More Money For Education? Beware of Graham-Keegan Bearing Gifts

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"Hey look, everybody, a brand new education finance pony! And there's money inside!"

Yeah, maybe, but I don't think so. Prove me wrong. Please, prove me wrong. Show me lots and lots of new money for education. But what I see is a new education funding plan that moves around the existing money without a commitment to add a single new dollar. And the way the money moves will very likely hurt district schools with low income kids, and help charter schools.

Ducey's Classrooms First Initiative Council published its long-awaited, long-delayed Final Report. The Council's mission was to come up with ways to redo our state education financing system. It came up with 12 recommendations, none of which specifically says the schools need more money. Recommendation 10 says we should increase teacher salaries. How? Doesn't say. Maybe new funding, maybe making cuts elsewhere, who knows? Number 11 says we need to create a funding priority for low income schools. With new money or existing funds? Again, doesn't say. But the first nine recommendations are filled with all kinds of ideas about changing where education money comes from and how it's spread around. Most of them were proposed years ago by Lisa Graham Keegan, former Arizona Superintendent of Education, former senior education policy advisor for John McCain during his 2008 presidential run and current top education advisor to Governor Ducey, albeit unofficially. She's a friend of charter schools—when she was in the State Senate, she pushed through the original charter legislation—and a friend of vouchers—she got her charter bill through by threatening voucher legislation if she didn't get her way. Then she went on to be the Arizona Superintendent of Education, where she initiated the wild-west-style approach to creating charters, the more the merrier, and letting them do pretty much whatever they want to do.

A story in the Star holds out hope for more education funding, but I'm not convinced. According to the article, Ducey said he's figuring out a way to get more money. How? He's had 210 days since Prop 123 passed and he promised a "next step" for school funding was coming. But now, after all that time, if he has a plan, he's not saying what it is.
“We’re going to have an exciting education agenda this year,” the governor said. “And you’re going to hear about it in the State of the State” address.
A few days ago, Ducey lied at least three times about this year's wonderful additions to education funding which weren't really additions to education funding in his 2016: Year in Review. No doubt those lies will be repeated in his State of the State address, with new lies about new funding heaped on top without any real plans to move us out of the dollars-per-student cellar.

The article goes on to talk about the plans Heather Carter (R-Cave Creek) has to increase education funding by going to the voters. Sounds like a tax increase, most likely a sales tax increase. If you remember how that went last time, in 2012, Prop 204 proposed a one cent sales tax hike which would have put almost a billion dollars a year into education. The proposition was doing pretty well in the polls, and then came the huge money drop against it by the NO on Prop 204 Campaign in the last weeks of the campaign, and it went down to defeat. The chair of the NO on Prop 204 Campaign was then-State Treasurer Doug Ducey.  Now that he's governor, he's promised no new state taxes, and tax cuts for his wealthy friends. I don't see him getting on board for a new sales tax proposition, and I don't see many Republican officials bucking Ducey and joining in.

Ducey & Co. would love to string us along with hopes of new money for education so we won't make much noise until the budget is passed and it's too late, but I wouldn't count on it. Show us the money, Doug.

Inside those 12 recommendations from the Classrooms First Initiative Council are the foundation for a radical restructuring of the way we generate money for our schools and the way we spread it around. I'm betting Ducey's "exciting education agenda this year" is all about implementing those suggestions. More on that in another post.

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