Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fact vs. Fiction - The Budget Cuts and Education

The Goldwater Institute has published the top ten myths about the education budget cuts. This is eyeopening information and should be considered before lambasting our legislators for doing their job.

Top 10 Myths about Education Funding and Budget Reductions
Goldwater Institute separates budget myths from reality as lawmakers grapple with billion-dollar budget shortfall
Phoenix--Arizona faces one of the largest budget deficits in the nation and lawmakers are struggling to close the gap. Because half of all General Fund spending goes toward education, schools and universities will necessarily be affected by the state's across-the-board belt tightening. While some school administrators and special interest groups have referred to the potential budget cuts "slashing education" and "shortsighted and borderline malicious," the Goldwater Institute would like to separate the reality of education funding in Arizona from several often publicized myths.
Myth #1: Schools simply cannot afford the budget reductions being proposed by the legislature.
Fact: The budget cuts proposed by the State House leadership amounts to a 2.5 percent reduction. Over the last five years, K-12 funding has increased by 40 percent. Reducing funding by 2.5 percent will still leave schools with more money than they had in 2008 adjusted for inflation.
Myth #2: Schools have tightened their belts as much as possible. There's simply nothing left to cut.
Fact: Last year Tucson Unified School District lost track of millions of dollars in equipment. With similar highly publicized stories frequently surfacing, there's room to tighten up. In addition to implementing better controls on equipment and supplies, the Goldwater Institute recommends three more ways schools and school districts can cut their budgets without eliminating teaching positions: 1.) Ban teachers from having non-classroom assignments; 2.) Ban teacher's union employees from conducting union work on district payroll; 3.) Cut administrative bloat at the district level. Arizona has an unusually large share of non-teaching public school employees. Teachers make up slightly less than half of on-site staff in public schools, placing Arizona fourth worst among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in teachers as a share of on-site public school staff.
Myth #3: Arizona already ranks 49th in the nation in education funding and we don't want to be number 50.
Fact: When all of Arizona's funding streams are added up, Arizona school funding ranks in the middle of the states at more than $9,000 per student per year.
Myth #4: Suspending the tax credit for donations toward private school tuition will save money and mitigate the need for education budget cuts.
Fact: Getting children into private schools with $1,000 of foregone tax revenue costs less than the $9,000 spent on a child in the public school system. To save money, the legislature should expand the private school scholarship tax credit and move more children from public to private schools. Suspending it will disrupt these students' educations and increase costs to the state as children return to public schools.
Myth #5: Student success will suffer if budget cuts lead to increased class size.
Fact: Research shows that students would be much better off if schools did let their most ineffective teachers go, and redistributed the students to more effective instructors. Teacher quality has been found to be 10- to 20-times more important than class size in achieving student learning gains. Schools could thereby cut their spending and improve student learning simultaneously.
Myth #6: All-day kindergarten is essential to successful child development and should not be eliminated by budget cuts.
Fact: Studies have consistently shown that any benefit from all-day kindergarten disappears by the time a child reaches the third grade, a phenomenon termed "fade out." Also, all-day kindergarten was widespread in Arizona public schools before a specified state funding stream was created two years ago, districts can continue all-day kindergarten if it is a priority.
Myth #7: Individual districts and schools are reluctant to cut their own budgets, so the legislature should direct where cuts will be made.
Fact: Individual districts and schools will be far more effective in determining how to cut their budgets while protecting their students and employees and should be given the flexibility to set their own budget priorities. To that point, Madison Elementary School District Superintendent Dr. Tim Ham said on January 26, 2009: "The Madison School District understands the crisis the State of Arizona is in economically and knows reductions in education funding will be required. We would ask that districts be allowed to use any of their funding sources to meet their obligations. This would require a temporary suspension of current legal requirements. However, it would provide flexibility, local control, and equality among districts."
Myth #8: Cuts in university funding will drive Arizona into "Third World" status.
Fact: Statewide, higher education budgets have increased by $332 million since 2004. If the full proposed FY 2009 cut of $80.5 million to ASU's budget were enacted, it would still receive more state funding than in 2006. Northern Arizona University would lose $31 million in FY 2009, but still receive more state funds than in 2007. The University of Arizona faces a proposed $103 million cut in FY 2009, which would take it back to 2004 state funding levels.
Myth #9: Investment in higher education is critical to the future success of Arizona's economy.
Fact: Comparing states' higher-education appropriations and gross state products yields no evidence that spending drives economic growth. From 1991 to 2000, none of the top 10 states in greatest higher-education appropriations were among the top 10 in economic growth.
Myth #10: Cuts to university budgets will make it necessary to double tuition thereby violating the Arizona Constitution's clause to make higher education "nearly as free as possible."
Fact: Legal precedent has determined that "nearly as free as possible" means tuition for Arizona public universities must remain in the bottom-third of the nation. Any increase in university tuition is required to meet that standard. As it stands, tuition at Arizona public universities is very low compared to national averages.
The Goldwater Institute is a nonprofit public policy research and litigation organization whose work is made possible by the generosity of its supporters.
For more information on the Goldwater Institute visit

Monday, January 26, 2009

Protecting the defenseless

On January 22, 1973 the Supreme Court of the United States issued their ruling in the Roe v. Wade case, essentially declaring that a woman's right to privacy outweighed the fundamental right of an unborn child to live. The result of this landmark decision: 52 million innocent lives lost over the past 36 years.

Earlier today I saw a great post on Sonoran Alliance about the steps being taken by the Obama administration and other Democrats to make abortions more readily available. Their decisions have far reaching consequences, and the videos shown on this post give a lot of food for thought.

As I was reviewing the videos and information on the post, three quotes came to mind that seemed to fit the debate on abortion:

"Whenever I hear any one arguing for slavery I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally." - Abraham Lincoln

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"Have you ever noticed that everyone who is pro-choice has already been born?" - Bumper Sticker

When the travesty of this malignant court decision is overturned, America will be on her way to a brighter future. I look forward to that day.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Budget and the 49th Legislature

The first general session of the 49th State Legislature got off to a start this week with the official swearing in of the legislators and the governor's State of the State Address. The 800 pound gorilla in the room for this session is the $1.2 billion hole in the FY 2009 budget as well as similar forecasts for the 2010 and 2011 budgets.

The projected shortfalls in the state budget for the next few years are huge, and leave our legislators with a host of choices to make, none of which are going to be pain free. To help drive this point home, the House/Senate leadership convened a joint panel discussion with local business leaders/owners this morning, as well as a joint budget study session this afternoon.

During the panel discussion, each panelist explained how the current economic climate has affected their business, the tough decisions they have had to make, and the actions they have taken to position themselves for survival in the short term while keeping an eye on future opportunities. They also provided the legislature with their own thoughts on ways the business climate can be improved in Arizona. These suggestions mostly revolved around equalizing the tax codes and removing onerous regulations (which isn't a big surprise) but they drove their points home with specific examples of ways this could improve the economy in the long run. I saw that most of the legislators took notes - I hope they refer to them often during this session.

During the joint budget study session, the specific challenges of the current budget were reviewed in detail for the members. Several legislators seemed to realize the extent of the shortfall and how it would affect their pet programs during this presentation.

As a guest of Sen. Pearce, today I had the opportunity to sit in on these meetings as well as listen in on the conversations he had with other legislators and members of leadership. It was eye opening to see the amount of work that goes into preparing all of the options for members to consider, as well as the realities of making tough choices with the budget. I also got to see the opportunities that this budget crisis presents for our legislature. Without minimizing the difficulty of the decisions that will be made on programs and departments, the shortfalls in the budget actually present the legislature with a golden opportunity to streamline, reduce costs, and create efficiencies. The overall effect can be a government that better serves the people of our state.

Unfortunately there are going to be human costs to these decisions. In spite of this, our legislators and governor are just going to have to make the tough calls and deal with the consequences. The option of continuing to fund everything and not make cuts is just not tenable, and we are ill served by elected officials who won't "cowboy up" and make the hard choices. Families can't live beyond their means and neither can businesses, so why should government get away with it? In this climate cuts have to be made by everyone.

This creates a dilemma for politicians who will eventually incur the wrath of people affected by the cuts they decide to make. People are going to be unhappy with them and it may cost them later on, but it is the right thing to do. It will be interesting to see which legislators do the right thing and which ones do the "expedient" thing. From what I have seen of Sen. Pearce and several of the other legislators I spoke with today, I have high expectations. Time will tell.

A special "Thank You!" to Sen. Pearce for allowing me to be his shadow today and answering my questions. I also want to acknowledge the unsung heroes of our state legislators. Their executive assistants do a tremendous job keeping the legislators schedules, managing the traffic in and out of their offices, answering phone calls, keeping track of their paperwork and making the contacts our legislators need to do their job. Sen. Pearce's assistant, Karen, is a superhero, and has made each of my visits to Sen. Pearce's office a productive and enlightening experience. Thanks Karen!