Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The governor can't ignore this

Pressure on Gov. Ducey to put more money into Arizona schools continues to grow. On the heels of the AZ Kids Can't Wait report from the state's superintendent, a panel the governor selected to review public education funding cut to the chase quickly- schools aren't getting what they need.

There were 12 recommendations included in the panel's report, including one to increase teachers' salaries to help with on-going retention problems. 
None of this should be news to the governor.  Even when he began touting his Prop. 123 plan, which repaid a portion of the money the state illegally withheld from public schools, he said it would be a first step. Recently, he told reporters he would ask for additional money for schools when he releases his budget soon. He did not say how much he would ask for, or how it would be distributed. But at least this response was more appropriate than when his spokesman said a study showing Arizona's schools system is fourth worst in the nation was "baloney."

If the governor really is committed to a second step, the AZ Schools Now coalition, a growing collection of education and community groups, has 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.
With so many people demanding that school funding be a priority, maybe the Republican leaders will finally create a budget that truly reflect the priorities of Arizonans.  Currently, per-pupil spending in Arizona is among the lowest in the country. That needs to change immediately, if we expect our students to be prepared for the future and for our economy to grow. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

ICYMI Randall Friese: Repeal of the Affordable Care Act would put big hole in Arizona's budget

As members of Congress plan to make good on their campaign promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), several hundred thousand Arizonans wait and watch with concern about how they will meet their families’ future healthcare needs. Additionally, Arizona policymakers are ringing the alarm bell raising concerns about potential damage to our state’s economy and the detrimental effects on future state budgets if repeal takes place without sensible replacement.
This sounding alarm cuts across party lines with good reason. The fallout from repeal could negatively impact hundreds of thousands of Arizonans and their families as well as blow up our state budget and take a Grand Canyon sized bite out of Arizona’s economy.
According to AHCCCS, the agency that administers our state Medicaid program, repeal without replacement could remove health-care coverage from 425,338 Arizonans. In addition to this loss of coverage, the cost of providing health care to the remaining AHCCCS participants would increase by $328 million per year — money that currently comes from the federal government via the ACA.
It’s no surprise that Arizona Republican leaders are just as concerned as Democrats.
Gov. Doug Ducey recently told the media that he wanted to ensure that federal Medicaid dollars continue to flow into Arizona. “I am not talking about repeal,” he said. “I’m talking about repeal and replace,” Ducey explained. “I want to see all of our citizens have access to health care that’s affordable.”
Former Gov. Jan Brewer also indicated that she wished to see Medicaid expansion in Arizona stay in place. In 2013 lawmakers in Arizona reinstated Medicaid coverage for individuals at up to 138 percent of federal poverty level using federal funds made available to the state through the ACA. Before 2013, Medicaid coverage was available only to individuals up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level.
What would a repeal of the Affordable Care Act mean for Arizona?
Repeal would reverse Medicaid expansion eliminating Medicaid coverage for over 425,000 Arizonans (those who fall between 101 percent to 138 percent of the federal poverty level). Tied to this elimination of coverage is the loss of $328 million federal dollars from the general fund annually and an associated $3.2 billion hit to Arizona’s economy.
In our current budget situation, having to come up with $328 million to replace the federal funding loss endangers our schools and universities.
It is obvious Arizona simply cannot afford the cost associated with a repeal of the ACA without a meaningful replacement that maintains our current Medicaid coverage and includes the insurance reforms that many Americans agree are necessary. These reforms include a ban on denial for pre-existing conditions, removal of lifetime spending caps, and allowing young adults to stay on their parent’s plan until age 26.
As a physician I know how important coverage is for families when a medical disaster strikes. Without health-care coverage, working families may put off needed treatments, allowing easily reversible medical issues to escalate into illnesses incurring extra costs and requiring additional resources to resolve.
Arizona hospitals will not turn away those in need of emergency care. For that reason, a repeal of the ACA will result in a marked increase in uninsured Arizonans, causing health-care costs to rise as uncompensated care skyrockets.
Lawmakers need to ensure that the paths of politics and policy intersect. Straight-up repeal of the ACA in the absence of a sensible plan for replacement is pure politics. Good policy demands replacement before repeal, or no repeal at all.
Politics may get politicians elected, but it’s the creation and implementation of sound policies that provide their constituents with the opportunity to lead healthy and productive lives.

Monday, December 12, 2016

And now for some good news

More Arizona kids have health care coverage, according to a study from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families. The report shows that the number of kids without health insurance dropped 30 percent between 2013 and 2015.

Enrollment for KidsCare, our state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, was frozen in 2010. When the Legislature was debating restoring KidsCare earlier this year, Arizona ranked third in the United States for the number of children without health insurance. Democrats and community partners recognized the importance of this program, and together we led the years-long charge to restore it.

That work paid off. Earlier this year, KidsCare was restored. This move is anticipated to get free health insurance for 30,000 kids and is expected to add around $75 million to Arizona’s economy next year alone.  There are other benefits to this program. The nonpartisan Grand Canyon Institute found that KidsCare has long-term benefits as well, including increasing high school and college graduation rates.

We still have some ground to cover. Arizona's overall rate for uninsured children is reportedly 8.3 percent, while the national average is 4.8 percent. Advocates all over the state are working to change that by spreading the word that KidsCare is back. Families who meet the necessary qualifications can apply for KidsCare online or print an application here, or call 1-800-377-3536 for free assistance.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Putting kids first should be more than a catchphrase.

People across the state are still calling for more to be done to improve education for Arizona kids. And we are still hearing nothing from the governor's office about what he is going to do to correct the challenges facing our schools.

Recently, an Arizona Republic piece pointed out that Arizona Superintendent Diane Douglas'  AZ Kids Can't Wait education plan to get more funding for schools and teachers was "nice" but was wouldn’t do much to move the ball forward. "It would be nicer still if she launched a crusade to actually get it… to follow up and pressure Gov. Doug Ducey and the Republican-led Legislature to properly fund schools."

The governor and other Republican leaders promised that Prop 123, which got some of the illegally withheld inflation funding back to schools, would be a first step. But we've still not seen step two. A poll from the Morrison Institute for Public Policy and ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication show the most Arizonans believe the state is spending too little on 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

So if the Republican leaders in this state really believe "AZ Kids Can't Wait," then it's time to make some choices that will make school funding a priority, not just a catchphrase.