2012 Education Priorities

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Education advocates share their views on the state of public education in Arizona and what state lawmakers should focus on in 2012. Guests include Arizona Education Association (AEA) President Andrew Morrill, Arizona School Administrators (ASA) Executive Director Dr. Debra Duvall, and Arizona Business and Education Coalition (ABEC) Executive Director Susan Carlson.

Jose Cardenas: Arizona's public schools have had to endure substantial budget cuts over the last few years. How are they getting along? Tonight, we hear from education advocates about the state of public education and their priorities for the next legislative session. Joining me is Dr. Debra Duval, executive director of the Arizona school administrators association. Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona education association, the state's largest teacher association. And Susan Carlson, executive director of ABEC, the Arizona business and education coalition. Thank you for joining us.

Andrew Morill: Good evening.

Jose Cardenas: We do want to talk about the state of funding for schools. First of all, Debra, for the magnitude of the cuts over the last few years.

Debra Duvall: Well, over the last four years or so, it's been in excess of $2 billion that the education community has lost.

Jose Cardenas: And how are districts getting along without that amount of money? $2 billion is quite a bit.

Debra Duvall: Well, in many instances increased class size. They've reduced many of the opportunities for advanced course work, they've impacted on after-school programming. They've cut back on elective classes like art and music and P.E, there are no longer nurses in schools. There might be staff that has been trained with first aid, instead of certified nurses. They're doing everything they can do to cut around the edges that keep classroom -- the classroom environment as positive for students as possible. But in these recent years, we've had to increase class size, so that's impacting on the teaching and learning environment.

Andrew Morrill: The problem that Arizona has, some of the largest class sizes in the country. Particularly at the elementary grade level.

Jose Cardenas: Are we seeing any measurable impacts. We make an assumption Bigger classes perhaps lower quality --

Andrew Morrill: Well, I think what larger class sizes represents is a challenge to teachers to do what we know works in research. Which is differentiated instruction. It's a very different experience to differentiate the learning and the instruction of students when you have 35-40. That's not an exaggeration, as opposed to 25. And there are research models, one, incorporated into work that ABEC has done on a funding model that posits a much smaller class size as being evidence of being effective and research driven. So the three Ps, pupils, personnel and programs, have been impacted by the loss in funding.

Jose Cardenas: Susan, since Andrew drew you into the discussion by the reference to ABEC, what's the business' community's view of the current situation?

Susan Carlson: Well I think the business community is extremely concerned, on the one hand, the demand for workforce that they can draw upon is huge understanding a state that has one in four kids in poverty and we know, there's data that describes the relationship between student performance and poverty and having a state that continues to under-fund or is in such an economic crisis we can't appropriately fund education is a very big concern for the business community. For that reason, ABEC, which is half business and half education, it's a non-partisan forum, spent a number of years developing a school finance model that is very different than what we do today, that is based on funding -- identifying a per pupil funding level based on research-based strategies and that funding model is -- does dramatically change way we fund Arizona schools and has become the foundation for conversation around funding school.

Jose Cardenas: Is it something we can afford given the current economic climate?

Susan Carlson: It's something that would be When -- if and when implemented would be phased in. The intention is it's phased in over five to seven years.

Andrew Morrill: It represents a commitment we haven't seen yet and what's fascinating, it does give a number. Sometimes we hear from the legislature, a challenge, all you seem to want is more and more and more. I would argue sometimes the legislature seems us to want to educate for less and less and less. This actually provides a funding target that is research-driven and we could work toward if we really put the right investment commitment in.

Jose Cardenas: How many more dollars do we need to meet the target?

Susan Carlson: It's not been costed out. We haven't costed it out. Simply because we've actually not wanted to talk about the amount of funding, but we want to talk about is a system that would change the way we look at funding. The question is not putting more money in schools. The question is how you use the funding. And that's been the mantra of -- for a lot of people, it's not a matter of more money into the system. It's how you use the money. This model, would actually base that funding on research-based strategies.

Andrew Morrill: But there's a gap.

Debra Duvall: One of the things we've seen is when you talk about those strategies that have proven to be successful in recent years, we've eliminated full-day kindergarten and yet implemented a move on when reading program which would assume youngsters would be ready to read by the end of third grade and we have already then taken one of those successful strategies you've identified and are no longer offering it.

Andrew Morrill: That's really the key. The strategies that have gone into some of Arizona's policy, move on when reading, move on when ready. A new evaluation system that we hope is part of the answer to overall teacher performance. It's all well and good to say money isn't the answer. Susan has a lot of credibility in the education community for the work that she's helped lead with ABEC, But eventually, those strategies, are tied to investment strategies. When you talk about what you want to do in schools, just as with any other business model, you have to be willing to have the investment strategy that goes along with the outcomes you say you want. Eventually we're going to get down to what the funding model is and we're going to get to a number and we've been going in the wrong direction. Most would agree with that.

Jose Cardenas: I do want to talk about the initiatives, like move on when reading and an explanation what that is. But on the investment side, some steps that the legislature has taken, include cutting of the excess utilities funding. Debra, explain that.

Debra Duvall: Well, basically a number of years ago, school districts were able to receive additional dollars to help pay for the utility costs, since the utility costs in this state vary in the state geographically and I'm not sure the year. 2010, I think it was --

Andrew Morris: It was earlier.

Debra Duvall: Was it earlier? That -- that funding became extinct.

Jose Cardenas: We're talking $90 million or something?

Debra Duvall: Something like that. Yes. So now school districts, you still have utility costs to deal with, so those dollars to pay for utilities which you don't have a lot of control over, because even if you begin to do things to save water, electricity, cut back on refuge collection and all of those things, you're still subject to any increases that the utility companies decide to make so you take the money out of your M and O. You take the money out of what you would pay teachers and the paper you buy, the crayons you purchase, the desk, what have you.

Andrew Morrill: It was called excess utilities. But what that meant, the legislature set a year, I don't remember if it was 2004, 2006, and said that's what the funding will be based on. So the excess, it wasn't excess, but what had happened to utility costs and rates in the time since they set that year. So there wasn't much excess, it was a increase in the operational costs.

Jose Cardenas: Something else that went away was the inflation funding, is that right?

Andrew Morril: For now.

Debra Duvall: For now, yes. Actually, there's been a different interpretation taken to that inflation funding. The initial interpretation was that school districts would receive a 2% increase to their overall budget. Or inflation, whichever was less. And actually what has occurred the last couple years, there's been an interpretation by the legislature that that 2% would not be applied to the entire budget, the overall budget, but only one very small portion of the budget, which was the transportation portion of the budget.

Jose Cardenas: Susan, Debra mentioned teacher funding, classroom funding available. We talked a little bit off-camera about the monies that teachers have for classroom supplies and how that's gone down.

Susan Carlson: Well, and so the -- the -- I guess -- I think -- I think it's important to recognize -- we've talked about in terms of school funding, put school districts in the position of having to make choices. They have an allocation of funding from the state Coffers and they have to do what they need to do for their communities based on what they get and provide supplies for teachers or they're able to increase teacher salaries to be competitive, or provide all-day kindergarten, or they're able to establish a computer lab or several computer labs for schools across the district. All of which impact utility. So the utility rates also relates to the use of technology in the school district. Or, they can implement a reduction in student-teacher ratio, but they can't do all of those things. Those are the choices. For example, there are -- many of our school districts that have chosen to retain voluntary all-day kindergarten, because by third grade, they have to be able to read or they're not going to be able to continue to fourth. So they take away the very tool that helps children come to school ready to read and ready to learn, there's no funding anymore. That was one of the cuts, was all-day kindergarten. When the school district makes that choice to continue all-day kindergarten, they're also having to make a choice what they're not going to fund elsewhere in the district. Those choices are difficult for school districts.

Andrew Morrill: We hear it, we're going to have to tighten our belts. I'll tell you, the districts have been tightening their belts and the impact is on the students. And the comparison, when families are in this situation, they have to make tough choices.
But we don't tell families, and we pointedly don't tell family, pay the mortgage or buy groceries. Buy groceries or take care of the health of your children. Buy groceries or buy clothes for your children. I don't think anyone wants Arizona's families in that situation and I don't think we want our schools in the situation. Having to make choices that really shouldn't be made.

Debra Duvall: The thing on health though is an interesting analogy, because it you take a look at the health, the nature of the food you buy impacts on the quality of nutrition you have. And the level of comfort that you have in your home affects your motivation to work.

Andrew Morrill: Absolutely right.

Debra Duvall: When you apply those same ideas and principles to what's happening in education, we are basically -- yes, we're funding education, but we're funding at a level that's impacting the overall health of the system, which is impacting the overall motivation of the people in the system, the morale of the people in the system and ultimately, the overall success of the system.

Jose Cardenas: Let's move on to move on when reading and explain what that's about and the impact that's going to have.

Debra Duvall: Susan has -- both -- I guess all of us have referenced move on when reading. But basically it was a piece of legislation that says youngsters have to pass the third grade reading assessment in order to be promoted to fourth grade. And that impacts students who are currently in the first grade. So first graders, in school today, will have to demonstrate they have passed the majority of the items on the third grade -- I'm going to say AIMS test, because that's the test we have at this point. In order to be promoted. Now, school districts are looking at ways to help current kindergarten, first, second graders, with after-school opportunity, additional time in the area of reading. Different reading materials. Reading partners. A variety of strategies and interventions that would help a youngster who was struggling. But the point being, again, using -- going back to Susan's comments, they're taking those dollars from other resources, or other programs, the three Ps.

Andrew Morrill: The pupil, the personnel and the programs.

Debra Duvall: They're taking the dollars from those three Ps to help current primary --

Jose Cardenas: No debate about the program itself.

Andrew Morrill: No, it's a good goal. Third grade literacy is one of those indexed points where we want students to have a skill level at a certain point and that's the right goal.

Jose Cardenas: What about our accountability measures we've seen come out of the legislature. There was this push for the race toward the top funding. You've got the A to F labels seem to be another accountability measure. What is the sense for these things coming out of the legislature and what would you like to see them doing?

Andrew Morrill: One thing is Having a coherent, cohesive system where the goals and pieces of accountability do not conflict with each other. We've been living under a situation since no child left behind where you had a federal accountability system and a state accountability system, frankly, the state was better, the growth, the emphasis in the newest letter grades -- the emphasis, it's an improvement how we lead students to grow in their academic learning. What we don't want do is put layer after layer after layer of accountability. You have the potential of 90 legislators to do a great deal of bill passage and articulation with each person thinking accountability looks like a different things. At some point, what we need the legislative function to set goals and put the big pieces in and get the decision making to districts as much as possible. LEAs, whether it's a charter service for charter school or a district for traditional schools, we want them making as many decisions as possible. And what Susan and Deb have talked about is when you do something like third grade reading that might have a great goal, you have to realize that connects to everything. There's a relationship between full-day kindergarten and the likelihood of success for third grade reading.

Jose Cardenas: Susan, the business community would like to see all-day K funded again? Or what would you be looking for from the legislature session starting in January?

Susan Carlson: I think if you asked the business community, they would say, they want to see the outcome. They want to see results. All-day kindergarten the answer? There's not a silver bullet and I think the business community understands that. I think the business community looks to professional educators as being the experts but they're looking for the outcome, the results. And I need to put on the table and when you talk about accountability, we're talking about accountability around the AIMS assessment. The AIMS assessment is based on the current Arizona state standard and that AIMS test is a tenth grade test. It's a level that the business community does not believe, I think, acceptable for youngsters going into the workforce or post-secondary --

Andrew Morrill: Nor do educators.

Susan Carlson: But there's a set of contents standards on the horizon, so to speak -- [Laughter] -- called the common goal. That's a set of standards that have been accepted by 44 different states and Arizona is one of them. That's -- that set of standards increases rigor for students beginning in kindergarten. Right now. And it's a much higher standard for Arizona students and the first assessment from that common core will come from 2014-15. It's a big transition.

Jose Cardinas: Almost out of time. Andrew,I do want to touch about a different accountability aspect, and that's for teacher performance-based pay.

Andrew Morril: Sure,the often suggested and in some cases the silver bullet, it's unfortunate, performance based pay, is one of a series of strategies that you can put in. You have to understand its function. It's likely to be more successful if it's an incentive to retain teachers as they go through their carrer, it's better as a recognition of what teachers are doing. I've had teacher after teacher tell me, don't pay me to work harder, I'm literally working as hard as I possibly can. Get me working with new techniques and new strategy, that's fine. AEA has supported performance-based pay since the mid '80s with career ladder, that was a plan and the state is backing out the funding on that as well.

Debra Duvall: Before you can have performance-based pay, you have to have a performance based evaluation system--

Jose Cardenas: We have to back out ourselves right now. Thank you all for joining us. That's it for now, thank you for joining us on "Horizon." For Ted Simons. I'm José Cárdenas. Good night.

Arizona Education Association (AEA) President Andrew Morrill, Arizona School Administrators (ASA) Executive Director Dr. Debra Duvall, and Arizona Business and Education Coalition (ABEC) Executive Director Susan Carlson.

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