Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Legislative Democrats announce education funding plan

Legislative Democrats announce education funding plan
Puts money into classrooms now without raising taxes, protects future funding

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Today Arizona Legislative Democrats released an education funding plan that will give public schools nearly $4 billion, without raiding funding from future generations and without increasing taxes.

“Our plan will put nearly $4 billion into public schools over the next 10 years, protects the long-term health of the state land trust fund, and puts dollars in the classroom now,” House Democratic Leader Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley (District 28), said.

The Democratic plan provides sustainable funding, unlike other proposals that would create a shortfall in funding for future generations. 

This plan:
  • Supports the belief that education is a long-term investment and the foundation for Arizona’s future economic success
  • Provides nearly $4 billion for public education during the first 10 years and protects funding levels after that
  • Does not rob future generations by harming the principal of the state land trust fund
  • Does not raise taxes and can be implemented immediately
Meyer added that concerns are mounting about the governor’s idea to cut into the principal of the state land trust’s permanent fund. Arizona State Treasurer Jeff DeWit recently criticized that proposal, in part because it creates a fiscal cliff in five years and hurts the principal of the fund.  The Joint Legislative Budget Committee estimates a loss of $3.2 billion in value under Ducey’s proposal. 

“The plans put forth by Arizona's Republican leaders are not much more than smoke and mirrors,” said Senate Democratic Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix (District 24). “Our responsible plan puts desperately needed dollars immediately into classrooms without stealing from the state land trust or First Things First, without requiring uncertain voter approval, and without setting up our state to fall off another fiscal cliff. Our kids deserve a sound, sustainable plan to fund our schools.”

The Legislative Democratic proposal maintains the existing distribution of funding from the state land trust proceeds, which is currently 2.5 percent, and the $74 million inflation increase approved in the 2015-2016 fiscal year budget. It will allocate new revenue from the $278 million in projected 2015-2016 fiscal year surplus to K-12 funding in the current fiscal year and $250 million in ongoing revenue to school funding in future years.

Additionally, the plan would freeze the expansion of the corporate school tuition organization tax credit program beginning the 2016-2017 fiscal year to produce an additional $10 million in revenue dedicated to the K-12 budget. This will ensure that funding levels can be maintained. Existing tax credit funds for STO scholarships would not be reduced under the plan.

“Under our plan, Arizona schools will immediately receive desperately needed money without having to wait for an unguaranteed approval by voters,” said Hobbs. “And our plan leaves resources in the general fund to address the critical needs of child safety and higher education. It's a plan that protects our children and honors the state's commitment to their future.”

Meyer agreed.

“Arizona has the resources to fund public education. Our plan shows that. It has always been a matter of making it a priority,” Meyer said. “The Republican leaders in the state so far have offered ideas that jeopardize the future of education funding. We can’t afford to waste time on gimmicks, Arizona needs a sustainable education funding plan now.”

Below is a full 10-year analysis of the Democratic education funding plan.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Stop Dark Money

Stop Dark Money

Fair and transparent elections are the foundation of our democracy.

The administration of elections should not be a partisan issue, but it has been increasingly becoming a partisan game for Secretary of State Michelle Reagan, who is the state’s chief election officer.

In her primary election, Secretary Reagan claimed that she was opposed to dark money in elections. But after she won her general election against dark money foe Terry Goddard, she suddenly announced that there is nothing she can do to curb the influence of dark money.

It’s time to hold Secretary Reagan accountable for her actions and demand sunlight in our elections.

Our challenge is that our governor, attorney general and secretary of state all won their elections with significant support from dark money groups. They know to whom they owe their good political fortunes.

So, who do we turn to for protection? The answer is the Clean Elections Commission, by default.

In 1998, in the wake of political scandals in this state, Arizona voters passed the Clean Elections Act, which established a process for candidates to run with public money rather than raise money from special interests. The Act also established the Citizens Clean Elections Commission and empowered the Commission to enforce Arizona’s campaign finance laws.

Recently, the Commission has taken a courageous stand against dark money and illegal coordination in Arizona elections. It has stood up to partisan interests and powerful elected officials and forced them to play more fairly.

When someone violates the law, the Commission brings an enforcement action against that person, demanding accountability to the voters, and the courts have repeatedly upheld the Commission’s authority.

But now Secretary Reagan is attacking the Commission, threatening to take it to court if it continues to play a role in shining light on dark money. What is she afraid of? Her power grab seems designed to keep voters in the dark.

The Clean Elections Act requires disclosure of campaign spending for or against state candidates. Secretary Reagan seems to think that requirement of the Act does not apply to her friends in the dark money world.

Simply put, she isn’t doing her job.

Next month, the Commission will vote on the adoption of new rules that will provide guidance to organizations and the public on when campaign disclosure is required. The Commission has bravely stepped up to shine a light on the influences of dark money, and Arizona voters are fortunate to have their dedication to the integrity of our elections.

They need your help. Please contact the secretary of state.  Tell her to back off the Clean Elections Commission and to support our value of fair and transparent elections. #StopDarkMoney

Monday, September 21, 2015

Hale calls on Brnovich, Ducey to reconsider state’s involvement in Supreme Court case involving alleged violence against a Native American youth

Hale calls on Brnovich, Ducey to reconsider state’s involvement in Supreme Court case involving alleged violence against a Native American youth

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Rep. Albert Hale, D-St. Michaels (District 7), recently sent a letter to Gov. Doug Ducey and Attorney General Mark Brnovich, urging them to reconsider the state’s involvement in a U.S. Supreme Court case involving reported sexual violence against a Native American youth who resides on the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians reservation.

Hale wrote that he is “greatly dismayed” that the Attorney General’s Office and, by extension, the state, signed onto Oklahoma’s friend of the court brief supporting Dollar General Corporation in its case against the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

Hale called these actions “disrespectful.”

“Arizona should stay out of the Native American affairs in Mississippi,” Hale said. “Tribal institutions have an obligation to protect Native American children from on-reservation sexual violence, and the Dollar General case is about just that. It is wrong that a child cannot seek justice in his home judicial system simply because he lives on a Native American reservation.”

Hale added that he is raising these concerns on behalf of the Native Americans who live within the eight Indian Nations he represents in Legislative District 7.

“I am urging these leaders to reconsider their decision and withdraw from this offensive legal brief,” Hale said. “I am also calling on both the attorney general and the governor to meet immediately with the leaders of the Indian Nations in Arizona to discuss this matter and recommit to a mutual relationship of respect and recognition of sovereign rights.”

Hale also sent a copy of the letter to other community leaders in Arizona and the country, including the Navajo Nation and the National Conference of Native American State Legislators.

“This is case is an assault on the sovereignty of Native American Nations,” Hale said. “We must take an immediate stand.”


Rep. Hale is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation. He was born in Ganado and raised in Klagetoh, Arizona. He is Ashiihi (Salt), born for Todichiini (Bitter Water). His maternal grandparents are Hanaghani (Walk About clan). His paternal grandparents are Kiyanii (Tall House clan). He is a 1969 graduate of Fort Wingate High School, a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school located east of Gallup, New Mexico. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona (1973), and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law, Albuquerque, New Mexico (1977), and an honorary Juris Doctor degree from Phoenix School of Law (2012).  He is the former President of the Navajo Nation.


Still catching up

Still catching up

A new report shows that many cities in Arizona are stuck in painfully slow recovery from the recession. A true economic recovery plan would invest in education. House Democrats have advocated for more funding for K-12 classrooms and affordable university tuition. Arizona students need quality, affordable education so that they are prepared for college and the workforce. But Republican leaders continue to slash millions from education budgets, and the effects of these budget cuts can be seen in our economic situation.

The article also noted that Tucson had the largest percentage loss of college-educated workers of all Arizona communities, and that Gilbert, Glendale, Peoria, Phoenix and Tempe also lost a portion of the college-educated workforce.

A new study from the Arizona Board of Regents shows that less than half of Arizona’s K-12 students are qualified to attend the state’s universities.  The ABOR president told a reporter that there aren’t enough students coming out of Arizona’s K-12 schools to replace the number of adults with bachelor’s degrees.

Businesses understand the need for a well-educated workforce. The Phoenix Business Journal published an article revealing that businesses are avoiding the state because of “Arizona’s reputation on education.” According to the article, two companies considering relocating to Phoenix passed because “they were afraid they would not find good schools for their own children.” These businesses took their 3,000 high-paying jobs to other cities.

How many more headlines like this will Arizonans have to read before Republican leaders make education funding a priority? With the state’s economic future at stake, we have to #AskDuceyWhy he’s not investing in education now.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Arizona’s general fund can no longer be the “cash cow” for private schools.

Arizona’s general fund can no longer be the “cash cow” for private schools

Arizona’s general fund can no longer be the “cash cow” for private schools. For nearly two decades, private school tax credits have existed within a system that lacks transparency and accountability. This has contributed to a growing funding problem facing Arizona’s public schools. At the same time, these private school tax credits are not helping the students they were designed to help. It will take legislative action to correct these issues.
The current Arizona tax credit programs lack oversight, accountability and transparency.  Figures from the Arizona Department of Revenue in 1998 indicate that more taxpayers have claimed tax credits on contributions made to scholarship organizations than these organizations reported.[5] 

The Arizona State Legislature created these private school tax credits and the organizations that manage them, called student tuition organizations (STO), almost twenty years ago to help financially disadvantaged students and students with special needs have access to more schools. Today there are fewer students attending private school than when the legislation was created, but more money is being spent on private school tuition.[1]This is a significant flaw that House Democrats attempted to reform with proposed legislation that would have ensured taxpayer money goes to the students and families these programs were designed to help. That effort was met with partisan resistance.

Another problem with STOs is that these organizations are allowed to keep 10 percent of the amount collected for administrative fees. More than $80 million has gone to administrative fees since 1998. Without reforms, that number will increase but yet again partisanship seemed to stymie attempts to cap these bloated fees at five percent.

These private school tax credits have experienced huge growth that could surpass $600 million. This is larger than the budget of all but four of the state’s agencies.[2]  Students, teachers and parents cannot wait any longer. What started out in 1997 as model legislation that would cost the general fund $4.5 million annually has now become known as a model to avoid.[3]

According to the United States Census Bureau, Arizona ranks at the bottom for public education funding. The report also states that Arizona provides less state funding per student than any other state in the nation. The $3,018 per pupil provided in 2013 is just 53.8 percent of the national average.[4]  Arizona students deserve better; our teachers deserve better and the taxpayers of Arizona deserve better.   

If we are serious about public education funding in Arizona, and if we are serious about growing our economy then we must take action now.  Regardless of party affiliation we MUST come together and demand that our legislators do the right thing. In the past, House Democrats have proposed reforms to address these issues. These reforms were blocked in the Legislature, but many of my colleagues remain committed to promoting changes that will increase accountability and reduce the potential for abuse. Such policies will be a priority next legislative session.

Our state’s economic future requires an investment in public education and that means we must consider real reform to assure public education funding.   Arizonans will take responsibility and demand that all Arizona students have access to a first-rate public education. Those interested in learning more or getting involved, please go to the Take Action tab at www.azhousedemocrats.com.

[1] http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/arizona/investigations/2015/07/26/private-school-families-arizona-tax-credit-program/30647833
[2] Arizona Dept of Education; AHCCCS, Department of Corrections and our state universities).

[5] Arizona's Individual Income Tax Credit for Schools, Report of 1998 Credits," Arizona Department of Revenue, Office of Economic Research and Analysis, October 2000.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Playing favorites

Playing favorites

Since fiscal year 2008, Republicans in the Arizona Legislature have shifted state funding away from education and toward the Department of Corrections, which oversees the operations of for-profit, private prisons.

A recent analysis by Children’s Action Alliance[1] showed that spending for K-12 education, community colleges, and universities has been on a plummeting trajectory since 2008.  During the same time frame, state spending on corrections has jumped by 33 percent.

This trend is, in part, the result of misguided Republican priorities. Republican leaders continue to invest in private prisons, which may not be saving the state money, while divesting from public education. This seems to indicate they are playing favorites with private prisons.

These choices look like they are already affecting the state’s economy.  Arizona’s job market is the third worst in the country. Recently, the state’s unemployment rate increased to 6.1 percent, while national unemployment remained at 5.3 percent.

Arizona has yet to recover all the jobs lost during the Great Recession,[2],[3] and we are losing out on opportunities because Republicans are funding incarceration instead of education. The Phoenix Business Journal recently reported that businesses are avoiding the state because of its “reputation on education.” Two companies decided not to relocate to Phoenix because “they were afraid they would not find good schools for their own children.”

#AskDuceyWhy he and other Republicans in Arizona are prioritizing for-profit, private prisons over our schools. #EducationNotIncarceration.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Quit stalling. Fund our schools now.

 Quit stalling. Fund our schools now.

Last week on the Senate Lawn, more than a dozen organizations joined their voices together to demand immediate support for Arizona’s public schools. Parents, community leaders and teachers implored the governor and legislators to honor the will of the voters and pay the debt owed to public schools. These advocates urged the governor to call a special session and use the $325 million projected surplus to help cover the K-12 inflation funding judgment.

This judgment is the result of a five-year-old lawsuit filed because Republicans in the Legislature refused to fully fund a voter-approved inflation formula for K-12 schools.  Negotiations to settle the lawsuit reached an impasse last month. Because the settlement talks failed, the Legislature is obligated to pay schools the more than $300 million owed to them immediately. But Republican leaders are appealing the order and attempting to delay the payment… again.

Republicans have the means to fund schools now, but they are choosing not to. The state’s projected surplus is now $325 million – up from the initial $250 million projection.  Instead of taking immediate action, the governor has proposed a land trust deal that might get money to schools in several years. And Republican leadership in the Legislature released a vague funding plan that would sweep money from the First things First program.

#AskDuceyWhy he and other Republican leaders won’t make funding schools and protecting Arizona’s future a priority.