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Arizona education leaders: Best and worst outcomes this legislative session


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  • Lisa Irish/Arizona Education News Service

Doreen Zannis, Dick Foreman, Anne Greenberg And Andrew Morrill

After the Arizona State Legislature wrapped up, education leaders weighed in on the best and worst outcomes for K-12 public education this session.

“Truly, a quick session was the best outcome,” said Dick Foreman, president and CEO of Arizona Business & Education Coalition.

Arizona education leaders: Best and worst outcomes this legislative session EdOutcomes2015LegSessionHP3CroppedLargeNewsletter

From left to right, Doreen Zannis, Dick Foreman, Anne Greenberg and Andrew Morrill talk about the best and worst outcomes for public K-12 education from this legislative session.

The way the session ended also minimized some damage, said Anne Greenberg, Paradise Valley Unified School District, Governing Board President and Arizona School Boards Association’s legislative committee chair.

“For example, Senate Bill 1172, which most of us considered a violation of the First Amendment rights of board members, teachers, district officials, and potentially parents (through their organizations), never made it to the House floor for a final vote,” Greenberg said.

During this session, parents, educators and community members let policy makers know that it takes more than dollars in the classroom to educate students, said Janice Palmer, director of governmental relations and public affairs for Arizona School Boards Association.

“The governor and legislature eventually backed off from a mandate that districts move five percent of non-classroom funds into the classroom,” Greenberg said.

Arizona education leaders: Best and worst outcomes this legislative session Outcomes-legislative-session-2

Graphic by Caitlin Bohrer/Arizona Education News Service

Instead, they provided districts with much needed flexibility to meet their students’ needs, Palmer said.

“Some of the successes (of this legislative session) are related very closely to some of the disappointments,” said Andrew Morrill, president of Arizona Education Association.

For example, the “political posturing” by a majority of legislators was both the worst and best outcome of this session, said Doreen Zannis, a parent and executive director of Support Our Schools Az, a community-based grassroots volunteer organization.

“Two of Support Our Schools Az’s values are education above politics and collaboratively doing what is right for the children of Arizona,” Zannis said. “The 2015 Arizona State Legislative Session has been contradictory to both.”

“From the governor to the superintendent of public instruction and legislative leadership, the students and teachers in our public education system have become pawns in the political game of ideology, profit and paybacks,” Zannis said. “It is unconscionable.”

Because of that “finally, the average citizen has come to the realization that their one vote does matter and that their no action of not voting, was indeed an action – which sided with the minority who did vote,” Zannis said.

Doreen Zannis’ best outcomes for K-12 public education

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Doreen Zannis, executive director of Support Our Schools Az

The words of Thomas Jefferson ring true: “We are not a government of the people, we are a government of the people who participate.”

The governor, superintendent of public instruction, our senators and representatives were elected to do exactly what they are doing, with the blessing and support of those who voted them into office, all 26 percent of Arizona.

The rising up of Arizonans participating in this legislative session through ALIS, rallies, committee attendance, phone calls, emails and social media is unprecedented, culminating in the best outcome of this legislative session – there will be a different Arizona voting in the Aug. 30, 2016, primary election.

The second best outcome of this legislative session is the clarity of legislative representation. More Arizonans than ever now know if their elected officials are truly acting representatively for the greater good or politically for personal gain.

The third best outcome of this legislative session is one and two: A new-found citizen awareness and increased informed action. More Arizonans are finally paying attention and are motivated to engage in elections and the legislative process!

Dick Foreman on what worked well for Arizona schools

Arizona education leaders: Best and worst outcomes this legislative session DickForeman400

Dick Foreman, president and CEO of Arizona Business & Education Coalition

The quick legislative session was the best outcome. “Zombie” bills, also known as bad ideas like the repeal of Common Core, were resurrected like “The Walking Dead.” Many, however, were lying in the mall between the chambers, reaching eviscerated hands and arms among the rose gardens, dead not because of their fatal flaws, but only because time ran out.

Those legislators, Republican and Democrat, who are champions of education stated their positions loudly and clearly with great command of facts and impacts. When the chips were down, they prevailed upon their colleagues with good will, perseverance and diplomacy. (The way the process ought to work, thank you!)

So, no repeal of Common Core, no delay in rollout of AzMERIT, flexibility on how to deal with the five percent K-12 budget cuts and no “witch hunt” audits of desegregation spending.

The fate of the State Board of Education remains an executive branch function, providing a vital check and balance to the overall establishment of state education policy. Thank you, Gov. Ducey, for standing up to the challenge and quickly and effectively dealing with it.

Andrew Morrill’s positives for K-12 public education

Arizona education leaders: Best and worst outcomes this legislative session AndrewMorrill400

Andrew Morrill, president of Arizona Education Association

One positive for students, educators and those working in our schools is there was some stability in the fact that we are continuing with the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards. They did not yank the rug out from under educators as they have often done.

We resisted the ideology and the campaign of misinformation which still dominates conversations about the standards. I think we took a balanced approach in wanting to review those. In the past we’ve had academic standards and we certainly have reviewed them after a period of time. That’s good. As long as the review that takes place is practitioner-centered, student-centered and devoid of a reactionary agenda, it could be a very good approach.

We saw again some bipartisan efforts to control the drain of funding away from public schools and into this debit card voucher scheme that is devoid of accountability and rife with problems. At least the most egregious efforts to take money from our public schools – which are accountable and are transparent – and divert them into corporate and private schemes were I would say minimized. It wasn’t controlled completely.

This is a double-edged sword. We saw some really mean-spirited, dishonest attempts to gag educators from speaking to their own communities about the impact of political issues. Thankfully, those went nowhere. On the downside, they were proposed and they went pretty far through the session. In fact, if the Senate had not sine died early, one wonders what would have become of Shooter’s gag bill. It’s good that there was a lot of resistance that it didn’t go through, but it’s just a sad commentary on politics in Arizona that it was even proposed and went as far as it did.

Anne Greenberg on the best outcomes for education

Arizona education leaders: Best and worst outcomes this legislative session AnneGreenberg400

Anne Greenberg, Paradise Valley Unified School District, Governing Board President and Arizona School Boards Association’s legislative committee chair

An enraged and hopefully more engaged electorate. People – not just board members, superintendents, teachers, and staff – became outraged when budget details became known and it was obvious public education was getting shafted yet again. The governor’s proposal to “move” money into the classroom was quickly exposed as the shell game it was, and parents and other concerned citizens became increasingly vocal about the need to restore funding to our schools. We need to be vigilant in ensuring people remain aware and continue to care about getting funding increased in the budget for public education (including our colleges and universities).

Senate defeat of House Bill 2190, which would have barred the implementation of Arizona’s College and Career Readiness Standards or pretty much any version of Common Core standards or aligned assessments and then required the State Board of Education to create new standards to be approved by the legislature. Had it passed, the millions of dollars and thousands of hours that have been spent in training and preparation to implement Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards would have been wasted in that the money could have been spent in vastly different ways within our individual districts. It is unfortunate that these standards, which most educators appear to agree are doing exactly what we all hope they will – raise student achievement – have become such a political football on both a state and national level.

Defeat of some of the egregious bills designed to expand eligibility of empowerment scholarship accounts. While some were approved, such as Senate Bill 1332 which now includes students residing on a reservation (approximately 70,000 students), others that were potentially more impactful on a statewide basis, such as Senate Bill 1088 or House Bill 2250, never received a final vote or were defeated on the floor. This left ESA supporters extremely frustrated; we will undoubtedly see these bills again.

What Foreman said was worst for public education

I cannot think of any time in my over 40 years of working at, in and around the Arizona State Legislature that the education voice has been so muted in its effectiveness. Trust is not just bad, it is broken. And that, by far, is the worst outcome possible.

The entire education budget for the state – K-12, charter schools, community colleges, universities, JTEDs, was disfigured by cuts, slashes and third degree burns.

The very real, the very scary and the very unacceptable fact that Arizona is experiencing the worst teacher shortage in its history; and that was completely ignored by the legislature.

No settlement of the inflationary lawsuit. (Yes, this was not “technically” a legislative deal, but, well, they caused it to begin with so I’m tossing it in the salad of bad news.)

Morrill on what hurt K-12 education most this session

The budget that was passed A) does represent a cut to education funding, B) did not receive an honest accounting from our governor and C) even The Arizona Republic and several prominent media sources close to the capital used terms like shell game, spin game to describe how the governor was trying to conceal a funding cut and take credit for an increase that was formula driven and just tied to enrollment. In fact, the only funding increases put into K-12 was either court-ordered or formula driven and reflected no political will on the governor’s part or leadership’s part whatsoever.

We still see a policy preference to shift money and support away from the choice that parents overwhelmingly make and that’s our district, neighborhood public schools – the choice of over 80 percent of parents. But the governor is enacting policies that he hasn’t even outlined yet with budget appropriations to charter schools. The problem with that is the very charter schools he’s celebrating are among the most selective, exclusive and have the biggest departure rates of students. They are clearly not a system that you can scale up. But nevertheless, he and the legislative leadership seem to think that parents are making the wrong choice by choosing district public schools.

Despite our efforts, there was a loss of public funds to failed voucher schemes that represent waste, redundancy and certainly point to some corrupt practices. We still let one pass that will expand eligibility by 70,000 students. That was a strong-arm move where legislators who were not supportive of it were harassed by legislative leadership in the final hours to vote on something they really didn’t support.

Zannis on what went wrong for Arizona schools

The second worst outcome of this legislative session is the lack of support to sufficiently fund our public education system. The distractions run the gamut; serving to do no more than remove the focus of conversation from what it costs to effectively educate our children to line items benefitting political means.

The third worst outcome of this legislative session is the continued attacks on the principle that a sound public education is a right for all; the cornerstone of an effective democracy, Zannis said.

Voucher (ESA) expansion, opting out of assessments and school choice “all seek to undermine the healthy interdependency that is a strength of a dynamic culture,” Zannis said. “An exclusionary, entitlement learning experience erodes our society as a whole, by damaging our children’s ability to effectively function as an adult in our diverse world.”

Greenberg’s worst outcomes for K-12 public education

The budget. Even though the governor and legislature backed off the mandate that districts move five percent of non-classroom funds into the classroom, in the end, they still didn’t show us the money despite the court order to do so. If districts saw increases, they were miniscule and often tied to enrollment increases. Even though the governor and legislature are touting that districts were getting more than $70 million in inflationary funding, this figure is less than one-quarter of what the judge ruled is due – and then it was flattened out by cuts in District Additional Assistance and Student Success Funding.

The budgets to come. Measures continue to be put into place that allow for larger and larger bites out of the budget. For example, the governor signed House Bill 2001, which indexes tax brackets to inflation. And while that may sound good on paper, it will cut state revenues in a manner that will rise every year (an estimated $6 million next year, $15.4 million the next, $24.7 million the year after, and so forth.) Credits and donations that corporations can take (that come out of the general fund) continue to rise (such as with the passage of House Bill 2153). Bills that place investment/research and development dollars or federal funding in jeopardy continue to be heard. Additionally, state budgets continue to shift costs and thus taxes to county, city, and local governing entities, including school districts. To individuals who do not like paying taxes, it appears that every entity but the state is raising their taxes, when in reality it is legislators who are forcing those tax increases. There is no true long-term plan to adequately fund education as the Constitution requires nor address the myriad societal concerns that are the responsibility of state government and which impact so many of our students.

Micromanagement and increasing mandates/regulations on education that reflect a growing antagonism towards public education. Title 15 appears to grow every year as the legislature – which says it wants less government overall – expands the statutes under which school districts operate. The amendments that made Senate Bill 1172 so onerous in terms of clamping down on communication came about after superintendents, school board members and teachers began communicating to their communities about proposed budgets. Bills to change ballot language on bond and override issues supposedly for “clarity” are much more likely to mislead voters and suppress successful passage of such measures. While some legislators agree these types of bills are unnecessary and even combative, the fact that they appear to be increasing rather than decreasing in number does not bode well for education in either the short or long term.