by David Safier
Maybe David Garcia will pull together enough votes to beat Diane Douglas, but it's looking doubtful. Most likely, Arizona passed over the most qualified Ed Supe candidate in decades in favor of the least qualified. But the person sitting in the state's top education seat is only one factor in the larger Arizona education picture. We've got a Republican governor a few shades more conservative than Brewer and a few more Republican legislators than we have now. No matter who is Ed Supe, the crusade to dismantle and privatize our system of education will continue. Here are some of the things we're likely to see in the way our schools are funded and run over the next few years.
Let's start with funding. If the total dollar figure budgeted to schools increases $317 million by court order, the legislature is likely to slow-walk the procedure as long as it can. If there's another court to appeal to, the decision will be appealed. Nothing better than spending the money on court battles instead of kids, right? And if the legislature can figure out some other way to screw schools out of the money, it will.
There's more to the funding question than the total pot of dollars. There's also the question of how it will be allocated. For years, Republicans have been planning to change the funding formula to allow them to give more money to "successful" — read "high income" — schools through a combination of general funding reallocation and "performance funding." They've also been trying to give more money to charter schools. I don't see much in the way of impediments to stop them. Then there's vouchers. All the legislature has to do is pass a few bills increasing eligibility and funding for private school tuition tax credits and "Education Empowerment Accounts" to put more dollars in the voucher pot, which, of course, will come out of public school funds. It should be an easy sell. Just keep shouting "Failing schools!" and "We just want to help the poor and the disabled! You got a problem with that?" Works like a charm.
So. Less dollars for school districts with kids from low income families who need the most resources and more dollars for higher income school districts, charters and private schools. Those are givens. The only questions are when it will happen and how much they can get away with.
Common Core is going to continue to be a big issue in the state, more so if Diane "Kill Common Core" Douglas is superintendent. The business community will try to prevent major changes — it likes the Common Core standards — and so will less conservative Republican legislators. The powers that be will try to "talk sense" to Douglas, but that's going to work about as well as trying to "talk sense" to Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller. Both are blinded by the light of their ideology. Expect Douglas to do her best to wreak havoc on Arizona's version of Common Core.
Douglas also shares the Tea Party's hatred of "big data." Huppenthal is a wonky guy who's been working to update the Department of Ed's computer based data collection system. I don't see Douglas putting much effort into continuing the process, especially when it comes to collecting data on students. I'm not sure if that will be such a bad thing.
Finally, if Douglas becomes superintendent, expect her troops to be out there fighting curriculum wars at the district level with support from the Department of Ed. She thinks the International Baccalaureate program, which is used in schools around the state, is an anti-American, international plot, which gives you some idea of her jingoistic view of what should be taught in school. History/Social Studies classes will be her main "patriotism" target, though I imagine books used in English classes will be scrutinized for anti-American and anti-Christian tendencies, not to mention any plot lines involving sexuality which might give students ideas. Also, expect teaching about contraception and abortion to become even more of a battleground than it is now. I haven't heard Douglas talk about evolution, but I have a sneaking suspicion I know where she stands.
In other words, it'll be business as usual in Arizona education, only more so. The power of the Ed Supe is limited, but when you combine the growing conservatism in the legislature and the governor's office with the fervor of the extreme right, which has to feel empowered right now, it's likely to be an exceptionally destructive few years for Arizona education. In Arizona, that's saying something.