Sunday, May 31, 2009

Brewer Finally Requests Federal Stimulus (ARRA) Money


After weeks of being prodded, Gov. Jan Brewer formally applied May 21 for Arizona’s more than $1 billion in federal stimulus money.

About $557 million of the first money to be received will go toward education funding, Brewer’s office announced, with $250 million to be spent on K-12 education, $154 going to universities and $29 million to community colleges. All should received the money to be applied to current fiscal-year budgets, she said.

Another $275 million will go to education spending when it is received in the fall. Arizona will also receive a $185 million in general stimulus money that can spent over the next three years but Brewer didn’t say how that would be spent.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Yarbrough's Dirty Laundry List

Blog for Arizona lists all the ways Representative Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) bilks the system for your tax dollars. The list is impressive and includes office renovations of $125,000, lawyer "fees" of $66,000, and a "company" car ($44,500).

Do you need a Lexus to process paperwork?

And he calls himself a conservative.

Join the Heat Wave

March4Schools is a broad-based coalition of teachers, parents, working families, school employees, and taxpayers that organized a march of 10,000 people at the Arizona Capitol on March 4, 2009. We believe that Arizona must take a comprehensive approach to the budget deficit that ensures the legacy we leave behind is something we can be proud of by preventing massive cuts to schools.

The Heat Wave will put people concerned about these unnecessary cuts to education at the capital every day in June to put pressure on the legislature to invest in our students' futures.

Want to learn more? Click here.

Senator Verschoor: Tax Credits Are Like Starfish

Senator Thayer Verschoor (R-Gilbert) explaining his vote to create a new tax credit/voucher program that would funnel $5,000,000 in revenue to private schools. I wonder if he will show this compassion for the one million public school students in Arizona.

Lawmakers Ignoring Constituents?

No time for the little people (aka voters):

The non-partisan “Valley Interfaith Project” (VIP) is made up of 45 churches of various faiths. VIP delegates say that since January, they’ve made repeated attempts to meet with key lawmakers of both parties. VIP says while they’ve had some success, many politicians including the governor have put them off or ignored them altogether.

“They work for us, we pay their salaries, yet they don't seem to want public input on the issues that will affect our families,” said Margaret Snyder, a member of the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale.

Tribune Editorial Questions Legislative Priorities

Even the conservative Tribune editorial board is losing their patience with how the governor and legislature are handling the budget:

Gov. Jan Brewer and the Legislature moved with impressive speed last week to come up with an alternative way to keep providing assistance to disabled students and foster children after the state Supreme Court ruled that two private-school voucher programs violated the state constitution.

In less than two weeks, lawmakers and Brewer acted to expand an existing tax credit program for corporations to donate to private scholarship tuition organizations, essentially replacing the $5 million in funding lost when the voucher programs were struck down.

Corporate tuition tax credits also are being attacked in court, but that program has stronger legal precedent to support it.

With that in mind, the Legislature simply will have no excuses if it somehow fails to adopt a new budget that resolves the projected $3.3 billion deficit in a timely fashion that allows for fair review by the public. It’s clear that lawmakers can get things done correctly when they put their hearts into the task.

There are 30 days left before the start of the new fiscal year. Get the budget done. Now.

30 days, huh? Glad someone else noticed.

Talking Schools

Communities for Quality Education created a project to allow people to interact with education policy makers. All you need is the Internet and a phone.

Education in 10 New Steps

Former Secretaries of Labor put their heads together to come up with 10 steps to "better" schools. I wonder what they would have said if teachers had written up a list of how to fix the business world.

Their premise begins with:

The key to U.S. global stature after World War II was the world's best-educated workforce. But now the United States ranks No. 12

Notice they do not say what our "ranking" was in the 1940's. They just state that we had the best-educated workforce. No data, just their words.

It is also difficult to compare "US schools" to other nations, since the education system in the United States is really 50 different systems. Education is a state power, not a national power. It would be far more accurate to compare Arizona to Germany or the United States to Europe than to compare all 50 states (by some form of averaging) to any one nation. There are many reasons why this is a difficult comparison (pluralistic society, wide range of funding disparities, etc.), but we still allow it to happen.

The worst idead of the 10:

Hold faculty accountable for student achievement. Take over every school that, after three years, is unable to get at least 90 percent of all major groups of students on track to leave high school ready to enter college without the need to take any remedial courses

Why is it that everyone is so focused on college entrance? Only about 20% of Americans have a college degree-- and many of them cannot find jobs. Why should we get 90% of students ready for college when less than half will attend? Again, these are former Secretaries of Labor who are writing this, but they fail to address technical skills. Where is the emphasis on trade skills? We need more mechanics, carpenters, and plumbers. We have plenty of lawyers.

Brewer Puts Her Stamp on Vouchers

We are facing the largest budget deficit in our state's history, but we have plenty of money for new programs, I guess.

Gov. Jan Brewer has signed into law a bill creating new business tax credits for donations that will allow foster and disabled children to attend private schools.

I remember when fiscal conservatives didn't throw money down a black hole.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Dem's Building A Bridge?

From the AZ Republic article:

Democrats on Thursday released a state budget plan that would hike property taxes, lower the state sales tax and avoid deep cuts to state programs.

As the minority party at the Statehouse, the Democrats are trying to chart a middle course between the deep cuts of the Republicans' budget plan for fiscal 2010 and the 1-cent-per-dollar sales-tax hike that they believe Gov. Jan Brewer is promoting.


Their ideas hinge on lowering the state's 5.6 percent sales tax to 3.4 percent and broadening the base of businesses to which it would apply. For example, they want to tax services ranging from accounting to hairdressing.


Democrats admit their plan would raise property taxes by hiking the state-imposed rate at which school-district aid is calculated. Raising the qualifying tax rate would mean a $140 increase in the property taxes paid on a $150,000 house, Campbell said.

"This is much cheaper than the 1-cent sales-tax increase that's been talked about by the Governor's Office," said Campbell, who is House minority whip.

Democrats calculate that a sales-tax increase would cost an average family an extra $438 a year, he said.

Maybe they will be able to work together-- the governor, Republicans, and Democrats. Maybe the partisan antics will be set aside and cooler heads will prevail.

Their proposals drew condemnation from Republicans. Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, summed it up in five words: "Tax, tax, tax and tax."

But Democrats fired back with their own five-word description of GOP plans circulating at the Capitol: "Cut, cut, cut and cut," said Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix.

Hmmm.... maybe not.

What are the odds?

Two years in a row it rained at graduation.

In Arizona.

This year we kept it outdoors.

The picture does not do justice to how "pretty" my colleague's umbrella was.

L-R: Me, Holly Williams (principal), Joel Dunning (v-principal), David Marks (v-principal)

Third World

Is public education a priority where you live?

video created by the Arizona Economic Council


It had to be easier for the flat-earth society down at the legislature when they could blame the slow budget process on a governor in another party.

This year looks to be tougher.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Special Session on Graft

A Scottsdale colleague (Eric Kurland) saw this piece in the Tucson Weekly:

A Tucson mom uses public records to shed light on state lawmakers' conflicts of interest

The entire article is worth reading, but here is a snipit:

Besides looking through 990s—records filed by nonprofit organizations with the Arizona Corporation Commission—Darland examined Maricopa County Recorder's Office records. That's where Darland found a deed that showed [Arizona Representative] Yarbrough owned the building where SCA [School Choice Arizona] and ACSTO [Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization] are located.

Yarbrough purchased the 2241 E. Pecos Road property in Chandler for $275,000 from Bruce and Wendy Dunn, who happen to be listed as the president and director of ACSTO and SCA. Yarbrough charged ACSTO $44,981 in rent in 2007. SCA listed its rent as $4,000 on the organizations 2007 990 filing.

Darland put together a timeline that shows in 1998, Yarbrough and his partner, David J. Harowitz, co-founded ACSTO. Using the 990s, Darland determined that from 2001 to 2007, Yarbrough earned an average annual salary of $96,571.43 to serve as the executive director of ACSTO.

In 2002, Yarbrough was elected to represent Legislative District 21, but he kept his job as executive director of ACSTO. In October 2005, Yarbrough and Harowitz started HY Processing, a private company that processes tax-credit scholarships and grant applications from ACSTO and SCA. In 2006, ACSTO paid $363,620 in administrative fees to HY Processing; in 2007, it paid $426,895.

Besides rent and processing fees, Yarbrough and partner Harowitz also collected $171,171 in legal fees paid by ACSTO in 2007; they also garnered $1,181 from SCA that year.

Darland estimates that Yarbrough has earned at least $1,116,238 (in salaries, legal fees and rent) based on his work in the tax-credit industry.

Unbelievable! Representative Yarbrough authors bills every single year in the legislature to increase the amount of money that can be funneled to these back-door voucher schemes. Governor Brewer just called a special session of the legislature-- during a $3.3 billion budget crisis-- to create a new way for Yarbrough, I mean kids, to get more vouchers. The legislature responded by quickly passing a new law for more corporate tuition tax credits. Every Republican legislator except for Carolyn Allen (R- Scottsdale) voted for the tax scheme. Every Democrat opposed it.

Dueling Budgets

The AZ Democratic legislators released their budget:

If I can find a direct link to the Republican budget I will edit and post.

Until then, enjoy.

Will Teach for Food (and tuition reimbursement)

Many recent graduates who cannot find a job in the current economy are filling out an application with Teach for America.

Interest in becoming a teacher has soared amid the recession, especially in programs that get people quickly into the classroom.

Oh goody.


The chief proponent of tax credits and school vouchers gets to keep 10% of the money for himself.

Conflict of interest?

Where I come from, we call that graft.

Still Marching 4 Schools

Arizona Public Schools: Making A Difference Every Day

Nice website.

Horne Changes the Test

Is making a test easier synonymous with rigor and high expectations?

Arizona schools Superintendent Tom Horne has issued a new mandate that will cut the number of students receiving special help with English, kicking up yet another controversy over the state's 150,000 English-language learners.

Horne has ordered all schools next school year to simplify to one question a three-question method now used to screen students for enrollment in a four-hour-a-day immersion course in English.

Don't say it's about the money. The Arizona Superintendent for Public Instruction has an answer for that.

A complaint has been filed with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights alleging the move is discriminatory and asking for an investigation, a department spokesman said.

"Those are false accusations by idiots," Horne said.

You stay classy, Tom Horne.

Tucson Poll: 90% Say Education Central to Economic Future

From the poll:

More than nine out of every 10 Tucson-area residents say education is central to the region’s economic future yet underfunded and deficient..."

Is that what Representative Andy Biggs (R-Gilbert) meant when he said:

"Education does not create jobs. Entrepreneurs and businesses create jobs."

Welcome to 30 Days in June


My name is Joe Thomas, and I am a teacher. I started this blog (web log) so that my colleagues and anyone else concerned about public schools could find information about next year's state budget. Arizona faces a projected $3.3 billion budget deficit next year. The legislature and governor must somehow craft a budget where expenses meet revenue. They have until the end of June.

It will not be easy.

I cannot promise you will agree with or even like everything you read here. I will promise to try to stay on topic, present information clearly, and indicate if (more likely when) I go on a rant. Feel free to comment-- whether you agree, disagree, or cannot comprehend what conclusions I am attempting to draw. Comments help bring others into the conversation, and conversations are important.

To that end, I will attempt to bring other voices here as well: legislators, school employees, parents, and other community members concerned about public schools. They can provide their perspective on schools and the budget. We can all learn from each other.

Thank you for reading, for commenting, for thinking, about public schools. We too often take for granted that they will always be there and be taken care of.

Joe Thomas