Education advocates' budget priorities for legislative session - AZEdNews
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Education advocates’ budget priorities for legislative session

Black Mountain Elementary School Teachers Meet With Students In Cave Creek Unified School District. Photo By Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

Education advocates share their budget priorities before the Arizona Legislature starts its session next week with Gov. Doug Ducey’s State of the State on Monday, Jan. 13.

This session, K-12 education advocates are seeking an acceleration of the Legislature’s restoration of district additional assistance, more money for school building maintenance, as well as increased funding to cover the actual costs of special education student services and “getting some investment into the formula or a weighted system for students who are experiencing poverty,” said Chris Kotterman, director of governmental relations for Arizona School Boards Association.

Arizona Legislators met with education advocates, teachers, business and community leaders during the fall and winter to work on plans that could update K-12 funding and adjust special education funding, said Rep. Michelle Udall, (R-LD 25), House Education Committee Chair and House Appropriations Committee Member.

This year, Arizona House and Senate Republican leaders met to develop their own budget proposal before the session start to determine how they’d like to spend or save the estimated $140 million in ongoing funding and the estimated $475 million in one-time funding. Arizonans will hear Gov. Ducey’s education priorities in his State of the State speech, which AZEdNews will cover.

PBS Arizona’s video of Arizona Horizon 1/7/2020: Education, children’s issues, Navajo hemp (Note: Education portion starts 3:15 and ends at 12:36)

More funds through sustainable revenue

Increasing K-12 education funding through a sustainable revenue stream to ensure a qualified, certified teacher in every classroom is Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas’ main concern.

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Joe Thomas. Photo courtesy Arizona Education Association

The Arizona Legislature “is more worried about tax cuts than they are about funding our schools adequately,” Thomas said at a legislative workshop in late November.

“Our worst trait is that no matter how much they cut, we keep the lights on, we keep the doors open, we keep the buses running, somehow, but it has gotten to the point in the last few years that it’s absolutely unsustainable,” Thomas said.

Education advocates should craft an initiative with a sustainable revenue stream and let the voters “decide what kind of schools they want for the children and for their community,” because “I just don’t see a legislature or a governor that’s going to put large increases – the kind you need to get the wheels turning at the rate they need to turn,” Thomas said.

“I think we’re probably going to see for the next several years increases of maybe $100 million or $150 million, which is good, but it’s not nearly what you need to attract and retain quality teachers, counselors, social workers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, or hire the people in your community to provide the experience that your students deserve,” Thomas said.

Arizona has 1,400 classrooms that don’t have a teacher in them “due to not having competitive salaries in the state,” Thomas said Tuesday on Arizona Horizon. “It’s due to not being able to replace the ones leaving for other states and leaving the profession.”

“We need to inject a significant amount of dollars into our school districts and our charters to where they can hire the people they need so our students can be successful,” Thomas said.

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Black Mountain Elementary School teachers meet with students in Cave Creek Unified School District. Photo by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

Dick Foreman, president and CEO of Arizona Business and Education Coalition, said “It all revolves around resources.”

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Dick Foreman. Photo courtesy Arizona Business and Education Coalition

People care about the teacher shortage, but schools also have capital and operational needs, while “we have formulas that are not distributing money” where it needs to go, Foreman said Tuesday on Arizona Horizon.

For example, student health and safety issues are significantly underfunded as shown by the response to the recent grant for school resource officers and counselors, Foreman said.

“It (the grant) was set at $20 million, and there was $98 million worth of requests. I think that’s just indicative in a very small way of some of the larger issues,” Foreman said.

A vision for Arizona public education

Education advocates, business, community, nonprofit and government leaders all had a hand in developing Expect More Arizona’s Arizona Education Progress Meter, a 15-year vision of what pre-kindergarten through post-secondary public education in Arizona should be, with goals, accountability and details on what it takes to get there.

“Our long-term prosperity is tied inextricably to education,” said Christine M. Thompson, president and CEO of Expect More Arizona at a Jan. 3, 2020 update presentation. “A strong education sector – prekindergarten through higher education – creates and supports a robust talent pipeline that attracts and sustains diverse Arizona businesses.”

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Expect More Arizona president and CEO Christine M Thompson gives an update on the Arizona Education Progress Meter on Jan. 3, 2020. Photo by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

A more educated and skilled workforce increases personal income, decreases dependence on social safety nets and it grows revenues for the state to invest in its critical needs, Thompson said.

These greater levels of educational attainment also lower crime rates, improve personal health and create more resiliency to economic cycles,” Thompson said.

“The returns on the educational investments can be staggering,” Thompson said. “Take access to quality early learning, which results in a return of $7 for every $1 invested in pre-K, not to mention the increased productivity and economic impact when the parents and caregivers of those children are able to improve their own education or secure more stable employment.”

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A recently updated Mayor’s Educational Roundtable report estimates the lifetime economic loss for each student who does not complete high school is about $500,000, Thompson said.

“That’s $9.3 billion lost over a lifetime for the 18,639 students who did not graduate with their class in 2018,” Thompson said. “Estimated lifetime loss for opportunity youth – those are people who are 16 to 24 years old who are neither working nor in school – exceeds $96 billion.”

Also, a 2015 impact study by College Success Arizona suggests that “increasing attainment levels for working adults in order to meet the future labor market needs would lead to a 12 percent increase in economic activity annually – tripling our current economic growth rate for a $7.6 billion annual economic impact,” Thompson said.

Yet, four years after the launch of the Arizona Education Progress Meter in 2016, “unfortunately we’re not on track to reach those goals by 2030,” Thompson said.

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Arizona’s progress on it’s Education Progress Meter goals. Chart courtesy Expect More Arizona

“We already know that unless we work together on necessary course corrections that we’ll not hit the goals,” Thompson said.

People throughout government and education use the Arizona Education Progress Meter goals, Thompson said.

“The governor uses Arizona Education Progress Meter goals to frame his education budget. The State Board of Education has adopted the goals and embedded them in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act,” Thompson said.

“The business community uses these goals as they frame their legislative goals around education, around high expectations, impact and increasing funding,” Thompson said.

School districts have embedded the goals in their strategic plans, and philanthropy is using it to drive their investments, Thompson said.

“Cities and towns across the state have adopted Arizona Progress Meter Goals as their frame to discuss education, and many of them are now talking about how they can localize those goals,” Thompson said.

“If that isn’t enough, we regularly hear from folks outside of Arizona who are seeking our advice because they’re interested in developing a similar tool for their own states,” Thompson said.

Now, it’s time to develop long-term investment plans for the State of Arizona to reach the Arizona Education Progress Meter goals, Thompson said.

Next step: Making targeted long-term investments

What’s needed is a long-term vision of how to bring meaningful investments into education, said  Vince Yanez, senior vice president of Helios Education Foundation, at the Legislative Workshop in November.

Over the past year or so, a group of education advocates have “looked at what the most significant investments we can make in early ed, K-12 and higher ed. In total, that package is about $1.5 billion,” Yanez said.

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Vince Yanez, center, talks about education funding on a Legislative Workshop panel with Joe Thomas, left, and Jim Rounds, right. Photo by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

“That would fund access to early ed. It would fund about a billion dollars in terms of teacher compensation. It would fully fund the resident student tuition model at the universities and then additional workforce dollars for the community colleges,” Yanez said. “It would do nothing to address school counselors, school safety, K-12 school construction and maintenance and all-day K. It would not address the needs of the entire system.”

Legislators need to remember that “if you cut taxes, you have to cut funding somewhere else. The key is to find balance,” said Jim Rounds, economist and president of Rounds Consulting Group, at the Legislative Workshop.

Data that shows how increased attainment leads to higher wages and increased tax revenues showing what the return on investment is, and that turns education advocates’ request  for “increased funding for higher ed into an investment plan and a business proposal,” Rounds said.

The key is breaking down each item in detail, providing the data, doing the math and developing a targeted plan, Rounds said.

For example, if advocated are concerned about “what happens if we don’t take care of the poverty issue in the next 10 to 20 years?,” then show “what kind of loss of economic activity is that going to be and how does it impact taxes,” Rounds said.

“You’d be surprised the extent you can have a minor influence on the economy, and it pays for the programs that people discuss,” Rounds said.  

“If we can talk to people and say, if you’re a jobs lawmaker, if you’re about having competitive taxes and everything else, then you need to build the economy, and the best way to build the economy is to improve productivity,” Rounds said.

“This goes back to the very first books in economics. How do you improve productivity? More effective labor and more efficient capital. Where do you get that? Education,” Rounds said.