A look at the fiscal challenges facing public education. Guests include State Representative John Kavanagh and Chuck Essigs of the Arizona Association of School Business Officials.
Ted Simons: With the governor and other state officials sworn in, things are set for taking on the state budget which will begin in earnest next week when lawmakers meet in a new legislative session. Republicans hold a veto-proof majority in both chambers and they face some tough choices on budget cuts with education a major target. Here now to talk about how they might handle education cuts are Representative John Kavanagh and Chuck Essigs of the Arizona Association of School Business Officials.
Ted Simons: What exactly is the state facing, as far as education and the budget?
Chuck Essigs: A little bit about what they currently are facing. Schools this year have probably lost $400 million to $500 million dollars, the loss of all-day kindergarten funds, capital funds. In 2000 money put into teachers salaries, called proposition 301 down from $500 million to $250 million. The legislature didn't cut that, the sales tax just cut it down.
Ted Simons: Impact on education john so far because of budget cuts?
John Kavanagh: I think we have to look at overall funding to education. You go back to 2008 and schools overall funding was $9.97 billion, and this year we estimate the same with a slight decrease in enrollment, very little change in enrollment. The JLBC, our nonpartisan budget agency, basically estimates that we give about $9,500 per student in Arizona. That puts Arizona a little below the median nationwide.
Ted Simons: First of all, do you agree with those numbers?
Chuck Essigs: No, I don't.
Chick Essigs: You add in bonding and food service and all the money that comes to schools, that's not the money that goes into the classroom because many of those dollars are dedicated to other sources.
John Kavanagh: Absolutely. But if we're going to do apples to apples, other states give in their full funding, and that's our full funding.
Ted Simons: Again, do you agree with that?
Chuck Essigs: When you bring in all those things in other states, we're still way below average because their average goes up to 12 -- $11,000 to $12,000.
Ted Simons: There has been a dispute; on this program we hear those numbers back and forth.
John Kavanagh: We are not on the bottom like the people say. We're a bit below the median. Take into account inflation and cost of living, we're not that far behind.
Ted Simons: Hold on, that's debatable, as well. Are we that far behind? I keep seeing 40, 45, 46, 47, 48th, and just below median. Where are we?
Chris Essigs: When you look at all the national studies, we're near the bottom. I've said this for a number of years. And I'm still employed. If somebody can show me a study that shows expenditures at the national level that's a reputable study, the National Center for Education Statistics or something, I'll find something else to do, because we are near the bottom.
John Kavanagh: We have one of the most complicated funding structures in the state. There are years and years of different techniques that never end. These nationwide agencies don't pick up all the money, not with 9500. If you plug all that in, we're a little below the median. Let's get beyond that. Why do we judge how well our education system is functioning based on what we've funded? Do other people do that? Fly transnational, we spend more per passenger per mile, than any other airline. Fly us, we're the most expensive? You judge schools on performance. If you look at the performance of Arizona students our test scores nationally generally come in a little below the median. If you remove the Arizona testing bank, students who have poor command of English or illiterate parents, we would probably move a little above the median in achievement. Thats how you judge education, in the outcome of the product.
Ted Simons: Are you saying that education would be better if we didn't spend so much?
John Kavanagh I'm not necessarily saying -- money is not the total answer. If we spent what Washington, D.C. spends, about $25,000 a year, we would not suddenly jump up to the top. Because Washington, D.C., spending $25,000, is near the bottom. It's more than just money. Money is important but we do not dramatically underfund education.
Ted Simons: Education, 48% of state expenditures, not enough?
Chris Essigs: I think actually K-12 is a little bit below that, probably 42%.
Ted Simons: Okay. Close enough.
Chris Essigs: But Arizona decided to fund its state budget and fund local School Districts with significant amounts of state funding. A lot of states put a lot less state money in and rely more on local funding. You have to put that in the context of what is the state's philosophy. The state decided back in 1980 to put more money into the state budget for funding schools to lower property taxes.
Ted Simons: What about the idea that Representative Kavanagh says, that it's not so much about the money it's about the results, but that it needs to be improved. And if they are improved by streamlining or cutting the budget, so be it.
Chris Essigs: Certainly the School Districts should be judged on how students are performing. I'll use an example, Jeb Bush, the Governor of Florida came to Arizona a couple of years ago. Everybody says Florida, that's the kind of reforms we need. He said when he was governor they invested more money into education to bring about those improvements. When you want to have full-day kindergarten, which we had and then lost, more remedial services, science, math, those cost dollars to do those things.
John Kavanagh: Let's look at what we actually cut. In terms of state funding over the last three years during this difficult recession, we cut $605 million. Two thirds of that shouldn't have had any effect on most classrooms because -- because $218 million of that was going from full day to half-day kindergarten. Full-day K with a relatively new program, not all of the School Districts had it. The Rand Institute, not a right wing think tank, came out with a powerful longitudinal study that shows, with the exception of poor students, all-day K had no lasting effect on improvement. We cut 218 for all day k $165 million from soft capital like textbooks. Almost two thirds of the $605 million reduction should have had virtually no impact on the classrooms.
Ted Simons: how do you respond to that?
Chris Essigs: the full day kindergarten, if you had a 6 hour show, we could debate all the research done on it. It's been very popular but schools are continuing full day kindergarten even though the states not funding it. They cut other areas of their budget to fund it. So it's very important to continue those types of programs.
John Kavanagh: I don't deny that all day kindergarten is popular. But its It's not popular or shouldn't be popular because it works in improving academic scores.
Ted Simons" I have to agree, there are studies, the Rand study is on one side. We've had folks on this program citing all sorts of stuff.
John Kavanagh: Anecdotal studies often biased. The benchmark of good research studies is a longitude flat line study which follows the same cohort of students over time. Rand identified the two big cohort studies. They said no long-term improvement in academic skills except for poor students.
Ted Simons: We don't have six hours. Respond quickly to that.
Chris Essigs: There's a lot of research that'll show that it is successful. I agree for students who come to school disadvantaged and don't have the training other students have, that's what full-day kindergarten, where it achieves the most.
Ted Simons: Schools are losing librarians, counselors, how much more can they take?
John Kavanagh: I don't think they can take that much more. A lot of schools are losing the more vital services because they decided to keep all-day K. That was a big chunk of what we took away. I asked a number of school superintendents, why you did that. I don't usually get the answer for academic achievement. It's usually because we compete with surrounding schools. If you can't grab these kids early, the parents will not keep them and we lose the rest of the money between one and 12.
Chris Essigs: What a terrible choice for schools to face. Do you want to get rid of your librarians, cut off your left arm, or get rid of something else and cut off your right arm? These are choices that districts have to make and they try to do the things that will impact the kids the least. If the kids are in third grade, first grade, kindergarten, that's the only year they are going get that service. Districts need to provide services for those students, because they are not going to get another shot at that grade.
John Kavanagh: You are not cutting off your right arm by removing half of the full-day K. That extra half day doesn't work. Some studies claim because it pulls the students away from family it has a negative effect on the child.
Ted Simons: lets talk about actual numbers here Where are we in terms of MOE right now? Current fiscal year, what happens when they run out?
John Kavanagh: They run out June, the end of June. We are at MOE, that's part of taking the stimulus money. The restrictions go away July 1st. For the next budget year that protection is no longer there.
Ted Simons: What happens when that protection goes away?
Chris Essigs: Schools are scared to death about what that will mean. The legislature can make additional cuts because that maintenance of effort is gone. To the credit of Governor Brewer and others, they have done everything that they said they have tried to do to keep education funding up on the forefront of their budget items. They have tried to do that. But it's going to be really tough to continue.
Ted Simons: The last question regarding the public perception. We have lawmakers saying that no one who voted for cuts last session got voted out of office, that the public understands it. That's on one side. On the other side we've got voters saying, don't touch this, don't touch that, and we're okay with a one-cent sales tax. What does the public want?
Chris Essigs: voter's approved a 1 cent sakes tax. Again, thanks to Governor Brewer for standing tall on that. Prop 302, about two thirds of the voters voted to continue that. I think the voters of this state, certainly the clear message is they want to have more support for young children and education and services to young children.
Ted Simons: Message.
John Kavanagh: If you're talking about what's going to happen next session, I think you'll see cuts in education, but I think the cuts will be very light to K-12 because there was a quid pro quo that if we get the sales tax, K-12 will not be reduced significantly. You'll see a more substantial reduction to the universities because after three years of budget cutting we've discovered that the universities have more money today than they had three years ago.
Ted Simons: With 100 million cut in the past few years?
John Kavanagh: Yeah. The universities literally, if you count, funding which went down, they have $579 million more than they did in 2008. If you discount research, they have $595 million more today than they had three years ago, and they are claiming they are being decimated.
Ted Simons: Does that make sense to you?
Chris Essigs: No. But I can't speak for universities because I don't follow their budgets. We've lost funding for full day kindergarten, $250 million from the high point in the classroom site fund. We lost $100 million in building renewal money to keep the air-conditioning systems and the roofs working. There's a lot of money that used to be there that isn't there anymore.
Ted Simons: We've got to stop it there, John. Thank you for joining us, both of you, we appreciate it.
John Kavanagh:State Representative;Chuck Essigs:Arizona Association of School Business Officials;