Arizona Education Association President Andrew Morrill discusses the nearly $212 million Arizona has been awarded from the federal government to help keep teachers employed.
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. A judge today ordered the release of criminal records of Governor Jan Brewer's son. The records were sealed right before the governor took office at the request of her son Ronald who was found not guilty because of insanity in a 1989 rape and kidnapping case. But a judge ruled today that Ronald Brewer's request for privacy did not outweigh the public's right to know about the case, which had been open to public inspection before 2009. Also from the courts -- a judge today ruled that so-called sham candidates can stay on the ballot. 11 people were allegedly recruited by Republicans to run as green party candidates to siphon votes from Democrats. The judge found that the contested candidates were recruited in bad faith to cause voter confusion, but ruled that they could stay on the ballot because of the short time left until the election. Arizona is getting $212 million in federal funds to help keep teachers in the classroom. Here to talk about how the money will be distributed and how long it will last is Andrew Morrill, President of the Arizona Education Association.
Andrew Morrill: Good evening.
Ted Simons: Good to see you here. Are we really getting this money?
Andrew Morrill: Looks like it's there for the taking and we have applied for it here in Arizona. The question will be, what exactly are we going to do with it? How much are the fields? How much will the districts see?
Ted Simons: The other question would be, when will we get the money?
Andrew Morrill: The D.O.C. is anticipating 45 days from the time they receive the application and our application is in.
Ted Simons: That means relatively soon.
Andrew Morrill: Relatively soon.
Ted Simons: How are they going to distribute it?
Andrew Morrill: That's the question, Ted. There's already some work done that about half of that 210, 212 million may go to backfill a hole in our K-12 education. Arizona continues to suffer from a really tragic structural deficit. From the last time our deficit from K-12 funding has increased. Some of that will go to that.
Ted Simons: Maintenance requirements not necessarily a factor here.
Andrew Morrill: Maintenance efforts had to be satisfied. That means the State of Arizona had to show commitment to use these funds for what they'll be intended for. The feds gave a little latitude as to how a state would show that. We've qualified.
Ted Simons: The idea is these should be education jobs. What does that mean, teacher jobs, straight to the classroom?
Andrew Morrill: That's interesting. It is very specific coming from Duncan and Douse. This money is to be used for jobs keeping education in or bringing back some of those from terrible cuts that happened the last couple of years. This is not to be saved for a rainy day fund. It's clear that this is to stimulate the economy one community at a time to put teachers back to work.
Ted Simons: If teachers are watching this, what does it do for teachers? What does it not do for teachers?
Andrew Morrill: It's not a guarantee for what the state will do with the money. It's not a mandate to release all of it now into the field for creation of jobs. What it means is talks will happen in the districts to find out what the best use is for that money. Are we going to bring back in our districts -- of course the answers will vary. Are we going to bring back important positions that have been cut due to the budget cuts? Are we going to bring back programs? But through people that bring those to students. Are we going to bring back paraprofessionals? Because the money can be used for that to help students. A lot of questions.
Ted Simons: If the district is concerned that a state is behind a billion dollars and come next budget they're worried about future cuts, they can't sit on it, bank it, or save it.
Andrew Morrill: You bring up an interesting point. This is one-time money. A lot of critics out there will say, see, this is going to leave school districts high and dry after a year. We have options. We have districts cut by one or two days, their contract days with employees in order to save money. This money could be used to restore what's called a furlough day and put people back at work.
Ted Simons: Again, there are assurances, the DOE, Department of Education, there are requirements and assurances that the money will be used as the department sees fit?
Andrew Morrill: That's right. They were very prescriptive about this and kept it in a pretty narrow range. They offered districts some flexibility over the next two years for how they want to use it or when. They did say attach this to job creation or job investment right now.
Ted Simons: Was this a surprise?
Andrew Morrill: You know, an awful lot of work went into it in Congress. You know, this is a political football. There are folks that look at any expenditure from the government as -- as, I don't know, waste. It's hard for me to imagine coming out of public education. I see this as an investment. Teachers, educators, all those roles in our districts, you know, those are taxpayers, too. When they're employed, they contribute to an economy also.
Ted Simons: I mention surprise, because apparently not every state is going to be getting some of this money and Arizona is right there. I know Arizona did very well in race to the top which I'll mention in just a moment. Was that a factor in our race to the top?
Andrew Morrill: I think this is a little bit different. The intent, however, is to stimulate the economy through public education, through all of those positions in a local community that are so important. We have to remember that the down road effect of public education is more degreed people with a larger impact and an ability to be mobile and be a contributing factor to all kinds of things including the economy.
Ted Simons: I mentioned race to the top. Real quickly, describe what it is and how well we did in this latest go-around and what that means as far as a blueprint or guideline for education in Arizona.
Andrew Morrill: I think that's it exactly. The short answer is, the second round was much better facilitated. We had folks coming in talking to the major stakeholder groups. Here is what race to the top is now in Arizona. It's a blueprint that can be studied, regarded, revised again, but really this is an opportunity for us to finally have a compelling vision for public education. It's going to require investments. It's also going to require groups to put aside certain differences and figure out where we want public education to go in this state. I would be happy with a commitment that we actually want public education in this state. I've seen things in the last couple of years to doubt that and it troubles me.
Ted Simons: What happened to career ladder?
Andrew Morrill: Career ladder still exists. It's really an irony associated with race to the top. Here we have a better than 20-year-old program which research says allows students in career ladder districts to outperform their counterparts. It's a research-based program that ties in professional development, leadership roles, student achievement and a compensation structure. And the state is having trouble finding its commitment to back that program. So it's a little bit on hiatus. It looks like it's in danger of being underfunded.
Ted Simons: Why? Because it sounds like accountability is a factor here and accountability seems to be a buzz word these days.
Andrew Morrill: It was. I hear a lot of talk around the capitol about advantages of performance-based pay. Here Arizona had a performance-based pay plan. Instead of expanding that and make it available to every district, instead the legislature claims it's an inequity and we can't sustain this. I think that's unfortunate. It went away simply because we don't have the political will in this state to get serious about the investment in public education.
Ted Simons: That said, we just got some S.A.T. scores. I know the test, the variable is large in number of folks taking the test. What do you make of the numbers? What do you make of the test?
Andrew Morrill: I would make of it that I would of any other standardized test. It's a point of data. You can't read too much into data. It's great that we're in a slight uptick in performance but not enough students are taking that test. I would like to see more ethnic minority students taking that. It's a composite of where we are in Arizona. I'm not going to turn down good news.
Ted Simons: We need to realize the students taking that particular test are the kids that have the initiative to take such a test. You kind of get the top of the barrel there anyway, right?
Andrew Morrill: You would think that the student taking the SAT with investment of time is positive about his or her prospects after school. There might be a particular group that's represented there.
Ted Simons: Not bad news. We'll also take $212 million even though it's backfill. Sounds like race to the top folks back in Washington sees like something is going on in Arizona that we should pay attention to. Generally, the state of education in Arizona.
Andrew Morrill: Still too much chaos, confusion and uncertainty frankly. We've seen some, you've identified some small pieces that in a week's time or two-week window look like indications of good news. Look, Arizona is ready to make a commitment. Our families voted for prop 100 overwhelmingly. Arizonans get the priority that ought to be on public education. We have to have the political will to be bold enough to say yes, public education is going to be a priority because it leads to good things for students, families and the economy. We don't see enough of that right now.
Ted Simons: Andrew, thanks for being here.
Andrew Morrill: Thanks for having me here.
Andrew Morrill:President, Arizona Education Association;