I’d love to have a frank discussion with Arizona voters about education funding. I’d like to know if they really believe more of the same is going to change things or if they just don’t care that we’re in a battle for last place with states like Mississippi.
For decades, Republicans have told us that school choice, not school funding, is the only way out of our race to the bottom. We need more choice, end of story. And every year, we expand choice with more vouchers for private schools, more tuition tax credits, and more charter schools.
The result of all this school choice? Nada.
We have the friendliest school choice policies in the country, but that hasn’t moved the needle. Not even a little. Our test scores, when compared nationally over the course of the last three decades, are stagnant. Our achievement gap is still painfully, pathetically wide.
And yet, here we are in another legislative session debating… more school choice. Seriously folks, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. Is it too much to ask to try something new?
I’m not advocating anything radical. I’m not suggesting we dismantle choice programs. All I’m asking is that instead of focusing on choice, why not try funding our schools at a rate close to the national average?
I know some conservatives will be quick to point out that spending doesn’t equal academic achievement. And they’re right, to some extent. Some students aren’t as expensive to educate as others because they have been blessed with richer educational environments. They do not have learning or attention disabilities, have access to quality preschool programs and have economic and parental stability.
Unfortunately, that’s not the typical Arizona child.
It bears repeating that we have some of the highest childhood poverty rates in the country, which is why we NEED extra funding if we wish to compete nationally. To say that we can educate our kids, many of whom start out with the deck stacked against them, at a lower rate than kids in say, Iowa, is pretty incredulous. We can’t. Let’s stop pretending otherwise.
Let’s also let go of the other oft-repeated myth about Arizona’s bloated administration costs. Governor Ducey is playing into that fable with claims that we must put “Classrooms First” by siphoning money away from administration. While that may sound like a smart plan, it’s really just a cutesy slogan used to disguise more cuts to Arizona schools.
Our schools have some of the lowest administration costs in the nation, especially our district schools, which spend significantly less on admin than charter schools. But you won’t hear about that little tidbit from Governor Ducey or his friends pushing for more cuts. Instead, they want schools to settle the lawsuit with the legislature by giving up on the hundreds of millions of dollars owed to them from a voter-approved initiative to fund inflationary costs.
I find all of this curious considering the Governor sends his own children to a private school that spends considerably more on education than what the state pays for kids at district schools. Surely the Governor’s kids, who have a world of advantages, aren’t more expensive to educate than those facing household insecurity. Is it fair to say he believes his kids are worth the extra cost but ours are not?
Too many of Arizona’s politicians have been quick to ask others to sacrifice, content in knowing their own will be just fine. They don’t worry about “other people’s kids.” This is politics at its worst, and it’s what’s ruling the roost down at the Capitol.
It appears our district superintendents have had just about all they can handle of budget cuts and disingenuous sound bites. They’re asking parents and teachers to protest Ducey’s budget, and they’re taking a beating from Ducey’s big-money supporters (read more about that story here).
I hope Arizonans will show their support for our superintendents and our schools, realizing that “those kids” are “our future.”