Thursday, March 27, 2014

ALEC's "Imagine Learning" Bill Is Now Hidden In Another Bill (Along With Performance Funding)

Posted By on Thu, Mar 27, 2014 at 3:30 PM

[Note: I depend on the kindness of email strangers to tell me things I don't know, and this post is one example. If you have something I may be interested in, you can contact me at mailbag@tucsonweekly.com — until they give me an email address of my very own.]

I've posted twice about the lege's third try to give what is essentially a no-bid contract to a Utah company, Imagine Learning, to supply software for ELL students — first here, then in a post showing that the Arizona bill, HB2485, is taken directly from an ALEC model bill. Now a kind email stranger showed me the bill's latest incarnation.

The original HB2485 is being turned into a strike-everything bill dealing with transmitting affidavits, which has nothing to do with the original. Meanwhile, the Imagine Learning language has been brought over to SB1488: K-12 education; budget reconciliation; 2014-2015. It's a big bill, and many of the details are way above my pay grade, but if you scroll down to section 15-216, you'll find the Imagine Learning bill's language is one part of the budget package.

The fact that it's no longer a stand-alone bill means two things, as I see it. First, anyone who votes for the bill can deny they supported the Imagine Learning part, saying they voted for the overall budget and had to take the good with the bad. Second, it means people who want to vote for the whole education budget bill have to vote for the Imagine Learning part whether they want to or not.

Also laid in the bill in section 15-917 is a new version of the Performance Funding program, now called the "Student Success Fund." Performance funding took lots of hits last year because it rewarded "high performing" — read, high SES — schools with extra money and also gave some money to "low performing" — read low SES — schools which showed improvement. It was a shameless and indefensible redistribution of funds from schools with low income students to schools with high income students. This bill doesn't go into the program in detail, but the plan was to modify the program to make it somewhat less vile than it was originally. However, I haven't seen the revised version, so I don't know exactly how it works.

Once again, by folding the "Student Success Fund" into a larger bill, it has a greater chance of passing, and any legislators who need to distance themselves from the program have plausible deniability.

Here's another possible reason for rolling these two bills into the larger funding package. As separate bills, both were supposed to be funded independently from the general K-12 funding. It may be — and I can't tell for sure from the bill's wording — that the Imagine Learning and "Student Success Fund" money will be part of the general K-12 allocation. That would thrill conservatives who don't want to spend an extra penny on education. If they had their way, and if the courts allowed it, they'd keep cutting funding for our children's educations just as they have for the past few years. This may be a way of funding pet conservative programs at the expense of the overall K-12 funding allocation.

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