Monday, October 31, 2016

Are they listening to the people?

Maybe this time the governor and the Republican leadership will listen to what the people of Arizona want? Recently, a poll showed that a majority of Republican, Democratic and Independent voters oppose using public money for private schools. But that is exactly what Republican leaders have been pushing at the Legislature by expanding voucher programs.

The poll results came on the heels of a national report that names Arizona as one of the few states in the nation to cut student funding by about 10 percent or more since 2008, while enacting tax cuts.

“Our country’s future depends heavily on the quality of its schools.  Increasing financial support can help K-12 schools implement proven reforms such as hiring and retaining excellent teachers, reducing class sizes, and expanding the availability of high-quality early education.  So it’s problematic that so many states have headed in the opposite direction over the last decade.  These cuts risk undermining schools’ capacity to develop the intelligence and creativity of the next generation of workers and entrepreneurs.”  

That is not the future House Democrats want for Arizona students and businesses. Our state leaders have an obligation to support the public education system that serves the majority of Arizona students. As long as Republican leadership continues to fail to prioritize schools, we can expect our classroom sizes to continue to grow, our teachers to continue to leave the state and business executives to continue to see schools as a “key weakness” for our state. House Democrats will continue to carry this message to the governor and Republican leadership until it gets through.  Click here to find ways to ensure your voice is heard.


Monday, October 24, 2016

The Crisis Continues at DCS

The committee currently tasked with overseeing Arizona’s Department of Child Safety held its last quarterly hearing last week. The bottom line from that hearing was that, although the agency has made some improvements over the last two years, it remains very much in crisis. But despite the significant problems his agency continues to face, Director McKay’s testimony was once again more evasive than transparent.

Many of the problems DCS has faced since its creation, and which were supposed to be resolved by agency’s high caseworker turnover rate. And it takes DCS more than twelve months to find permanent homes for more than two-thirds of children in its system. Every one of those factors is bad for Arizona’s most vulnerable children.
now, continue to plague the agency. DCS still has more than 18,000 children in out-of-home care and more than 4,000 backlogged cases. McKay has not yet solved his

The lack of transparency at DCS has been a problem in the past, and members of the oversight committee repeatedly made it clear during last week’s hearing that DCS was not providing enough useful information about the agency’s progress. McKay has resisted recommendations for reform and actually reduced his agency’s transparency. And there is no evidence that Gov. Ducey will start holding McKay accountable. It is critical that a new Legislative oversight committee is established.

Arizonans and their Legislators cannot become complacent with the marginal progress and limited cooperation that DCS has displayed under Director McKay. Protecting our most vulnerable children is simply far too important. McKay needs to truly be held accountable, and the children in our DCS system need robust legislative oversight to make that happen. 

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.