The three Democratic candidates for governor—Steve Farley, David Garcia and Kelly Fryer—debated at UA Saturday, April 7. They covered a lot of ground, but I want to focus on their statements about education.
Full Disclosure: I haven't decided who I'm going to vote for in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, though I do know who I'm voting for in the general: the last Democrat standing. Any one of them will be a vast improvement over the current officeholder, who somehow manages to call himself "the education governor" with a straight face. So I'm reporting what I heard at the debate, not expressing any personal preferences.
Though the three Democrats varied a bit, they stand pretty close together in their overall views about education and miles away from Doug Ducey, meaning they're for strong, well funded public education, including a substantial raise for teachers. All three agreed teachers should get at least a 20 percent raise. Fryer wants it to be 25 percent. Farley wants a 20 percent raise for the classified staff as well.
The only direct question about education in the debate was about where the new education money will come from.
The three had different proposals for how to add money to the state budget: raising taxes on the wealthy, getting rid of corporate tax exemptions or a combination of the two. None of them suggested we increase the sales tax.
David Garcia presented a both/and funding proposal. He wants to reverse corporate tax exemptions — carve-outs which allow specific corporations to pay lower taxes — and get rid of private school tax credits. He also wants to increase taxes on the one percenters. The result, he said, will be a more progressive tax structure in Arizona, which is currently one of the most regressive in the country. Garcia didn't put a dollar figure on the amount his plan would bring in.
Steve Farley said the state has 330 corporate tax loopholes, and by ending some of the loopholes, we can bring in $3 billion. He will use $2 billion for education spending, which is more than enough to cover a 20 percent raise for teachers as well as classified staff. The remaining billion dollars will be used to lower the sales tax by one percent.
Kelly Fryer doesn't believe much money can be raised by getting rid of corporate tax loopholes, so she essentially discarded that idea. She recommended a variety of ways to tax the rich. She wants to increase taxes for people who make over a million a year. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the income of Arizona's one percenters begins at $309,000, so she's looking at a smaller pool of taxpayers than Garcia. However, she also wants to put a sales property tax on every home over a million dollars, as well as what she calls a "vacation tax" on people who own homes in Arizona but don't actually live here. Fryer said her plan will raise $2.7 billion, and she'll give teachers a 25 percent raise.
Funding was the only education question the candidates were asked to respond to, but they added other education-related ideas to the discussion as well.
Steve Farley stressed his strong support for public schools. His parents were public school teachers, he said, and his two daughters went to public schools. He criticized the poor funding levels and the resulting shortage of teachers and counselors in our schools as well as our crumbling school infrastructure. He called schools "the best tool we’ve ever invented to allow people to lift themselves out of poverty," and said we can fund them adequately without adding to the financial burden of the poor and middle class. He emphasized that his legislative experience as both a representative and a senator will allow him to work across the aisle and pull together the votes needed to get rid of corporate tax breaks.
David Garcia presented the most specific recommendations, which isn't surprising since he's an education professor at ASU, was an assistant superintendent with the Department of Education and ran for Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2014. He condemned "the Koch brothers approach to education in this state. They cut, then they criticize the schools because they don’t improve." Talking directly to teachers, he said, "Teachers, we’re going to treat you like professionals." That means paying teachers adequately, and more. "Teachers, we’re going to let you teach," he continued. "We’re going to roll back and cut back on our fascination with standardized testing. . . . There are no multiple choices in life. The more we prepare students for multiple choice questions, the less prepared they are for life after high school."
Kelly Fryer made a few general statements about education, mentioning she had been a teacher and she benefited greatly from her own education. However, she focused more on her experiences working with the community as CEO of the YWCA.