Education Forum

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The Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum to talk about the state’s education funding plan and its impact on K – 12 funding for Latino students. David Garcia, associate professor with the ASU Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and Rosie Lopez, founder and president of the Arizona Hispanic Community Forum discuss what happened at the forum.

JOSE CARDENAS: Good evening. I'm Jose Cardenas. Tonight on "Horizonte," we'll talk about a forum held in the valley to talk about Arizona's education funding plan and its impact on K-12 funding for Latino students. And learn about a group created to fill the gap of networking events among Latino communication and marketing professionals. All of this, coming up on "Horizonte."

VIDEO: Funding for "Horizonte" is made possible by contributions by the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station.

JOSE CARDENAS: Thank you for joining us. This week, the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum to talk about the state's education funding plan and its impact of K-12 funding for Latino students. Joining me to talk about the state's education plan and the forum are David Garcia, ASU associate professor with the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and former candidate for state superintendent of public instruction. And Rosie Lopez, founder and president of the Arizona Hispanic Community Forum. David, Rosie, thank you for joining us on "Horizonte." A lot of news in the last few days about education funding and as I understand the forum, it covered a bunch of different topics. Give me, David, an overview of what was discussed.

DAVID GARCIA: First off thank you for having me back, I appreciate it, Jose. The forum yesterday was about the impact of school funding in general for Latino students and the forum covered the settlement, which is getting a lot of attention right now but we've got to keep in mind that the settlement is only a very small part of the entire school funding picture for Latino students here in Arizona and so the forum went beyond just the settlement to talk about other major fixes and things that need to happen in the school funding system in order to serve our Latino student best.

JOSE CARDENAS: And the forum was sponsored by the Arizona Hispanic chamber of commerce. The panelists and the presenters were...

DAVID GARCIA: Pearl Chang, myself, Jamie Molera and Rosie here.

JOSE CARDENAS: And Paul Luna of Helios gave kind of an overview of the state of Latino education in Arizona?

ROSIE LOPEZ: Yes.

JOSE CARDENAS: And if you can summarize that?

ROSIE LOPEZ: It was very disheartening to see that our kids are not graduating from the university at the rate that we really need them to graduate.

JOSE CARDENAS: Are they even getting in?

ROSIE LOPEZ: They are getting in, but the numbers diminish as they go along and they are not even graduating at six years in. So it's a very serious situation that we have and Helios is focusing mostly on higher Ed and making sure that the students succeed in college and graduate from the university about the truth is that's not happening right now and he was bringing it to our attention. He also had another forum at another time and place and he said this is a call to action for all of us to take note and to start doing something about this because they really are kids that are going to be very much part of the economy and they're not skilled, they're not ready, and the jobs are waiting but there is no skilled labor to take place, you know, there with our Latino students. It's something that's very serious.

JOSE CARDENAS: And David, I know that the chamber's come out in support of the settlement that was reached. Did other people express opinions on whether they were for or against it?

DAVID GARCIA: I think there was general agreement for the settlement. In many ways, it has a lot of good things going for it. I think the base level funding is very positive. I think going to the state lands trust is more complex than it needs to be. We've got to remember that what the legislature passed was to take something to the voters to approve. So there's still some important steps to take. But I believe everyone there agreed with the idea that this is only the beginning. We've got to remember that the settlement is paying back a debt that the state has owed to our public schools now for multiple years. It's not new dollars in terms of new money going to schools. And we still have a lot of work to do if we're going to fund our schools in a way that's going to meet the goals of folks like Paul Luna and the Helios foundation and also in a way that's going to be equitable for Latino students.

JOSE CARDENAS: So Rosie, David said everyone agreed this is only a start and I assume you would agree with that but you also think it's a bad start?

ROSIE LOPEZ: I didn't agree with that, and I think -- I may have been a minority in the crowd there. I don't know because I don't know what the crowd wanted. But I do know that some of the legislators voted for it and in particular senator Catherine Miranda.

JOSE CARDENAS: She crossed party lines to support the governor.

ROSIE LOPEZ: She did and she wanted to make sure the lawsuit was settled and that was one way of doing it. I like the idea of the base level being increased and that it would include an inflation but what I didn't like was that they would touch into the state lands trust and that it would take away some dollars from there and I felt that it would diminish the dollars and that the principal would be run down. It was 6.9 that they're saying they're going to pull out of there for the next 10 years. And the third thing that I was -- well, there's another thing that I was concerned about is also the special election, it's going to cost about what, $9.6 million where we could put that into education, they could have had a special session just to put money into education with the surplus that they had but they didn't do that. The other thing is if the revenues went down and things were not looking good with the recession or just that sales tax, taxes were going down, then that would undo the whole deal. That means that they would not get what was agreed upon. And that is a real concern for me so I say -- I said publicly there that I would not vote for it, although I did vote for the overrides and the bond election with Phoenix union but I would not vote for this one simply because it would affect other things and the lawsuit would be after that and I don't know where it would end up if we had a recession or the sales tax revenues would go down.

JOSE CARDENAS: So I don't want to spend too much time on it, it's very important but I know the forum covered it, but does this mean that organizations, such as yours, the Arizona Hispanic community forum, will actively oppose and campaign against the proposal?

ROSIE LOPEZ: Well, I hope so. I don't know how much money we have and no one's come forth to say we're going to do a strategy and get out the vote to oppose it. I do not know that but if there is a move on that end, then I would be glad to participate and see if we can kill it. Because I know that the democratic legislators voted against it. So I do know that there were only three votes that came from the Democrats so I think well maybe there's a move out there, I don't know if there's a movement out there to do that, that remains to be seen. It's just so recent, you know.

JOSE CARDENAS: And David, the settlement takes two sides to agree and one of the sides that did agree is the school boards and the school districts and kind of the natural allies of the Democrats. Do you see any real organized strong opposition to this ballot measure?

DAVID GARCIA: I don't. I think that the education of the community is going to by and large get behind it. Many of the major principals were at the table but they're going to remind voters over and over and over again that this is just a very small part of a bigger and longer journey we need to accomplish here in Arizona. I heard that from things I read from these major education organizations. You've got to remember that we're looking at a very small relative increase here. It's not going to move up our national rankings in any significant way.

ROSIE LOPEZ: To 48th.

DAVID GARCIA: We'll move up a point maybe.

JOSE CARDENAS: Does that put us ahead of Mississippi?

JOSE CARDENAS: That used to be the measure.

DAVID GARCIA: It used to be the measure. I think we're becoming the measure. And it doesn't address that issue. It doesn't address the issue of what kinds of new dollars need to come in to public education to meet the goals.

JOSE CARDENAS: What does it do for the Latino population, school-aged population?

DAVID GARCIA: Specifically for Latinos I would argue nothing particular for Latinos because remember, this is --

JOSE CARDENAS: Nothing particular in the sense that it has no impact on them?

DAVID GARCIA: It's a per-student, and every student in Arizona is going to by and large get the same amount. And so I don't think that for Latino schools, their impact or their investment and for Latino community that their investment or engagement in this should be any different than any other community. Issues, though, that I do think are important are issues of equity and those still need to be addressed. There was a discussion going on, for example, now with the classrooms first group that is meeting. They're debating a poverty weight.

JOSE CARDENAS: And this is the governor's advisory group?

DAVID GARCIA: On school finance. I know they are debating a poverty weight, meaning additional dollars for students from low-income households. That would have a disproportionate impact for Latino students because many of our Latino students live or come from homes that are low-income.

JOSE CARDENAS: There would be a benefit there.

DAVID GARCIA: And there would be a benefit.

JOSE CARDENAS: And I want to come back and talk about the governor's advisory committee. But the other thing that was discussed, Rosie, was the forum was being held the same day as all these budget overrides, most of which, despite opposition from the county Republican party, passed.

ROSIE LOPEZ: And I thought that was a good thing because as David said, it's not enough money and it doesn't solve the problem but at least they have enough money maybe to pay the teachers higher salaries, maybe to help out with the classrooms, and, of course, the infrastructure, they really needed for that, too, so I'm glad that the overrides and the bonds passed throughout the state, except for I think 3 districts, and I think that was a good thing. They need it desperately.

JOSE CARDENAS: David, as I understand it, you have mixed feelings about bond overrides, because of the message it may send to the legislature?

DAVID GARCIA: I do have mixed feelings. You've got to remember that in general, statewide, 40% of money comes from the state and about 40% from local sources. So local either primary or secondary property tax valuations and taxes are a huge contributor to K-12 public education. And what I see happening often and if you look at the statewide trend, the state contribution has been going down and local contributions have been going up. It means our local communities have been taking on more of a burden. And what I see happening and it's bittersweet is these are great victories for schools and school districts in need but my concern is it can take pressure off the legislature to take action and put more state money in because folks at the local level and let's be clear who did it, these were mostly parents knocking on doors of their neighbors to help their own schools, when they passed the local bonds and overrides, it takes some pressure off the state to put additional money in at that level and that's why it's important that all the energy that was putting in to get the settlement agreed at this point, and for all the parents out there that have worked very hard on local bonds and overrides, the next step is to make sure their good effort doesn't go for naught and to keep focusing on the state legislature to increase the state proportion.

ROSIE LOPEZ: I really agree with that. They have depended on parents and sometimes, parents that can't afford too much, you know. They have -- to them it's high property taxes even if they live in low-income areas. So I think that the legislature has been negligent in paying up, you know, state dollars that really it's their role to really do that to fund the schools but they had put the burden on taxpayers and in particular in our poor areas, they have put a lot of burden on the poor and the folks who can't afford very much and the property taxes keep going up and I agree with David completely on that.

DAVID GARCIA: It's an important point. In the next few weeks there's a report on school finance for Latino community, and we looked at property valuations and in our highest concentration Latino school districts, these are school districts that are 75% or above, in some cases compared to school districts that are less than 25% Latino, predominantly Anglo, in some cases our high-Latino school districts, the property value is 30% of their neighboring districts. 30%. That means that these communities, our Latino communities, need to tax themselves at a higher rate in order to get less yield, and they're doing it by the way, they're passing bonds and overrides, particularly overrides on higher rates. I think it shows tremendous effort on behalf of our local communities. However, it is an uphill climb when you're working with a tax base that is only a fraction.

JOSE CARDENAS: Is the solution, more state funding?

ROSIE LOPEZ: Yes.

DAVID GARCIA: State funding to be much more equalized and also keep in mind that the most equitable funding, meaning those in need who get the most is federal funding. And we're a state that is always pushing buttons at the federal level but for our Latino community, they get a disproportionate amount of federal dollars.

JOSE CARDENAS: And on that point you had mentioned to me before we started the show that there's another proposal that might be coming out of the governor's advisory committee that may take away, what the first proposal, the poverty weight may give to poverty students.

DAVID GARCIA: I will tell you that some of the conversation I've heard is that when you look at federal dollars because low-income areas get more, the question is should that be offset with any kind of local contribution? And in my opinion that would go against the intent of our federal dollars, which is not to supplant but to supplement our neediest communities. And it is only with those additional dollars that our neediest communities get more to spend for those student who have the highest needs.

JOSE CARDENAS: So a lot more to talk about on that score. Rosie, Arizona Hispanic community forum of which you were one of the cofounders has always had education as a primary focus and recently you conducted a couple of forum sessions for parents, for educators and so forth? Tell us about that.

ROSIE LOPEZ: Well, because our students are not succeeding the way we want them to, we decided that we had to have a summit of our own, Latino summit, and we called it a symposium. We had one for educators and we had one for parents and they were both very successful. And what the objective was here is to get their recommendations as to what they wanted. In other words, everybody else says this is what's good for Latinos. But we're saying okay what do we think is good for Latinos? We are the Latino population. We know our culture, we know our kids and the parents know their kids. So what do we have to say about what is good in education for our children? And it was so successful that everybody was so engaged, and we talked about a lot of recommendations and one of them was early childhood development and high-stakes testing, the school to prison pipeline. We had many others -- oh, and culturally relevant education, the curriculum, so that we could talk about let's say like ethnic studies, those types of things, something that we could relate to and that the students, it shows that the students are really, you know, succeeding in schools when they feel they're part of the curriculum and that they see themselves in the curriculum.

JOSE CARDENAS: We're almost out of time but if somebody wants some information about those forums and the results, how can they get?

ROSIE LOPEZ: We have a website and it's azhcs.com and they can go in there and we don't have the document ready yet, we just had the parent conference two weeks ago so we're going to put that document together and our Latino legislators, senator Catherine Miranda, senator Martin Quesada and Juan Mendez are going to be working on writing some bills for us with respect to these recommendations.

JOSE CARDENAS: A lot of action.

ROSIE LOPEZ: A lot of action to come.

JOSE CARDENAS: And a lot of places.

ROSE LOPEZ: And the first day of the session we're going to have that document for the legislators on their desk, all legislators.

JOSE CARDENAS: So we'll have you both back to talk about it. Thank you so much for joining us on "Horizonte."

ROSIE LOPEZ: Thank you.

David Garcia:Associate professor with the ASU Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Rosie Lopez:Founder and president of the Arizona Hispanic Community Forum

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