Budgets for social services in Arizona have been hard-hit in the past few years. Join social services advocates as they talk about what they would like to see from the Arizona legislature in its upcoming session. Dana Naimark, president and CEO of the Children’s Action Alliance, Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association and Tara McCollum Plese of the Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers will discuss issues important to social services advocates.
Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon" -- we'll hear what health care, education, and children's issues advocates want the legislature to emphasize in the session, and we'll see how a local organization has gone national to help refugees coming to America. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."
Narrator: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Eight. Members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. A state lawmaker is looking to introduce a bill to keep Arizona from forcing clergymen to perform same sex marriages. Republican representative Steve Montenegro, who is a youth pastor, wants to run a bill that would ban the state from, "requiring a minister to solemnize a marriage in consistent width a minister held religious beliefs." Arizona bans Same Sex Marriage, and legal experts note that even if that ban were lifted, a discrimination lawsuit against a minister who refuses to marry a same sex couple would be unlikely to succeed. Budgets for essential services in Arizona were hit hard during the recession. Child abuse cases have gone uninvestigated, and there were many changes in the health care arena. Those are just some of the issues that social service advocates will be focusing on as they work with state lawmakers in the upcoming session. Joining us to talk about what they would like to see from the legislature are Dana Naimark, President and CEO of the Children's Action Alliance. Tara McCollum-Plese, of the Arizona alliance for community health centers, and Andrew Morrill, President of the Arizona education association. Good to have you here and thanks for joining us.
All: Thank you.
Ted Simons: Let's start in generalities, and we'll take it to a lower level as we go. What do you want to see the legislature emphasize this session?
Dana Naimark: We would like to see some rebuilding for Arizona families. As you pointed out during the recession, families lost a lot. At the same time, they were losing their jobs, losing their homes, and losing their health insurance, they lost basic supports in health that we, as taxpayers, used to do together. So, it's time to rebuild, we've been suffering the impact of that with the growth in CPS reports, and it's time to really support families and prevent crisis.
Ted Simons: Tara, what do you want to emphasize this session?
Tara McCollum: Well, I think that this session we're playing a lot of defense. We have got quite a bit last session with the Medicaid expansion, and restoration and, and this session, I think that a lot of it will be moving forward and trying to, to minimize the number of barriers. They are going, there are going to be bills out there that will make it more difficult for us to enroll people. And, and the, the health care marketplace and, and access. And so, we're really hoping that, that we can minimize that.
Ted Simons: And Andrew, what are you seeing?
Andrew Morrill: I would like to see the legislature take a lead in making Arizona a better place to be a child. Frankly, we make it far too hard on children in Arizona. We have too many at the poverty level, and every school across the state is feeling the, the effects of five years of cuts, which were absolutely staggering for personnel, for programs, and for being able to give students the attention that they really need. Our educators are showing up committed every day. It's time that the legislature become an enthusiastic, willing partner.
Ted Simons: Let's go to education here, the common core, or whatever they are calling it these days, the impact of that on education, and what do you expect lawmakers to do?
Andrew Morrill: Well, the common core standards, have a, a better name, frankly, because there is a better bearing. There are college and career-ready standards. If you ask most educators, they like them and feel they ask more of the students and get them thinking at a deeper level. It's time for the legislature to put resources behind that, that commitment to higher standards.
Ted Simons: What kind of resources?
Andrew Morrill: Well, we're talking money. Really, in three very consistent areas that educators will tell you about, the technical needs of districts, and in the classroom, because the standards require a greater use of technology for students. So, when necessity leave, they are better prepared for the technology and the technical world that they are going to enter into. The professional development that makes teachers lifelong learners in how to refine how they teach, the standards are very different, and the approaches that we use to teach students have to be different, as well. And then, the opportunities to get together and do what educators do best, which is brainstorm on ways to teach students more effectively.
Ted Simons: And Dana, a CPS, obviously is, going to be a factor this session. How much of a factor and what are you expecting? Is this going to get blown up? Are we going to see money, funneling into the agencies? A new director? Are we going to see a different beast all together? What are you thinking?
Dana Naimark: We expect a lot of attention on CPS, which is good news, and a lot of attention on how we prevent families from ever needing CPS in the first place, and that is great news, we have not will that in some time. Education and family issues go hand in hand, and because what happens to kids before they ever start kindergarten, has a huge bearing on their lifelong learning. So, we have to, to move forward in both those areas.
Andrew Morrill: And in fact, the connection of health care, we want healthy Arizonans and children, and we want safe children. There is not an educator in Arizona that does not understand that a safe, healthy child is better able to learn and, and better able to make it through each school year successfully. And, and then, the education that launches them into their future, and creates a world of opportunities, and the state legislature can, can decide to take a lead in that partnership.
Ted Simons: The CPS, we are hearing an idea of taking first things first money, to help fund CPS, what are your thoughts?
Dana Naimark: First thing is first, has been part of the solution for families. They were created by Arizona voters, to build supports for families, and that's what they have been doing, and at the very same time when our state lawmakers were dismantling supports for families, so, it's great news that people want to come to the table together and figure out how to partner. We need those first things first dollars going to support families without them, and CPS would be worse off than we are right now.
Ted Simons: Tara, as far as you mentioning, the Medicaid expansion, more restoration regardless of how you want to put it, it happened, were you surprised it happened?
Tara McCollum: I would have said at the beginning of last year, I would have said yes. I was surprised. But, once we got into it, we fought hard, and we had tremendous champions, a great coalition. I really had very little doubt that we would not win this battle.
Ted Simons: With that battle won, how -- are the medically underserved, under-insured, are they better off today than they were a year ago?
Tara McCollum: I would say, I would venture to say yes. The response that we have gotten to the enrollment has been tremendous. And, and unfortunately, as you know, there were glitches in the healthcare.gov, but we have had a tremendous number of people seeking health insurance and being able to be enrolled in Medicaid. Many, many families in Arizona, and it's just been very encouraging.
Ted Simons: And you mentioned playing defense. What are you expecting? What are you hearing out there that might get run through the legislature?
Tara McCollum: Well, we know that there is going to be one bill that's going to require additional oversight by the department of insurance. For our navigators. And those are the people that help people figure out how to get through, the websites. They don't tell them how to choose a health plan, but they help them through the website. And they want to make sure that DOI has additional oversight even though there is already oversight from CMS, HHS, there are HIPPA laws that we have to adhere to, so, it's really a way to slow down the process. In our estimation, and make it more difficult to get people out there to help others.
Ted Simons: And Andrew, is it more difficult these days to get lawmakers to understand the importance of education? Because we hear a lot, we hear businesses saying, we need a more educated workforce. It's just not happening. Are lawmakers paying attention to that?
Andrew Morrill: There is a three legged stool in Arizona, Ted, just waiting for happen. And two legs are coming together, and shoring each other up, and that is education and the business community. And the business community put out a message loud and clear last year that, that higher standards were part of the answer for students. We took them at their word, and there was a tremendous amount of support for those academic standards. I was in a meeting just today with some business leaders saying that education, as an investment, is really an economic issue, and it's an issue that business leaders ought to get together and lead gladly. So I'm very optimistic about the conversations that can happen this session between business and education leaders. We owe each other a lot of clarity and a lot of discussion about, about where we want the State of Arizona to be. But the third leg has got to be in the political sphere, and all we're asking is for the legislature to, to come into their own leadership role, be a willing partner in building strong economies in a strong Arizona through our schools across the state for over a million students in our schools right now.
Ted Simons: Are you getting support to that end from Secretary Huppenthal?
Andrew Morrill: Secretary Huppenthal is an interesting study. I think that he surprised a lot of people. His door is constantly open to education leaders. He has gone to bat with -- trying to work with the Department of Education, at the Federal level. And to get some amount of flexibility granted to Arizona for how we take on certain things. The requirements from the Feds were stringent. And so, he's interesting. I think that, that, you know, he's elected, and there seems to be a bit of angst coming from down the legislative way to acknowledge that he is an elected leadership position. And it will be interesting to see how much of that angst goes away for the superintendent, and, you know, what kind of opportunity he has to lead.
Ted Simons: Dana, are there elected officials who might lead the charge as far as the issues that, that you are concerned with?
Dana Naimark: Yes. Well, Representative Nancy Brophy-McGee and Senator Barto co-chair the CPS oversight committee. We expect both of them to play very critical leadership roles along with the democratic and the Republican leadership there is both houses.
Ted Simons: As far as family service cuts, how much have those cuts happened? What have we seen and what is the impact, has the impact been?
Dana Naimark: The cuts were hundreds of millions of dollars. That does not count education. But, in family services, and early education, and childcare and virtually none of that has been restored. And, and so, we're at a point, a turning point for Arizona, we need to figure out what is our new normal, but more than that, what are the common goals? What do we want to accomplish? And you know, many lawmakers feel very proud of their accomplishments and fiscal responsibility. But we would like them to, to extend that to, to the revenue side of the ledger. Since the recession, we have passed more than million in new tax cuts. And we think that we need much more rigor in debating the cost and benefits of the tax cuts and putting sunset dates on the new cuts so we can review them and see if they are bringing Arizona what they promised
Ted Simons: Realistically, how much can those cuts, realistically, how much can be restored?
Dana Naimark: Well, restoring tax cuts is difficult because we need a two-thirds' vote.
Ted Simons: I'm sorry, service cuts.
Dana Naimark: I think that there is growing traction among Arizona voters, families, and elected officials that, that we cannot continue with virtually no support for families in our state budget. So, I expect some significant changes.
Andrew Morrill: And if I could, Dana mentions, that really the double hit that children in Arizona face, many of them, because they have had services cut, that sort of provide the safety net for their most basic of needs, safety and security, but the education cuts has hit deep. This state does not invest in full-day kindergarten, at the same time, it requires third grade literacy from exiting third grade students, that's LUNECY, not sound public policy. The cuts have driven away teaching positions, and in districts where there was no drop in growth or enrollment. And you just wonder what the commitment is to build the future of Arizona through our schools, through the wellbeing of our students.
Ted Simons: And the restoration of expanded Medicaid rules, what does that do to the state? And how does that change the dynamic at the legislature?
Tara McCollum: Well, I think that, that the people that, that, the legislature, the legislators who supported that restoration did a lot of heavy lifting. And, and they are going to -- they may have to pay for it this session. And not their bills, not being heard, that type of thing. However, we really appreciate what they did and they did it in conjunction as Andrew pointed out earlier with the business community. Once the business community steps it up and they supported the restoration, they will support K-12 education, child issues. We get a lot more traction from that, I believe, than we can even working as a coalition of health care education and childcare advocates.
Ted Simons: We asked if they thought of a lawmaker, an elected official who might lead the charge as far as their issues are concerned. For health care issues. I saw a lot of folks, as you mentioned, taking some hits last session. I mean, is there anything left? Any bullets left in the chamber there?
Tara McCollum: I don't know. I would think that maybe somebody, like, like Ethan Orr, or again, we go back to Heather Carter. She's pretty dynamic. And she is resilient. And so I would hope that she would step up and, and take it, too.
Dana Naimark: The bipartisan coalition that passed medication restoration got a lot of attention. There was also a bipartisan coalition that focused on CPS issues last year. And obviously, we're not done. And we did not finish the job. But, there was great bipartisan support for restoring funding to CPS, and for reducing caseloads so the child protective services staff can, actually, succeed at their jobs, so we expect that kind of bipartisan work again this session.
Andrew Morrill: And what troubles me, though, is that, is that these folks that did the right thing for Arizona, for the budget capacity of Arizona, because Medicaid was the right thing to do. Have to worry about their political careers, have to worry about punishment, basically, for working together. See, this is one of the things that educators don't understand. We teach our students to work together, and we teach them that honesty and, and putting your best effort forward in the name of what's right, makes sense and is the right thing to do, and defines you as a responsible citizen. And then, we have a bunch of, a group of legislators that, that try to do the right thing, reach across the aisle, and work in a bipartisan effort, we have heard a couple of examples about why that was good and necessary, and these folks have to worry about being punished somehow.
Ted Simons: All right, with that in mind, I will ask you first, give us an example of the state going in the right direction.
Andrew Morrill: The attention to early literacy, the conversations going on right now with business and education, and working to do what's right for students, beginning with the basic needs of safety and security and, and talking, I think, even about -- what is the most responsible use of funds going into education. There is nothing wrong with that conversation. Elevating standards for students, a great place to begin, as long as we're serious about the investment to back it up.
Ted Simons: And as far as the health issues are concerned, example, state moving in the right direction.
Tara McCollum: Well, I go back to the restoration of Medicaid, the 29th state to do that and, and I think that, that it's really going to be demonstrated that, that was the right move for Arizona, and especially when we have more people covered, and there is better access to health care, and more stability in our health care system.
Ted Simons: What do you think, Dana?
Dana Naimark: The last session, the legislature and the Governor planted the seeds for strengthening child protective services, and now, we need to bring that to, to fruition and make some of those seeds blossom and, and I think that we will have, have much safer children.
Ted Simons: With the seeds blossoming and moving in the right direction, last question, really quickly, it's an election year, what kind of impact? As far as issues, as far as --
Dana Naimark: It would be a great impact for children because all candidates know that they want to be good for kids, and good for education. And so, we'll be working hard to make sure that voters are paying attention to what the elected officials are doing this session.
Ted Simons: What do you think?
Andrew Morrill: I find it interesting that legislators were so worried about the growing will of voters that they tried to suppress a good number of them at the end of the session, and in a rushed moment, at the end of the, of the last session, and that has been held off, and I think that will be an interesting effect on the election.
Ted Simons: What do you think?
Tara McCollum: I think that, that we're going to work very hard for those people who worked hard for us. And make sure that, that --
Andrew Morrill: Well said.
Tara McCollum: And that we get a good group of people back to the state legislature, who will, who are willing to do the right thing.
Andrew Morrill: We need to be thinking about that.
Ted Simons: We will stop it right there. Good to have you here and thank you very much.
Dana Naimark:President and CEO, Children's Action Alliance; Andrew Morrill:President, Arizona Education Association; Tara McCollum Plese:Director, Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers;