Gov. Doug Ducey discussed his accomplishments supporting education and Southern Arizona businesses in the past year at the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce annual post-legislative luncheon May 12.
Among those accomplishments was the much-applauded balanced budget, a focus on providing funding for teachers and other efforts to retain the state's educators, slashing burdensome regulation and improved relations with Mexico.
Ducey provided more specifics for some accomplishments than others. At the top of his list was the balancing of a $9.8 billion budget. In this latest budget, the state allotted an additional $163 million for education, $68 million of which is reserved specifically for raises over the next two years.
While Ducey suggested a 0.4 percent raise for teachers in January, state lawmakers bumped it up to 1 percent this year with an additional 1 percent over the next two years. A teacher making $45,000 a year would see about $900 more per year in three years.
The budget also allots $80 million for school construction and maintenance. The state plans to reward schools that post the best results from a $37 million bank, half of which would also go to teacher raises.
Teachers across the state have experienced varying degrees of raises. Ducey said he's heard from teachers who are happy with their raises and others who haven't seen a dime. Ducey pinned this phenomenon on the school districts and principals in charge of distributing state funding.
Some democratic lawmakers weren't so optimistic about Ducey's plan for education.
In an interview on "Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel", Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said that Ducey showed little effort in reaching across the aisle.
"It was an utter disaster for Arizona," Farley said. "Gov. Ducey had no interest whatsoever in working with Democrats, so he ended up doing a whole bunch of bad deals with Republicans in order to get some horrible things through."
Farley, who is expected to formally announce early next month that he will challenge Ducey in next year's governor's race, said the budget didn't address the issues in Arizona education. Instead, Farley said, Ducey supported a plan designed by the Goldwater Institute to privatize education. He referred to the Education Savings Account initiative applauded by Ducey, which allows students and their parents to spend state money on private and religious schools.
Since the institution of ESAs in Arizona in 2011, the program has gradually expanded. But this year, Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, introduced legislation to extend the program to all 1.1 million Arizona students. The final version of the legislation had a cap restricting to just 30,000 students.
"Those kids can take a $5,400 debit card out of their local district school and take it with them to a private school," Farley said.
The issue Farley described is that parents often need thousands of more dollars to afford private schools, limiting the accessibility of the program for low-income families.
"There's no means test, so it's a huge transfer of wealth from the have-nots to the haves," Farley said.
Currently, the program consists of nearly 5,000 kids. The cap of 30,000 students is supposed to be in place until 2022, but Farley and fears it may be written away in future legislation. The Goldwater Institute sent out an email mentioning their intent to remove the cap shortly after Ducey signed the bill into law.
Ducey said schools across the country receiving the most money often show the worst results in terms of academic performance and improvement. In Arizona, he said, the achievement gap often arises in low-income areas and districts with lots of students eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch programs.
In these areas, he plans on instituting "principal academies," to target the right principals for the schools, and programs to address drop-out rates. Ducey hopes teacher trainings, certifications and incentives will retain the personnel needed to foster success in those schools.
Another of Ducey's more publicized agendas has been deregulation. His main concern is regulation getting in the way of business operations. Ducey's goal is to eliminate 500 regulations this year.
He drew attention to a story that garnered national attention earlier this year when the state fined a man for giving free haircuts to the homeless.
"He was trying to do some good in his community ... but instead of applauding him, the Board of Cosmetology brought the heavy hand of government down upon him," Ducey said. "That's a government that's run amok."
Citing high costs of various licensed professions, he announced a plan to waive licensing fees for people making up to twice the income at the poverty line. This is coupled with an earlier demand from Ducey for state agencies to defend their purpose.
Finally, Ducey counted improved relations with Mexico as another of his accomplishments. Much of Ducey's focus on Mexico was in the value of economic partnership with Arizona's southern neighbor.
Alongside a new welcome center built in Nogales, Ducey mentioned Lucid Motors, a California-based electric car company, is moving a manufacturing facility to Casa Grande, in part due to the relationship he's built with Sonora Gov. Claudia Pavlovich.
Though Ducey didn't point to any specifics, he said the partnership was crucial in the process of attracting the facility.
Ducey also vocalized support for increased security along the border and a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. "I think Arizona will have a seat at the table—especially as a border state—as to how we build these relationships, how we build prosperity on both sides of the border," he said. "That's what I want to see happen."