Monday, March 15, 2010

The Arizona Education Network's Recent Legislative Update ~ March 15, 2010

Special Seventh Session Budget Surprises

The Legislature's Seventh Special Session is a lesson in semantics for Arizona families. It seems that lawmakers are trumpeting the restoration of half-day Kindergarten. While some argued that a cut is a cut - not a restoration, there were not enough votes to save the $218 million appropriation to the full-day kinder program.

Lawmakers in both the House and the Senate spent more than nine hours in committee on Tuesday, March 9, engaged in heated debate in between hearing public testimony. The elimination of state programs such as KidsCare, a healthcare program for children whose families are well-below poverty level, and the near elimination of the Department of Juvenile Corrections, are but two examples of the impact of this bill to programs vital for children and public safety.

Adding insult to injury was the surprise addition of a $98 million appropriation from the state's general fund to the Department of Corrections for an additional 6,000 "beds". That's 2,000 private prisons beds at approximately $20,000 each for a total of $40 million and 4,000 new state prisons beds at approximately $14,500 each for a total of $58 million. Note that the private prison bed price is $5,500 more per bed than the state prison price per bed.

According the Arizona Republic, the Senate is expected to finish voting on two remaining bills, bringing the Seventh Special Session to a close. After which, the entire package of $1.1 billion in state program cuts will be transmitted to Governor Brewer for her signature

To read more go to House & Senate Appropriations Committees Begin Work on Seventh Special Session Bills **UPDATED**

So let's look at the budget options:

Behind Door #1: Cuts IF Proposition 100 PASSES:

Even if the sales tax passes, there will still be further cuts to K-12 education, based on the budget being considered by the Legislature. These include:

  • The loss of funding for all-day Kindergarten; gifted programs, summer school, after-school programs and preschool programs.
  • Reduced funding for the second consecutive year for basics such as textbooks, computers and equipment for students.
  • Suspension of funding for school building maintenance and repair for the fourth year in a row.
  • Basic funding level for education cut back to the 2005-06 funding levels

Behind Door #2: Cuts to expect IN ADDITION to those listed above IF Proposition 100 DOES NOT PASS:

If the Prop. 100 does not pass, additional state budget cuts starting in July could total $900 million. These include:
  • An additional $400 million in cuts coming from K-12 schools.
  • $100 million from universities and community colleges.
  • Funding levels of K-12 could be cut to 2000-2001 funding levels. This will push our state back a full decade in funding.
For more information, see Prop. 100 - Your Questions Answered.

The Arizona Education Network Enjoyed Meeting Education Supporters at the Tucson Festival of Books

Arizona Education Network at the Tucson Festival of Books

Arizona Education Network handed out thousands of Prop 100 flyers, bookmarks and postcards at the Tucson Festival of Books. We were able to register new voters and sign many up for early voting from home. For those who signed up for our newsletter - welcome!

News Under the Radar

New National Curriculum Standards May Be Heading To Arizona

The new Common Core Standards, created by a panel of members of the National Governor's Association and the state Superintendents of Education, was released this week for public comment. The standards were crafted to provide rigorous, uniform education benchmarks among the states, replacing individual state standards of varying levels. The Common Core Standards project is a state-led initiative; not a federal initiative. Arizona was an early supporter of the development of these new Common Core Standards and touted its commitment to adopt the standards in their application for the Race to the Top grant. Click here for the full article.

Overrides Win in Majority of State

Fifteen district overrides passed while nine failed in the March 9th elections. The number of override campaigns, in addition to the victories for many districts where overrides had previously failed, shows communities are mobilizing to protect their public school programs, teachers, and class sizes. Click here for details.

AEN is a non-partisan, all-volunteer, nonprofit organization that exists to provide factual information and advocacy for public education.

Mike Reagan: "[T]he greatest security risks facing our nation -- our failing education system."

A commentary written by Mike Reagan, elder son of the late President Reagan, was published March 12, 2010 by the East Valley Tribune.  Titled, "U.S. security in peril by failing schools", Reagan discusses the risk of a failing education system and our country's security. 
"Across the board, the benefits from a well-educated population are tangible and undeniable, and yet nearly three out of 10 American students now fail to graduate from high school.
Looking at the results coming out of our current education system, I cannot help but be deeply alarmed."

Reagan references in his comments testimony given by Andreas Schleicher, Directorate for Education for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to Congress last week.

Quoting Schleicher, Reagan writes:
"'Among OECD countries, only New Zealand, Spain, Turkey and Mexico now have lower high school completion rates than the U.S.'" 
"He went on to say that, 'If the U.S. would raise the performance of schools by a similar amount, that could translate into a long-term economic value of over $40 trillion.'
The personal and economic benefits from a strong education system are clear. Moreover, in a global market, American students must compete in an increasingly educated, productive world. The moment we can no longer keep up, we will have surrendered our national prosperity and security."

Reagan concludes with the following call:

"Our children's future, our country's future, must never be a political pawn in the government's all-too-familiar gambit for more control. We must equip our schools, our teachers and our children with all the resources they need to lead academically the way we know we can, the way we have done in the past. We must equip local school districts not only with financial resources but with an investment of trust and authority, so that our schools can focus on the business of education, not bureaucracy."

Emphasis added.

Read Mike Reagan's commentary as published by the East Valley Tribune by clicking here.

To read a related post on the testimony as given by Andreas Schleicher, the new Common Core Standards, as well as related news articles, visit the Arizona Education Network's article The National Governors Association Releases Common Core Standards; Arizona Early Supporter.