It's beginning to look a lot like three-dimensional chess. Arizona's education funding battles are being worked out by a complex mix of players utilizing a variety of plans and strategies, and they're interacting with one another up, down and sideways on the chess board. While lots of interest groups are participants, basically there are three main moving parts involved in the process of adding, or not adding, education funds and moving them around, and they have to be considered together to understand how the game is being played:
1. The vote on Prop 123, which will decide whether the state can dip into the principal of the state land trust to bring school funding up to what the courts say the state owes the schools — or to be more accurate, up the 70% of what the courts ordered.
2. The legislature's state budget, which may or may not include additional funds for K-12 education.
3. The recommendations of Ducey's Classrooms First Initiative Council, which are likely to ask for a restructuring of the school funding formula that will reward schools with "high achieving" students — meaning, usually, students from high income families — as well as charter schools (and maybe private schools).
This whole thing can play out in a number of ways. I'm betting that Ducey and his cronies have a clear idea of what they want to see happening and when they want it to happen, but they're playing their cards close to the vest (Chess. Cards. I'm mixing game metaphors here, but you know what I mean), because the order in which they dribble out information and the element of surprise are key to their success. Timing, I think, is everything. The Prop 123 election has a set date — May 17, 2016. Last year the state budget was passed in a hurry on March 7 during a marathon legislative session. If the legislature plays hurry-up again this year, the budget, with or without additional funding for schools, will be passed well before the Prop 123 vote, though the vote can come later if they think it will improve the chances of passing Prop 123. And the recommendations from the Classrooms First Initiative Council were first set to come out this month, but the date has been delayed, maybe by as much as six to nine months. I'm sure they can put together their findings pretty much any time they think it will be to their advantage. Ducey and the major players on the council already know what they want to recommend. All those meetings and press releases have more to do with political theater than decision making.
So. Will the passage of Prop 123 be jeopardized if the legislature refuses to increase education funding in its state budget and instead squanders the current surplus on tax cuts for Ducey's buddies? Is there a sweet spot where the legislature can make a token funding increase that will be just enough for voters to decide to tap the land trust funds but not enough for them to decide we don't need the extra money (and not enough to cancel out Ducey's beloved tax cuts)? Should the budget be delayed until after the vote on Prop 123? Will the Classrooms First Initiative Council release its findings in time for the legislature to rewrite some of the state's funding provisions to create the winners and losers they want but not jeopardize the shaky Prop 123 coalition that includes the teachers union and other pro-public education groups which would frown on a increase in education inequality in the state?
I'm not making any predictions right now. There are far too many moving parts, far too many variables, far too many hidden agendas for me to figure out what's going to happen. Stay tuned.