Budget Cuts to Education

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Deb Duvall, executive director for the Arizona School Administrators, and Nicole Magnuson, executive director for Expect More Arizona, discuss school legislation and also how they believe Arizonans should respond to the revenue cuts made by lawmakers.

José Cárdenas: Thank you for joining us. I'm José Cárdenas. Here on "Horizonte" we want to continue the discussion on education in Arizona. Just how does school legislation affect everyone and how can schools make up revenue cuts by lawmakers? With me is Dr. Deb Duvall, executive director for the Arizona school administrators association, and also here is Nicole Magnuson, executive director for "Expect More Arizona". Thank you both for joining us on "Horizonte." Nicole, just a few words about Expect More Arizona.

Nicole Magnuson: Sure. Expect more Arizona is a movement to make education a top priority in our state. We're working to increase public awareness about the importance of improving education, deepen people's understanding about the issues that affect education, and the impact they have on Arizona. And in addition, trying to build shared ownership in a high-quality education system and inspiring people to action. So getting involved in their school, advocating on behalf of education, investing in education. And really it ties back to the fact we do need to raise the bar in education in our state, but it's going to take all of us to do that.

José Cárdenas: Deb, you are no strange tore education in Arizona for many years you headed what was and still is the largest school district in the state of Arizona. The Mesa school district. What's happened? You have the historical viewpoint that many others in Arizona perhaps do not. What's gone on with K-12 education in Arizona?

Deb Duvall: Well, I think over the last four or five years we've experienced a significant degree of cuts in the revenue coming to us from the state and more recently from the usual federal sources. And those cuts have impacted deeply, and what happens in our classrooms and the quality of education that we are able to provide our young students.

José Cárdenas: One of the things we talked about last week when we had other guests on to talk about the cuts was the auditor general's report, and how people who advocate for these cuts use it as a basis for saying there's a lot of waste still in the K-12 system that could be cut.

Deb Duvall: Well, I think part of that is the lack of understanding, actually, as to what the auditor general's report says. If you take a look at the areas of spending identified in that report, which by the way consistent with reports from other states, you'll see that when you look at in-classroom and out of classroom expenditures, Arizona's out of classroom expenditures really are in excess of the average across the state in the areas of student support services and the areas of planned operations. Oftentimes people think that you've got in-classroom and out of classroom, and everything out of classroom is administration. And that's simply not the case. When you take a look at Arizona's administrative costs compared with those in the nation, we are spending less percent -- a lesser percentage of our dollars in administration, which is superintendents and principals and staff like that.

José Cárdenas: Other support services, nurses, school bus drivers, security guards --

Deb Duvall: correct. Arizona spends more than the national average percentagewise in areas of support to students. And those would be things like school nurses, psychologists, school safety officers, counselors, clerks, the staff that are -- that is in schools and in district offices that do things that impact directly on a student, the other area in which we have significant amount of our dollars going is in instructional support. And instructional support would be those areas that provide assistance to teachers. That could be things like librarians, media specialists, professional development, mentors, trainers, those staff that work in the central office that provide curriculum materials and those kinds of things.

José Cárdenas: Howard Fischer: And are the budget cuts affecting those support services, for example, are we seeing fewer nurses?

Deb Duvall: Certainly. As superintendents and school boards take a look at their budget and realize that their funds are fewer this year, the first place you look are those areas that are outside of the classroom, so the first place you might look might be in operations, you might look to see if you're watering your lawns too much or having trash pickup more frequently than you need it, and then start at places like that, and then you work closer and closer to what happens in a classroom. But over the years the school districts have reduced the numbers of librarians, media specialists, the numbers of nurses, in some school districts health aides have been hired to replace certified nurses. They've reduced counselors where you might have counselors in an elementary school, maybe those numbers have been reduced or eliminated entirely. You're looking at your counseling staff at the high schools and reducing a counselor here or there. Psychologists. You look at all of those things before you get to the classroom teacher, and I think what's happening now, after close to four years of significant budget cutting, school districts are now looking at classroom teachers. And reducing the numbers of teachers that we employ. Or we have certainly done things like taken furlough days, which reduce in essence their salaries.

José Cárdenas: Nicole, expect more Arizona is about a lot of things related to education, including improving the quality, and this legislature and this governor would point to a number of things that they feel they've done in that area. You've got the governor's reform education plan, you've got legislation such as move on when ready, which are intended to emulate at least in part policies in states such as Florida which are considered leaders in this area. How does that mesh with what's going on in your concerns about the legislature?

Nicole Magnuson: Absolutely. What you see -- Arizona is looking a lot to Florida. It's being held up as the model that we should emulate. They've done some incredible things in that state that is really increased achievement, they've done things that have closed the achievement gap between minorities and the white population, so it is a state you look to and say how do we do that? The challenge we have in Arizona is that the leadership in the state are passing policies that are tied to raising student achievement, but unlike Florida, they're not attaching the appropriate funding to support our schools and the implementation of those policies. So, for example, the move on when reading initiative that was passed, basically it's saying if we find our third graders aren't reading at grade level, we're going to hold them back. But with that, when you look at what Florida did. they gave money for mentors to work with tutors to work with the students, they also provided dollars to train volunteers to become mentors, and they used huge volunteer force, but they had to have trainers to get the volunteers where they needed to be. So when you look at what Florida did or any other state, it comes down to, yes, we need to implement policies that are going to raise the bar in education, but we also cannot ignore the fact that dollars are needed to support what we want to have happen in our schools. And unfortunately in Arizona especially this year and over the past few years, you're seeing that it's this continued de-investing in education versus investing in education. So we really need to pause and think about coming up in this next election year, who are we going to elect into office to represent the people, because Arizonans say they want better education system, business leaders say they need better education to attract the right employees to have the pipeline of talent, and yet we're not investing the dollars to get us there.

José Cárdenas: Arizonans seem to be sending mixed messages, because you have people running for office saying, we're not going to raise taxes in this legislature, chose not to raise taxes. Which would have been a solution to some of these funding issues. So how do you reconcile those two messages?

Nicole Magnuson: You know, those of us that work in the education states talk a lot about the disconnect between what Arizonans want and what they will vote for and the people they're electing into office. So I think it is really stepping back and encouraging people, one, Arizonans have got to get out and vote. And they've got to vote in the primaries. So a lot of our efforts and those of us that work in the grass-roots advocacy space during this past election year was educating especially independent voters,that they can vote in the primaries. They just have to choose the party they're going to vote aligned with. The fact that most elections are aren't determined in the primaries. And to be really thoughtful about who you're voting for. Know who you're voting for, dot research and make sure they're really going to share your values for what you believe Arizona education needs. And I think it takes time. It takes investing, but in truth, we're starting to see by not doing that due diligence, we're impacting our classrooms. We're impacting our kids. And in truth we're putting Arizona's future at risk.

Jose Cardenas: Deb, there was a big series of arms in the "Arizona Republic" recently about declining enrollments. Which are one reason why some school districts are having funding difficulties. Wouldn't we expect that if enrollments go down there's money to be saved and so what's wrong with that?

Deb Duvall: There wouldn't necessarily be money to be saved. But, yes, when enrollments go down you receive fewer dollars, because we are funded on a per pupil basis. But certain costs and expectations in terms of maintaining your buildings and whatnot providing bus transportation stays.

José Cárdenas: Unless You close the school you still have to operate.

Deb Duvall: Sure. You're going to operate a bus that would normally carry 60 to 75 students, you're going to operate that bus even if there's only 20 students on it. You're going to have a classroom, if you have a classroom that has 18 or a classroom that has 30, you still have the classroom expenditures, whether they be the utilities or the classroom teacher, or whatnot. So there certainly is the realization: with fewer students you would spend fewer dollars per student, but you have fixed costs, in some cases you don't even have control over those fixed costs.

José Cárdenas: There was also a recent article in the paper about some legislation inbound tended to assist school districts to meet some of these challenges. One with respect to tax contributions. Doesn't that help?

Deb Duvall: Certainly that will help those situations that have extra curricular tax credit dollars left over. Then they're able to -- left over from the previous year, they're able now to use those dollars for things other than after-school activities. So for those school districts that are in that situation, that will be helpful to them. But quite frankly, not every school district is in that situation, and probably those that are -- might be the more affluent school districts to begin with, but the long-term issue here is, that particular piece of legislation and some of the others that quite frankly are giving us a bit of flexibility here and there, at least some school districts, some flexibility, some of the time, those pieces of legislation are short-term, therefore the next session only are for the next year or two only, but they're not going to solve the long-term problem that we have in this state.

José Cárdenas: So what is the solution to the long-term problem? Is it, Nicole, more taxes?

Nicole Magnuson: The solution, the fact is Arizona has a major structural deficit. The only way that it going to be fixed is with visionary leadership and looking at tax reform or taxation. The other side of that that is challenging for our schools is the funding formula attached to the dollars that go to education. So there's a two-part issue here. We need more revenue coming in to this state, but we've got to fix the tax structure. We've got to give our schools more flexibility in how they use the dollars that come to them. Yes, every administrator, every principal that I talk to, they say they're committed to accountability and transparency of holding them accountable to student achievement, but they need to have the flexibility to direct the dollars where they see they need to go. And right now there's so much regulation and strings attached to some of the funding, so we've got to address both of them.

José Cárdenas: Doctor Duvall, you'll get the last word. As to what the solution is in your judgment.

Deb Duvall: I can't disagree with anything that Nicole has just said. Certainly the solution is to look at the revenues coming into the state and do what we can to enhance those, and also then to look at the strings that are currently attached and to provide a bit of flexibility. We're a very diverse state, and to anticipate that a piece of legislation would be implemented from a funding perspective in similar ways in Flagstaff as it might be in Yuma, as it might be in Mesa, as it might be in one of our smaller districts is not being helpful.

José Cárdenas: So leadership is the key. And on that note, we're going to have to wrap it up. Doctor Duvall thank you for joining us, Nicole Magnuson, Thanks for being here on "Horizonte."

Nicole Magnuson: Thank you.

Deb Duvall:Executive Director, Arizona School Administrators; Nicole Magnuson:Executive Director, Expect More Arizona;

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