Monday, October 17, 2016

Holding DCS Accountable

The legislative committee charged with overseeing the Arizona Department of Child Safety is meeting this week, possibly for the last time.

DCS was created two years ago in response to crises—like a backlog of approximately 15,000 uninvestigated cases—that were putting Arizona’s most vulnerable children at risk. When the agency was established, it was required to report regularly to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee on its progress in solving those crises.  But after two years, our child safety system is still in bad shape.

The backlog, which was supposed to be eliminated long ago, still numbers at nearly 5,000. Director McKay has failed to reverse the agency’s high staff turnover rate, which puts children at greater risk, reduces efficiency, and wastes money. For months, DCS has been losing more caseworkers than it is hiring. And despite all the persistent problems, Director McKay is choosing to be less transparent with lawmakers and the public. 

That is why this week’s oversight committee is so important. Governor Ducey and Director McKay need to be held accountable. But Director McKay’s track record of ignoring reform recommendations and best practices and his decision to reduce transparency prove that he can’t be trusted to hold himself accountable. Since we can’t count on the governor to hold Director McKay responsible, the legislative oversight committee needs to be reauthorized, and public pressure needs to be maintained.  The lives and wellbeing of thousands of children depend on this agency.

Click here to watch the oversight committee live on Thursday morning at 9:30. And if you want the governor to know you expect more from him and from Director McKay, click here to find ways to be heard.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

DCS Director Response: The recommendation will not be implemented

Department of Child Safety Director Greg McKay will not be implementing most of the recommendations outlined in a new report from the Office of the Auditor General. And the governor, who appointed McKay and who has the power to replace him, has not demanded otherwise. But that is not surprising: it’s par for the course.

Director McKay has failed to follow through with reform recommendations in the past and continues to ignore best practices. McKay and the governor, who refuses to hold him accountable, seem to be thumbing their noses at reforms that would likely improve child safety and at the professionals recommending those reforms. All the while, Arizona children are languishing in a broken system.

The most recent report focuses on issues at DCS that keep kids from being placed in permanent homes. It included recommendations for ways to increase efficiency – which means putting kids with safe families faster. Director McKay dismissed many of the recommendations stating, “the finding of the Auditor General is not agreed to and the recommendation will not be implemented.”

That sets a dangerous precedent. The Office of the Auditor General is tasked with oversight but if there is no recourse or expectation of action when it finds a problem, how will problems be fixed?

One of the recommendations in the report is for the department to provide courts with the information needed to put kids in permanent homes in a timely manner because that isn’t happening now. DCS also recently announced that it will stop issuing a monthly report on agency caseloads, costs of services and financial data that has been provided since the early 2000s. That means less transparency in an agency still working on a backlog of around 5,000 cases and which continues to face alarming staff turnover and whose director the governor refuses to hold accountable.

The response from the governor and Director McKay to DCS’s ongoing problems seems to be to provide less information to the public and its oversight committee, to continue practices that have contributed to delays and to hope for the best.

That’s not leadership, and Arizona kids deserve better. If you want the governor to know you expect more from him and from Director McKay, click here to find ways to be heard.


Monday, October 03, 2016

Another Sign

Signs that Arizona’s public schools are in trouble—and that the state’s Republican leaders are not doing enough—seem to be appearing at an alarming rate. Most recently was the news that a national study rated Arizona the least attractive state in the country for teachers.

The Learning Policy Institute’s research shows that Arizona has the highest state-wide turnover rate and that nearly a quarter of Arizona’s teachers will be eligible to retire by 2018. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association’s voluntary survey reported more than 8,000 openings among 130 of Arizona’s school districts this year.
But, while it’s no longer surprising that our state ranks so badly in so many measures of quality education, the problems facing our schools are still shocking.  Arizona has faced teacher shortages for years. And House Democrats have been trying to solve that problem for years. This year, we proposed creating a new teacher mentoring program, instituting teacher retention bonuses and restoring $116 million in K-12 funding that Republicans cut in 2015. Republicans rejected every one of those proposals.

Tucson Unified School District’s Superintendent, H.T. Sanchez, whose district is currently facing nearly 170 vacant teaching positions, said of the problem, “If that’s not shocking people right now and encouraging people to get out of teachers’ way and let them do a good job, then I don’t know what’s going to wake folks up.”

Neither do we. We don’t know what might ultimately convince Legislative Republicans and Gov. Ducey to do more for public schools. But House Democrats are going to continue fighting for public education—for the nearly one million students in Arizona’s public schools and their teachers—at every opportunity because our state’s future hangs in the balance.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Rep. Fernandez wins 2016 AIFC Nuestra Voz Award

Congrats to Rep. Fernandez for winning the 2016 AIFC Nuestra Voz Award at the Arizona Inter-Agency Farmworker Conference on Sept. 27.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Student Safety

A disturbing news report recently revealed that nearly 30 percent of school buses in Arizona failed safety inspections last year.  It also showed that Arizona’s school bus inspection failure rate is among the highest in the nation.

How does that happen? Could it be because of the shocking amount of money Republicans have cut Now, most schools get only $77 per student.
from capital funding for schools? This is money that is used for things like ensuring school building and buses are safe. Prior to 2008, schools got around $450 per student for capital expenses – which is money used for things like building and school bus safety.

Couple that with the fact that Arizona’s overall per pupil funding remains among the lowest in the country for K-12 public schools and a new question arises: Who is looking out for our students? Republican leaders continue to claim that they are making education a priority but their actions speak louder than words: they continue to cut funding. For years, Democrats have pushed to restore the funding cuts that have left our schools struggling, sent teachers fleeing from the state and now appear to be affecting the safety of our kids.

Enough is enough. It’s time for Republican leaders to answer for their poor choices and lack of leadership. Democrats will continue to hold them accountable and fight to get our schools, teachers and students the resources needed to ensure both safety and success.


Monday, September 19, 2016

Most Arizonans & all House Democrats want more resources for public school students

The results of a recent survey published in The Arizona Republic showed that almost 75 percent of Arizona voters who participated believe there isn’t enough money going K-12 public and charter school students. And 100 percent of House Democrats agree.

The findings were similar to a 2015 poll conducted by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy and ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, which showed about 74 percent of Arizonans believe that the state is spending too little on K-12 education.  Arizona continues to rank near the bottom nationally for public school student spending and an official from the Arizona Department of Education recently said Prop. 123 money won’t be enough to boost the state’s standing.

We still need a comprehensive plan for ensuring our schools get the resources necessary to prepare Arizona kids for college, the job force and the modern economy. Republican leaders promised voters that Prop. 123 would be a first step, but they’ve neglected to show leadership in doing anything else for schools. AZ Schools Now, a growing coalition of education and community groups, has come forward with a long-term, sustainable revenue plan for education that will focus on three key areas:

  • Restoring funding for classroom supplies, updated technology and textbooks. This would require restoring district additional assistance.
  • Sustaining a workforce of quality, certified and caring teachers in the classroom by investing in competitive salaries and professional development.
  • Restoring capital funding to give our students schools and classrooms that are safe, clean and functional places to learn.

This is the kind of leadership that will help secure a better future for Arizona students and for the state’s economy. House Democrats will continue to champion public education. We will work with those willing to do more for our schools. This will remain a priority until students receive the resources needed to ensure they get a quality education.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Statements from House Democrats on the passing of former Governor Rose Mofford

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Several House Democrats released the following statements about the death of former Arizona Gov. Rose Mofford:

House Democratic Leader Eric Meyer, D- Paradise Valley (District 28)
“Gov. Mofford will remain an Arizona icon. She was more than Arizona’s first female governor. She was a true leader who could bring people together to see the best parts of our state.  Her enthusiasm and dedication to Arizona and the people in it will be remembered and missed.”

Rep. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix (District 24)

“For decades Rose Mofford has been my hero. She was also my friend and my supporter. I join many others in profoundly mourning her passing. The depth of her service to Arizona is immeasurable and the effects will influence the state for generations to come. She was truly one of the finest ladies in the state and will remain so in our memories.”

Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix (District 30)

“There never was a better advocate for Arizona than Gov. Rose Mofford. I will always associate her with what is special about this place. Her love of this state was reflected in her actions as a leader and a trailblazer. Her willingness to provide a steady hand during some tumultuous times stands out both in my memory and in history. It was a privilege to know and work with her.”