Monday, June 20, 2016

Ducey 'Next Step' Watch: Day 32. A No-More-Funding Side Step

Posted By on Mon, Jun 20, 2016 at 4:00 PM

Finally, something to report in the continuing Ducey "Next Step" Watch. His Classrooms First Initiative Council will be meeting June 21 to discuss "school funding proposals." Note the word "new" is missing from the phrase "school funding proposals." This isn't about proposals for new funding. It's about ways to shift around existing dollars.

That bears repeating. The "school funding proposals" are a zero sum game. They're either manipulating education funding in the current budget, or the budget plus Prop 301 funding if that makes it through the court challenges. I have no doubt the governor will try to sell the proposals coming out of this meeting as the next step he was talking about. And actually, that will be accurate, in the sense that his plan for a next step has always been to step away from the issue of adding any more money to our near-bottom-of-the-barrel per student funding. Call this Ducey's "Face it, you're not gonna get any more money from the general fund, so get over it" next step.

After Prop 301 passed on May 17, education and business interests submitted funding proposals to the Classrooms First Initiative Council. Basically, they're all asking that their favorite pieces of the funding pie be saved or increased. Virtual/online schools want to make sure their funding isn't cut. Urban schools are asking that the poverty level of students be figured into the financing formula. Rural schools want their extra costs be considered. And so on.

Here are a few things you can be reasonably sure will come out of the June 21 meeting—unless it delays its decisions as it has in the past.

First, the two submitted proposals that are closest to what the council will arrive at are the ones from Lisa Graham Keegan, who has been fighting for her conservative "education reform" agenda for decades and is in nearly perfect synch with Ducey, and from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which has the governor's ear because it's the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Second, whatever funding realignment is actually decided on will shift money in the direction of schools with students from the state's higher income families and away from schools serving a lower income population. That will probably be true for both district and charter schools, though I'm guessing charters serving lower income students will take less of a hit. The council will try to camouflage the funding shifts by using words like "equity," hiding the actual financial consequences of their decisions behind obfuscatory language and spotlighting the occasional low income schools that will get some extra funding. But it'll be smoke and mirrors. If Ducey, Keegan and their co-conspirators get their way, high income and rich students will get richer educationally, and the poor will get poorer.

The media and the education community need to report and respond to the results of the council meeting in a way that stresses what their proposals aren't, and what they are. They won't be a way to find more money for our schools, and they won't be a revenue-neutral way to clean up our complex education funding formula. Their proposals will be designed to keep the state education budget at its current level, or even allow Ducey and the Republican legislative leadership to make strategic cuts to free up more money to give tax cuts to Ducey's rich friends and financial backers, while moving more education money in the direction of the haves and away from the have nots.

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