Politics

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

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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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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Dems Ask Judge To Knock Indie Candidate from November City Council Ballot

Posted By on Tue, Jun 20, 2017 at 3:28 PM

You may not get a chance to vote for independent City Council Candidate Gary Watson
  • You may not get a chance to vote for independent City Council Candidate Gary Watson
It looks like Tucson City Council candidate Gary Watson needs to lawyer up.

Watson, a firefighter who is running as an independent for the open Ward 3 seat, is facing a legal challenge to his candidacy.

Attorney Vince Rabago, representing plaintiff Sheila Yamanaka, has filed a lawsuit alleging that Watson does not have enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Watson needs 377 signatures to qualify. He turned in 536, but Rabago alleges in a court filing that 294 are invalid, leaving Watson well shy of the minimum number of signatures.

A review of Watson’s nominating petitions from the Pima County Recorder’s Office showed that he was shy by just one signature.

But Rabago says the Recorder’s Office does not check all the various technicalities that could lead to disqualification.

Watson told the Weekly last Thursday, June 15, that he was having trouble finding legal counsel for less than $10,000. That’s a steep price to pay for a political rookie who faced an uphill battle to win a council in the first place.

If Watson is bounced from the ballot, the August Democratic primary would decide the future of the Ward 3 seat, which is now held by the retiring Karin Uhlich. Three Democrats are in the race: Paul Durham, Tom Tronsdal and Felicia Chew.

The case is set to be heard in Pima County Judge Catherine Woods’ courtroom on Friday, June 23.


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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Friday, June 16, 2017

Zona Politics Tonight: City Councilman Paul Cunningham and CD2 Candidate Mary Matiella

Posted By on Fri, Jun 16, 2017 at 4:09 PM

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Tonight on the televised edition of Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel: I talk to Tucson City Councilman Paul Cunningham about the city's border-wall resolution, the recently passed budget, the state of the city's parks and much more. Then I introduce you to Mary Matiella, a retired Assistant Secretary of the Army who is considering jumping into the crowded Democratic primary to decide the nominee to challenge Congresswoman Martha McSally in 2018.

The televised edition of Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel airs 6:30 p.m. Fridays on the Creative Tucson network, Cox Channel 20 and Xfinity Channel 74. The TV show repeats Sunday mornings at 9 a.m.

This week's radio edition of Zona Politics will feature physician and former state lawmaker Matt Heinz, who announced this week that he is also jumping into next year's CD2 primary. We'll also talk with Dawn Penich-Thacker with Save Our State Arizona, which is running a referendum campaign to overturn the state's recently enacted expanded voucher law.

The radio edition of Zona Politics airs at 5 p.m. Sundays on community radio KXCI, 91.3 FM, and at 1 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. Sundays on KEVT, 1210 AM.

Border Patrol Agents Bust Migrants Seeking Medical Aid at No More Deaths Desert Camp

Posted By on Fri, Jun 16, 2017 at 3:55 PM

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The Border Patrol arrested four undocumented border-crossers receiving medical attention at a humanitarian-aid station on Thursday evening, breaking with years of precedent.

A helicopter, 15 trucks, two quadrant vehicles and 30 armed agents descended on the medical-aid station, search warrants in hand, after tracking a group of migrants for 18 miles, according to the humanitarian-aid group, No More Deaths, which runs the humanitarian-aid station in Arivaca, Arizona, less than 15 miles from the Arizona-Mexico border.

“Right now, the No More Deaths humanitarian-aid station is not a place that is safe to provide humanitarian aid,” said Eva Lewis, volunteer with NMD. “There’s a lot of people in dire medical need who are coming through the desert, and it’s really important that those people have a place to seek medical aid without fear of incarceration and/or fear of deportation.”

The Pima County Medical Examiner has received 2,615 sets of human remains from 2001 through 2016 recovered in the Tucson Sector border region. Historically, the number of deaths peak during June and July due to extreme heat. In 2016, 31 percent of human remains were recovered during these hotter months.

Humanitarian groups along the entirety of the U.S.-Mexico border say the total number of deaths is around 7,000 since border policy toughened in 1998.

According to NMD, the group has had an unsigned written agreement with the Tucson Sector Border Patrol since 2013, with the federal agency pledging to not to interfere with the humanitarian camp that provides life-saving medical treatment to many migrants every year.

In the agreement, BP agreed to “respect the NMD camp as a medical facility under the international Red Cross standards, which prohibit government interference with humanitarian aid centers,” wrote John Fife, one of NMD’s founders, in a statement released on Facebook last night.

The Red Cross’ code of conduct, referred to in the agreement reads: “The right to receive humanitarian assistance, and to offer it, is a fundamental humanitarian principle which should be enjoyed by all citizens of all countries. As members of the international community, we recognize our obligation to provide humanitarian assistance wherever it is needed.”

The statement also reads that governments should recognize and respect the actions of humanitarian aid agencies.

“This was a targeted attack on humanitarian aid,” Lewis said. “This was an attempt to intimidate and prevent the camp from being able to function in a humanitarian role.”


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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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