We should pay our teachers more, Governor Ducey says, so long as it doesn’t cost the state any new money.
We’re getting little bursts of information out of Ducey’s Classroom First Initiative Council about proposals they plan to make to the governor, and the bursts often sound pretty good. The council makes all kinds of pro-public education noises in its pronouncements, and pro-underprivileged kids noises as well. Caveat emptor. Buyer beware. Their ideas come out in dribs and drabs with few details because the details are going to mean a radical shift in education spending, moving more funds toward the haves, toward charter schools and toward vouchers, which will mean less money for everyone else. Don't expect to see the council's package of proposals in any detail for awhile. Better people don't have the opportunity to do the math and complain about the inequities built into the new system until it's too late.
The council says it wants more money for teacher salaries, with an extra boost for teachers who are willing to work in schools that have trouble finding teachers. And Ducey kind of agrees, though he’s not committing to anything. But, he says, no worries, we can make it happen. There’ll be more money—lots more money—soon. By which he means the approximately $300 million a year the legislature has stolen from the schools by illegally ignoring a voter mandate. He wants to give our schools, which are 48th or 49th in the nation in per student funding, the money they should already have. All that money that belongs to the schools, which were already cash-starved back when they had that money, will move Arizona from 48th or 49th place in per student funding all the way up to a little higher in 48th or 49th place. And it’s really only 70 percent of what the legislature owes the schools. And it will only happen if voters agree to take money from the state land trust funds instead of the current budget surplus so Ducey can use the money lying around in the state coffers to give his buddies the tax breaks he promised them. And if all that happens and schools get what they’re owed—or, actually, 70 percent of what they’re owed—Ducey wants to tell them how to spend that money which already belongs to them.
A prediction: If the money comes through and a significant portion is spent on much-needed increases in teacher salaries, it won't take long for conservatives to tell us how selfish and greedy the teachers are, sucking up all the money which, if they cared about the kids, would go for more supplies and smaller class sizes. And don’t expect those same conservatives to suggest as a solution that we supplement the money the state owes the schools—actually 70 percent of the money the state owes the schools—with an increase in next year’s state budget so we can afford much needed increases in teacher salaries alongside more supplies and smaller class sizes. It's not going to happen. That would get in the way of Ducey giving his buddies the tax breaks he promised them.
But really, with all his talk about how he's all for more money for schools, Ducey doesn’t really think increased funding is an essential part of school improvement. He thinks the schools have plenty of money right now if they only spent it more wisely. I guess he thinks schools whose per student funding is 48th or 49th in the nation, schools which spend a smaller percentage of their funding on administration than any other state, have plenty of fat they can trim from . . . well, from somewhere. School bus maintenance, maybe?
And besides, suggests the council, there are other, creative ways to “pay” teachers more which don't involve raising salaries. For instance, we can put together a PR campaign—I’m not making this up—to “celebrate Arizona’s teachers and the positive impact they make in the lives of the students in their classroom.” That’s sure to keep teachers from leaving the profession, or moving to a state where they’ll make thousands more a year and maybe be able to support a family on a teacher’s salary. Just tell teachers, “We appreciate you.” It’s like money in the bank.
The educational redistribution plans soon to come out of the council, which will likely be endorsed by Ducey, are designed to increase our educational inequality, to keep pace, I guess, with our increasing income inequality. That way, the rich get richer and the poor get blamed for their poor state test scores. Most people on the council are in favor of the idea. The one vocal dissenter is Ed Supe Diane Douglas. who says she's wary of the new distribution proposals.
“I hate to use the term ‘winner’ and ‘loser,’” she said. “But that can happen when you’re talking about school funding and school finance.”She’s right, of course, and she’s one of the few Republicans who’s saying it out loud. When you’ve got a limited pot of money, giving more to one group means giving less to another, which leads inevitably to winners and losers. And with Ducey and his hand-picked Classroom First Initiative Council, there’s little question who the winners and losers will be.
Much as some people are unwilling to admit it, Douglas is the closest thing we have among our elected state leaders to a champion fighting to protect and enhance the education of Arizona's kids—all Arizona's kids. She resides way, way on the other side of the political spectrum from where I live, but she seems to have a healthy dose of common sense combined with a genuine concern for our children, and that can go a long way toward bridging ideological divides. I honestly believe Douglas wants what's best for Arizona's children, like most supporters of public education, which makes her one hell of a lot better than our previous two state superintendents. She and I may disagree about exactly "what's best" in some areas, but we have enough areas of agreement that I find myself encouraged by many of the stands she takes. In these dark days of educational decision making at the state level, it's rare to find any rays of light in Republican circles. When we do find people like Douglas and a few Republicans in the legislature, we need to join forces with them to try and hold the line against the regular assaults on public education from the likes of Ducey, his Classroom First Initiative Council and the conservative majority in the legislature— and, who knows, maybe even make a bit of progress every once in awhile.