Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Flake? McCain? What Is Your Healthcare Line In the Sand?

Posted By on Wed, Jun 28, 2017 at 4:06 PM

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The pre-July 4 rush to pass the Senate version of healthcare failed, and the bill is back in the shop for repairs. Senators and their constituents have time to pause and reflect before majority leader Mitch McConnell's next attempt to create a bill that satisfies 50 of the 52 Republican senators, allowing Vice President Pence to ride in on his white charger and cast the 51st vote. Here in Arizona, our focus is on senators Flake and McCain. Maybe they'll meet with constituents during the break and hear what people have to say, maybe not. Maybe they've been reading their emails and listening to their voicemails, maybe not. Maybe they've been looking at the way the bill is tanking in the polls, maybe . . . oh, hell, there's no maybe on this one, we know they've been reading the polls religiously.

Let me make a public plea to the two of them as they consider their options. Take a stand on health care. Draw a line in the sand. Tell us, "Here is what I demand from a bill. If it doesn't come up to my minimum standard, I'm voting No."

For two outspoken guys, Flake and McCain have been awfully quiet and mealy-mouthed about the health care bill. The number of senators who say they almost positively won't vote for the bill in its current form moves up and down, but it's somewhere around 8. Neither of our guys is among them. Both say they're studying the bill. Flake has hidden in the shadows. McCain, Mr. Straight Talk Express, who can't resist the lure of a microphone when it's put in front of him, swerved all over the road when he was asked the question.
"I've been talking with the governor (Republican Doug Ducey), and we're having conversations, and we will go through the whole bill together, and we will have time to discuss it and decide. ... Right now the governor's initial impression is that it's not helpful to his state. We're going to continue to have conversations, we're going to listen to the debate, and decide."
If the bill had come up for a vote this week and it was close, chances are McConnell could have counted on Flake and McCain to be Yes votes. "After considering the pros and cons, I decided this bill will be an overall positive . . ." blah, blah, blah. But it didn't come up for a vote, so now there's time to read the bill. There's time to pore over the analysis from the Congressional Budget Office. There's time for them to tell their constituents what must be added to or subtracted from the bill before they give it their approval.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

'Repeal and Replace' Cuts Schools' Medicaid Funding

Posted By on Fri, Jun 23, 2017 at 10:03 AM

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The numbers aren't in, so we don't know how much the Senate "repeal and replace" healthcare bill plans to cut from Medicaid, but the bill passed by the House takes an $880 billion bite out of the program over ten years, and indications are the Senate bill bites down even harder. Both bills cut health care for our most vulnerable citizens while giving the richest Americans huge tax cuts. (For the first million you make, you get a tax cut the size of the median U.S. income.) Most Democrats are alarmed, and some Republicans, especially governors in states that went with the Medicaid program, like Arizona, are concerned as well. If Ducey is urging caution, you know there's something to worry about.

Schools would be affected by the cuts. Medicaid is used to cover some special education costs to schools which are above and beyond funds states supply to take care of those students' needs. It also covers some of the costs of vision and hearing screening for children, along with part of the salaries for nurses, psychologists and other health care professionals. If Medicaid funding is cut and schools have to compete for limited funds with services for children provided outside of school in hospitals, clinics and doctors' offices, children will inevitably lose vital services at the expense of their health and their educations.

Here is how it's explained on the Arizona Department of Education website.
Medicaid School-Based Claiming (MSBC) is a joint federal and state program that offers reimbursement for both the provision of covered medically necessary school-based services and for the costs of administrative activities, such as outreach activities to identify eligible students and enroll them in the program, that support the Medicaid school-based program. . . .

Many children receive covered Medicaid services through their schools. Medicaid will reimburse schools for documented medically necessary services that are provided to children who are both Medicaid eligible and who have been identified as eligible under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 34 CFR §300.306. Currently, schools can receive reimbursement for physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, nursing services, health aides, certain transportation, and behavioral health services. . . .

Schools are often involved in informing families of their potential eligibility for Medicaid or in helping them arrange medical appointments for children. These activities are considered Medicaid outreach and are administrative costs.
There's no money in  the state budget to pick up the tab for services the Republican bill will cut. Children will go without health care, but lots of millionaires and billionaires will get healthy tax cuts amounting to tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars. Somehow in the conservative mindset, that's a good trade-off.

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

How's the New 'Anyone Can Teach in Arizona' Law Working Out So Far?

Posted By on Thu, Jun 22, 2017 at 1:00 PM

In 2008, Ed Supe Tom Horne had a great idea to get more science and math teachers in the classroom. Why not have businesses let some of their STEM-based employees teach one high school class a year as part of their job? Brilliant! After Horne's announcement, did you see the stampede of people rushing from the private sector to be volunteer teachers? No, neither did I. I never heard of anyone taking him up on his offer.

The legislature this year had a better idea: let anyone with a bachelor's degree in a subject taught in middle or high school teach, no training, no education classes, no subject matter testing required. And if they've spent time working in a STEM field or teaching in a post-high school institution, the college degree isn't even a requirement.

So how's that working out? It's a little early to tell, but at this point, it looks like people aren't beating down school districts' administration building doors demanding teaching applications.
A highly-touted law passed by the legislature earlier this year was supposed to help add candidates to the teaching pool. It loosens credentials needed to become a teacher and paves the way for qualified professionals in certain fields to get easier access to classrooms.

Wing said the impact of the law appears minimal so far.

“The Washington Elementary School District has received just a few contacts from some of those related to those certification changes,” said [Justin] Wing, who is now the human resources director for the Washington Elementary School. “From what I hear from other human resource professionals in other school systems, they have not received waves of candidates because of that new law. In my opinion, it didn’t address the root cause of the teacher shortage.”
It's early yet. The word may not have gotten out, and when it does, school districts may still have the opportunity to fill some of their empty classrooms with unqualified, unprepared teachers. But wouldn't it be something if the legislature threw the teacher certification doors open wide and nobody showed up? Teaching in Arizona may be so underpaid and undervalued, broadening the applicant pool won't be much help. Maybe, if the legislators really care about addressing the state's crisis-level teacher shortage, they'll have to try some other ideas, like, say, increasing salaries and improving working conditions . . . if—and it's a big "if"—they really care about addressing the state's crisis-level teacher shortage,.

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Monday, June 19, 2017

Carpe Diem Charters Are Failing to Seize the Day, Or the Students

Posted By on Mon, Jun 19, 2017 at 12:20 PM

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Looks like the Carpe Diem charter school chain which started in Yuma is experiencing problems. One of its Indiana schools lost its charter and is being shut down, and the flagship Yuma school is struggling to reach full enrollment. I've been following the Carpe Diem story since 2011, wondering if its "blending learning" system would rise or fall. Indications are, it's falling.

Charters wither and die all the time, so an ailing charter isn't news. What makes this news is the school's "blended learning" educational strategy and the lavish praise heaped upon it by people in the privatization/"education reform" community. The Goldwater Institute loves Carpe Diem. So did John Huppenthal when he was Ed Supe. What the charters do is "blend" computer-based learning with more traditional classroom teaching. For Carpe Diem, that means students spend hours in computer labs that look like call centers working their way through off-the-shelf online curriculum. They also spend some of their time in classrooms with teachers, but the computers take up so much of the students' day, it doesn't take many teachers to handle the classroom chores. The student-teacher ratio is 50-to-1, more than twice the ratio at most schools. That means a school with 300 students has six teachers, barely enough to stretch across the disciplines.

Conservatives love the blended learning concept because, well, teacher salaries are such a waste of money. Businesses don't make a profit on monthly paychecks. But if you cut the teaching staff in half and buy or rent lots of computer education programming—and of course you have to replace all those computers with new ones every few years—ka-ching! What once was money wasted on salaries ends up in the pockets of for-profit education companies and computer vendors. Conservatives don't put it that way, of course. It would sound crass. They say "blended learning" gives students curriculum tailored to their learning styles. Students move through the material as quickly or slowly as necessary to achieve mastery, with the educational software analyzing each student's responses to individualize the best learning strategy. Computer-based education is the disruptive wave of the future, and the future is now.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Trial Over TUSD's Mexican American Studies to Begin in Tucson June 26

Posted By on Wed, Jun 14, 2017 at 1:00 PM

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It's been five years since TUSD's Mexican American Studies program was dismantled by order of Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal. The lawsuit challenging Huppenthal's order and the statute he based it on is coming to trial in Tucson's DeConcini U.S. Courthouse, beginning the week of June 26 through June 30. It will continue the week of July 17 through July 21. The courtroom is open to the public. The trial will run from 9am to 5pm.

If the lawyers defending Mexican American Studies win in whole or in part, the statute created to make MAS illegal could be thrown out, or the statute could remain but Huppenthal's decision that MAS was in violation of the law would be voided.

TUSD's Mexican American Studies program began in 1998 and continued without a great deal of public fanfare until 2006 when labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta gave a speech to the Tucson High student body. Her speech contained three words, "Republicans hate Latinos" which set off a firestorm of outrage among Republican politicians and commentators in Arizona and around the country. Among those who picked up the anti-MAS banner was Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, who turned the steps of the TUSD administration building into his home away from home, making regular visits to condemn the program. In 2010, the legislature passed HB 2281, a bill whose apparent purpose was to make MAS illegal. Horne's successor to the Superintendent position, John Huppenthal, decided MAS violated the newly created statute and had to be dismantled or $14 million a year would be withheld from TUSD's state funding. In 2012, the board voted to accept his decision, and the Mexican American Studies program ceased to exist.

A lawsuit was filed challenging the constitutionality of the statute and legality of Huppenthal's decision. U.S. Circuit Court Judge Wallace Tashima found the statute to be mostly constitutional. The lawyers working on the suit appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court, which decided that portions of the statute could be considered unconstitutional and the lawsuit had to be brought to trial in Judge Tashima's courtroom.

That's where we are now. Both Huppenthal and Horne will be called to testify at the trial, Huppenthal during the first part of the trial in June and Horne during the final part in July.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

14th Grade Is the New 12th Grade

Posted By on Tue, Jun 13, 2017 at 10:43 AM

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So far as I know, Democrat David Garcia is the only gubernatorial candidate who has a plan to allow all Arizonans to attend state colleges tuition free, or the outline of a plan anyway. He wants to start by making community and tribal colleges tuition free, expand to top high school graduates attending Arizona universities and eventually include all in-state students. If other people running for state office have listed free college tuition as part of their platforms, I haven't seen it, but lots of candidates are springing up saying lots of things, and education promises to be a red-hot item this election season. We'll have to see where things go.

Details? Yes, details are important and Garcia promises to supply them in the next few months, but there's something more important. It's the basic question, "Should college be tuition free?" If the answer is yes, the next question is, how do we get there? It's within the realm of the possible if we think it's important enough, and we don't have to get all the way there right away. If we begin the journey toward free tuition, we'll keep moving closer to the goal.

The answer, by the way, is yes, making college tuition free is a good idea, a very good idea, especially when it comes to community college. Today, 14th grade is the new 12th grade. Looking backward, in the first half of the twentieth century, 12th grade was the new 6th grade. In the mid-nineteenth century, minimal literacy was replacing illiteracy as the new norm. Times change and educational needs to change with them. Post-high school education isn't a necessity, but it's a damn good thing to have, both for personal enrichment and increased economic prospects. It's not a luxury item which should be available only to those who can afford it. Community college should be free and readily available. High school students who have an interest in continuing their education, even if they're not sure what they want to do with it, should be encouraged to take the next step by knowing tuition won't be an issue. People who are years out of high school shouldn't have to check their bank accounts to see if they can afford college, or worry about saddling themselves with years of debt if they decide to go.

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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Doug Ducey, CEO

Posted By on Thu, Jun 8, 2017 at 1:15 PM

So, there's this corporation with 60,000 employees who work in manufacturing plants scattered around Arizona. The plant workers are unhappy. Their pay is lousy, far lower than the national average for people doing similar work, their buildings are in disrepair and their tools and equipment are outdated. Meanwhile, the corporation complains the workers aren't producing a quality product and has begun outsourcing some of its work to other factories which claim they can turn out a better product for the same amount of money.

The corporation's CEO, Doug Ducey, recognizes he's got a problem on his hands. He knows that despite the outsourcing, 95 percent of the company's production still comes from the plants it owns. There's a growing sense among stockholders that the workers may be right to complain about their pay and working conditions. Ducey knows things could spin out of control if he doesn't look like he's doing something to fix the problem. Worst case scenario, if he isn't able to tamp down the discontent, the corporation could vote him out and put a new CEO in his place.

So Ducey tells the employees, "You're right, there's a problem, and we're going to address it. I'm on your side. Improving the lives of my workers is priority number one. So I've developed a plan. It won't take care of all your concerns right away, but it's a strong start. "

CEO Ducey makes a public display of working with the board to look for ways to invest in improving workers' incomes and working conditions. A few months later he declares, "I've succeeded. The board has decided to increase the amount we spend on employee-related issues by $163 million. It'll be used for raises, bonuses for our best employees and building improvements."

It all sounds good until you look at the details. Less than a quarter of the money, $34 million, will be spent on a one percent raise for everyone. But 15 percent of the employees, those who work in specialized plants producing the company's most valued items, will get bonuses amounting to 8 percent of their salaries on top of the one percent raise. They'll also get brand new, state-of-the-art computers along with other improvements to their work places. Their bonuses will turn into permanent raises, as will the money for workplace improvements, if their work stays at a high level. Total cost of the benefits to the fortunate 15 percent: $38 million.

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Monday, June 5, 2017

Where the New Education Money Goes

Posted By on Mon, Jun 5, 2017 at 3:30 PM

Now that the Arizona budget has been on the books for a few weeks, some reporters are taking a look back, and I'm beginning to read a new take on education funding that gives Governor Ducey and Republicans measured praise for putting some new money into schools. It may not be enough, the articles are saying, but it's something. Educators should give our governor credit for making an effort to help our schools and accept the money graciously instead of bitching and moaning because they don't think it's enough.

I beg to differ. It's not enough, not nearly. And most of it will find its way to fewer than 20 percent of the state's public schools.

Here's an example of the new spin on education funding from an Arizona Capitol Times article. The headline: Public education advocates bemoan school money still not enough. The word choices tell the tale. Education advocates "bemoan" the money. Complain, complain, complain. They say it's "still not enough." Will nothing satisfy them?

Here's how the article begins:
Education issues captured much of the attention this legislative session, but public school advocates say they’re disappointed with the outcome.

It’s hard to argue the budget doesn’t focus on education when much of the new spending focuses on K-12 or university education initiatives. The fiscal year 2018 budget adds $163 million above inflation funding to schools.
A news release from the "Reelect Doug Ducey" committee couldn't put the budget in a more favorable light.

Let's take a look at that $163 million in new education dollars. $163 million. That sounds like serious money. But let's remember, the Arizona legislature began stealing from schools back in 2009, and the new $163 million, even when it's added to the money voted in with Prop. 123, still doesn't bring education funding back to the level mandated by Prop. 301 which passed in 2000. We're still not back to the "good old days" eight years ago when funding was merely awful. We sure haven't invested more in our children's educations. The Republican obsession with tax breaks and tax cuts for the wealthy and the business community made sure of that, beggaring the state budget so it can't even find the money to fund schools at a level required by law. You don't steal $100 out of someone's pocket, give back $60 and expect a thank you.

Then there's Arizona's national standing. Add the new $163 million to the Prop. 123 money, and we're still in 49th place in funding per student, trailing 48th place Oklahoma. Another $100 million could put us in 48th place, barely. If we aspire to take 47th place from Mississippi, well, we're not even close. The 47th slot would cost us $600 million, almost four times this year's added money. And if we wanted to dream the impossible dream of reaching the national average, that would cost us $3.5 billion more a year.

We're spending less than we did in 2009. Mississippi-level education funding is a bridge too far. The national average might as well be on another planet. But education advocates should be satisfied with the governor's gesture financial largesse? Sorry. No.

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