Legislature/Education

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A discussion on how the Arizona Legislature did with education issues this session with Children’s Action Alliance President and CEO Dana Naimark, Executive Director of the Arizona School Boards Association Dr. Timothy Ogle, and Expect More Arizona Director of Multicultural Community Engagement Adriana Figueroa.


José Cárdenas: Thank you for joining us. How did the Arizona Legislature handle education issues this past session? Tonight we are posing that question to a roundtable of Arizona education leaders. Dana Naimark is president and CEO of the Children's Action Alliance. Dr. Timothy Ogle, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association. And Adriana Figueroa, director of multicultural community engagement of Expect More Arizona, a group promoting world-class education for Arizona students. Well, you all heard the question. What I would like to start with is just kind of an overall assessment of this last session in terms of education. Dana?

Dana Naimark: I would say there were intense battles over education, and we did not end with a united vision for where we want to head.

José Cárdenas: Adriana?

Adriana Figueroa: Well, I would say the support of the college and career standards was one of the biggest wins and also the support of the assessment as well. There was really nothing that I would say that would support long term higher education.

José Cárdenas: Dr. Ogle, good, bad session?

Timothy Ogle: I would say good, if you want to reinforce below average expectations for the children of our state. But certainly --

José Cárdenas: I would take that as a negative.

Timothy Ogle: I would take that as a not that great.

José Cárdenas: So Dana, what were you talking about? O what were you getting at when you said we didn't end with a united vision?

Dana Naimark: Well, there were some intense battles at the legislature that obviously had a result in bills passing or failing. One was over the empowerment scholarship accounts and how much more of public dollars were going to put into private education. And another over the college and career ready standards and whether we are committed to implementing those. So we had results of those for the legislative session, but I think those battles are ongoing, and I don't feel that we are really on a path to raising the quality of education in a united fashion.

José Cárdenas: But those two issues in particular, I would think that the proponents of education, supporters of education would say those are victories.

Dana Naimark: I think they were victories. But we --

José Cárdenas: And you need to unravel that a little bit for our viewers. The empowerment accounts, what was going on there?

Dana Naimark: So there were several proposals to expand how many children and therefore how much of public money are eligible to get vouchers -- empowerment scholarship accounts -- for their parents to use in private schools. So it's available to a limited number of children now. There were many proposals to expand it, and the larger proposals failed. So I think that was a win for those who believe we should be focusing on public dollars for public education. And there was an attempt to undermine the college and career ready standards, and to really go backwards on that. And that attempt failed, so that was a win. But I think those battles are ongoing. I expect those battles to be back again next session. And so I don't think we are really -- I don't think we have coalesced around a united vision, a common vision for raising the quality of education.

José Cárdenas: So, Dr. Ogle you gave an overall rating of not very good. I guess if you were to give them a rating, it would be a D?

Timothy Ogle: Oh, I don't know about grades --

José Cárdenas: Maybe not that high?

Timothy Ogle: Just like evaluating schools with grades doesn't make sense, it probably doesn't make sense there because there are so many value judgments and gray areas.

José Cárdenas: But overall you were disappointed?

Timothy Ogle: Yeah, totally.

José Cárdenas: So was there anything that came out positive in your view? Beside the two issues that I mentioned --

Timothy Ogle: We did ward off several attempts to ditch the Arizona college and career ready standards. So those were reinstated or reinforced so to speak by defeat in the Senate of attempts to unravel those. And we funded the assessment that will be in place for next year and the state board of education has to wrestle with what the appropriate assessment is, but certainly there was, there's an $18 million commitment to have an assessment for our children's progress, so that therein lies something.

José Cárdenas: Any other positives from your point of view?

Timothy Ogle: I think they are pretty limited. Certainly, we dodged our responsibility to fund our schools appropriately.

José Cárdenas: That sounds like a negative.

Timothy Ogle: That's probably a negative, I would think. We have a state that doesn't even support full-day kindergarten for our children. And we are experimenting with success funding and empowerment accounts and diverting money to places and scholarship accounts, et cetera, diverting money to everywhere except where it belongs. One out of four of our children now live in poverty in our State. And we continue to dodge responsibility for that. And until we step to the plate and decide to create a system that helps our children, we are going to reinvent the same outcome over and over again.

Dana Naimark: And over the past few years we have been very active raising expectations for schools, for parents, for teachers, for students. We have not been good at bringing together all the tools needed to meet those expectations. And we really didn't make any progress on that this session other than providing some funding for a new assessment. But that is not even enough.

José Cárdenas: So Adriana, Expect More Arizona is all about raising expectations, or at least getting the public to buy into the notion that we can do better. Do you see any other positives coming out of this legislative session?

Adriana Figueroa: It's hard to find positives. You know, I think when we believe that we want a world-class education for all children regardless of background, income or zip code and we are distracted by issues that are not funding public school and supporting teachers when we are requiring so much more of them it's really hard to find a bright light.

José Cárdenas: So let's talk a little bit more about the budget and you touched on it a little bit, Dr. Ogle. No new dollars.

Timothy Ogle: There's no new money for programs or to improve upon all the status quo. Adriana and her group talks about world-class standards, but we are now 47th in the revenue per student that we provide our schools. And we are in the low 40s in the amount of personal income dedicated to education for our citizens.

José Cárdenas: As compared to --

Timothy Ogle: As compared to the other 50 states.

José Cárdenas: How many years? As I understand, a number of years we were at least in the middle.

Timothy Ogle: Twenty years ago we were in the middle of the pack. We were 35th in revenue per student and we were 25th in the amount of personal income going towards that resource of K-12 education. So we had our rescession and we all tightened our belts and got through it. Most other states, José, have reinstituted appropriate revenue streams for K-12 education. Arizona has not.

José Cárdenas: Now, on the other side of the coin, some people would say the reason we have fallen behind is because of the greater immigrant population.

Timothy Ogle: We are now a majority-minority state as of 2012. White students make up less than 50% of our K-12 population with Latino children being the largest percentage. And then in the 2012 census, as I said a little bit ago, we identified that now 25% of our children are in poverty. And why that's relevant to this discussion is because those kiddos need more resources not less. And we are turning our back on that tremendous opportunity that we have to help our state, help our economic development and help our population.

José Cárdenas: Dana, we have touched on this before when you have been on the show, but another feeling in this legislative session was no funding for early education.

Dana Naimark: That's right. Research is very clear that we need to make sure that parents and child care centers and preschools are able to provide quality learning opportunities for children before they ever start kindergarten. Once they start kindergarten if they are behind it's very hard to catch up. We have very low preschool participation in this state. We actually rank 49th in the country. And we have really neglected and ignored the quality of child care largely. And we made no progress in those areas during the legislative session. In fact, they got very little discussion.

José Cárdenas: And why is that?

Dana Naimark: I think there is still a divided political philosophy. And that some legislators believe that it's not up to them as legislators or up to the state to think about what happens to children before they start kindergarten. And that's just flat-out wrong based on the research. And if we want all children reading at grade level by the end of the third grade, we want all children graduating high school, we want all children to have an opportunity for something post-high school, we better be paying attention to what happens before kindergarten. So it's a matter of setting our goals and then doing what it takes to get there.

Timothy Ogle: And then to compound the problem, and you are absolutely right on point, but then we passed legislation that requires retaining children who are below grade level in third grade in their reading skills, while we provide no remedial resources for those children.

José Cárdenas: And that's going to hit soon. And I want to talk about that a little bit more depth. But first, Adriana, at the other end of the educational spectrum, higher ed. didn't fare very well in this budget session either.

Adriana Figueroa: No. During the recession, Arizona's universities did not do so well. They lost about $408 or 407 million, which meant that now funding per student was down by 15%. Now we are talking about families who are having to absorb the cost of this. Right? The cost of this is going to families and it's going to students. I think this addresses another issue which is the state of Arizona has to focus on long-term funding of higher education. We are losing a lot of really, really smart, brilliant young people because we are not supporting them through the education process, higher ed.

José Cárdenas: Dana, a couple more budget issues. The expansion of the school tuition tax credit got throughout Legislature, Governor vetoed it. What did that say about this session?

Dana Naimark: Well, I give her a lot of credit for vetoing it. She said it was an expansion, building upon many expansions of this tax credit. And we have a tax credit where both individuals and corporations can donate money, essentially, to private schools for scholarships. And take all of that money directly off their state income tax. So it's money out of the state budget and into private schools. It's a direct transfer. And she vetoed one of the expansions saying that we didn't know what the cost would be, and that it was not something easy to manage or project, and that it would cost a lot to administer it. So I think that was a really important veto to say we need to examine these things critically and not just assume that any expansion of any tax credit is a good thing.

José Cárdenas: Now, Dr. Ogle, another big issue is inflation funding. It's been a subject of litigation the the Legislature has lost basically.

Timothy Ogle: Yes.

José Cárdenas: And the taxman in one sense is coming and wants to be paid.

Timothy Ogle: Yes.

José Cárdenas: Not much happened here.

Timothy Ogle: The State budget was passed with a 1.4% increase in base-level funding. And unfortunately, that increase was calculated on an inappropriately low and artificially low base-level of 33-26-54 per student. That's the base-level funding per student ignoring 4 years of inflationary increases to which the school districts had planned on and are allowed under the citizen proposition. And so that 1.4% increase was calculated on, like I said, an inappropriately low base. Therefore, you know, you are increasing something on a low number. It's a little bit of a shell game there.

Dana Naimark: I think in the big picture, we all know we disinvested in education at all levels during the Great Recession, and one could argue we had to. We had no choice, even after we passed the temporary sales tax.

José Cárdenas: In fact, one of the responses on inflation funding isn't it that the state can't afford at least the full measure of compliance with that?

Dana Naimark: And what I think is important for voters now to say, what do we want the new normal to be? We are through the great recession. Although we are in a very slow, very painful recovery. So what's the new normal? And it's time for us to be talking to candidates, every single legislative seat is up for election now as is the governor's seat. And so, voters should really be thinking about what do we want the new normal to be? Not necessarily in dollars per students, but what do we want class sizes to be? What do we want our enrichment activities to be in schools? Do we want reading coaches? What kind of support do we want for teachers? Do we want counselors and nurses? We need to be really setting a vision for what should the new normal be and talking to candidates and voting to match what we want that vision to be.

José Cárdenas: And Adriana, how much can organizations like yours do that? I know there are restrictions because of your nonprofit status. But in the prior elections, Expect More Arizona was at least trying to educate people on these kinds of issues. What do you anticipate coming up?

Adriana Figueroa: Yeah, I think helping voters understand the impact of some of these local elections have. Right? We have a school board election. I don't think it's that many voters realize once you go and vote these are the ones making decisions and helping make decisions about budgets at the local school level. They are making decisions on cuts. They are making decisions on programs. So it's helping voters in general have an understanding of what that means at the local level, at local government is one of the biggest impacts you can have in your community, it is grassroots work at its best.

José Cárdenas: Now, I think all you, going back to an issue we touched on very briefly a few moments ago, are supportive of the concept that's behind Move On When Reading. But there's a great deal of concern about what's going to happen when that actually gets implemented. Dana, first explain what Move On When Reading requires and then, Dr. Ogle, what's coming and what the concern is.

Dana Naimark: I think Move On When Reading was passed about three years ago. And it said, OK, we expect all children to be passing the AIMS reading test in third grade. And if they don't, if they score falls far below, they cannot be promoted to fourth grade. So, it was another pronouncement from the legislature, which is a very good pronouncement. That is the goal we should have, but there was really no attention given and no funding at that time to how do we help teachers and schools and parents and students meet that expectation? Since then, the Legislature has put in a total of $40 million in funding statewide, but that's in the context of having cut more than a billion dollars over the period of time. So we are still far behind. And we still raise these expectations. And when the next AIMS scores come out we don't know how many children will be retained in third grade. But more importantly we don't have a plan, a viable plan for how we are going to get every child reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

Timothy Ogle: And schools wouldn't be prepared for the possible numbers of retentions that are out there, planning for this Fall's reopening of school.

José Cárdenas: Those results are likely to come in May?

Timothy Ogle: We are hoping but no one -- I don't believe we know for sure. But if you just kind of take the five-mile up looking down view of this issue, everybody wants all third graders to read at standard. That's just a minimum expectation. This particular piece of legislation that has been modeled across the country in a number of states is punitive by design, and provides no positive inputs leading up to that decision point. The research in teaching and learning is extremely clear that retention is flawed policy. It is not effective. It doesn't help the outcome. It actually hurts the intended outcome. In a well-designed system, you would appropriately resource young children and surround them with immersion and language and skills and reading and more hands on deck to get them to reading level by grade three. That's how you do it. You don't slap their hand when the event occurs.

José Cárdenas: We are almost out of time. Dana, last question for you. When that hits, if there are large numbers of students who will be retained, do you expect to see this issue in the next legislative session?

Dana Naimark: I do. Even if there aren't large numbers who will be retained, there will be large numbers who are not reading proficiently. There's different levels. So we do expect this to be an issue both in our schools and at the legislature coming forward.

José Cárdenas: So a lot of big issues coming up. Many to deal with. Not too happy with how it came out this session. But maybe next year.

Timothy Ogle: Elections matter.

José Cárdenas: Thank you all for joining us on "Horizonte" to talk about this very important topic.

Dana Naimark:President and CEO, Children's Action Alliance; Dr. Timothy Ogle:Executive Director, Arizona School Boards Association; Adriana Figueroa:Director, Multicultural Community Engagement at Expect More Arizona;

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