracting company, formed 4S&P Restaurant Holdings LLC.

4S&P Restaurant Holdings LLC owned Cask 63, a high-end restaurant and bar in Scottsdale. The restaurant opened in January 2012, but shut its doors abruptly in May 2013.

Emails obtained from the Scottsdale Unified School District show that Cask 63, located about 10 minutes away from the district offices, quickly became a local hangout for district officials and employees. Emails showed multiple visits to the nearby restaurant for after-work happy hours and other planned meals and events.

One former Cask 63 employee, who only agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity for fear of professional retribution, said there was a reason SUSD officials and employees visited the restaurant so often: They ate and drank for free.

District employees would come into Cask 63, the former employee said, and rack up bills between $1,000 and $3,000, “depending on how many people there were, or which people showed up,” and they rarely, if ever, paid.

Barcon disputed the claim that school officials did not pay for their meals and drinks, but said through his spokeswoman that the owners paid for some guests on occasion.

Emails provided by Scottsdale Unified School District, Phoenix Union High School District, Tolleson Unified School District and Madison Elementary School District show golf was a shared pastime for the vendors and district employees. Emails confirming golf outings show several building company executives and school district officials planned golf outings together. Sometimes, the golf rounds took place around annual vendor exposition events at Arizona resorts.

They also show that, when the districts had financial needs, they could count on their vendors to meet them.

In the case of Phoenix Union High School District, when two students won a prestigious QuestBridge Scholarship at Stanford University in 2014, PUHSD officials sent a solicitation to more than 10 different potential vendors, asking them to cover the travel costs.

In 2012, Scottsdale Unified School District officials emailed the same group of vendors to let them know that they had a special opportunity to post “mobile advertising” on the sides of their 81 school buses and 58 utility vehicles. Records show some of the vendors purchased those advertisements.

When Madison Elementary School District needed to find financial backing for a 2013 school foundation event, administrators assembled a list of vendors to solicit money from.

Note: This story comes from the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting through a Creative Commons license. AZCIR is a nonprofit investigative newsroom.

Empowerment scholarships alternative in ‘covirtual’ reality


The pandemic and social distancing guidelines have drastically impacted and uprooted our daily lives. Students all over the country had to quickly adapt to online learning to finish up the school year. Now, they face the uncertainty of what the fall semester may bring. This uncertainty can be very stressful for students as many don’t know what the “new normal” in school may look like. For parents who just want the best for their children and for their education, not knowing what the upcoming semester may look like can be unnerving.

For parents of students with multiple disabilities, getting their children on the right path to a quality education in the current pandemic is imperative to their overall success. For students who qualify for the Empowerment Scholarship Account, or ESA, this opportunity can help parents to feel confident knowing that their child will be able to attend the school with the program, services, class size, and instructors necessary to help them excel. ESA makes it possible for parents to customize their student’s education that meets each child’s exclusive needs.

As students with multiple disabilities have unique needs that sometimes cannot be met in a traditional school setting, ESA provides the ability for these students to access the resources to attend a school that is built to meet their individual needs. Considering the uncertainties of COVID-19, many schools are adapting to maintain social distancing standards – these specialized schools are making adjustments to its curriculum and classroom settings that are specifically tailored to suit students with multiple disabilities. With ESA funds, the flexibility to keep students at home and still meet their educational goals is possible. This can be achieved by utilizing therapists and private tutors.

Travis Harris
Travis Harris

Amid the pandemic, a big priority for many parents may be seeking a private school for the purpose of having a smaller class size. With these smaller classes, social distancing standards are able to be upheld easier and more efficiently, as well as the added benefit of students having a quality one-on-one experience with their teacher. Fortunately, Arizona has seen massive growth in the number of private schools that cater to the needs of learners of all abilities. Students deserve the best education catered to their needs despite your income or school district you live in.

Of course, any big decision has a number of pros and cons associated with it. If a parent is considering utilizing ESA for private school education for their child, it’s important to look into a number of various factors before picking their next school. This includes analyzing whether or not the school offers related services, such as speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and more, or if it comes at an additional fee. These services are just as important as instruction and often support the student’s academic success.

On top of this, parents should consider whether or not the school has specialized equipment, including desks and adaptive seating, to meet the needs of the specific child. This will be a good indicator as to whether the student will be comfortable in their new school environment.

For ESA students at Gompers Private School, we’ve seen success because of our ability to offer up to one hour a month in related services, including speech, occupational therapy, and physical therapy. Candice Steel, our assistive technology specialist explains, “Those with complex communication needs tend to be dismissed.” With the help of local partners that support our Assistive Technology Department, we are able to ensure accessibility for all of our students. Assistive technology includes devices and equipment that help enable everyone to communicate. There are endless possibilities for not only learning opportunities but also completing day-to-day tasks independently. These combined efforts help to create an ideal curriculum and environment for students with multiple disabilities to succeed.

With students facing the reality of what the new normal may look like in their next classroom setting, ESA can offer educational security for those who qualify. Since 2011, ESA has made exceptional growth with more than 7,500 students and counting. For parents who want to ensure their children can receive the kind of individualized education and care that they need for the years to come, ESA is an opportunity that can be worth looking into.

Travis Harris is director of special education at Gompers Private School in Phoenix.

Fractured GOP vote in superintendent’s race spells trouble

Diane Douglas
Diane Douglas

With five Republican contenders dividing the vote, the GOP primary race for Superintendent of Public Instruction is too close to call.

Unofficial results show that Frank Riggs is less than one percentage point ahead of the current runner up, Bob Branch. Only 739 votes separate the two candidates.

Incumbent Diane Douglas is also trailing closely behind Branch. Only 2,197 votes separate her and the current top contender.

With each of the top three candidates currently receiving about 21 percent of the vote – Douglas is followed by Tracy Livingston with Jonathan Gelbart rounding out the pack – it appears Arizonans looking for a change were unable to rally behind an alternative to the incumbent.

Douglas never quite escaped criticism after clashing with Gov. Doug Ducey early in her first term over the firing of two State Board of Education employees, and she has continued to irk many in the state, even in her own party, over the years. Most recently, she offended public school teachers after criticizing the Red for Ed movement’s decision to strike and suggesting teachers’ certifications may be at risk because of it.

Still, political observers had speculated she would benefit from sheer name recognition in a crowded Republican field.

Whoever wins the Republican primary will face off against Kathy Hoffman in the Nov. 6 general election. Hoffman edged out David Schapira in the Democratic primary.

Superintendent of Public Instruction By The Numbers


486,978 votes cast

Diane Douglas 21.49 percent

Bob Branch 21.79 percent

Frank Riggs 21.94 percent

Jonathan Gelbart 14.77 percent

Tracy Livingston 20.02 percent


415,434 votes cast

Kathy Hoffman 53 percent

David Schapira 47 percent

Free tuition program for teachers getting underway at state universities

After months of deliberation, state universities are aiming to admit 200 students in the fall 2017 semester to a teacher-training program with free tuition.

Eileen Klein
Eileen Klein

The president of the Arizona Board of Regents, Eileen Klein, said this academic year would be considered a “pilot year” for the program, called the Arizona Teacher Academy. She said each university has individual expectations for the program, but collectively, the universities are looking for candidates “who are going to be dedicated to innovative and impactful teaching, particularly in Arizona.”

The academy is intended to fill vacant teaching positions that have plagued the state for years.

In January, Gov. Doug Ducey called on Arizona’s public universities in his State of the State speech to reduce, if not completely waive, tuition for students pursuing teaching degrees if they committed to teaching in some of Arizona’s high-need schools. He asked the public universities, community colleges and education leaders alike, to band together to create an Arizona Teacher Academy.

The dean of Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, Carole Basile, said that while the official blueprint for the program is not yet complete, she expects the academy to develop innovative, dedicated teachers.

Basile said ASU does not yet know who will be selected for the academy this August. However, she did say that general success markers in college, like GPA, and financial need, would be considered when choosing the Teacher Academy’s students.

This fall ASU is primarily looking to enroll seniors in the academy, but Basile said she hopes the program will expand to younger students eventually.

Students who are accepted to the academy will have some, if not all, of their student debt alleviated. Basile said by reducing or eliminating future teachers’ debt, it allows new teachers to “really focus on being a creative educator, and not have to worry about working that second job to pay their student debt.”

Carole Basile
Carole Basile

Basile said she believes that reduced student debt could both entice young Arizonans to become teachers, and encourage them to stay in the profession longer.

Representatives with the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this story.

As of now, the bulk of the academy’s financial burden falls on the shoulders of the universities themselves. Basile said ASU intends on using reallocated scholarship funds to pay for the academy.

When a student accepts a position in the academy, their tuition debt is alleviated in exchange for a four-year commitment to teaching in an Arizona school, especially high-need schools in rural and urban areas.

Klein said that if students were to take advantage of the academy, and then fail to teach in the state following their graduation, they would be required to pay back the money they were given.

Students enrolled in the Teacher Academy will also have the opportunity to be mentored by experienced teachers. Basile said the program would ideally become “very experiential,” which would more adequately prepare future teachers for the tribulations they will face in the classroom.

Klein said higher education leaders are in final discussions with Ducey, and she looks forward to visit the Legislature next year to ensure the state takes strides to contribute to, and offset the cost of, the Arizona Teacher Academy.

In the meantime, Klein said the universities should be applauded for stepping up to foot the cost of this academy on their own. Basile said that while the average tuition debt for a recently graduated teacher is $22,000, ASU is “very committed to making” the academy happen, regardless of the source of its funding.

However, Basile also said that the academy is merely a “short-term fix for a much bigger education workforce” problem. She hopes the academy will attract the best and brightest future teachers to the education profession for now, but that the way society looks at the career will change.

Basile said leaders in education need to start thinking about credentialing and certification in a different way, one that will surface entrepreneurial, creative and innovative educators with the ability to “think differently about what school could look like for kids.”

From high school dropout to college graduate: Goodwill gave second chance to excel


I was on a road to nowhere – a high school dropout and single mom, like the two generations before me. Trapped in an abusive relationship. 

To protect my son and myself, we fled with nothing but the clothes on our backs. I worked a series of dead-end jobs, and we even found ourselves homeless for a time.  

Gloria Combs
Gloria Combs

I was desperate by every measure – most of all for a second chance. 

That’s when I found myself one day at an orientation session for something called a Goodwill Excel Center, a tuition-free high school for adults like me. An Excel Center had recently opened near me, in Indianapolis. 

I’ll admit I was apprehensive. I was now 26 and raising a child alone. Could I finally finish high school? I started to walk out of the room, hoping to slip by unnoticed. That’s when an Excel Center employee stopped me with a simple question: Was I ready to change my life? 

The answer was yes. 

Finding new purpose and motivation, I earned my diploma in just seven months and finished with a 4.06 GPA and an industry-recognized Pharmacy Technician Certification. I went on to earn a two-year degree from Ivy Tech in 2017, becoming the first in my family to graduate college. For the past six years, I’ve worked as an Excel Center life coach, and am now enrolled at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis’ School of Social Work. I’ll earn my master’s this spring. 

Simply put, the Goodwill Excel Center has changed the entire trajectory of my life and my child’s future.  

There are an estimated 720,000 Arizonans who never earned a high school diploma or equivalent. Like I was, they’re often limited to a host of low-wage, limited-opportunity jobs. We can change this. 

Goodwill proposes to open as many as 22 Excel Center locations in Arizona over the coming decade. A modest state investment would pay massive benefits for the economy and, most of all, the individual students and their families. It is estimated that nearly four in 10 Excel Center students would not only earn their diploma, but also go on to complete a two- or four-year college education (as I did). Meanwhile, research shows a $12,000 average wage increase annually among Excel Center graduates who go directly into the workforce.  

The Excel Center provides students with free child care, flexible scheduling and an accelerated coursework. Most of all, they offer a second chance.  

My Excel Center was more than just a place to get my diploma. It was a safe haven – a support system of people who cared for me and believed in me more than I’d ever cared for or believed in myself.  

A decade ago, I was a high school dropout. Today, I’m a college graduate with a career I love and a bright future. I want Arizonans facing similar circumstances to have the opportunity I got via the Excel Center. 

That’s why I’m urging Arizona legislators to keep my story in mind as they consider bringing the Excel Center to your state. 

Everyone who wants a high school diploma deserves a second chance to earn one – and I’m living proof it’s never too late! 

Gloria Combs is a graduate of The Excel Center. She lives in Franklin, Indiana. 



Garcia makes ‘dramatic tilt’ left in run for governor

In this April 12, 2017, file photo, Democrat David Garcia announces his run for Arizona governor at the state Capitol in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Bob Christie, File)
In this April 12, 2017, file photo, Democrat David Garcia announces his run for Arizona governor at the state Capitol in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Bob Christie, File)

You can’t eat David Garcia.

The curious saying stems from when the Democratic gubernatorial candidate served as an infantryman in the U.S. Army.

Garcia and his Army cohorts were told by a commanding officer that their military handbook included the phrase, “you cannot eat another soldier.”

Your fellow soldiers could get you killed, leave you in a foreign land or get you blown up, but they couldn’t cannibalize you, Garcia said at a June 7 fundraiser.

Garcia, who ran for state superintendent of public instruction in 2014 and lost by about 16,000 votes, is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor this cycle.


Well, because you can’t eat him – you can’t destroy him, you can’t get rid of him.

Garcia’s gubernatorial campaign shares some similarities to his previous campaign mostly because he is just as vocal about the fight for public education as he was four years ago.

But in his gubernatorial bid, Garcia is running to the left of where he was four years ago when, as the more mainstream candidate in the general election, he garnered some Republican support and a surprising endorsement from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Now, Garcia is occasionally compared to former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders — who lost to Hillary Clinton by double digits in Arizona — as he promises free college tuition, shuns big money and backs a ballot initiative that would boost taxes on Arizona’s top earners.

Garcia, who is in a three-way Democratic primary battle, claims he is the same candidate he’s always been: A strong supporter of public education, but this year, he’s running in a totally revamped political environment and he’s letting his progressive flag fly.

A professor at Arizona State University, Garcia was born and raised in Mesa. An Army veteran with his master’s and a doctorate degree in education policy, Garcia jumped into the governor’s race just after Gov. Doug Ducey signed a law expanding vouchers last year. Garcia has never held elected office before, but he has worked on the policy side of government, having served at the Arizona Department of Education and with the state Senate Education Committee.

Democratic candidate for governor David Garcia speaks with a voter June 10 as he canvassed a west Phoenix neighborhood. (Photo by Carmen Forman/Arizona Capitol Times)
Democratic candidate for governor David Garcia speaks with a voter June 10 as he canvassed a west Phoenix neighborhood. (Photo by Carmen Forman/Arizona Capitol Times)

Education governor

Much of Garcia’s previous campaign experience translates to his gubernatorial campaign because education is the top statewide issue this year.

Education funding makes up nearly half the state budget, and education translates to other issues like economic development, prison reform and mental health, he said.

“Arizona’s biggest stumbling block is education,” Garcia said. “We do not invest in our people. We do not invest in our schools.”

This coming from the candidate who rented a school bus as his primary mode of campaign transportation. The bus, which has been wrapped in purplish campaign signs, has been retrofitted with solar panels to help power the work stations and appliances located inside.

But on top of fighting for K-12 education, Garcia has promised free college tuition — an idea made popular by Sanders’ presidential bid — if he’s elected governor.

Garcia has also been extremely vocal in speaking out against dark money and contributions from special interest groups. In his bid for schools superintendent, Garcia was aided by hundreds of thousands of dollars in independent expenditures spent in favor of his campaign and against his opponent, a large chunk of which came from an education nonprofit partly funded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

He said his campaign did not solicit the outside funding, and had no idea it was coming. Ultimately, Garcia said he had no control over outside groups supporting his campaign.

“As a campaign, you want as much control over what you do as possible, and dark money is not in your control,” he said.

In his gubernatorial bid, Garcia has sworn off lobbyist and corporate PAC money in favor of a small-dollar fundraising strategy that has become increasingly popular among progressive candidates. Garcia has more campaign donors than his opponents, but he has trailed both Ducey and his main primary opponent state Sen. Steve Farley in fundraising.

Sanders revolutionized the small-dollar donation strategy in his presidential bid, creating a model for other candidates to follow, Garcia said.

“There was no meaningful small-dollar path until Bernie Sanders came along,” Garcia said.

A tale of two campaigns

Garcia proponents and opponents attribute his shift to the left as a necessity of running in a competitive primary and a factor of him running for a more partisan statewide office.

Julie Erfle
Julie Erfle

The governor’s race is far more political than the superintendent position, said Garcia’s former campaign spokeswoman Julie Erfle. She helped on Garcia’s campaign for superintendent.

In 2014, Garcia largely talked about education, which isn’t generally thought to be a partisan issue, she said. That race was about presenting a vision for the best education policy going forward, she said.

But far more contentious issues crop up in the governor’s race because there are other areas of policy the governor has to address, Erfle said.

“I think he definitely is coming off as a much more progressive candidate this go-round,” she said. “Though, again, I think that has more to do with the race, and the nature of what’s happening right now in the state.

It’s a different race and a different time, Erfle said.

The political world has been turned on its head in the past four years.

“The world has shifted,” Garcia said. “You’re asking a comparison between 2014 and 2018, but you’ve got to remember 2016 turned everything on its head in lots of ways. There are folks that are out there that are active, that are involved in ways in ‘18 that were not there in ‘14.”

Garcia and his staffer rattled off a list of grassroots movements that have galvanized Democratic support in recent years, including Red for Ed, Black Lives Matter, March for our Lives and annual women’s marches.

Progressive and minority candidates are also making waves, and winning across the country as the backlash against President Donald Trump steamrolls through the 2018 midterm election cycle.

But the political environment has also gotten significantly more polarized in the recent past.

Unfriendly Republican

As Garcia went door to door in a west Phoenix neighborhood — where nearly everyone answered the door in Spanish — on a recent Sunday, the candidate encountered a Republican voter who wasn’t interested in his pitch.

Garcia approached the burly man, who was working on a truck parked in the driveway of a modest, one-story home. Upon hearing Garcia is Democrat, the man exasperatedly waved the candidate and his posse away.

But the encounter didn’t end there.

The man hopped in the truck and circled the block, following Garcia and his staffers as they hit other, nearby homes. At one point, he rolled down a window to chastise Garcia for not knowing better than to solicit a home occupied by strong Republican voters. Later, he appeared to take down the license plate number of a Garcia staffer’s vehicle — the car the group piled into to get to the neighborhood.

And while Republicans typically aren’t as unfriendly, they won’t be keen on supporting Garcia this time around either.

For starters, Garcia is unlikely to get that coveted Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry endorsement this year.

The chamber is a big Ducey supporter, and while the incumbent governor clinching the endorsement is not a done deal, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion.

So, why did the chamber endorse Garcia for superintendent in 2014 — the first time the group supported a statewide Democratic candidate in nearly a decade.

Garrick Taylor
Garrick Taylor

In 2014, Garcia fashioned himself as a commonsense, reform-minded Democrat who was willing to listen to education ideas that were outside of the liberal viewpoint, said chamber spokesman Garrick Taylor. The chamber also liked that Garcia was a proponent of school choice and a supporter of Common Core, which his Republican opponent Diane Douglas vowed to rip apart.

But the Garcia of 2014 is not the one chamber members are seeing on the 2018 campaign trail, Taylor said.

“The David Garcia of 2018 does not appear to have made a slight tilt leftward, but a dramatic tilt to the left — more in line with the Bernie Sanders wing of the party,” Taylor said.

One issue that has really drawn the chamber’s ire this cycle is the Invest in Education Act — a proposed ballot measure to boost income taxes on wealthy Arizonans — a move that the chamber argues could hurt Arizona businesses. Garcia proudly supports the initiative.

But Garcia says his campaign message hasn’t changed. He still supports school choice and Common Core and he’s still railing against standardized tests.

“I ran in 2014 as a strong public education supporter. I’m running in 2018 as a strong public education supporter,” he said. “I’m running again on the idea that we need to get rid of standardized testing, and invest in public education.”

Farley, the state senator from Tucson, recently criticized Garcia for working with Arizona Republicans on education policy. He was specifically referring to former Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan, who as a lawmaker in 1994 sponsored legislation to create charter schools in Arizona. Garcia worked at the Department of Education and then, as an associate superintendent of public instruction under Keegan.

Part of why Garcia was able to pick up some Republican support and the chamber’s endorsement in 2014 was because the business community was worried about Douglas and her positions on education, said former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jaime Molera. But Molera, a Republican and a Ducey supporter, also pointed to the Invest in Education Act as an example that Garcia is endorsing more progressive policies this go-round.

Molera attributed Garcia’s shift to the left to the contested Democratic gubernatorial primary in which Garcia faces Farley and Kelly Fryer, CEO of the YWCA Southern Arizona.

Garcia is speaking almost exclusively to members of his party right now, he said. He’s trying to nail down support from progressives, the unions, and environmentalists — that’s why he’s tacking to the left, Molera said.

Molera endorsed Garcia’s 2014 bid for superintendent. Garcia would still make an excellent candidate for superintendent, but he’s not the best candidate for governor, he said.

Ducey’s political adviser J.P. Twist labeled Garcia as too “extreme” for Arizona.

“David Garcia very easily is the most extreme candidate of either party to seek the governorship in modern Arizona history,” he said. “As voters learn about the candidates, they are seeing the real Garcia, a big-spending liberal who would bankrupt the state many times over.”

Garcia has jumped headfirst into his campaign, but he’s also already imagining what it would be like to be governor of Arizona.

“When we win this, and we’re there in the Governor’s Office and you’re wondering what Garcia is going to do. … Know one thing, folks. They can’t eat me,” he said.

Geraldine ‘Gerae’ Peten: Newest lawmaker seeks to end ‘school-to-prison pipeline’

Cap Times Q&A

At a time when her party is fighting battles around school choice and public school funding, Rep. Geraldine “Gerae” Peten, D-Goodyear, the newest addition to the state House, may be just the ally Democrats needed.

Peten, appointed to replace former Rep. Jesus Rubalcava who resigned, holds a doctorate in education from Northern Arizona University, plus two master’s degrees in other areas. And she has a history in administrative roles. Those experiences have run the gamut of institutions, including as principal of Pinon Elementary School on the Navajo Nation and principal of Pinnacle Education, Inc., a charter school in Tempe, and they’ve shaped her perspective on a state she worries may be going back in time in more ways than one. Peten has worked as an education consultant for a firm based in Goodyear since 2003.

Rep. Geraldine Peten, D-Goodyear (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Rep. Geraldine Peten, D-Goodyear (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Obviously, education is a priority for you heading into the Legislature.

This state seems to fund charter schools more liberally than they do public schools. I feel that the funding is totally inadequate. We need to invest in education from kindergarten all the way through post-secondary. Just getting through high school isn’t enough. They also need either vocational, technical or college training, so they can get marketable jobs that will sustain a high quality of life and not be stuffed in that school-to-prison pipeline. That’s what I think happens. A personal example: When we moved here, my eldest son was in 11th grade, and he had six African-American friends who were in school with him at that time. He was the only one who graduated. The disproportionate number of African American boys and Hispanic boys who are suspended, expelled, whatever – all kinds of deterrents knock them out of school and into the prisons. It’s tragic.

Why do you think that is?

It’s called racism. People don’t like to say it, but it’s racism. Racial profiling – I don’t know how many times you’re stopped by the police a year. My son is stopped over 20 times just because he’s driving while black. It’s racism. We just need to admit it. You can’t work on a problem if you don’t admit that you have it.

How do you fight back in that case?

As you can see from my resume, my thing is to be well prepared, to be over-prepared in order to even get my foot in the door. That has worked for the most part. You just have to do the best you can with what you have and just go forward. When I first moved here as a single mom with two boys, practically every job I got I could’ve filed an EOC complaint. But when you are the head of your household and you have children, you have to choose your battles. Do you go to court and fight it, or do you find another job so you can support your children?

You have to survive. Honestly, when the civil rights law was passed in 1964, I was very gullible and naive and optimistic, I suppose. I thought that would pave the way, and everything would be fair and equitable. But it wasn’t. I think it lulled a lot of us into some sort of state of complacency.

Did what happened in Charlottesville surprise you?

No…  I almost feel like we’ve gone back 40 years. I felt at one point that we had made tremendous gains. We were talking about equity and diversity and honoring diversity. Now, that’s been pushed to the side.

What did you think of our president’s response?

I think he has a better speechwriter now… It wasn’t his authentic thoughts or beliefs. He shadowed what’s already been said. He’s not a peacemaker. His rhetoric usually incites anger. Like when he said there were good people on both sides. You’re telling me that white supremacy – there’s good in that?

When my youngest son started kindergarten, he had made a new friend. Six weeks into the year, he comes home distraught. He hated the school. He was never going back, and he was crying. I asked him what happened, and he said his newest best friend had told him that day, “I can’t play with you anymore because you’re a n*****.” His friend’s mom had come to pick him up and saw that their son’s best friend was an African-American kid. If you can imagine, those parents took that kid home that evening and taught him how to be racist. It just needs to stop. If you’re so embroiled in so much hatred, how can you make positive gains in your life?

What do you think should be done with Confederate monuments?

Those monuments were put up during the time of Jim Crow. They wanted to intimidate and keep African-Americans in their place with the threat of white supremacy. Why would you display hatred? They were fighting for slavery, so unless you are supporting the values of slavery and what it stood for, why should they be on public display? They should be in a museum, but they don’t need to be on public display.

So has the governor’s response not been satisfactory?

He hasn’t come right out and ordered them down, has he? Then, no. That’s what he needs to say. He’s toeing the line. That doesn’t help the climate in this country. It adds more fuel to the fire.

Your party is numerically on the losing side, except in rare instances involving a swing vote from across the aisle. Does that impact your outlook for what you can accomplish?

I hope we can work across the aisle and in a bipartisan manner. Some things are just humane or morally correct. We should all want children to have the best education possible. We should all want them to have a high-quality teacher, and we’re willing to pay them. It’s almost like we’re going back to apartheid schools. We’re becoming more segregated than we were, and that’s just not good for kids. It would be nice if we could get rid of the label. We’re all people, and we’re all here to improve the quality of life of all citizens. Most kids don’t think of themselves as political. Why should we have these political issues impact their lives?

Give voters say on 1-cent tax to fund public schools


Arizona’s public schools need help. Even as we agree with the truthfulness of that statement, a solution isn’t obvious. But, we as leaders within rural Arizona’s political and education communities want to help our colleagues focus on the heart of the problem the way we do. Then we can work toward meaningful solutions.

In 2017, Senator Sylvia Allen wrote a much-referenced opinion piece stating additional education funding was only going to happen when voter support for public schools made it possible. Her proposal to take a simply elegant proposal to the voters in 2020 to establish a permanent 1-cent education sales tax, offers just what is needed. Her proposal also simplifies the program to ensure what’s raised to support our schools supports student learning.

When we ask voters to support funding to strengthen public schools – an issue polls show Arizonans care deeply about – we must ensure nobody is hitching their budget to that sentiment. Other proposals in years past and even today try to peel away funds to support additional government programs the Legislature didn’t fund in the regular budget. We have to focus on helping students.

The Arizona Rural Schools Association has consistently worked with leadership in business and government to support additional revenue for schools. The day after Senator Allen published her proposal, a letter to Senate President Karen Fann from ARSA asked her to support Allen. Their letter stated: “The proposal offered by Senator Sylvia Allen meets [the needs of rural schools] squarely, honestly and without ambiguity. Additional funding for public schools to be used to support the education of Arizona’s children based on locally determined priorities addresses the greatest need of our schools.”

Focused funds guided by locally elected school boards to serve the needs of students will make the difference for Arizona’s future.

Education leaders are stewards over children, but elected officials have to carefully manage investments in our future. Arizona spends a bigger piece of the pie on education than any other state, but we work hard to ensure that we keep the pie small. Limiting government is at the heart of our effort to ensure future prosperity. Ensuring a quality education is also essential. Folks who only care about education spending pretend that raising taxes doesn’t affect the economy. A 1-cent education sales tax will not wreck our economy, but a 150 percent increase in taxes on those we rely on for investment in economic growth would do damage. This proposal does not disproportionately tax anybody. Taking smart (but small) steps forward is our best strategy for ensuring we are meeting the needs of our rural schools without jeopardizing our future.

We wholeheartedly encourage other leaders from across the state in both government and education to support judicious, simple, transparent funding for public education by giving the voters of Arizona the opportunity to answer the question, “Are we or are we not in favor of a 1-cent education sales tax to fund better public schools in Arizona?”

John Warren, superintendent, Topock Elementary School District; Melissa Sadorf, superintendent, Stanfield Elementary School District;  Robert Devere, superintendent, Tombstone Unified School District; Sean E. Rickert, superintendent, Pima Unified School District; Christopher Knutsen, superintendent, Florence Unified School District;  Mike Wright, superintendent, Blue Ridge Unified School District; and Hollis Merrell, superintendent,  Snowflake Unified School District.


Goldwater Institute leader stepping down after 16 years


The Goldwater Institute is losing its top staffer.

CEO Darcy Olsen spent 16 years leading the conservative think tank, but is leaving the organization effective today, according to spokeswoman Starlee Coleman.

Olsen cited family needs for leaving the Goldwater Institute — she is a foster mother who has adopted three infants who have  stayed in her home.

“I’m looking forward to charting a new course that gives me more time with my family and involves greater advocacy for children,” Olsen said in a statement. “My first love has always been to vindicate the rights of children and the innocent, and I look forward to concentrating on this work.”

Before joining Goldwater, she was the education policy director at the Washington D.C.-based Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank.

Olsen made the decision in 2007 to create the Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation, which transformed the Goldwater Institute from an intellectual heavyweight to a legal powerhouse.

It has since won major cases that will change the political landscape both locally and nationally, including the CityNorth case in which the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that government subsidies for private development violate the Constitution, unless the developer offers benefits of equal value in return.

Olsen spearheaded the Goldwater Institute’s efforts in passing “Right to Try” laws, which allow drug makers and people who are terminally ill to bypass the federal government and use unproven drugs. Laws to that effect have been adopted in 37 state.

Olsen literally wrote the book on the Goldwater-pushed movement: “The Right to Try: How the Federal Government Prevents Americans from Getting the Lifesaving Treatments They Need.”

The Goldwater Institute did not say why Olsen is leaving, whether her departure was voluntary, or whether she has a new position elsewhere. Coleman declined to comment on the reason for Olsen’s departure.

Norman McClelland, a founding member of the Goldwater Institute, praised Olsen’s leadership. Sixteen years ago, the institute boasted just a few dozen members and a budget of roughly $1 million. Now Goldwater boasts thousands of members and revenues of more than $7 million.

“Darcy has been a formidable CEO who established the Goldwater Institute brand through vision and grit,” McClelland said in a statement. “Her leadership has shaped the Institute into the powerhouse it is today.”

Olsen is the second high-profile departure from the Goldwater Institute in as many years. Clint Bolick, formerly the institute’s lead attorney, was appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court in 2016.

Victor Riches, a former deputy chief of staff to Gov. Doug Ducey and the president of the Goldwater Institute since 2016, will assume the duties of CEO.

GOP lawmaker: Not ‘enough white kids to go around’ in Arizona schools

Rep. David Stringer (Capitol Media Services 2017 file photo by Howard Fischer)
Rep. David Stringer (Capitol Media Services 2017 file photo by Howard Fischer)

A Republican lawmaker said his comment that “there aren’t enough white kids to go around” in Arizona’s minority-laden public schools was an attempt at an honest discussion on race.

Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, said today he wants people to hear his full speech rather than the 51-second snippet making the rounds on social media, so he plans to re-post the entire 17-minute video in which he also says immigration is “politically destabilizing” and “presents an existential threat”

He said while his comments were well received by people at the June 11 meeting of the Yavapai Republican Men’s Forum’s, the video recording of his speech was later taken down after he received heat from teachers who felt that his remarks were racist.

Tempe City Councilman David Schapira, a Democrat running for Superintendent of Public Instruction, posted the 51-second excerpt with Stringer’s remarks on immigration on Twitter.

“Sixty percent of public school children in the state of Arizona today are minorities. That complicates racial integration because there aren’t enough white kids to go around,” Stringer said on the video.

Stringer’s GOP seatmates Rep. Noel Campbell and Sen. Karen Fann also spoke at the event.

“If we don’t do something about immigration very, very soon, the demographics of our country will be irrevocably changed and we will be a very different country and we will not be the country you were born into,” Stringer said.

Stringer told the Arizona Capitol Times that the lawmakers, who represent Legislative District 1, were invited to speak at the group’s legislative wrap-up event. He said he spoke about criminal justice, education and touched on his accomplishments during the 2018 session, but wanted to end on immigration, an important topic he said needs to be broached regardless of how difficult the conversation may be.

The freshman lawmaker said his campaign manager live streamed his comments and the video was posted to his campaign Facebook page, which he said he doesn’t manage.  

Stringer said his intent wasn’t to make a racially charged statement and while he apologized to anyone he offended with his comments, he said pointing out that 60 percent of students in Arizona’s public school are children of color is “not a racist comment, it’s a statement of fact.”

“I maybe touched a third rail of politics but what I said is accurate,” he said. “Anybody that talks about this in this way is shut down and called a racist. I’m speaking the truth. Diversity may be a great thing, there might be a lot of advantages, I’m not arguing against diversity at all, but no country can be demographically transformed without any political or social consequences.”

He said the country’s high level of immigration over a short period of time has “gotten out of hand.” He said so many people have immigrated to the United States in the last few decades that there hasn’t been enough time for people to assimilate, which can be costly, has led to unrest, and has led to changes in the country’s cultural and social identity.

“This is unprecedented in world history. We kind of take it for granted because we see it all around us. But it is unprecedented for one society to demographically change in such a short amount of time,” he said.

ProgressNow Arizona, a Democratic advocacy group, denounced Stringer’s comments. The organization’s co-director, Josselyn Berry, said his comments embody Republicans’ “true colors,” and she described the Republican party as the party of “radicalism, xenophobia, and frankly, racism.”

“Stringer’s racist and paranoid comments that we must protect the white race or America will be taken over are dangerous, fear mongering and hateful,” Berry said in a statement. “That he thinks it’s acceptable to attack children in our schools is despicable and he should be ashamed. It should go without saying that all children deserve an education, regardless of their skin color.”

Still, Stringer said while his comments may have made some uncomfortable, it’s a conversation that needs to be had.

“Race is a difficult issue we have not yet resolved in this country and we should be able to have an honest conversation without being called out as a racist,” he said.

GOP lawmakers give business owners escape from school surcharge

Rep. Andrés Cano, D-Tucson, right, speaks with Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, during a vote on the Arizona budget Thursday, June 24, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Rep. Andrés Cano, D-Tucson, right, speaks with Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, during a vote on the Arizona budget Thursday, June 24, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Republican state representatives voted Friday to allow the owners of small businesses — and anyone who organizes their finances for tax purposes as one — to escape paying the voter-approved income tax surcharge on the wealthy to fund education.

And that would cut hundreds of millions of dollars from what is supposed to go to schools.

SB 1783, approved on a 31-25 party-line vote, creates an entirely new alternate tax category for small business, generally those now organized in a way so their income passes through to their owners. That means the owners now compute what they owe the state on their personal income tax forms, after deducting all business expenses.

Proposition 208, approved by voters by a 51.7% margin in November, imposes a 3.5% surcharge on adjusted personal income of amounts above $250,00 for individuals and $500,00 for married couples filing jointly. Under current law, that means the net earnings of the business retained by the owner.

But here’s the thing: That surcharge applies only to tax categories that existed last year when Proposition 208 was approved. And since this new “small business” classification did not exist last year, the surcharge would not apply at all to anyone opting to use that new category.

The tax relief in SB 1783 goes far beyond what the Republican-controlled legislature already did when they voted earlier this week to cap all income taxes at 4.5%.

In that case, unable to overturn what voters approved, lawmakers created a workaround: The wealthiest would still have to pay the 3.5% surcharge. But, with the 4.5% cap, they would have an effective tax rate of just 1% on their earnings.

But the voter approval of Proposition 208 also means that lawmakers have to make up the difference of what the high-income earners would otherwise have paid. So that guarantees the education programs funded by Proposition 208 would get all the money promised.

SB 1783 changes all that.

“This would create a loophole for the wealthiest in Arizona to file as a small business so they can avoid paying the 3.5% surcharge that Arizonans said they want to support education,” said House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen.

And there are fiscal implications: Legislative budget analysts figured that anyone who now is subject to the Proposition 208 surcharge and is eligible to use the small business classification will do so if it lowers their taxes. And they concluded that, out of the estimated $836 million Proposition 208 was expected to raise for education, SB 1783 would slash that by about $292 million.

Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, said the exemption is justified. She pointed out that campaign materials for the initiative said it would not affect small businesses.

And Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, said that means the proponents either were confused “or they willfully lied.”

But Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said that the campaign statement is true and that Proposition 208 is not a tax on business.

She pointed out that what’s subject to the tax is not the gross proceeds of any business. It’s what’s left to the owners after they pay all expenses

That list that can include everything from employee salaries and equipment purchases to other deductions. And it also encompasses what remains after any other deductions, like money a business owner puts into a 401(k) retirement account.

What that leaves — and what’s subject to the Proposition 208 surcharge — Epstein said, is the net income the owner pockets, and only above $500,000 for a married couple.

But Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, said that ignores how businesses operate.

He said they retain net earnings to help them weather the ups and downs of businesses. And it is those net earnings, Kaiser said, that are subject to the tax.

The measure needs final approval by the Senate before going to Gov. Doug Ducey. He is likely to sign it because he opposed Proposition 208.

That could lead to litigation.

The Voter Protection Act, a provision of the Arizona Constitution, bars lawmakers from repealing or making changes in anything approved at the ballot. The only exception is for amendments that “further the purposes” of the original law, and then only with a three-fourths vote.

Rep. Domingo DeGrazia, D-Tucson, said he believes what’s in SB 1783 runs afoul of the provision even though it doesn’t actually repeal the levy.

“The legislature cannot do indirectly what it cannot do directly,” he said.

And attorney Roopali Desai, who represents the Invest in Ed Committee that put the initiative on the ballot, has said the key is whether courts believe the change would “undermine the ultimate will of the voters.”

Half of whatever ends up being raised from Proposition 208 is earmarked for schools to hire teachers and classroom support personnel, a category that also includes librarians, nurses, counselors and coaches. Those dollars also could be used for raises.

Another 25% would be for support services personnel. That covers classroom aides, service personnel, food service and transportation.

There’s 12% for grants for career and technical education programs and 10% for mentoring and retaining new teachers in the classroom. The last 3% is for the Arizona Teachers Academy which provides tuition grants for people pursuing careers in education.

GOP lawmakers support governor’s teacher pay raise

Legislative Republicans support Gov. Doug Ducey’s plan to give teachers a raise this fall, and further raises for the following two years. But they won’t so easily relinquish their own budget priorities to finance the governor’s proposal.

Ducey’s budget staff scoured the state to scrape together $426 million in available dollars, relying primarily on rosy revenue projections. To fully fund Ducey’s plan for a 20 percent teacher pay bump over the next three years, the governor is also asking legislative Republicans to give up on $48 million in new spending.

At the same time, the governor also wants $74 million to fund his own legislative priorities, on top of the $240 million needed to give teachers a 9-percent raise this fall.

Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake)
Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake)

That doesn’t sit well with some Republicans, who noticed that the governor keeps more than he is asking legislators to relinquish. Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, said senators are angling for a greater share of the $74 million Ducey saved for himself.

The good news for Ducey is that lawmakers like Allen are also fully behind his proposed teacher pay raise.

Allen, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said she was initially wary of “how strong [Ducey] came out on how fast we’re doing the raise… But since he’s made the proposal, we’re going to do whatever we can to design the budget to follow through with that proposal.”

Senate President Steve Yarbrough briefed Senate Republicans on the details of Ducey’s plan.

“There was a little bit of angst, to be fair,” Yarbrough said.

But the Chandler Republican said his caucus is “highly supportive and relentless” in its push for greater teacher pay, now the top budget priority.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler)
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler)

His only concern, one shared by House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, is if there’s enough dollars in the state budget to pay for it.

Mesnard said while most, if not all, House Republicans support the teacher pay increase, questions remain about how best to fund it. The Governor’s Office has its own funding ideas, but representatives may explore other funding mechanisms, he said. Mesnard did not expand on what other funding ideas his chamber is considering.

“If we have the revenue, my caucus will be supportive of 20 percent by 2020, which I think we can do relatively easily,” he said.

Both Yarbrough and Mesnard said everything in the budget is now up for negotiation again, given that Ducey essentially introduced a new budget “in the form of a priority,” Mesnard said.

“This is a new and big element in the middle of April. That presents its own challenge,” the speaker said. “As we refocus the budget, all revenue options are back on the table.”

Governor gets nearly all he wanted in 2017 legislative session

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

The governor accomplished nearly all of his legislative goals this session, from various steps related to education to a measure that restores benefits to some needy families.

Most of Gov. Doug Ducey’s priorities made it into the state’s fiscal year 2018 budget.

He wanted a 0.4 percent teacher pay raise for the next five years, which was modified into a 2 percent raise over two years. He wanted a $38 million results-based funding program that rewarded schools with high test scores. He asked for money for an all-day kindergarten program for low-income schools. And he wanted state dollars to match a federal fund to bring broadband to rural schools.

Only one education measure was left unfunded in the FY2018 budget: a $1,000 bonus for teachers who work at low-income schools. That money instead went toward teacher raises.

The biggest, and really only, hurdle he met with the Arizona Legislature this year, a university bonding plan, saw the most changes before it was palatable to conservatives.

Ducey proposed a bonding plan that would allow universities to keep the sales taxes they ordinarily would have paid to the state, then put that money toward a 30-year, $1 billion bond to construct new buildings and maintain old ones.

The approved version of the bonding plan instead uses $27 million annually, adjusted for inflation, appropriated by the Legislature annually for 25 years.

The tax cut he proposed, which would have indexed the personal income tax exemption to inflation, was increased by the Legislature.

Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey’s spokesman, said the session included a “record investment” in higher education and several new programs for K-12, while maintaining a balanced budget.

“The governor really wanted to zero in this session and this budget on education, not only K-12 but also higher education. So he feels like, from that standpoint, this was a real success,” Scarpinato said.

Several of the bills he pushed made it through the Legislature as the session was winding down.

HB2372 restores Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to 24 months, waives professional license fees for people in poverty and adds various strings to assistance programs.

The policy was the last bill the Arizona Senate voted on before ending the legislative session and leaving the Capitol.

HB2369, which gets rid of several state boards and commissions, was approved by the Senate on May 9, with the House concurring on May 10. A central part of the initial bill, a repeal of the State Parks Board, was stripped off the bill in the House after the Parks Department’s director, Sue Black, ran into trouble for mistreating employees earlier this year.

Scarpinato said the Governor’s Office will always be looking for ways to reform boards and commissions. As for whether Ducey would try to get rid of the Parks Board again, as he has tried to for the past two sessions, Scarpinato said the governor will be reviewing his agenda over the next six months to prepare for the 2018 session.

Another Ducey-led effort, a bill making civil suits against people who break into cars to rescue children or pets illegal, HB2494, was given final approval on May 10.

Other Ducey priorities made it through the Legislature quicker.

HB2268, which sets up requirements for rape kits going forward so as to avoid the current backlog of untested kits, was signed in March.

HB2205, which eliminates the Advisory Health Council and the Arizona Biomedical Research Commission and repeals a statute on the Prostate Cancer Task Force, was signed in April.

Governor’s school funding plan would restore capital dollars to pre-recession levels

Gov. Doug Ducey, flanked by education officials and legislative leaders, announces his plan to put $100 million into additional assistance for districts in the 2019 budget. (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey, flanked by education officials and legislative leaders, announces his plan to put $100 million into additional assistance for districts in the 2019 budget. (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)

Gov. Doug Ducey trotted out a plan Tuesday to eventually restore funding for capital needs for schools to what it was before the Great Recession.

The proposal would put an immediate $100 million this coming school year into an account that is earmarked for “soft capital,” things like computers, books and school buses.

Ducey hopes to boost that to $371 million by the fifth year of the plan. He also wants to give school districts flexibility, allowing local boards to use the dollars for other priorities, ranging from construction to teacher salaries.

The offer comes nearly a year after a coalition of schools and educators filed suit against the state charging it is not living up to its constitutional obligations to provide adequate funding for school buildings, equipment and repairs. It also comes just three days before Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Daniel Martin hears legal arguments in that case.

The governor said he believes the plan, if implemented by the Legislature, will go a long way to resolving the case without further court action.

But that remains to be seen.

Chris Kotterman, lobbyist for the Arizona School Boards Association, one of the plaintiffs in that litigation, said his group is in “active conversations” with the governor. He said, though, that Ducey’s offer won’t make the state’s legal problems go away.

“At this point, the case is moving forward,” Kotterman said.

Jill Barragan, executive director of business for the Avondale Elementary School District, one of the individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said there are things in Ducey’s plan worth considering.

Aside from the restoration of “soft capital” funding, she noted the governor’s plan also includes $51.8 million for school repairs and proposes to borrow another $88 million to build five new schools, the location of which was not specified.

“At some point, we have to determine are we going to go the litigation route, which who knows how long that could take, or are we going to try to address things legislatively and through the governor,” she said.

The lawsuit, however, is only one part of the K-12 funding issue.

Various educational and business interests are pushing for far more than what Ducey is offering. They cite figures that show current financing for schools is now $1.1 billion below where it would have been had lawmakers not slashed funding during the recession.

Dawn Penich-Thacker, spokeswoman for Save Our Schools Arizona, said the governor’s proposal amounts to just 10 cents on the dollar, or only about $100 per student. And she chided Ducey for saying he is providing “new” money for schools.

“It is simply paying back a portion of what was taken out of the budget a decade ago,” Penich-Thacker said. “Paying someone back is not leadership.”

And Beth Simek, president of the Arizona PTA, said there may be less to Ducey’s proposal than advertised.

She noted the governor’s plan is built on there being enough money from existing tax revenues, something Simek said is far from a certainty. In fact, it was that reliance on general tax collections that resulted in the sharp cuts a decade ago during the recession.

“So without a dedicated revenue source, how is that going to help us to sort out the problem with underfunded and overcrowded classrooms?” she asked.

Ducey conceded he is relying solely on “available resources” and will not consider new taxes, rescinding previously approved corporate tax cuts eliminating tax credits. He also brushed aside figures prepared by legislative budget analysts which show that, on an inflation-adjusted basis, the state is putting fewer dollars per student into K-12 education now than it did a decade ago.

“This is a way to play with the numbers,” he said.

Ducey said while the money in his plan is to restore the “soft capital” formula, he said his proposal offers schools flexibility in how the dollars can be used. The governor said that could help eliminate calls to come up with additional funds specifically earmarked to increase teacher pay.

State schools chief Diane Douglas disagreed.

Douglas, who spoke at Tuesday’s event, said it would be “wonderful” if Ducey’s plan were enacted and the money is restored. She said, though, that does not eliminate the need to increase the current 0.6-cent education sales tax to a full penny.

“We still need to look at our teacher salaries,” she said, which various sources put at or near the bottom of all states.

In unveiling her plan last year, Douglas figured $300 million of that would go to teacher pay, a figure she said would translate into a 10 percent across-the-board pay hike for teachers who this year got a 1 percent raise with state dollars. The other $100 million would start restoring capital funding for schools.

She said the benefit to what Ducey proposed is that if it becomes law, the entire $400 million in additional cash could be earmarked for teacher pay.

Other proposals being floated by business interests are even more aggressive, including one proposing to take the levy to 1.6 percent, raising an extra $1 billion a year.

Still, Douglas said there would be some merit to what the governor wants, if it actually puts an end to the litigation.

“An added benefit that can come from this, to me, is to get money into our schools and out of the pockets and purses of lawyers,” Douglas said.

Grand Canyon U. launches partnership to help needy

Heart in the Hand Icon - Red Button on Black Computer Keyboard.

I get excited about a lot of things that are happening at Grand Canyon University, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited as I am about the potential of our new partnership with CityServe.

CityServe is an amazing ministry that aligns perfectly with GCU’s mission and is having a significant impact on underserved people who are struggling. In just the past year, their collaborative network of faith-based partnerships has provided $420 million worth of household goods to families in need across the U.S., and we are thrilled to become the first university to serve as a distribution hub for CityServe.

Through a new 35,000-square-foot warehouse on campus, GCU will partner with CityServe to distribute thousands of household goods to families across Arizona. CityServe receives donations as well as surplus supplies from businesses such as Amazon, Costco, The Home Depot, Lowe’s and other large retailers. Items such as food, clothing, heaters, fans, blankets, mattresses, car seats, cribs, furniture – essential things that many of us take for granted – will be provided to families in need.

Those families will be identified by GCU’s network of partners such as schools, churches and social service organizations that will serve as points of distribution, or PODs, and connect the goods to those who need them most. We have already identified 40 PODs and expect to exceed 100 quickly once word gets out about this partnership. Our hope is that we quickly outgrow the 35,000-square-foot warehouse, which is a good problem to have because it means we are impacting more people.

We became involved with CityServe in December when the university began providing food boxes from Shamrock Farms to organizations in Phoenix through the Farmers to Families program. To date, more than 18,000 boxes of food have been distributed through GCU. That partnership will now be extended through the creation of the GCU hub and warehouse to distribute other types of goods to those needing assistance, which will be Phase 1 of the CityServe partnership.

Phase 2 is even more exciting.

Once we get to know some of the families we are helping, we want to go beyond providing food, clothing and household goods. Those things are extremely important because they provide much-needed relief and comfort, but we want to find ways to provide long-term assistance to those families and put them on a path toward prosperity.

To do that, all nine of our colleges are identifying ways they can create opportunities that incorporate project-oriented work with our students that becomes part of their curriculum. For example, our College of Nursing and Health Care Professions is exploring opportunities to host a health clinic to assist families. The College of Humanities and Social Sciences is looking at opportunities to provide behavioral health and addiction counseling – something it is already doing through a partnership at nearby Alhambra High School, where our senior-level counseling students provide psychological support services and mentoring to high school students. Our College of Education is already providing tutoring opportunities for K-12 students in our community. And our Colangelo College of Business is identifying ways to assist families with basics of money management and to help those who own small businesses by advising them in areas such as accounting, marketing, creating a business plan or accessing capital. The Business College already does this through its New Business Development Center, which has helped 300 family businesses, and our work with CityServe will expand that even further.

A college education is not just about acquiring knowledge and the intellectual capacity in your chosen field. It’s about using that knowledge to make a difference in the world. CityServe is one more great opportunity for our students to combine their knowledge and their passion to serve others in ways that will have a transformational impact on our community.

Brian Mueller is president of Grand Canyon University.

Grassroots teachers’ push sidelines union in pay dispute

 Arizona Educators United spokesman Noah Karvelis stands beside dozens of teachers and public education advocates protesting on April 10 as Gov. Doug Ducey gave his monthly KTAR interview. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Arizona Educators United spokesman Noah Karvelis stands beside dozens of teachers and public education advocates protesting on April 10 as Gov. Doug Ducey gave his monthly KTAR interview. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Arizona teachers are done, fed up, over it.

They are willing to take action for their demands – 20 percent raises, competitive pay, additional per pupil funding and no new tax cuts until it happens – and they don’t want to wait much longer.

At 40,000 strong, Arizona Educators United pushed aside the Arizona Education Association, the political group typically charged with imposing their will at the Legislature.

They’re showing the union and others how to organize.

Arizona Educators United and the Red for Ed movement invited public education employees and their supporters to vent their frustrations publicly on Facebook. Within 24 hours, thousands had joined the conversation and many asked the same question: Will Arizona be the next to strike?

At first, Tres Rios Elementary School music teacher Noah Karvelis only envisioned inspiring action in his own district – wearing red on a Wednesday in a show of solidarity. But the Facebook group he created did something no press conference or letter to the Legislature or impassioned call for change had managed to do before.

It harnessed the energy of teachers desperate for more, and its leaders have repeatedly warned that they will soon set a date to walk out of their classrooms and strike.

Their demands and the series of demonstrations at the Capitol with hundreds of teachers clad in red seemed to catch the attention of Gov. Doug Ducey and lawmakers, who offered plans to increase teacher salaries on April 12.

Karvelis (who doubles as campaign manager for Kathy Hoffman, a Democratic candidate for state superintendent of public instruction) said the roughly 40,000 members of the movement sweeping social media remain driven by their demands and a lack of faith in anyone but themselves to see that they’re met.

The Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest union representing about 20,000 public school employees, has taken a backseat, a supportive role, offering infrastructure and advice while Arizona Educators United leads the way forward.

“There are no political parties pulling the strings. There are no candidates pulling the strings or unions behind the scenes pushing agendas,” Karvelis said. “It’s just educators advocating on behalf of other educators and families and their students.”

And that’s where they found the “magic.”

“Something has changed here,” Karvelis said. “Some sort of dynamic has brought people back in to reengage.”

Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas at a press conference Wednesday. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas at a press conference Wednesday. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

AEA President Joe Thomas called it a reawakening of public education employees and advocates, who have realized that “if we’re going to fix this, we have to fix it ourselves.”

The movement is bigger than AEA, he said, and the union has stepped aside in recent weeks to give Arizona Educators United the space to lead the way.

“It helps the individual recognize that the story of your classroom is what’s going to move people to action,” Thomas said. “Your story is the authentic story of what all of those policies look like in action.”

When teachers understand that, he said, they’ll understand they can leverage change.

Arizona teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, Arizona elementary school teachers earned a median wage of $43,280 in 2017 and high school teachers $46,470, the third and sixth lowest in the nation, respectively. Adjusted for the local cost of living, federal figures show elementary teachers actually rank 49th in earnings and high school teachers 48th.

Most of the comments left on the group’s Facebook page have laid blame on Ducey and the Legislature’s perceived apathy toward teachers’ complaints.

But others have pointed to AEA and what some see as a history of ineffective actions.

Russ Cannizzaro, whose Facebook profile page indicated he is the education department chair at Tempe Union High School District, wrote, “The reason why we (are) near last in the nation for teachers’ salaries is because we are near last when it comes to doing anything about it.”

And Kasey Kerber summed up some of her peers’ fear that the window of opportunity is quickly shrinking: “Can we strike already? I feel like we’re a bunch of hamsters on a wheel.”

Thomas recalled a recent encounter with a man who said the union should be ashamed. The man told him the governor and the Legislature had been allowed to cut education funding on AEA’s watch.

But Thomas rejected that.

“They did that on all of our watch,” he said. “It wasn’t just AEA’s watch. It was every teacher in the state. You can’t just say one group or one entity let that happen. We all let that happen.”

But Karvelis said AEA taking a backseat in this moment has been part of the dynamic that seems to be working.

AEA members and non-members make up Arizona Educators United’s ranks. Democrats and Republicans. District and charter school employees.

Karvelis said they don’t align with a specific candidate or a specific stance, and that’s fine. That’s what makes it work.

That’s what it has taken to gain the trust of people all across the state.

“They saw that educators and teachers were standing up,” Karvelis said. “They felt safe in that place, and that’s been powerful for us.”

Jennifer Samuels marches with dozens of her peers, students and other supporters of the Arizona Educators United movement on April 10. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Jennifer Samuels marches with dozens of her peers, students and other supporters of the Arizona Educators United movement on April 10. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Jennifer Samuels, an eighth grade English teacher at Desert Shadows Middle School, marched outside of the KTAR 92.3 studio on April 10 while Ducey gave his monthly interview. Her sixth grade daughter joined her in matching red shirts, carrying signs as temperatures hit 100 degrees – the first triple-digit day of the year.

Samuels has been teaching in Arizona for six years. She said she works with about 90 kids every day, and she’s fighting for them. It’s her obligation, she said.

She doesn’t want to strike, but she said she will because “the short-term plan of leaving our class for a little while is so much better than” the alternative of sitting idle.

She’s a member of AEA and said the union has done all it could with what they have.

But she said it took Arizona Educators United to give teachers the courage to rise up.

“Every day, the people involved in Red for Ed are escalating our action,” she said. “Every day we get stronger. Every week we get stronger. As Noah Karvelis says, our backs are against the walls.”

If they’re going to strike, they have an ever-shrinking window of time to do it while it can still make a difference. The budget is already being negotiated, and the Legislature is nearing the 100th day of session.

But Karvelis said all options are still on the table, including a walk-out.

“We have to win no matter what,” he said, adding that if it does not get done this year, they’ll start next school year by taking action.

For now, Arizona Educators United leaders are waiting to see what Ducey will do.

“If they don’t respond to the citizens, if they don’t respond to the educators, they’re making a terrible mistake,” he said. “We’ve organized 40,000 people who need answers. To ignore that is to ignore your duty as an elected representative, especially a governor.”

Ducey’s office did not return requests for comment.

Group hopes to stop school voucher expansion before it takes effect

Dawn Penich-Thacker of Save Our Schools Arizona announces a campaign to repeal the recent expansion of the state's school voucher system on May 8, 2017, at the Arizona Capitol. (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)
Dawn Penich-Thacker of Save Our Schools Arizona announces a campaign to repeal the recent expansion of the state’s school voucher system on May 8, 2017, at the Arizona Capitol. (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)

When Arizona students return to school in August, a new law could make the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts available to all 1.1 million of them. Unless a grassroots group of opponents has its way.

Save Our Schools Arizona has until August 1 to collect the more than 75,000 signatures needed to put S1431 on the 2018 ballot and halt its implementation in the meantime. If the group fails, the expansion will take effect Aug. 9.

Enrollment under the expansion is capped at roughly 5,500 new students per year, which translates to approximately 30,000 spots by 2022.

The group claims there are not enough safeguards on the law and that it would siphon much-needed funds from public schools to serve students who may not need the financial help.

“Arizona’s public school system is already one of the worst funded… It’s the least invested in in the entire country,” said Save Our Schools Arizona spokeswoman Dawn Penich-Thacker. “We should not be funding and finding programs that take away even more from these starving schools that serve 95 percent of our kids.”

But the law’s supporters say the expansion would give power back to parents and put private schools within reach for kids who could not otherwise afford them.

“It’s just about putting one more option on the table,” said Kim Martinez, the spokeswoman for the American Federation for Children.

S1431 would expand Arizona’s school voucher program, called the Empowerment Scholarship Account, which redirects the money that would be spent on a child’s public school into an account the family can draw on to pay for a private or religious school.

The accounts were created in 2011 for students with disabilities and have gradually been expanded to include children on reservations, military kids, those who are wards of the state and those in failing schools, among other categories.

The state is not yet accepting applications for the expanded program, but interested families can get on a list to be notified by the Arizona Department of Education when the application is available.

Arizona has been a leader in private school voucher programs, but other states have followed suit. Indiana has one of the nation’s largest school choice programs, the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program, in which eligibility is determined by income, so that low-income students benefit.

Critics note that there is no such limit on applications under the new Arizona program, where rolling applications are determined on a first-come, first-served basis, according to state education officials.

“If it was true that they wanted to help low-income families, they would’ve put an income cap,” Penich-Thacker said, arguing that the vouchers have only helped affluent families.

Martinez dismisses the suggestion that ESA takes money from the public school system, arguing that the money never belonged to the schools in the first place. Because the state allocates funding per student, not per school, she said, parents should be able to decide where that money is spent.

To Chris Perea, a teacher at Gateway Academy in Phoenix, the current ESA program has been life-saving for his students. He said most of them would not otherwise be able to afford to go to the school that specializes in children with Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism.

“Our students start to blossom within weeks of getting to our school. Our students begin to love life again,” said Perea, a former public school teacher.

He said that nearly 80 percent of Gateway students are able to attend the school thanks to the ESA program.

“It’s allowing these students access to what’s best for them. It allows the parents to put them in schools that can specialize to meet the needs of their students,” he said.

Not all teachers are fans of expanding private school vouchers.

Christina Marsh, the 2016 Arizona Educational Foundation Teacher of the Year, said vouchers siphons off money from the general fund to subsidize more affluent students’ education, and that places more vulnerable populations at a disadvantage.

“I’m mad and I’m sad. It doesn’t have to be this way,” said Marsh, who plans to run for the state Senate in 2018. “We do have the money. We are just not spending it where it needs to be spent, and the voucher program is just one more example of that.”

Groups challenge proposed ballot measures in court


Business groups are trying to keep Arizonans from voting on proposals to hike taxes on the most wealthy and give hospital workers a pay hike.

One challenge, filed by a group financed by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, alleges that the legally required 100-word description given to initiative petition signers about the effects of the tax increase to generate nearly $1 billion a year for K-12 education fails to adequately describe how it works. Foes contend that those who were asked to put the measure on the November ballot were never told it was an entirely new tax and how it would result in “a near-doubling” of the marginal tax rates owed by many businesses.

If that claim sounds familiar, it should. The chamber used it successfully two years ago in its bid to keep a similar measure off the 2018 ballot.

The other from a group financed by the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association contends that the initiative process was flawed because it never identified as Service Employees International Union – United Healthcare Workers West as its sponsor and source of its funds.

Foes of this measure also claim that the 100-word description on petitions is “highly misleading.”

David Lujan, the director of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress and the author of the tax plan, said the challenge by the chamber is “disappointing but not surprising.”

David Lujan
David Lujan

“The chamber has continually shown that they’re more interested in protecting well-paid CEOs rather than helping Arizona schools,” he said.

The proposal imposes what the initiative calls a 3.5 percent “surcharge” on incomes above $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for married couples. Put another way, it would only be the earnings above that point that would be affected.

Challengers say that obscures the fact that people in that tax bracket already are paying a 4.5 percent state income tax on earnings at that level.

“Yet by saying the initiative ‘establishes a 3.5 percent surcharge’ on this income, the summary gives signers the misimpression that the income is currently untaxed,” wrote the attorneys for Arizonans for Great Schools and a Strong Economy, the chamber-financed group formed to fight the initiative.

They said it should have been portrayed to petition signers as an 8% tax rate on incomes above the threshold.

“A voter might be willing to tax their fellow citizens 3.5% but not 8%,” the attorneys are telling the judge. They said that should be listed as an 80 percent increase.

Lujan, however, said there’s nothing misleading about it.

For example, Lujan said, a couple earning $501,000 would pay the same tax as now on the money they earn. Then, there would be an additional 3.5% levy on $1,000 — the amount at which the tax kicks in, or $35.

Challengers also contend there are other misleading statements in that 100-word description, like the claim that the money would be used to “hire and increase salaries for teachers.” But they said the actual texts reveals the cash could be spent on those who “support student academic achievement,” a definition they say could include custodians and bus drivers.

There also is a claim that the measure would have a harsh effect on small businesses whose income tax is reported on their owners’ individual tax forms.

But Lujan said that ignores the fact that the tax is imposed not on the gross income of a business but only on what the business owner brings home, after paying all expenses like employees salaries, rent and utilities.


The measure the hospitals are seeking to quash would guarantee 20% raises over four years to certain hospital personnel, impose new infection-control standards on hospitals and put a provision in Arizona law designed to ensure that individuals with pre-existing health conditions can purchase insurance at affordable prices if the federal Affordable Care Act ultimately is voided by the courts or repealed by Congress.

Attorneys for the hospitals, in attempting to keep this off the November ballot, are relying in part on what appear to be technical issues with wording and the failure to define some of the terms.

hospital-featuredBut the lawsuit also takes aim at the claim that the measure, if approved “sets new minimum wages for direct care workers at private hospitals.”

“A reasonable voter would interpret ‘direct care workers’ to mean that wage rates will be adjusted for those directly involved in the care of patients such as a physician, nurse, or an imaging technician,” wrote attorney Brett Johnson.

In fact, he said, the text of the initiative instead refers to “direct care hospital workers.” And it defines that to include nurses, aides, technicians , janitorial and housekeeping staff, food service workers and nonmanagerial administrative staff — but not doctors.

Johnson also finds fault with the claim that the initiative, if approved, “prohibits insurers from discriminating against pre-existing conditions.” But he said that doesn’t make it clear that it would apply only to health and disability insurance and not things like life or property and casualty insurance.

“This broad overstatement is fraudulent and/or would cause a significant danger of confusion to a reasonable person,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also takes aim at the wording of another provision designed to protect patients from “surprise out-of-network bills” they receive after it turns out that someone who cared for them in the hospital was not actually part of their insurer’s health care network.

Holly Ward, spokeswoman for the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, said a measure like this is a bad idea in these “extraordinary times,” mentioning that staffers “are working tirelessly to care for everyone who comes in for care.”

“We don’t need to drive costs up for hospitals and ultimately patients,” she said.

Rodd McLeod, spokesman for the initiative, said the fact that the hospitals are going to court is telling.

“This lawsuit is just an admission by the hospitals that they’re not going to be able to convince Arizonans to vote against affordable health care at the ballot box so they’re going to try to deny voters a chance to have a vote at all,” he said.

McLeod also took a separate swat at state Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, who signed on as a plaintiff with the hospitals. He said that Leach opposed legislation pushed by then-Gov. Jan Brewer to expand the state’s Medicaid program.

“So it’s no surprise to see him standing with millionaire CEOs and against ordinary families that get stuck with surprise bills,” McLeod said.

Leach declined to comment.

Both lawsuits now head to Maricopa County Superior Court where judges will consider the merits of the arguments. But in both cases the final decision is likely to come from Arizona Supreme Court.

High rate of Indian students denied school vouchers

Jar for coinsThe Arizona Department of Education and a school choice advocacy group place blame on each other for the dismal acceptance rate among Indian children who apply for school vouchers.

Students living within the boundaries of Indian reservations are eligible for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, or vouchers, which allow qualified students to use public money to attend a private or parochial school, yet a high percentage have been denied in the last two school years.

According to data from the Arizona Department of Education, 99 of 233 applications for students living on reservations, or about 43 percent, were denied for the 2017-2018 school year. Of those, 58 students were rejected because they had not attended a public school for the first 100 days of the prior school year.

Another 24 applications were denied because they simply were not complete; 11 were missing a birth certificate or signatures; two students were not eligible to attend kindergarten when they applied; two did not reside within the reservation boundaries; and two more did not provide proof of residency.

In an email to the Arizona Capitol Times, ADE spokesman Stefan Swiat said the department tries to “get the best information possible in [parents’] hands” to understand eligibility requirements before they apply for their children.

In particular, he pointed to the high number of students denied for not meeting a public school enrollment requirement.

The department’s website does lay out specific requirements for different groups of qualified students. For students on reservations, the requirements include attendance at a state district or charter school for the first 100 days of the prior school year. Alternatively, those students could have received scholarships from a School Tuition Organization, or STO.

“It’s unfortunate for the students and the parents that such a high percentage of denials are being issued for an eligibility requirement that is clearly outlined in the application,” Swiat said.

The assumption being that some families may have been wrongly informed or even misled about their eligibility.

Advocates who have worked with families on reservations reject that notion.

Kim Martinez
Kim Martinez

Kim Martinez, spokeswoman for the American Federation for Children, said the state Department of Education should have a special set of procedures when working with tribal families lest they slip through the cracks. The American Federation for Children has been a staunch supporter of the expansion of ESAs and school choice in Arizona.

Martinez said the department’s ESA office has incorrectly denied families or issued denials based on small errors that could have been corrected. Rather, families may just give up.

“They cannot take a systemic approach with these families,” she said. “After receiving a denial letter, that understandably causes the tribal parent to give up and stop pursuing an ESA.”

A similar trend is developing among the applications for the 2018-2019 school year.

Not all of those applications have been processed yet, but the department did provide tallies for those that have.

As of August 7, a determination had not been made for 130 of 213 applications received for students living on reservations. Of those that were resolved, 55 were approved, and 24 were denied – that’s a denial rate of about 30 percent.

The remaining four applications were simply closed. According to ADE’s parent handbook, an account may be closed upon request, because an application for renewal was not received on time, because a student exited the program upon turning 18 or completing the 12th grade, or because the student was removed from the ESA program.

Swiat did not immediately return requests for an update on the applications that have been processed.

Higher standards give students more opportunities to succeed

All students should graduate high school having completed a set of foundational courses and skills needed to prepare them for what’s next. This has been the core philosophy behind Arizona’s high school graduation standards. However, this past week, the Arizona House passed a measure (HB2278) that contradicts that philosophy by proposing two ways for students to graduate high school—one in which the required math courses are those needed to be prepared for college and another in which less rigorous math courses are optional alternatives to satisfy graduation requirements.

Paul J. Luna

The measure represents a problematic way of thinking; namely, that because some students may not be planning to go to college right after they graduate high school, they should not have to take the foundational courses that make college-going, not to mention entrance into many career pathways, possible.

This lowering of expectations and option for less rigor will likely result in a de facto tracking system. Some students will graduate from high school having completed the coursework required for success in college and career. They will be able to qualify for college admission and be equipped with career-ready skills and knowledge. But other students—who opt out of the rigorous courses that help develop essential skills for a range of careers or that are required for college admission and career training programs—will graduate with fewer postsecondary and professional options. As a result, they will have access to a much narrower range of options in the short term, as well as more limits on their earning potential and professional mobility in the longer term.

The students most likely to be detoured from a high school academic pathway that makes career and college viable options are those who receive the least information about their educational and professional options after high school. And data on educational inequities suggest that the students who know the least about their college options typically come from backgrounds that already are underrepresented in Arizona’s postsecondary education system. That means, for example, that more low-income, Black, Latino, and Native American students will be negatively impacted by lowered expectations for their achievement than will white and more affluent students.

Furthermore, enacting policies that have the potential to decease college-readiness and college-going undercuts Arizona’s widely accepted goal of achieving 60& college attainment by 2030. It also runs counter to efforts on the part of the Arizona Board of Regents to expand postsecondary access through the Arizona Promise Program, the eligibility requirements for which include earning admission to Arizona universities, and rigorous and advanced coursework across multiple subjects is required for admission.

If we want to give all students—not just the few who already have a plan mapped out— the widest array of life choices, then we need to prepare them well in high school for future opportunities throughout their lives and careers. Rigorous high school coursework and graduation requirements are an important means through which to guide students along pathways that maximize the available options after high school. By raising expectations, rather than lowering them, we can give all students the opportunities they need to succeed—in school and in life.

Paul J. Luna is President and CEO of Helios Education Foundation.

Hobbs not following McAuliffe’s path on education

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs addresses the members of Arizona’s Electoral College prior to them casting their votes Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

In front of the currently-headless Carl T. Hayden memorial at the Arizona State Capitol, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs insisted Tuesday’s gubernatorial race in Virginia – in which Republican Glenn Youngkin upset Democrat Terry McAuliffe – is not a precursor to a “red wave” that could threaten her chance to become Arizona’s next governor. 

“Arizona is not Virginia,” Hobbs, one of three Democrats seeking the nomination, said. “And I’m going to continue talking to the voters of Arizona about their concerns and the issues that matter to them and how we can work together to solve those problems.” 

Her campaign similarly downplayed Virginia’s election results, insisting Arizona’s Republican candidates for governor are more closely aligned with former President Donald Trump than Youngkin, who eventually received a Trump endorsement but more or less kept the focus of his campaign off of the former president throughout the race. 

“Not one of (the GOP gubernatorial candidates in Arizona) can run a Virginia playbook, because they have a record of standing with divisive, radical conspiracy theorists who have no problem undermining our democracy,” spokeswoman Jennah Rivera wrote in an emailed statement.  

But Hobbs did appear to have Virginia on her mind when she responded to a question about how involved parents should be in their children’s education.   

“We absolutely need parents as partners in our education system,” she said. 

The response stands in stark contrast to comments McAuliffe made at a debate about a week before the election when he said “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” 

Several pundits pointed to that statement as a turning point that alienated parents and swung the election in Youngkin’s favor. 

“McAuliffe walked right into his own buzzsaw, which Democrats often do, and which Republicans have been doing,” Chuck Coughlin, CEO and president of HighGround Inc., told the Capitol Times earlier this week. “Making a cultural statement that, in any respect, parents aren’t in charge of their kids’ education is a death sentence for a statewide elected official.” 

The topic has been at the forefront in Arizona over the past year as debates over so-called “critical race theory” inspired parents to storm school board meetings and even threaten to abduct school board members.  

The debate also led to legislation sponsored by Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, now a candidate for Arizona schools superintendent, which would have required teachers to present both sides of controversial issues and restricted how some race-related issues can be taught.  

While that bill failed to pass, similar language was later included in this year’s education budget. A Maricopa County Superior Court judge later nullified the provision when she ruled legislators violated the Arizona Constitution’s single-subject rule when they included that language – and several other controversial proposals – in budget reconciliation bills. The Arizona Supreme Court unanimously upheld the trial court’s ruling this week. 

While Youngkin kept Trump at arm’s length during the race, he did lean heavily into the intersection of education and culture war issues – something that appeals to Trump’s base of support.  

He also promised to ban “critical race theory” from classrooms, according to The Roanoke Times. 

Critical race theory is an academic framework that examines history, society and law through the lens of institutional racism. While CRT is typically only taught in law school and some university courses, the term has also been used as a catch-all for topics discussing the intricacies of racial discrimination in the United States, including the history of slavery and segregation.    

 “It teaches our children to view everything through a lens of race to divide our children up into buckets and then pit them against one another and steal their dreams,” Youngkin told a crowd of parents last month. 

Hobbs, on the other hand, indicated she does not support the language included in Udall’s bill that eventually made its way into the budget and that teaching the uncomfortable aspects of American history in classrooms is okay. 

“As a parent, I would like my children to learn accurate reflections of our country and state history,” she said. “Our history is fraught with uncomfortable race issues, and we shouldn’t gloss over that.”   

Nick Phillips and Nathan Brown contributed to this report. 



Hoffman victorious in schools chief Democratic primary

Democratic candidate for superintendent of public instruction Kathy Hoffman chats with Republican candidate Frank Riggs during the Arizona Capitol Times' Meet the Candidates event. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Democratic candidate for superintendent of public instruction Kathy Hoffman chats with Republican candidate Frank Riggs during the Arizona Capitol Times’ Meet the Candidates event. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Kathy Hoffman shocked political observers across the state during the Aug. 28 primary as she pulled off a victory in the Democratic primary race for Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Hoffman came out ahead with a slim lead over challenger David Schapira in early ballot returns, and held it through the night. It is currently unclear who she will face in the Nov. 6 general election as the Republican primary is still too close to call.

In a text shared by Hoffman’s spokeswoman Emily Brent, Schapira congratulated Hoffman.

“Looks good for you so far,” he wrote, according to the message shared with the Arizona Capitol Times. “Congratulations! We’ll talk tomorrow.”

Speaking briefly to the Capitol Times from her watch party, Hoffman described her excitement at seeing a green checkmark beside her name, indicating a win called by a local TV station. She said she was elated and honored to continue to the general election.

As a speech therapist in Arizona public schools, Hoffman has appealed to the post-Red for Ed enthusiasm on the left. Her former campaign manager, Noah Karvelis, led that movement, and she stood behind the teachers, frequently rallying with them at the Capitol.

Schapira did too, a fact that speaks to what has been one of the most significant challenges in the Democratic primary race: distinguishing one candidate from the other.

Hoffman and Schapira held many of the same beliefs about Arizona’s public education system and efforts to increase school funding, including through the Invest in Education Act initiative seeking to raise taxes to pump up dollars for public education. Instead, they focused largely on the differences in their backgrounds – Hoffman with her greater experience in the classroom, and Schapira with his time in a variety of administrative and elected positions.

Hoffman’s frontlines message appears to have won the day, but she still faces a tough road ahead as a Democrat seeking statewide office.

A Republican has held the seat for more than 20 years. But with the momentum of the Red for Ed movement still fueling the conversation around education in Arizona, political observers foresee a competitive general election contest for the seat.

Superintendent of Public Instruction By The Numbers


415,434 votes cast

Kathy Hoffman 53 percent

David Schapira 47 percent


486,978 votes cast

Diane Douglas 21.49 percent

Bob Branch 21.79 percent

Frank Riggs 21.94 percent

Jonathan Gelbart 14.77 percent

Tracy Livingston 20.02 percent

Horne takes lead in SPI race

Arizona Department of Education Superintendent Kathy Hoffman speaks during a news conference in Phoenix, July 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool, File)

Tom Horne took a slight lead over incumbent Kathy Hoffman overnight. sitting at 50.2% and Hoffman at 49.8%.  

Both Hoffman and Horne have held the office before but stand diametrically opposed on their approaches to education policy.  

Hoffman took office in 2019. Before her term, Hoffman worked as a pre-school teacher and speech language pathologist. 

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne smiles during an interview in Phoenix on Thursday, May 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

During her time as Superintendent of Public Instruction, she has established the Office for Educator Recruitment and Retention, created a Teacher Residency program, lowered the student-to-school-counselor ratio by 20% and awarded $14 million in $1,000 grants to Arizona educators.  

Her policy priorities are addressing the teacher shortage, raising teacher pay, expanding mental health services for students, bridging digital divides in rural and tribal communities and bolstering Career and Technical Education programs.  

She has been a proponent of lifting the Aggregate Expenditure Limit and spoke in favor of bills looking to increase school funding in the 2022 legislative session.  

Hoffman also opposed bills barring transgender youth from participating in sports and seeking gender-affirming care.  

Horne served as Superintendent of Public Instruction from 2003 to 2011. He also served as the Attorney General from 2011 to 2015. Horne’s policies stick with conservative stances on education.  

He opposes critical race theory, hurls stones at “cancel culture,” wants to shore up discipline in schools and cites his previous experience as “a crusader against mediocrity, laziness, and political indoctrination as a substitute for academic teaching.” 

In 2010, Horne headed an ethnic studies ban, outlawing courses promoting resentment toward a race or class of people or advocating for ethnic solidarity. The law was struck down by a federal judge, citing “racial animus.”  

He wrote on his site his desire to attempt to outlaw ethnic studies again with assurance from a “more conservative U.S. Supreme Court.”  

In a press conference on Sunday, Horne also spoke against social and emotional learning and said he wanted to end bilingual education in Arizona.  

Horne has seen some controversy in his campaign as lawsuits over campaign law violations during his first and second bid for Attorney General resurfaced, and opponents took shots at Horne’s ties to former legislator and convicted sex offender David Stringer. 

This story has been revised to include updated numbers. 

House and Senate Republicans introduce school closure plans


Republicans in the House and Senate have filed legislation to allow teachers to educate their students in “alternative” formats as schools grapple with statewide closures in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

It’s the latest attempt at passing emergency measures to provide short-term certainty to government entities and citizens as the legislature contemplates suspending the session for a period of weeks or longer to mitigate the spread of the virus. 

If schools don’t reopen by the end of March, the bill waives statutory instruction hour requirements provided schools can offer instruction in an “alternative format” of their choice. Doing this secures their state funding, which is contingent on students being in class for a certain number of days each year. 

In short, should the bill pass, schools will not be forced to elongate the school year in order to make up for the instructional time lost since Gov. Doug Ducey and Superintendent Kathy Hoffman announced indefinite statewide school closures on March 15. 

Sylvia Allen
Sylvia Allen

“Every district and school will have flexibility in how they continue to offer educational instruction to their students,” said Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, who authored the Senate version of the bill. 

Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, who’s carrying the House version, could not be reached for comment in time for publication. 

The bill has two contingency clauses. If schools reopen by the end of March, the bill waives instructional hour requirements and extends the window to administer the state’s standardized test until May 31. All school employees, hourly or otherwise, will receive pay for the duration of the closure, and schools can use the higher of their letter grades from either the 2018-2019 or 2019-2020 school years. 

The meat of the bill addresses the alternate situation, in which schools stay closed past March and into the indeterminate future. In that scenario, schools can hold onto their funding if they provide instruction in an alternate format. Teachers and staff would continue to receive pay if they carry out their duties remotely or accept another assignment . 

State standardized tests would be canceled, and school letter grades would be held harmless, along with transportation funding.

The legislation doesn’t lay out what this alternative instruction might look like, only directing that the state board of education and Department of Education come up with a way for schools to attest that they’re still delivering a proper education. 

One example Allen provided is the Heber-Overgaard school district in her Northern Arizona legislative District. Many students live in outlying areas and don’t have reliable internet access, so the school is bringing educational materials to its students. 

They’re helping put together packets for every child, and the bus drivers are out delivering them to the outlying areas, then they pick them up,” Allen said. “They help deliver lunch. Everybody is helping the teachers, check things and grade those. So that’s one possibility. Another is you can have online instruction. “ 

Michelle Udall
Michelle Udall

It’s for this reason that some Democrats have taken to dubbing the legislation the Primavera bill, a reference to the online high school that operates in Arizona. But the derision doesn’t mean they won’t back the proposal. 

Rep. Reginald Bolding of Laveen, the top Democrat on the House Education committee, said he recognizes the need for emergency legislation that provides guidance for schools in a time of uncertainty and angst. He’s just worried about the ambition to forgo the committee process and pass the bill by the end of the week, by which time Republican leadership hopes to suspend the session.

“We have to make sure we’re measured and we have to make sure we have stakeholders on board,” he said. “The idea that we’re going to craft policy over the next two or three days that’s going to affect everyone in the state, it’s important that teachers get to see, as well as parents.”

While Bolding said he was in the dark during development of the bill, that appears to be more of a symptom of partisan politics, as school officials have been privy to the plan for a handful of days. 

“We were involved with discussions with the department and the governor’s office, and I think the members were involved in at least one of those discussions,” said Chris Kotterman, a lobbyist for the Arizona School Board Association. “A lot of the concerns we had do appear to be addressed.”

Ditto for the Education Department. 

“Allen and Udall were part of our stakeholders meeting on Monday and we see a lot reflected in this proposal that addresses the concerns voiced by the education community,” said department spokesman Richie Taylor in a text. 

Senate President Karen Fann hoped to bring the bill to the Senate floor for a debate and possible vote on Wednesday evening. But after Democrats in the Senate told her they weren’t ready to vote for it, she instead adjourned the chamber. 

The bill could come up for debate and votes in both the House and Senate on Thursday. 

“We need to do something soon,” Kotterman said. “People will feel a lot better once they know what’s going to happen with their local schools and their children. From a PR perspective, It would do the state some good to get something on the books.”

House GOP bill requires lessons on evils of communism

Rep. Quang Nguyen (Capitol Media Services 2021 file photo by Howard Fischer)
Rep. Quang Nguyen (Capitol Media Services 2021 file photo by Howard Fischer)

Republican lawmakers voted Friday to require that students be exposed to the stories of people who have fled communism as part of a curriculum to prepare them to be “civically responsible and knowledgeable adults.”

The language, inserted by Rep. Judy Burges, R-Skull Valley, into a 232-page bill of changes in laws governing K-12 education, says there needs to be comparative discussion of political ideologies like communism and totalitarianism and how they “conflict with the principles of freedom and democracy essential to the founding principles of the United States.” There also is a mandate on the state Department of Education to come up with new civic education standards  including the expectation that citizens will be responsible for preserving and defending “the blessings of liberty.”

But what it also requires the agency to create a list of oral histories “that provide portraits in patriotism based on first-person accounts of victims of other nations’ governing philosophies who can compare those philosophies with those of the United States.”

Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, said it’s clear to him what that means.

“The reality is one of the greatest threats facing the globe today is communism and totalitarianism,” he said.

Jake Hoffman
Jake Hoffman

“We have governments like the Communist Chinese government that their stated goal is to be the world’s sole and only superpower, and that they will achieve that goal through any means possible.”

The legislation approved on a 31-25 party-line vote contains a lot more.

For example, there’s a prohibition against teaching that someone’s race, ethnic group or sex determines their moral character or makes them responsible for actions committed by the same group. Violations could lead to a $5,000 fine for the school district and the instructor losing a teaching certificate.

And school boards will not be able to mandate the use of masks by students or staff on school campuses.

Lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle also used this measure to debate whether the state is doing enough to fund K-12 education, even though that is in a separate budget measure.

But the discussion became most heated over the question of this new mandated civics teaching and what has to be the emphasis of teaching patriotism and that our form of government is better than any other.

“The threat of communism, and honestly, even here within our own borders, the threat of Marxism is on our front porch,” Hoffman said. And he said there are people “within school systems” who are socialists.

His poster child for that is Noah Karvelis who was involved in the successful bid by Kathy Hoffman in 2018 to be state schools chief and the Proposition 208 campaign, calling him “an avowed socialist.”

Karvelis, who no longer lives in Arizona, spoke at the Socialism Conference 2018 in Chicago about the historic teacher strike in Arizona and the Invest in Ed act. But Karvelis said at the time he was there to network with other teacher organizations.

“To teach our children about the evils of communism and totalitarianism is right,” Hoffman said. “It is our duty and our responsibility to do that.”

And that, he said, means having students hear “real testimony from people who escaped those types of governments and now live here and enjoy the blessings of this country.”

But Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, said the legislation misses the point.

“You know what’s a bigger threat?” he asked. “White nationalism.”

Hernandez also placed the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol into the same category.

“So, yes, let’s talk about communism,” he said. “But let’s talk about making sure we are not letting people get away with the kinds of things that happened on Jan. 6 and teaching our kids it’s OK to try to overthrow a democratically elected government.”

That provoked a response from Rep. Quang Nguyen, R-Prescott Valley, who was born in Vietnam in 1962 and emigrated to the United States after the Vietnam War.

“White nationalism didn’t drown 250,000 Vietnamese in the South China Sea,” he told colleagues. “The communists did.”

Ditto, he said, of the execution of 86,000 Vietnamese at the fall of Saigon. And Nguyen said it was communism that caused him to be in the United States.

“So don’t take it lightly, don’t mock me, don’t mock what I go through in life,” he said, saying he lost most of his family members due to communism. “If we don’t stand up to teach communism to our children, we’ll lose this country.”

The language added by Burges also requires instruction on “the civic-minded expectations of an upright and desirable citizenry.”

While the bill passed on a 31-25 party line vote, the future of the provisions on the civics teaching may not remain.

That language is not in a parallel bill that Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, already has pushed through the Senate. And Boyer told Capitol Media Services he does not support the provision.

“We shouldn’t be dictating curriculum from on high, even if it’s well-intentioned,” he said. The differences between the House and Senate versions will have to be worked out in a conference committee.

There’s another key difference.

The Senate version contains language that would allow far more parents to use vouchers of public money to send their children to private and parochial schools. But efforts to add that to the House version faltered after Republican Reps. Michelle Udall of Mesa and Joel John of Arlington voted with Democrats to keep that out of the legislation.

That, too, would need to be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee.



House moves critical race theory ban to Senate

Two controversial education bills, one banning “critical race theory” in Arizona schools and one that, supporters say, would keep sexually explicit materials out of schools, passed the House on party-line votes Thursday. 

Gov. Doug Ducey called for a critical race theory ban and giving more power to parents in his State of the State address. A similar measure passed last year as part of the state budget but was struck down in a state Supreme Court ruling limiting when policy measures can be added to budget bills. 

Republicans see these measures as protecting children from political indoctrination or exposure to age-inappropriate materials. Democrats see them as “a slap in the face to the educators,” as Rep. Judy Schwiebert, D-Phoenix, put it, restricting what they can say under threat of law and making it risky to talk about uncomfortable aspects of U.S. history such as slavery, racism and the Civil Rights movement. 

“Teachers are not the enemy,” Schwiebert said. “They are essential, and they are exhausted.”

House Bill 2495, which forbids schools from using or referring students to “sexually explicit materials” such as depictions of sex or masturbation, is about “protecting the innocence of Arizona children from sexually explicit materials being shown in K-12 classrooms,” said its sponsor Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek. 

Hoffman read off a litany of materials that he says have been used in schools and shouldn’t be, including surveys on sexual desire that ask questions about genital arousal, sex education books showing drawings of teenagers engaged in sexually explicit acts and titles such as “Dry Humping Saves Lives” and “How to View Porn.”

“Teachers are not the enemy. They are essential, and they are exhausted.” 

Rep. Judy Schwiebert, D-Phoenix 

“In some cases, these are shown to children as young as fourth grade,” Hoffman said. “That is abhorrent.” 

The bill was amended in committee to exempt classical and early American literature, with parental permission. Another amendment was added Thursday to remove “homosexuality” from the list of sexually explicit content that would be banned. Opponents had argued including this could stifle any discussion of homosexuality in schools at all, returning Arizona to the days of the “no promo homo” law that was repealed in 2019. 

Critics said the bill “opens the door to bans of important pieces of literature and does not adequately define classic literature,” as Schwiebert said. She said parents have the right to opt their own children out of a particular lesson, “but they don’t have the right to determine what other people’s children read.” She said the bill is about controlling what students are allowed to read, not shielding them from pornography, which is already illegal to give to children. 

“We already have laws on the books that prohibit that, that criminalize that,” she said. “We are advocating for the freedom to read and question.” 

The critical race theory bill, which was introduced by Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, is similar in its wording to other such bans that have been proposed by Republican state legislators in other states. Udall’s bill bars schools from, among other things, teaching that any individual “is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” or that anyone “should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress” due to their race, ethnicity or sex. 

While every Republican voted for the bill, Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, said the penalties in the bill are too light. Teachers would be subject to disciplinary action up to losing their teachers’ certificates, while school districts would be liable for fines of up to $5,000 per violation, which Fillmore views as too low. Fillmore said he had spoken to Udall about amending the bill to toughen the penalties several times, and threatened to work to tank the bill in the Senate if it isn’t made stricter. 

“I was told we were going to make a change on that,” he said. “The change has not been made.” 

House panel approves bill to quash political activity in classrooms

(Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Teachers, students and Red for Ed supporters gathered at Chase Field on April 26, 2018, before marching to the Arizona Capitol. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

The president of the state’s largest teachers’ union warned a House committee Monday of a potential Red for Ed resurgence if they advanced a contentious bill from Rep. Kelly Townsend last night, which they did.

Townsend’s House Bill 2015, which opponents view as retaliation for last year’s strike, would prohibit school district employees from using school resources to espouse a political or religious ideology or face a fine of up to $5,000. Democrats and opponents argued the bill would have a chilling effect on teachers without solving an existing problem.

The House Education approved the bill 8-5 along party lines, just hours after teachers in West Virginia, who inspired last year’s strike in Arizona, decided to walk out of their classrooms again starting today in protest of a Republican bill viewed as retaliatory.

Joe Thomas
Joe Thomas

Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas cautioned the committee before they voted on Townsend’s proposal.

“I’m telling you right now if this goes through tonight, I’m going to be on television for the rest of the week talking about this against the backdrop of West Virginia,” he told the committee.

He said the problem as Townsend and supporters of the bill described it – teachers indoctrinating their students based on their own personal beliefs – is not a widespread issue. And he argued state law prohibiting the use of school resources to influence elections, such as endorsing or opposing a candidate during work hours, is sufficient.

Following West Virginia teachers’ decision, Thomas said Arizona educators were already inundating him with questions of what they would do next.

“Are you threatening to have a walk-out if this bill passes?” Townsend, R-Mesa, asked.

Thomas insisted he was not making threats, but emphasized again that representatives should consider the timing, warning Townsend’s bill could ignite anger that is already stirring.

Rep. Kelly Townsend
Rep. Kelly Townsend

In any case, the bill will now advance to the House Rules Committee before a vote on the House floor.

Townsend did amend the bill to remove a provision allowing parents to file suit against teachers in their districts in violation of the law. Her amendment adopted by the committee also removed language from the original bill that specified violators may be fired.

But the adjustments she made did not appease opponents who waited hours to speak against the proposed legislation; the bill was the last the committee considered during the marathon hearing that ran until 10 p.m. Monday.

Organizers of the Red for Ed movement that led to a statewide teachers’ strike last year have already been surveying parents and members of Arizona Educators United to gauge interest in a variety of actions the movement could take this year.

A copy of the educators’ survey posted on Facebook asked whether respondents were satisfied with last year’s outcome, which actions they felt were most effective, which of the original demands is most relevant this year and whether they are committed to taking further action.

And a copy of the parents’ survey asked what should be prioritized in terms of K-12 funding, whether respondents support the movement and this: “Can Arizona students afford to wait for funding or do we need immediate action from the state Legislature?” The options for the latter included an indication that the Legislature needs to act, that schools can wait for funding or that “districts need to be more accountable with the funding they receive.”

House Speaker gives tax increase proposal cool reception

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)

Business leaders say they’re putting a measure to expand an education sales tax on the ballot in 2020 with the Legislature’s help or not.

But House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said an all-or-nothing approach to the future of a sales tax benefitting public schools would present “a high-risk scenario that just is unwise.”

In June, a group of business leaders that includes former State Board of Education President Reginald Ballantyne III proposed increasing the voter-approved 0.6-percent sales tax to 1.5 percent. Proposition 301, approved by voters in 2000, is set to expire in 2021, and the businessmen have drafted legislation to save it.

Their plan includes $340 million for teacher pay, $240 million to fund full-day kindergarten, $300 million for capital funding and $190 million in support for the state’s public universities.

Mesnard said the group is likely to find widespread support for an extension for Prop. 301, but in expanding it, they’re also likely to draw a fight.

“You’re going to see folks like myself and others who will explore every means possible to get additional resources before getting to a tax increase,” he said. “And there will be some, and I might be one of those, who will still not embrace that even as a last resort. Not because we don’t care about K-12 and don’t consider it a priority… but it’s no small thing when you’re taking more money from the general public.”

If history is any indication, Mesnard said, he won’t be alone in opposing the idea.

Gov. Doug Ducey certainly wouldn’t be among enthusiastic advocates for an increase.

“He doesn’t support raising taxes,” Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato told Capitol Media Services Wednesday.

The governor has told the heads of state agencies to find ways to save money in their budgets instead, the idea being to redirect the savings to the K-12 budget.

“We all care about education, and you’re going to have a plethora of different ideas as to what caring about education looks like,” Mesnard said, whether that means additional resources or if room can be made in the current budget.

Mesnard said he hasn’t “detected any deep conversations” between his Capitol colleagues and the business leaders proposing the expansion. But their focus on 2020 seems to indicate to him that they’re trying to start a dialogue.

“As an incrementalist myself, I can appreciate starting a conversation and then taking some time, even multiple years to fine tune the right approach,” he said. “I’m just not familiar with what they’re proposing policy-wise. I’m only aware of the tax-increase suggestion.”

Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, attended a presentation of the business coalition’s plan on Dec. 12. She was encouraged by their engagement on the issue of K-12 funding, but she saw the plan as more of starting point and certainly not the last word on the matter.

“The more public conversations we have, the better it is in terms of moving some kind of initiative down the path,” she said. “The education interests can fight each other – they do fight each other at times – so anything we can do to build unity around an idea is really good.”

Brophy McGee was first politically active in the school board arena right around the time Prop. 301 first made an appearance.

She said she hasn’t seen the same level of grassroots enthusiasm since then, but she sees inklings of something like it in the push to do something sustainable for education.

Like Mesnard, though, she predicted the tax increase would be a tough sell.

“But it’s like our roads and infrastructure. It’s like other essential services that government provides,” she said. “We have been pushing that down to the local level, and at some point, we need to make a decision about governing and what we’re are responsible to provide. And the only way we’re going to do that is to get to the table and duke it out.”

Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.

In Indian Country, potholes can be a bump in the road to an education

A Navajo student walks away from a school bus that was stuck in the mud on an unpaved road. School officials say when buses aren't stuck, they're often damaged by rutted roads. (Photo courtesy San Juan County, Utah, Roads Department)
A Navajo student walks away from a school bus that was stuck in the mud on an unpaved road. School officials say when buses aren’t stuck, they’re often damaged by rutted roads. (Photo courtesy San Juan County, Utah, Roads Department)

Classrooms at Keams Canyon Elementary School in northeast Arizona are noticeably emptier during the winter and monsoon months.

That’s when Principal Gary Polacca says heavy rains turn the dirt roads stretching across the Hopi Reservation into “muddy sinkholes,” making it hard for school buses to reach students’ homes for risk of getting stuck in the mud.

Students, who have a harder time getting to school on their own, are stuck at home for the day – or the week, depending on when the weather clears up.

“They just can’t get to school,” said Polacca. The school dedicates some of its budget to buses, he said, but it can’t fill potholes or pave roads. “We’ve done what we can.”

Of the many problems facing tribal schools, Polacca said, impassable roads are “not the most prevalent problem, but it is the most annoying one.”

And it’s not a problem unique to the Hopi.

Three-fourths of roads owned by the Bureau of Indian Affairs are unpaved, leaving schools on reservations to spend money on frequent maintenance for the buses that have to travel those roads.

The graduation rate for American Indians/Alaskan Natives in public schools in 2016 was 72 percent – lower than any other race or ethnicity, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. That rate drops to 49 percent for students in Bureau of Indian Education schools.

There are myriad reasons why Native children don’t graduate from school, said Acting Superintendent of Navajo Schools Anselm Davis, including “the trauma that students come to school with, and then the changing social life of the younger generation.”

“There are adverse conditions in family life, in community life,” Davis said. “There’s a whole dimension of issues out there that impact students on a day-to-day basis.”

When sick days, religious holidays or other reasons children might have to stay home are added to the absences caused by bad roads, he said, it puts students in situations where they “aren’t getting the kind of attention on their lessons and the learning process, and as a result of that they tend to fall back little, bit by little bit.”

Davis said schools on reservations do their best to mitigate any problems children might have that would impact their education. Navajo schools have implemented programs over the years to improve attendance and graduation rates. Some work therapy or trauma services into school programs, while others have provided free food to struggling students.

Schools in tribal areas face a number of challenges, but one of the most unexepected - and, to advocates, most annoying - are the roads, which can make it hard to get students to school. (Photo courtesy San Juan County, Utah, Roads Department)
Schools in tribal areas face a number of challenges, but one of the most unexpected – and, to advocates, most annoying – are the roads, which can make it hard to get students to school. (Photo courtesy San Juan County, Utah, Roads Department)

But transportation is a challenge out of schools’ reach.

Like many rural areas, homes on the Navajo and Hopi reservations can be scattered and there is often not a network of paved roads that connect homes to schools or businesses.

With the majority of BIA-owned roads in the U.S. unpaved, schools on reservations are forced to shell out money for frequent maintenance on school buses that had to travel those roads.

In April, Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis told a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing about the decrepit state of the 306 BIA-owned roads on his reservation. Some were unpaved, others were cracked and bumpy. Others still were missing critical safety features like stop signs.

“This is a critical concern for education in Indian Country,” Lewis said, not to mention “the safety aspect too, if those roads aren’t adequately maintained.”

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, introduced a bill in January to increase funding for upkeep of roads on reservations, including updating safety features and paving roads. Similar proposals by Barasso have died in the last two sessions of Congress, but Lewis said the bill could be a “game-changer” for schools.

In a recent statement, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, said the state of roads on reservations presents “a public safety and public health issue.”

“On the Navajo Nation, where thousands of miles of roads are unpaved, poor road conditions result in impassable bus routes that make Navajo students more likely to miss school than their non-Native peers,” Udall’s statement said. “To truly uphold the United States’ trust responsibilities to these students, the Navajo Nation, and all of Indian Country, we simply must do better.”

Advocates say there is plenty of room for improvement.

Constant travel on gravel roads leads to excessive wear and tear on school buses – side mirrors shake off, batteries fall out and even the emergency hatches on bus roofs can come loose.

“The wear and tear on those buses if they go on dirt roads or gravel roads is astounding,” Lewis said. “And schools have to pay for that, not the BIA.”

Polacca estimates he has to pay for a major bus repair at least once a month, which takes the bus out of rotation and forces drivers to cram more children into fewer buses.

“A lot of the roads become like a washboard. It takes a lot of toll on our school buses,” Polacca said. “And of course we have students living all over. So there are times where we do have to go out and pick up students who live on those roads.”

Polacca’s school has talked about planning bus routes along the state highway that runs through the reservation to cut down on maintenance costs. But he knows some students can’t make it to the main road, and he does not want to make it even harder to get to school.

As it stands, teachers at the school try to work with students to send assignments home so they can continue their education without being in school. But the students are still counted as absent.

“It’s frustrating,” Polacca said. “These are young children. They want to learn.”

Jay Heiler: Doing civic work without being in government

Jay Heiler

Jay Heiler could be caught in the middle of a contentious U.S. Senate race right now. Instead, he joined boutique law firm Beus Gilbert PLLC.

A member of the Arizona Board of Regents, a charter school entrepreneur and former chief of staff to Gov. Fife Symington, Heiler contemplated challenging U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake for his seat last fall. But that was before Flake announced his retirement.

Now Heiler, 58, is perfectly content to cheer on Republican nominee Martha McSally from the sidelines as he starts a new chapter in his life. Heiler joined Beus Gilbert in July, carrying over his consulting work to the firm that specializes in real estate law and commercial litigation.

Cap Times Q&AWhat will you be doing at Beus Gilbert?

I’m going to be practicing law across several different fields with both sides of the practice, which is commercial litigation on one hand and real estate and entitlement law on the other. Then, I’m also bringing my own practice into the firm of government affairs and government relations, which really overlaps both to some degree. It just seemed like a really good fit and really great people to work with.

Where do your passions lie in the legal world?

The highest and best use of the law is to right wrongs, to advance justice, and in the public sector, to improve the life of the community and the lives of individuals in the community. St. Thomas Aquinas said the law is an ordinance for the common good made by those who have care over the community. That’s always seemed like a pretty good definition to me.

You came from a solo practice, correct?

I was just doing consulting work, but I went and activated my law license and I’m now back at it. I was an assistant attorney general when I got out of school. I was a prosecutor originally. I was in journalism as an undergraduate, then went to law school, worked as a prosecutor, then I went back into journalism and wrote editorials at the newspaper in Richmond, Virginia, The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

All those years when I was practicing on my own, I never really wanted to create a firm because I didn’t want everything that came along with that. I really just wanted to operate as long as I could as a lone wolf and keep my time free and my schedule flexible to build Great Hearts, which is a charter school organization. I’ve been at that for about 16 years now.

Why was now the right time to join a firm?

The fact is that this particular firm is very appealing because of the human elements involved and the practice fields the firm is best of class in. It’s also that phase of my professional journey where I just want to interact more with other leading professionals and build a great institution.

Speaking of Great Hearts, what do you make of the recent calls for increased transparency in the charter school system?

Lying at the bottom of all that conversation, which can be a productive conversation, is really a lot of tension over for-profit educational models in K-12. Great Hearts is not a for-profit educational model. Great Hearts is a nonprofit. But it is unlike the other, larger growth charter organizations in Arizona in that way. The construct of for-profit education is well known and has been around for many decades in higher education and it has a varied history. But the idea is still relatively new of for-profit presence at least as the operator of the school in K-12 education. I think everybody’s processing that now and having a discussion about it, which is good. It’s a discussion that should be held.

How did you start Great Hearts?

The idea came from understanding that charter schools were a market concept and the idea behind them was the introduction of some for market competition into K-12 as a means of lifting it. But as I considered doing that, I realized the way markets work is with scale and brands. There are always leaders in markets that make the most impact and achieve the most in a given sector. So the idea was to bring to the Phoenix community a scalable education model that would not only be better than public schools on offer, it would in fact, be better than private schools on offer.

You used to work for Symington. Do you ever miss working in the public sector?

Part of the reason I wanted to start Great Hearts was because I missed that. I wanted to create a valuable civic work that one could do without working in government and that’s how I’ve always thought of Great Hearts. It has always been in my nature that when I looked ahead to when I was old or near the end of my life, I wanted to have done something that mattered.

How did you meet Symington?

We were introduced by the then-editor of the editorial pages of The Republic, who was a guy named Bill Cheshire. Fife was having a tough first year in office at that point so we met and we just immediately hit it off.

What do you make of the news that Symington may run for the U.S. Senate?

I think he’s still got it in his system, too. But I think there’s still lots of turns in that road, starting with what happens in this Senate race and what happens with Senator Kyl. But if Fife decides to run for the Senate, that’ll be worth watching.

You recently considered running for the U.S. Senate, why?

I was asked to consider that at that time because it appeared many Republican voters were going to be looking for an alternative. So it wasn’t something that I had been planning, but I didn’t say no. And once you don’t say no, the process starts. It was something that I was very seriously considering, but when Senator Flake withdrew as early as he did, that left plenty of time for other candidates to also enter the picture. I truly believe that Martha [McSally] was an outstanding candidate and in many regards, a better candidate than I would be.

Judge can’t tell lawmakers how much money to give schools, attorney says

USA, Washington State, Bellevue, Interlake High School

An attorney for the state is telling a judge she has no legal right to tell the Legislature it isn’t providing enough money for school construction and repair.

In new court filings, Brett Johnson acknowledged that the Arizona Supreme Court ruled more than two decades ago that the state has an obligation to ensure that schools meet minimum adequacy standards for everything from building safety to equipment needs. The justices said at the time that it was unconstitutional to put that burden solely on local taxpayers, as it created gross disparities and left children in some schools without adequate education opportunities.

But Johnson told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Connie Contes that she is powerless to rule on a claim by school districts that the amount of money now being provided by the state is inadequate.

“The question of how much should be appropriated for any particular item in a given year is clearly committed by our Constitution to those acting in a legislative capacity,” he said.

That theme was echoed in filings by attorney Bill Richards who separately represents House Speaker J.D. Mesnard and Senate President Steve Yarbrough.

Richards told Contes that what the school districts want would “improperly intrude on matters preserved to the discretion of the legislative branch.” And he said it would put the judge in the position of deciding what he called “political questions regarding the degree and nature of funding provided for or related to public school capital facilities.”

But Mary O’Grady, who represents the districts that sued earlier this year, said it is clearly within the power of courts to determine if lawmakers are meeting their constitutional obligations to provide “adequate” facilities for public education.

More to the point, she said judges are empowered to tell them to fix it. At that point it would be up to legislators to determine how to do that, though that decision could lead to further litigation if challengers remain dissatisfied.

But the case is clearly about money.

Tim Hogan, another attorney representing challengers, says lawmakers are shorting schools each year for the capital funds they need to the tune of about $300 million. And he said the cumulative loss to schools from the failure to properly fund capital needs is now close to $2 billion.

The lawsuit traces back to 1994.

Prior to then, construction of new schools and needed repairs were presumed to be solely the responsibility of local districts. But in a historic ruling that year, the high court said that created gross inequities — and left some schools and the children there without adequate facilities.

“Some districts have schoolhouses that are unsafe, unhealthy, and in violation of building, fire and safety codes,” the justices said, with schools without libraries, laboratories or gymnasiums. “But in other districts, there are schools with indoor swimming pools, a domed stadium, science laboratories, television studios, well-stocked libraries, satellite dishes, and extensive computer systems.”

All that, they said, runs afoul of a state constitutional obligation to maintain a “general and uniform” school system.

After several more rulings, lawmakers eventually created the School Facilities Board to come up with minimum guidelines and created a system to both finance new schools as needed and provide $200 million a year for upkeep.

Only thing is, lawmakers have not fully funded that formula for years.

The result, according to challengers, has been a shortage of funds to pay not only for repairs but for other needs ranging from school buses to textbooks. And that forces the districts to use locally raised funds — assuming voters are willing to go along — to pay for the needs that the Supreme Court concluded are the state’s responsibility.

O’Grady said Johnson’s claim that Contes cannot hear the challenge is based on a flawed reading of what is in the lawsuit.

She said what the Supreme Court ruled in 1994 was that the state has to have standards for what constitutes adequate classrooms.

“And you’ve got to have funding to meet the standards,” she said. O’Grady said she is seeking a ruling that the money being provided does not meet the constitutional — and court-ordered — requirement to meet those standards and ensure educational opportunities.

That issue, she said, is “absolutely within the reach of the courts.” And O’Grady said if Contes agrees with challengers that the funding is inadequate, “then it kicks back to the Legislature for a remedy,” meaning the courts not infringing on legislative prerogatives — assuming whatever they decide makes the funding scheme constitutional.

Questions of the power of judges aside, Johnson also contends that the districts themselves have no right to even be in court in the first place.

He said only those who have suffered a “particularized” injury to themselves have a right to assert any claim that the money they are getting is constitutionally inadequate. Instead, Johnson said, the lawsuit contends the overall amount of dollars available to fund new buildings statewide and maintain the ones that already exist is inadequate.

And Johnson said there is no evidence that the districts that filed suit had actually asked for cash from the School Facilities Board, which evaluates needs and distributes money. He said only if they are first turned down might they have a legal claim.

O’Grady brushed those claims aside.

“Our issues are not about funding for particular projects,” she said. She agreed that such a request  would go to the board.

“Our lawsuit is about the structure of the system overall and whether the structure of the system overall satisfies constitutional requirements,” O’Grady continued. “This isn’t about one district needing money for a specific project.

Contes is set to hear arguments in December.

Judge rules tax on rich initiative can go to ballot

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)


Note: This story has been updated to include information on a conflicting opinion on strict-compliance. 

A judge has slapped down efforts by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry to block people from voting whether to hike income taxes on the rich to generate $690 million a year for education.

In an extensive ruling Thursday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge James Smith acknowledged that, strictly speaking, hiking the top income tax rate from 4.54 percent to 8 percent for those earning more than $250,000 a year actually increases the tax rate on those earnings by 76 percent. Similarly, taking the tax rate for earnings above $500,000 for individuals to 9 percent is a 98 percent increase over the current rate.

But Smith said that did not make it inherently misleading for organizers of the Invest in Ed initiative to describe the tax hikes as 3.46 percent and 4.46 percent, the absolute difference between the current rate and the proposed new ones.

It is true, Smith said, that technically speaking, the 100-word description of the key provisions of the measure, required by state law, should probably have said it was raising the tax rate by 3.46 and 4.46 “percentage points,” respectively.

“While that likely would be more precise, the existing summaries are not fatally misleading without that verbiage,” the judge wrote, meaning the use of the smaller numbers is not enough to block a vote.

Attorneys for the chamber had argued the use of 3.46 and 4.46 percent was misleading, causing some people to sign the petition to put the issue on the November ballot who would have balked at a measure described as hiking tax rates by 76 and 98 percent, even just for the rich.

Smith conceded that initiative organizers crafted the description “undoubtedly … to appeal to potential voters.” But he said that does not make it inaccurate or misleading.

Anyway, the judge pointed out that the full text of the initiative — including the current and proposed tax rates — were attached to the petitions, so those who might have been confused could check for themselves before signing

Smith also was no more impressed with arguments by Kory Langhofer, attorney for the chamber, that the measure could not be on the ballot because that 100-word description does not mention that the initiative also would eliminate automatic indexing of income tax brackets to account for inflation. That provision is designed to keep people from being bumped into higher tax categories solely because their pay hikes are no more than normal inflation.

Initiative backers deny the measure would affect indexing.

Smith said even if it does repeal indexing — a legal finding he chose not to decide — it doesn’t matter.

He said Arizona law requires only that the “principal provisions” of the initiative be listed in the description. And the judge said the effect of any change in indexing is minimal compared to the key provision of hiking income taxes on the state’s most wealthy.

Langhofer already has filed the paperwork for review by the Arizona Supreme Court.

Thursday’s ruling actually is a double setback for the Arizona Chamber.

In a potentially more significant finding, Smith also said state legislators acted illegally in enacting a requirement in 2017 that all efforts by voters to enact their own laws must be in “strict compliance” with each and every election statute.

That change allows initiatives to be kept off the ballot because of largely technical errors in the petitions. Prior to that, courts had allowed measures on the ballot if there was just “substantial compliance” with election laws.

It was the chamber that pushed the measure through the Republican-controlled Legislature on the heels of voters approving an initiative raising the state’s minimum wage from $8.05 an hour at the time to $10.50 now — and eventually to $12 by 2020.

The judge said he reads the Arizona Constitution to provide voters with wide latitude in being able to enact their own laws. And that, he said, means lawmakers cannot tinker with it.

“Legislation requiring strict compliance with every statutory provision regarding initiatives unconstitutionally infringes on separation of powers and fundamental rights under the Arizona Constitution,” Smith wrote.

Just hours later, however, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge James Kiley reached the opposite conclusion.

In that case, the committee seeking to put a renewable energy mandate on the ballot argued that allowing petitions to be judged — and rejected — based on strict compliance would “choke the life” from the power of people to put things on the ballot. Kiley disagreed, citing similar requirements elsewhere.

“The court sees no basis for the committee’s assertion that such a standard, applied by courts in other jurisdictions with similar constitutional provisions, would impose an intolerable burden on the right to initiative in Arizona,” he wrote.

Thursday’s conflicting rulings mean the Arizona Supreme Court will have to determine who is right — and soon as what the justices rule ultimately could determine what will be on the November ballot.

The idea behind the power of initiative, put into the Arizona Constitution in 1912, was to give voters a chance to approve their own laws when elected legislators will not.

That, in turn, has resulted in voter approval of a series of measures that the business community — and the lawmakers who support them — never wanted. These range from public financing of elections and legalizing medical marijuana to a ban on leg-hold traps on public lands and the creation of a state minimum wage higher than required by federal law.

It was that last action that led the Republican-controlled Legislature to vote to impose the “strict compliance” standard.

Smith’s ruling — and Langhofer’s appeal — will provide the first opportunity for the Arizona Supreme Court to decide if lawmakers have that power.