Educational equivalent of tax breaks for the rich?by Marc Severson on Jan. 28, 2013, under Education
When you live in a state that is variously rated 50th, 49th or 48th in the nation in per pupil funding you tend to look askance at any announcement that touts a new source of funding meant to assist education in Arizona. So it was with two announcements this last week.
The first was one from the office of the Governor, Jan Brewer stating that she was attempting to increase funding for education in Arizona despite apparent lack of support from her party in the legislature. I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised and guardedly optimistic, that is of course, until I read the proposal more carefully.
As one comment to the article stated most cogently: “The education(al) equivalent to tax breaks for the wealthy. I suppose she imagines it will trickle down . . .” 1)
In the plan money is offered for improvement and success. Maintain success and you will be rewarded. However, if you are not doing too well, you will need to show improvement first before you will be offered any assistance.
The governor’s budget director, John Arnold argues that most of the money is allotted to help schools that are near the bottom and demonstrate improvement.1) The problem, as usual, is in the method used to determine said improvement.
Last year Arizona uncharacteristically joined many other states in adopting what appears to be cutting edge educational reform: the Common Core standards. These national standards are certainly more rigorous than those previously used by our state if only for the reason that they emphasize student’s thinking processes rather than simply testing their memories. 2) If Arizona continues to measure student growth with standardized tests like AIMS the results will not reflect the progress in the Common Core objectives and their adoption will be a useless exercise in window dressing for a condemned building.
Fortunately the plan is that AIMS will be phased out over the next few years and replaced by an online test called Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). But this gives rise to two more problems. First, there is the availability of computers, technology and most importantly both of these factors being kept up-to-date. TUSD suffers from a significant issue in bandwidth availability which already limits the use of technology by students and staff; one can only wonder at the mayhem that could be unleashed upon the system by stretching the much used rubber-band much farther.
The second caveat is that our state has significantly cut funding for very successful programs like JTED, the careers part of the PARCC. The timing could not be much worse.
So tell us, what was the other good news in Arizona education you ask? Glad you asked because this may directly relate to the previous discussion.
In his most recent report of progress in education in Arizona, State Superintendent of Education John Huppenthal states that he intends to fix Arizona’s broken educational technology system. 3) How will he do it? Well, part of the plan is to upgrade the system to the point that it will save an estimated $40 million currently being spent the correct data errors. A grand goal indeed and certainly laudable and yet in order to get the system upgraded won’t there have to be a major investment of new funding?
Governor Brewer wants more funding for educational skills improvement in schools; are Huppenthal’s technology upgrades going to have to spar with those goals to garner their funding?
Wait, wait, there’s more news on Arizona’s cherished horizon.
It only took a few days for Arizona lawmakers to attack the Governor’s plan. 4) Since this educationally benighted state is already looking at losing over $900 million next year due to the failure of the 204 initiative, money that was not a new tax but had previously been already in the coffers until the election defeat, and the outlook for Brewer getting anything in new funding for education looking dim; education funding in Arizona appears to be heading for a new low.
Across the nation high school graduation rates have reached a high not seen since 1976. 5) Yet in Arizona we struggled to approach the national average falling short by several points. We can’t simply hope that grandiose plans for educational reform and improvement will occur because we wish it to be so. We need to decide that Arizona truly values education and fund it appropriately.