Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It's Not Just a Flat Earth, It's A Young Earth, Too

Senator Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake) says the earth is only 6,000 years old.

Courtesy the Arizona Guardian:



Sunday, June 28, 2009

Priorities

It is June 28th.

There is no budget.

The state could be "shut down" on Tuesday.

But next 4th of July you might be able to have sparklers.

Trickle Down Budgeting

Show Low School District's Business Manager calls the budget they recently passed full of "errors and inaccuracies."

AZ GOP at War With Itself

The LA Times puts together a brief but succinct summary of this year's session from Napolitano stepping down to there being 3 days left in June and no budget.

"It's a really interesting trap for the GOP here," said Earl DeBerge, a Phoenix-based nonpartisan pollster. "They have been so die-hard on shrinking government and shrinking taxes, they couldn't foresee that there's a minimal level of government required."



Picture of the Day


Trough Feeder?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Protest Coverage

Here are some links to video and print about the education rally and budget protest held today at the Arizona capitol.


KPHO.com - Channel 5 has both a story and video (click on the picture)

AZCentral - Channel 12 has video

AZ Family.com - Channel 3 has video

MyFoxPhoenix.com - Faux news has a story and video

AZ Star - news story

AZ Central - slide show

AZ Central - news story

If you know of others, please add them to the comments and I will post them here as well.

Packing and Posting

I will finish out the month of June in San Diego, leaving behind a state without a clear future.

Today showed how chaotic and non-transparent this whole session has been. Over 400 public education supporters met at the capitol to hold a last minute rally and to protest the bad budget proposed by the governor and Republican legislative leadership.

The people who showed up between 8:00 and 9:00 am were in good spirits and ready to talk to any legislators who would listen. The House Appropriations Committee was scheduled to hear all of the budget bills at 9:00. We planned on packing the room.

9:00 came and went.

Approps was moved to 10:00, then 11:00. It convened a little after 11:30 once Representative Rich Crandall (R-19) arrived from New York via plane. At that point, chairman John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) felt he had enough votes to proceed.

When the educators first tried to enter the House chambers, the security there panicked a bit and locked the doors. The size of the crowd seemed overwhelming (I assume), but after a bit of talking they re-opened the doors so the citizens could watch their legislature in action.

And watch we did... for over 5 hours.

It became clear that hardly anyone sitting on the committee knew what was in the budgets. Only the leadership of both the House and the Senate and the governor (about 3-5 people) had been working on the budget items. Now the committee would hear them (hundreds of pages of financial data and policy changes they had been in possession of since the evening before!) and vote.

It was pretty one-sided, with the Republicans voting for the budget proposals-- cutting hundreds of millions from education, reducing business taxes, permanently repealing the county education tax, and institution a flat tax (which would cost the state an estimated $450 million in additional revenue)... and the Democratic members voting against the measures.

Chairman Kavanagh, however, suddenly ended the meeting before hearing the controversial flat-tax measure. It quickly became apparent they did not have enough votes to support passage.

It would be hard to say with certainty that the rally prevented all of the bills being passed out of the House. I will say this. When the morning began, every lobbyist there thought the bills would be heard in committee in the morning and in the House COW (Committee of the Whole) in the afternoon, then passed over to the senate for the same process to occur on Monday.

But that didn't happen.

When nearly 500 people show up on a Saturday morning, march around and chant "Save Our Schools," sign up in opposition to a bunch of bad bills, and pack the committee hearing room-- sometimes the good guys win.

There is another protest set for Monday. If you can make it, maybe you can help advocate for students and schools. Maybe... we CAN make a difference after all.

It sure beats sitting still and taking it.

Here are some images from the protest:

The crowd surpassed 200 quickly.


It became pretty warm by mid morning, but everyone found shade and cold water.


A steady stream of citizens poured into the House chambers, filling four hearing rooms in addition to the room the Appropriations Committee was meeting in.


Several speakers came in to talk to about the budget process (and lack thereof) while we waited for Appropriations to begin.

This is about an hour before the committee finally met. Don't let anyone tell you the crowd was disorderly. They waited patiently two hours in the sun and another 90 minutes inside.

Proposed Budget

FY10 BUDGET SUMMARY

(Fiscal Year 2010: July 1, 2009 – June 30, 2010)

This is a summary of the major budget and policy items in the negotiated FY10 deal between Governor Brewer and Senate President Burns and House Speaker Adams.

TAXES

Sales Tax (HCR2037)

· Ballot proposition to voters at the November 3, 2009 election for one percent sales tax increase to be in effect for three years starting on January 1, 2010 . The tax money generated will be used with two-thirds going to K-12 and higher education and one-third going towards health and human services and public safety. Any revenues collected during FY10 (January 1, 2010 – June 30, 2010), must first be used to decrease the reductions in state spending for education. (Estimated revenue derived from this sales tax: $450 million available for FY10 with a total three-year impact of approximately $3 billion).


Flat Tax (HB2653)

· Replaces the current graduated individual income tax with a flat tax rate of 2.8% beginning in FY12. This is a loss of revenue to the state of approximately $450 million per year.


Single/Married Filing Separate income brackets

Married Filing Joint/Head of Household income brackets

Current Individual Income Tax Rates

New Rate with the Flat Tax

$0 - $10,000

$0 - $20,000

2.59%

0%

$10,001 - $25,000

$20,001 - $50,000

2.88%

2.8%

$25,001 - $50,000

$50,001 - $100,000

3.36%

2.8%

$50,001 - $150,000

$100,001 - $300,000

4.24%

2.8%

$150,001 and over

$300,001 and over

4.54%

2.8%


· Establishes a Task Force to determine the final individual income tax rate to be in effect in 2012 (the charge of the Task Force would prevent the rate from exceeding 3%).


Permanent Repeal of the State Equalization Property Tax—aka the school tax (HB2644)

· Permanently repeals the state equalization property tax. This is a loss of revenue to the state of approximately $250 million per year.


Reduction of Assessment Ratio for Business’ Secondary Property Tax (HB2644)

· Phases down the assessment ratio for secondary property tax purposes on business property from 20% to 15% beginning in tax year 2012.

o Tax year 2012 = 19%

o Tax year 2013 = 18%

o Tax year 2014 = 17%

o Tax year 2015 = 16%

o Tax year 2016 = 15%


There is no estimate for the loss of this revenue stream at the local level. As business’ taxes decrease, homeowner’s taxes must increase to generate the equivalent amount of money for school district bonds and overrides.


Vehicle License Tax (VLT) used to offset basic state aid (HB2644)

· Sweeps $22 million in VLT from cities and towns in FY10 to pay a portion of basic state aid for education.


o Note: This amount is reduced from the $95 million VLT sweep found in the budget that passed on June 4. The $53 million VLT sweep from the counties is completely out. The $42 million VLT sweep from the cities has been reduced to $22 million.


K-12 EDUCATION

Fails to actually fund the 2% inflation to school districts (HB2648)

· Section 9 in HB2648 sets the base level for FY10 at $3,267.72 which gives school districts the full 2% inflation factor. However, in section 25, there is a notwithstanding clause which then removes the 2% inflation to the base and instead sets the base level at $3,201.89 for FY10.


From a historical standpoint, here are the base funding levels for the past two fiscal years:

o 2007-08 school year (FY08): $3,226.88

o 2008-2009 school year (FY09): $3,291.42

o 2009-2010 school year (FY10): $3,201.89 (this is the actual base level amount per student that a school district will receive)


The $3,201.89 amount for FY10 results in an amount that includes the reduction of the $121 million in education funding cuts that were part of the FY09 budget fix passed on January 31, 2009.


Soft Capital Reduction

· Delays the $175 million additional cut to soft capital until January 1, 2010. The general appropriation trailer bill (HB2643) restores this funding if sufficient excess revenues are available by December 2009.


o School districts with fewer than 600 students will be impacted with only half of this reduction.


o Of the remaining statewide allocation of soft capital funds (approximately $23 million total), a district may use their local share for any operating expenses.


No Funding for Utility Costs

· Fails to provide any funding for the new utility formula that was passed last session for “excess utilities” (this is an $80 million cut to school districts that previously levied for “excess utilities”).


Teacher Performance Pay

· Reduces the Career Ladder program funding by 0.5% for FY10 (from 5.5% to 5%) and limits this program only to teachers who participated in FY09 (the 2008-09 school year).


· Reinstates the new but unfunded teacher performance pay program that was established last session (the “Gilbert School District” proposal to provide the additional Career Ladder funding to all school districts).


Overrides and Bonds

· Repeals the single ratio assessment for all voter-approved overrides and bond elections found in the budget that passed on June 4.


· Extends the timeframe during which a school district can issue a bond from six years to ten years after obtaining voter approval (this is only for future bonds to be approved by voters).


· Permits a school board to cancel an override election scheduled for November 2009 up to 10 days before the election.


· Raises the maximum budget increase a school district may request for a Maintenance and Operations (M&O) Override from 10% of the Revenue Control Limit (RCL) to 15% of the RCL.


· Establishes a Special Program Override by expanding the scope of the K-3 Override to allow for a program to be designed for any or all of the K-12 students. Specifies that the maximum amount a school district may request for an M&O Override is 10% of the RCL if the school district also requests a Special Program Override.


· Authorizes a school district, for FY10, to conduct an election in March 2010 and submit one of the following proposals to the voters of the district:

o A 15% M&O override that, if approved, replaces any previously authorized M&O and K-3 overrides.

o An additional 5% M&O or Special Program override if the voters of the school district authorize a 10% M&O override at the November 2009 election.

o A 17% M&O override for a common school district if an M&O and K-3 override are still in effect on this bill’s effective date. The 17% override, if approved, replaces any previously approved M&O and K-3 overrides and continues for the number of years of the previously approved K-3 override.


· Permits a school district to issue Class B bonds for furniture, equipment, and technology provided that the bonds mature within five fiscal years after the bonds are issued.


Policy Changes Targeted Against Teachers & Association Members

· Prohibits school district employment contracts from including compensated days for professional association activities.


· Prohibits a school district from adopting policies that provide employment retention priority for teachers based on tenure or seniority.


· Removes the current prohibition against school districts reducing the salary of a tenured teacher except under a general salary reduction applied equitably to all tenured teachers.


· Removes the contract dates (between March 15 and May 15) in which districts are required to offer teaching contracts for tenured teachers. Thus, there will be no date in statute set for contracts and school districts will each set their own contract notification deadline.


· Eliminates the May 15 statutory deadline for notice of salary reduction. Instead allows each school district to set its own salary reduction deadline for teachers.


· Removes current statute that requires a school board to notify a provisional teacher of nonrenewal by April 15; thus, there will be no date in statute set for this notification.


· Removes the current statutory requirement for a school district to give a preferred right of reappointment to a job for a teacher who has lost his/her job through the reduction in force (RIF) process if a job becomes available within three years of the RIF process.


· Reduces the time frame for requesting a hearing on dismissal or long-term suspension from 30 days to 10 days.


· Reduces the amount of a time a school district must allow a teacher to correct inadequate classroom performance from 85 instructional days to 60 instructional days after receiving notice.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Teachers Vs Teabaggers

There are reports that the March 4 Schools rally to support education scheduled for 9:00 am Saturday, June 27th will be met with a counter-rally... one would assume by the pro-tax-cut/shrink government crowd.

You remember the last time this group came out en masse-- the Tax Day Parties (aka Tea Bag Parties).

It was fun for all.

Let's see. Can you tell the Teacher from the Tea Bagger?







Flat Tax = Flat Earth Thinking

No one who studies it for a moment can sign on to what is referred to as a flat tax-- unless you also sign onto the flat earth theory.

The idea of a "flat tax" is that everyone pay the same flat tax rate no matter their income.

From what I understand, if the proposed flat tax rate goes through, the wealthy in Arizona (income over $5 million) will get $341,000 back in taxes. That is enough money to pay for 10 teachers or 7 police officers.

So the answer to the largest budget crisis in the nation is to reduce taxes-- which will lead to firing teachers, police, fire, and others who meet basic public needs.

That almost makes sense.

Don't worry if you lose your job. You will probably get a tax refund, too.

But yours will be closer to $3.41.

Education Rally Saturday June 27th

Education Rally

Arizona Capitol

Saturday June 27th


9:00 am.


Be there.

The back room budget deal will cut millions from education now and slash revenue every year in the future.


Act now.

It's better than wishing you had, later.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Budget Rumors

The Arizona Guardian reports that a "fragile" budget deal is near completion. They have no information on direct cuts to public education, but do have a few details.

Remember, this is not official.

The state will not reduce home builder impact fees, but cities will have a two-year freeze on raising their rates. Impact fees are generally levied by local municipalities on new construction (homes, businesses, etc.) to help offset the "impact" on public services (e.g. roads, sidewalks, emergency services) needed to support the new construction.

So-called "sweeps" of revenue from vehicle license fees normally reserved for towns and cities have been "substantially reduced." This will lessen the impact on municipal budgets.

One piece which will impact education funding is a "step down" of the assessment rate for businesses (currently 20%) until they are equal to homeowners (currently 10%). The business rate would "step down" 1% per year for 10 years, which would gradually place the burden of taxation from property (read: school district overrides) onto home owners.

So far, the Democrats in the legislature are still forced to sit on the sideline. Neither the governor nor the Speaker or Senate President have brought them into budget negotiations. Only if legislative leadership cannot get enough Republican votes to support the compromise budget will they try to peel off a few Democratic votes for passage.

Stay tuned.

Tom Horne: I Told You So

From the AP:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court has ruled for Arizona officials who are challenging federal court supervision of a program to educate students who aren't proficient in English.

By a 5-4 vote, the court reversed an appeals court ruling in a 17-year-old lawsuit intended to close the gap between students in Nogales, Ariz., who are learning to speak English and native English speakers.

Justice Samuel Alito, in the majority opinion, said a federal judge in Arizona must take another look at the program to see whether Nogales now is "providing equal opportunities" to English language learners.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Ideology Trumps Reason

John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association, gave a grim pronouncement of where the budget could be going.

From
Public News Service:

"As we hear about these [budget] negotiations, it seems the conservative wing of the [Republican] party and the legislative leadership is feeling emboldened that many of their cuts are going to stick, and they are pushing back against some of the ongoing support for schools that the governor has proposed."

Will the governor stand strong? Maybe you could encourage her.


Governor's office - (602) 542-4331

Forcing Districts to Lie

From the San Pedro Valley News-Sun:

David Woodall, superintendent of the Benson School District, said the current conflict between Arizona Gov. Janet Brewer and the legislature is nothing more than "gamesmanship" that is preventing others from moving forward with a plan for the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

[...]

Woodall said with a Republican governor and a Republican majority in the house and senate, he figured it would be a breeze and a budget would go through without a problem.

[...]

The new fiscal year begins on July 1. At the latest, by law, Woodall said school districts must approve a budget for the upcoming year by July 15. Before the document is approved, they are also required, by law, to propose a tentative budget, and hold public hearings to get residents' input.

Woodall said the first hearing will likely be held this week on Thursday, where he will probably introduce a budget with "unrealistic numbers." By law, after being introduced, the final tally in the budget can be decreased, but cannot increase.

Woodall said he will likely propose a high, unrealistic number, that will be cut down once the state stops fighting and gives school districts actual figures to work with.


School districts across the state are likely doing the same thing-- ginning up high, unrealistic budget numbers so they will not be in violation of numerous state laws. Fallout from the legislator's game of chicken with the governor is not only financially handicapping schools, it is also greatly impacting a school district's ability to plan effectively for the upcoming school year and forcing local governing boards to present false budgets to the communities which elected them.

Effectively, forcing them to lie.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Moore Bad News for the Legislature

Moore Information, an opinion research/strategic analysis company released a poll they conducted weighing public opinion on the current budget crisis in Arizona.

The results do not bode well for the legislature.

One of the questions asked : Who is to Blame for the Budget Deficit? As you may know, the 2010 fiscal year starts on July 1st of this year. If a budget is not approved by that date, Arizona may see portions of state government shut down until a budget fix can be reached. In this case, who do you think would be responsible for causing the shutdown?



I know it is hard to read [Blogger image upload is unpredictable sometimes], but that's a whopping 72% who think the legislature is solely or partly to blame for not having a budget. Only 13 percent believe the governor is at fault; and one in three hold her at least partly responsible.

And then there is this piece which one would hope the legislature would pay attention to. When asked to rate "how acceptable" a listing of cuts proposed by the legislature was, the voters said public schools should stay off the chopping block. The three columns are acceptable / neutral /not acceptable.



Some elected officials say they do not read the polls. I've never understood that. Public opinion polls indicate what the public (read: voters) is thinking. Why would an elected official not want to listen to the electorate?

And when 51% of the public responds that Arizona is headed in the wrong direction-- and only 27% approve of the job the legislature is doing-- someone had better be paying attention.

There are seven days left in June.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Understatement

Sen. Carolyn Allen: “I think we’re going to regret half of what we’re doing today.”

She was speaking about the 81 bills the Arizona senate passed today.

Eighty-one bills passed in four hours.

I'm sure they read every one...

Friday, June 19, 2009

TABOR

While Governor Brewer's budget proposal is far superior to what the Republicans in the state legislature have passed, it contains some very disturbing language regarding future budgets. She proposes to change the constitutional spending limits to a "combined population and inflation formula." Such a formula is at the heart of the so-called Tax Payer Bill of Rights proposals which have popped up in different states and only passed in one-- Colorado.

It nearly devastated the state.

TABOR is sold as a way of reforming government spending-- and it does. It slashes state revenue and state spending so much that taxpayers begin paying for luxuries previously purchased by the state. School luxuries such as textbooks, teacher aides, and sports. Universities are hit even harder.

One Colorado Republican state senator, Norma Anderson, summed it up with this. "Start closing your parks and your higher ed, and have lousy highways. That's what you get with TABOR."

The voters in Colorado eventually repealed TABOR but not before they fell billions of dollars behind in education funding, transportation funding, and public safety funding.

If we focus on the fight between the governor and the legislature instead of what they are proposing, we may end up with TABOR in our state. It may be hard to imagine funding our schools at a lower level than we already do, but it is quite possible.

Here is a 13 minute video on TABOR's impact on Colorado. It explains why a funding formula of "inflation plus population" is flawed. It details TABOR's impact on schools, public safety, and average citizens of Colorado. Every minute is worth watching, so grab a coke and get comfortable.



video

Will we learn from the mistakes in Colorado?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Huppenthal Feeling the Heat


Ask senator Huppenthal (R-Ahwatukee) if dozens of parents, teachers and support staff being at the capitol every day in June is having any effect. He recently had to hold one of his "pet" bills from being heard and subsequently voted down in the Senate Education Committee-- a committee he chairs.

SB1394 is senator Huppenthal's answer to the teacher shortage in Arizona. Does he offer smaller class sizes? better working conditions? increased support?

No.

SB1394, if signed into law, would allow anyone who ranked in the top 10% of their college graduating class to be immediately certified to teach in their field of study.

Seriously.

Graduate with high scores in content knowledge and we will put you in a classroom with kids. You can learn classroom management, preventive discipline, state-standards-based curriculum writing, effective communication skills (with students and parents), implementation of individual education plans, semester and unit planning, reliability and validity in testing, and infusing technology into your lessons on the fly.

It would also grant certification to anyone who taught the same subject for three years on an emergency certification basis in a traditional or charter school. That would fly in the face of eight years of moving toward having a "highly qualified teacher" in every classroom. Math teachers should teach math, not history teachers.

Similarly, scoring in the top 10% in a nationally recognized norm-reference admissions exam for post-baccalaureate program (meaning the GRE) would grant someone instant certification.

Good at taking tests? Well, you must be good at giving them, too!

Almost a good idea. Imagine if anyone graduating in the top 10% were allowed to be a nurse or a doctor. We have shortages of both, but would you feel good going onto the operating table if Doctor "I Slept At A Holiday Inn Express" hadn't had any formal training, but they did ace anatomy?

Don't forget- senator Huppenthal wants to someday be known as Superintendent of Public Instruction Huppenthal.

Back to SB1394. Why did it fail? Because the people attending the Heat Wave all went to his committee, signed on as "in-opposition" to his bill, and spoke to senate education committee members about what a horrible idea it was. Two AEA members, Lori Coughlin of Deer Valley and Chris Maza of Paradise Valley, were prepared to give testimony to the committee in front of that packed room.

Huppenthal, reading the tea leaves, quietly "held" his bill from being heard in committee.

Yes, the Heat Wave is having an effect, because the people going down to the capitol are making a difference. Standing up for your profession, for students, and for schools is important.

Governor Brewer Files Lawsuit Against Legislature

Governor Brewer made good on her promise to end the legislature's game of 'chicken' with the budget on Tuesday. Standing on the steps of the Arizona Supreme Court, the governor announced her request for the court to intervene and have the legislature "work through the process as designed by the [Arizona] constitution."

video courtesy of the Arizona Guardian:


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

New Mexico Raiding Pensions to Offset Budget Deficit

Don't think this couldn't happen here.

(with apologies to every English teacher I ever had)


Snipit:

The legislation passed earlier this year will boost employee payroll contributions by 1.5 percent of their salaries and lower the state government's payments by the same amount during the next two years. Employees who make more than $20,000 per year will be affected.

The contributions required for public employees were approved to help the state save $43 million annually.


Governor Brewer Threatens Court Action

The governor says she will take republican leadership to court over their refusal to transmit the budget to her.

Good luck taking them to court. The Arizona Legislature are the kings of foot dragging. The Flores case was filed in 1992. Seventeen years later, it has still not been resolved.

Here is video, via the Arizona Guardian:


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Senator Jack Harper Insults Educators

It was one of those things you had to see to believe, but thankfully the Arizona Legislature films their floor sessions.

On June 9th, 2009 many educators from across the state came to the capitol to ask their legislators not to cut vital funding from public schools. During the opening minutes of the senate floor session many legislators asked for a moment of "personal privilege" to announce the teachers and support personnel from their district in attendance in the senate gallery (balcony viewing) and welcome them.

Then there was senator Jack Harper (R-Deer Valley).

video


What is really, really sad (or funny) is that Mrs. Harper is a teacher, too.

Congressmen (and -women) Sound Off on Stimulus Money

Harry Mitchell is a former teacher and state lawmaker. He helped JD Hayworth find new employment back in 2006. Now he represents Arizona's fifth congressional district (parts of Tempe, Scottsdale, Mesa). Here is what he had to say about the $1 billion in federal funding which was approved for Arizona schools.

“While the Arizona Legislature continues to propose education cuts to balance their budget, this funding helps to show our commitment to our teachers and students — that their future matters,” he said. “A strong education translates into a more prepared, competitive work force and a sustainable economic future.”

He called investments in education critical to our future.

Representative Anne Kirkpatrick of Arizona's first congressional district (NE Arizona) echoed Mitchell's comments about investing in education being an investment in children and the future.

“These funds will help ensure our kids get the education they need to succeed in the 21st century by keeping our best teachers in the classroom and holding our schools to higher standards,” she said.

Now why is no one in state leadership saying things like that?

All I hear them say is how we cannot afford it.

Is it an investment, and we find the money to make it happen? Or is it a cost and we simply cut it?

Arizona Receives Federal Education Funds

The state will receive $681 million now and $335 million later... unless the legislature makes further cuts to education in the budget.

Then we would lose it all.

This is serious stuff.

Buried on Page 47-D

State Trust Lands Commissioner Mark Winkleman is leaving the department. Governor Brewer will name his replacement. Public schools are the largest beneficiary of the sale of state trust lands.

Hungry Students

Twenty million of them, with no money for lunch.

Arizona has 400,000 of them.

We have almost 1,000,000 total students.

Yeah.... Wow.

Federal Lifeline

Sticking with the game show theme for a moment too long perhaps, the federal government is issuing $100 billion to the states to help get them through the next two years. The problem is that some states are in such a deficit they are spending their allotment in the first year.

Maybe large class sizes, quality teachers leaving the profession, and poor working/learning conditions is really an opportunity. We could simply get rid of schooling beyond the 8th grade and have a new show on FOX (who else?) called Who Wants to Be A Graduate?

Maybe the picture at the right would be less funny if it became more commonplace. We wouldn't have such high expectations for people if we just taught them less. And think of the money we'd save!

Would that make us richer?

AZ Budget: Deal or No Deal?

The rumor mill was spinning them out fast yesterday just before noon. Un-cited sources-- but always someone "close to the budget process"-- were declaring a budget deal had been reached. The central point was an agreement to refer a tax question (presumably Brewer's 1% sales tax increase) to the citizens in a 2010 special election.

In the end, it was speculation.

It is June 11th. There are 20 days left. There is no budget.

I'm overwhelmed!

I've been spending quite a lot of time thinking -- and worrying about the state budget situation. I've been reading Joe's posts and have attended forums and had numerous discussions about how the budget cuts are effecting everyone across the states.

So, I'm finally getting around to writing about how things are going in my teaching situation. I can tell you this - the only thing constant throughout this budget dilemma -- is change.

I happen to be fortunate -- really fortunate -- to teach in a district that happens to provide Kindergarten teachers with Instructional Assistants and gives Kindergarten students special area classes - PE, Music, Library, and Art. I've also taught in situations where neither was provided. This was well before the "standards" movement and well -- kindergarten was still a time for exploration and socialization. Robert Fulghum's "Everything I need to know, I learned in Kindergarten" still was the way of the Kindergarten World.

The fun-filled days he so lovingly wrote about have long since passed. In the 20 or so years since, kindergarten has become " The New First Grade". The academic demands placed on Kindergarten students are amazing. Not only are kids expected to learn their "ABCs & 123s", but they are also expected to learn to read, add & subtract, and write complete sentences with capitals, spaces between words, and end punctuation. Did I mention that they also are being taught algebra and geometry? Did I mention that I am also responsible for helping children of recent immigrants from all over the world become fluent in English? The state would prefer that a child who comes to me knowing only his/her home language be brought to proficiency within a year. Don't get me started on That Unfunded Mandate. That will be my next entry.

These demands have gotten so "out of control" that it is a significant challenge to make sure that there is still time for them to play while they are at school -- and this is exactly why Music, Art, and PE are so important. When children are taught these special areas by folks who are duly certified and highly qualified to do so, it is exactly what the children need. The amount of skill that it takes to provide quality experiences while still meeting the state standards in the Arts & PE curricula is above and beyond my training.

Let's face it -- I have plenty on my plate being responsible for the academic standards imposed on kindergarten students. Because of the depth of the state budget cuts, my students will have very limited -- if any -- regular contact with certified special area teachers for their Music, Art, and PE classes. But wait -- the kindergarten level standards connected in these subjects haven not been removed even though the classes have been. So --- I will be teaching those standards, too. You can see the magnitude of my responsibility by clicking here. And, in case you are wondering -- No, I have not been provided with resources or materials to do so.

Here's another instance of a generalist doing a specialist's job. This is just as questionable as last year when a neighboring district replaced their certified librarians with non-certified assistants -- or was it volunteers?? Library Science isn't called a "science" for aesthetics.

Something like this can only fly in the field of education. Think about it -- if I had a serious medical issue -- (even though I absolutely LOVE my GP) I would be calling around for appointments with a specialist. Wouldn't you?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Senator Gould's Home District Not Liking the Budget

Legislature's budget has local leaders seeing red.

GOP Budget: Everyone will feel the pain

"Essentially we will be on a starvation diet," [Democratic Ahwatukee Foothills Representative Rae] Waters said.

Key Players: Political Bios

The Arizona Republic gives some insider information on who the main players are in the budget situation. I would call it "budget discussions", but no one is talking.

Corporate Tax Credit Windfall

Along party lines (Republicans voting yes, Democrats voting no) the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to kill the sunset clause on Corporate Tax Credits, which were scheduled to end in 2011. They also are allowing insurance companies the ability to donate to private schools and receive a tax credit.

Here's the kicker-- insurance companies don't even pay corporate taxes.

Nothing going on at the legislature makes sense right now.

Is This Hypocrisy?

Most teachers have in their contract what are called "personal days." This allows you to stay home from work and attend to "personal" matters. Depending on the individual district, teachers normally receive 1 or 2 of these days per year which they can use for whatever they want. They can use it if friends or family are visiting from out of town, if they are getting married and want to use the day for a weekend honeymoon, or if they just need a day off from work.

Again, you typically get 1 or 2 of these each year. Districts have "black out days" which you cannot use your personal days on. You must also submit a request 5-10 days ahead of time to schedule a personal day.

Some at the legislature object to teachers using this day to come visit their legislators. So much so, that the Arizona senate recently discussed a measure which would require teachers to reimburse school districts for any days they took off from school to go to the capitol to talk with their legislators.

Feeling that this is something better managed between the teachers and the school district, I began an email exchange with Senate Majority Whip Pamela Gorman (R-North Phoenix). In the back and forth (about 5 emails) I made the following point to which she did not reply.
The House and Senate Education committees meet while I teach. I am the first to say that a teacher needs to be with students, but there are times when it is equally important for a teacher to be with legislators-- especially when discussing public education. I will again state that the "shut up and teach" brb is simply mean-spirited. Any attempt to paint it otherwise might be seen as hypocritical. For example, are legislators ever absent from caucuses, committees, or floor votes? If so, are they lobbying the community for support on a bill or seeking relationships to help with their re-election bids? Are you required to reimburse the state for that time? Do legislators give back their per diem if they are not at the capitol or if someone purchases the meal that day? Or is it assumed that legislators are professionals and can balance out the needs of their job in a variety of ways?
The phrase in boldface will become meaningful shortly. I'm not sure why she did not reply to me at that point, but I did see the following news item covered by the Arizona Guardian today.

A missing GOP vote sends Senate committee home early

You need a subscription to the AZ Guardian to read the story ($10 a month for educators), but here is a summary. The senate Natural Resources Committee had a full agenda of contentious bills to discuss and vote on yesterday. Senator Gorman was absent, which left 3 Republicans and 3 Democrats to do the work. They passed a few bills before coming to the first contentious one, SB1259. It would allow mining companies to delay clean-up work on mines they said they were no longer mining due to the economy. Republicans liked the bill. Democrats did not like the bill.

It failed along party lines, 3-3, but would have passed if Senator Gorman had been in attendance. Why was she gone? She had taken a "personal day" to attend a national meeting of the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee.

Sensing defeat of other bills the Republicans wanted to pass, chair John Nelson (R-Glendale) adjourned the committee very early and will, presumably, require another day to get the work done.

Let's review. Teachers who want to take a day off from school to go talk with their legislators are bad. Legislators who want to take a day off to go work on their re-election bids is fine.

Hypocrisy? I emailed Senator Gorman and asked her that. I wonder what her reply will be.