Education Budgeting

The Arizona Legislature delivered a one-two-three punch to public education this year that will erode schools for decades to come

Are you outraged at Governor Ducey's "education budget"? You should be. After Prop. 123 passed, he promised some "next steps" were coming soon, but all we got is an insulting 25-cents-an-hour raise for teachers and a little money sprinkled over a few high-profile programs to make it look like he's doing something. Watching Ducey quacking and smiling as he dubs himself the "education governor" is infuriating. But push aside your anger over those outrages for a moment. Something far more important happened in the Legislature this year, something which could change the nature of Arizona education irrevocably. It's the one-two-three punch of vouchers for everyone, results-based funding and lowering of teacher certification requirements. Over time, those changes will lead to an increasingly stratified education system, with more money flowing to education for children of higher income families and less going to everyone else.

If Ducey and the conservative majority in the legislature could speak freely, if they knew the voters couldn't hear what they were saying, their vision for Arizona's education would sound something like this.

"We should have a three tiered education system," they'd say. "The top tier has to be the best schools money can buy to supply us with our future movers, shakers and innovators—our captains of industry and the geniuses who help them create better, more profitable products and services. The next tier should be good, but not overly expensive schools to teach children who will become our educated professionals—our doctors, lawyers, middle managers and such. Give those kids a K-12 education that's good enough to get them into colleges where they can obtain the career training they need. As for the rest, they really don't need much of an education to perform the tasks expected of them. Their schools should teach them to read, write and do math at a sixth grade level. That's more than enough from them to wash our floors, change our oil and ask, 'Do you want fries with that?'"

We're closer to a codified version of this three-tiered educational scheme than we've ever been, thanks to the work of Ducey and his legislative majority.

At the top of the educational hierarchy are the most expensive private schools. Courtesy of the new vouchers-for-all law, taxpayers will be giving the wealthiest Arizonans $4,500 or more to help them pay for their children's tuition. Call it financial aid for the rich. Even with vouchers, the rest of us won't be able to afford those schools—they start at $10,000 a year—so the rich don't have to worry about the riffraff showing up.

We know our public and charter schools need more money to provide the quality of education children deserve. The problem conservatives face: How do they get as much of that money to the right schools—those educating students likely to fill the ranks of educated professionals—without squandering it on the rest who don't need much education? The answer they came up with is results-based funding. It gives extra money to the 10 to 15 percent of schools with the most "successful" students, usually schools in high-rent areas. It's enough money for them to give teachers a $2,500 to $4,000 raise and still have plenty left over for new books, computers and educational supplies—all those things other schools have to do without. For those lucky schools, teacher shortages will become a thing of the past. Their principals will have the enviable task of sifting through piles of job applications, then hiring the best of the lot.

That leaves the rest of our schools with too little money and too few teachers. The lowering of teacher certification requirements helps deal with the teacher problem without requiring more money. According to the new law, anyone with a bachelor's degree can be a teacher, no experience required and no need to ever take an education class. Even if those undereducated, untrained teachers do a mediocre job and only stay a year or two, well, those kids don't need much of an education, and the schools will have enough warm bodies filling empty teaching slots until the next crop of college graduates arrives.

The new legislation has plenty of flaws from a conservative point of view. It still leaves too much money flowing to schools with lower-income students. But trust me: Ducey and his pals are working on it. I'm sure they'll come up with "improvements" in next year's legislative session.

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