Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

May 11, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

AIMS Task Force Recommendations

  |   Video
  • Passing the AIMS test should continue to be a high school graduation requirement according to newly released recommendations by the AIMS Task Force. The Chairman of the task force talks about the recommendations which include a new exam for eleventh graders that measures college and career readiness. AIMS Task Force final recommendations
Guests:
  • Dr. Jim Zaharis - Chairman, AIMS Task Force
Category: Education

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
A state taskforce says passing the aims test should continue to be a high school graduation requirement. But the aims taskforce, created by lawmakers last year, says 11th graders should take another exam to measure college and career readiness. Earlier I spoke with the chairman of the aims taskforce, Dr. Jim Zaharis. He's a vice president of greater Phoenix leadership and a former superintendent of Mesa public schools. Thank you for joining us tonight on "Horizon."

Jim Zaharis:
Glad to be here.

Ted Simons:
What was the taskforce looking at and what did you find?

Jim Zaharis:
The taskforce was charged with examining whether or not the AIMS test should remain as a high-stakes test. Whether or not we should put in place a college career readiness test and examine other states and nations as to what readiness tests were in place. And that’s what we did, seven members, October to May, and we’ve come forth with our recommendations.

Ted Simons:
And keeping the reading, math and writing requirements for high school graduation, how come?

Jim Zaharis:
That was one of the questions and the findings of our group said it should remain. It should remain for these reasons: these are critical and essential skills that are important to all of our students. We put it in place in Arizona and historically in Arizona, we changed this many times and it's very important to keep a system in place that we've worked for. So that is one path along the way to demonstrating competence. We felt that high stakes should remain at this level, but that no additional contests should be added to this battery that require high stakes, that are required for graduation. I'll just go on and say to you that we did recommend a college career replacement test be put in at 11th grade and additional content areas can be placed there and its purpose it to give feedback to the student and the parent, if the young person, if the student is ready for college or career at the next level.

Ted Simons:
You mention college or career. What separates college readiness from career readiness?

Jim Zaharis:
The findings today, are basically coming up with that college and career at the high school level are pretty much the same in terms of academic content required for success. Either at a freshman level or technical course reading sophisticated technical manuals, and doing those kind of programs. the critical core of knowledge is the same. At the high school level, we’re finding that college and career ready is very, very similar and mastery of those skills.

Ted Simons:
Also a replacement here for the 9th test, terra nova, what’s that all about?

Jim Zaharis:
The whole idea here is to help the young person and their family to look ahead and on to post-secondary work and begin at the 9th grade to benchmark. What are their interests and their skills as they plan their high school course sequence toward graduation? Then the 10th grade, AIMS test, benchmarks, what is required for high school graduation the grade recommendation says are you or are you not ready and if you're not, use that senior year to remediate so you don't have to take courses at the college level and remediate, or to technical schools. That's the key; to give information to the student and family along the way so they can course correct to stay on path toward their goals.

Ted Simons:
Did the state's fiscal situation play into the recommendations at all?

Jim Zaharis:
Yes, they're noted in here. We know it’s a tough time, the task force considered it. They did three things. They said we feel we need to make a recommendation not just for the moment we're in but the long term as to what’s best. And this might be phased in. Second, recommended things are current testing that can be taken out or brought back a little bit in cost and made specific recommendations and third, we said if you have students who are graduates who are college and career ready and do not have to remediate courses at the next level, that saves the state a significant amount of money for having to pay for those courses again at the next level.

Ted Simons:
Were their other states, countries, models you looked at where you said, I like that?

Jim Zaharis:
We absolutely did. We looked around the country and we as Arizona are part of Achieve, which is looking at this across over 30 states and looked at other countries, in Europe, from Singapore, the Cambridge system in England. The IB, the advanced placement tests are board tests that measure a certain set of standards and content and whether they should be put in place. And we feel, as we recommend this college career readiness, there's things we can choose as a state. We left it open to further refinement.

Ted Simons:
AIMS testing, testing in general, as it is now in Arizona and as you see it, what changes, improves?

Jim Zaharis:
AIMS testing will remain the same. We're recommending early warning systems much younger in the grade, so that the student can pass on the first attempts at 10th grade. Since if you don’t pass in 10th grade you have to pass for graduation. The curriculum are focused for you to pass reading, math and writing, and if you have to take those courses, the more expansive curriculum is not as open to you, in the 11th and 12th grades. Aims remains the requirement for the graduation.

Ted Simons:
Alright, very good. Thank you for joining us on "Horizon."

Jim Zaharis:
Thank you.

Budget Debate

  |   Video
  • State lawmakers have delievered a budget. Hear the pros and cons in a discussion with Republican Representative John Kavanagh and Democratic Representative Kyrsten Sinema.
Guests:
  • John Kavanagh - Republican Representative
  • Kyrsten Sinema - Democratic Representative
Category: Legislature

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Hello and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. State lawmakers finally made some progress on a Republican-proposed budget last week. The house appropriations committee passed bills that will close a nearly $3 billion gap in next year's budget. The plan will make about $650 million in cuts, including $220 million to K-12 education. The plan would also use nearly a billion dollars in federal stimulus cash. Here to discuss the budget is Republican representative John Kavanagh, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Kyrsten Sinema, a member of the committee. Thank you both for joining us on Horizon.

Kyrsten Sinema:
It's good to be here.

Ted Simons:
The budget passed. Is this the real deal? Is it just to push things along, a trial balloon? What have we got here?

John Kavanagh:
It's the next to the last step before a budget comes out of the house. Is it the final budget? No. There are individual concerns of members that have to be taken care of. We still haven't gotten the governor's final plan for the way that she wants to spend the stimulus money. These are all things that will require a tweak. But it’s pretty close to what you'll see as the final budget from the house and then we have to deal with the senate and then the governor.

Ted Simons:
Is this the thing, as it stands, with a tweak or two, that could pass in the house.

Kyrsten Sinema:
Well, I certainly hope not. Because if this is a trial balloon, I would say it's more like a lead balloon. What we saw last Tuesday was a budget that had net cuts to education from kindergarten to college of over $700 million. Cuts to programs like services for kids with developmental disabilities. That department took cuts of over $130 million in this budget. This budget does not reflect the values of Arizonans and actually sets a major crisis for our state in terms of the future.

John Kavanagh:
I think my colleague is using AIMS math. The budget has $649 million in cuts, so how we're cutting from $700 million from Ed. is a mystery to me. The bottom line is we’re just doing a 2% cut to education.


John Kavanagh:
We're doing a 2% cut to education.


Kyrsten Sinema:
Well there are lots of hidden cuts. For example, tn the appropriations last week, representative Kavanagh said there were no cuts to the university system and in fact we were restoring funding to the university system. The truth is while the stimulus dollars require we put money back into the university system, this takes another $21 million out and then, raids over $90 million of auxiliary funds that belong to the university system that are not state dollars. They actually steal the dollars from the university to help balance the budget.

John Kavanagh:
Colorful language. But she forgets the fact we're giving back all of the money we took in 2009. So right of the bat they’re getting back somewhere in the area of 160 million dollars. And the cuts in '10 to universities are $40 million. So they're over $100 million ahead.

Ted Simons:
I want to get to the legal aspects of what we’ve just touched on here relatively quickly in the conversation. But there are a couple of things that have people really concerned and let's start with taking money out of school districts. Is it fair to hit a district that has saved, accumulated cash and saved and been prudent, is it fair to hit them now against a school district that was just profligate or maybe didn't save, nothing goes out of their system.

John Kavanagh:
The result of the excess balances aren’t prudence. The result of the excess balance is collecting more money than they were supposed to. They have a spending limit. Many districts have gone way over that spending limit. They can't spend it legally. In fact we made it clear in approps., we'll not sweep one dime of money that a school district can spend. But the money which they can’t spend which is sitting there, we need to prevent further cuts to education.

Ted Simons:
Is this the kind of time when you -- you save the money for when times are bad? Times are bad...

Kyrsten Sinema:
Times are very bad and I've actually been talking with school districts around the state about what they plan to do with these dollars. They actually do have the right to spend them before the end of this fiscal year and many of them will do so because of the shortfalls they’re finding from legislative cuts, but also from decreased revenue from prop 301. But, more importantly, many of these funds have been encumbered for spending between now and the end of the fiscal year. To take those funds would actually violate contracts, it’s quite a concerning issue.

John Kavanagh:
It's not true and there's a 4% limit on what they can spend from those funds. We will not touch one dime within the 4% limit.




Kyrsten Sinema:
You know one other concern is that, if you take the additional dollars, that means you're forcing those local tax dollars to increase -- the levy on the local property owners will be increased for next year. So it's a back-door tax.

Ted Simons:
Is that the idea that the state says we're not raising taxes but when you do this, all of a sudden, the locals get hit.

John Kavanagh:
Well first of all, part of the money is excess state revenue. It's hard to say how much is local revenue and how much is state revenue. But the bottom line is, our plan doesn’t have a tax increase. The Democrat's plan has a $700 million increase in tax increases. So the extent we're taking the money that schools can't use to spend on education, we're trying to prevent the tax increase, the Democrats without going near here have already piled it on for the taxpayers.


Kyrsten Sinema:
And Democrats do believe that revenue is required to solve this problem. We think that the voters support that, they’ve said over and over in polls that they're willing to spend for to protect things like education and healthcare and social services for middle class families.

John Kavanagh:
We Republicans save that for last, because we know the devastating effect that the tax increase will have on jobs.

Ted Simons:
As we talk about the state not raising taxes but the locals having to, we have $210 ten some odd million dollars taken from cities towns. You’ve changed this now to a voluntary aspect regarding impact fees. What’s this all about?

John Kavanagh:
Switching to the impact fees?

Ted Simons:
Yes.

John Kavanagh:
This is totally voluntary. Impact fees are monies that cities and towns have collected from developers to pay down the road for future amenities -- police stations, parks and what have you. They cannot legally use this money for anything but the additional facilities that the new growth created. We're simply saying if you need that money today to prevent layoffs and keep cops on the streets, we will let you access that money. In return, we would like to have a reduction, not dollar for dollar, of the money we give you so we can avoid a tax increase and further cuts.

Ted Simons:
What's wrong with that?

Kyrsten Sinema:
It's unconstitutional. But above and beyond that, no city or town is going to do this. Because, in order to access those dollars, they have to give a portion to the state. They'll be sued by the homeowners that paid those levies. Because, it's unconstitutional. Because of this, the cities and towns would be still responsible for creating those infrastructure items whether it's parks or fire stations or sewage systems. They have to do it. So they're going to have to pay for that later. Which means all they'd be doing is getting themselves in debt to help us get through the crisis.

John Kavanagh:
Some of the facts are missing from your Rep. Sinema’s assessment. This came from the homebuilders and --

Kyrsten Sinema:
I meant homeowners.

John Kavanagh:
The homebuilders are the ones who paid this money and they would get it back if it wasn't spent.

Kysrten Sinema:
Well.

John Kavanagh:
But also, tied to this plan would be reasonable reform for the way the development fees are collected.


Kyrsten Sinema:
The homeowners actually pay these fees and it passes to the homebuilders and then the city. These are directly dollars that homeowners pay and they deserve services for the dollars they pay.

John Kavanagh:
These are not services, they're for infrastructure. But beyond that.

Ted Simons:
Further here, critics will say this is the homebuilders trying to prove that cities don’t need impact fees, that there’s something going on behind the scenes.

John Kavanagh:
Actually the homebuilders here are looking for reforms. That's part of the package. We'll make the development fees fairer for the future and we can use those fees voluntarily-- no city will be forced -- to take care of a budget crisis near historic.

Ted Simons:
Are you hearing from cities and towns willing to volunteer for this?

John Kavanagh:
Well, there have been talks behind the scenes. No city or town wants to come out and draw the wrath of the league of cities. But we understand that a number of cities are interested in substantial amounts. Cities are suffering and they don't want to take cops off the streets.

Kyrsten Sinema:
I don't believe a single city would take advantage of this, but also believe that this will not become law because it's not constitutional and frankly, there's not enough votes in either chamber to pass it. In fact, after the house appropriations committee passed this, the senate president himself said it was a crazy idea.

Ted Simons:
Well we'll have the senate president on tomorrow night and see if he holds to that idea. I want to keep things moving here: the equalization rate. The idea of permanently repealing that is part of the budget plan. For those who say this is a wise thing to do, they say this tax is a job killer. Why are they wrong?

Kyrsten Sinema:
The fact is this tax has been in existence for quite some time, it was only suspended for the last three years because we had a lot of money. Right now, if we do nothing, if the state does absolutely nothing, this tax will come back into play and it will cost the average homeowner about $36 a year. We don’t anticipate that this tax will have a negative impact on homeowners. In fact, polls have shown homeowners want this tax to come back because it directly funds education.

Ted Simons:
But isn't this a much harder tax on businesses?

Kyrsten Sinema:
Well, certain businesses would pay more. A.P.S. would probably pay a much larger amount. That's one of the reasons they're opposed to it. We think everyone should do their part to stop the crisis. Homeowners and businesses alike.

John Kavanagh:
All businesses will pay more, business are taxed multiple times the rate of a residence. This is a tax which primarily draws on businesses. And the Goldwater Institute, commissioned a study. You’re looking at 15,000 more jobs lost if we suddenly bring this tax back. And at best, to say that it won’t cause job losses, at best it’s wishful thinking and at worst it's willful blindness.


Kyrsten Sinema:
Well it doesn't seem fair that a Republican budget would force an increase levy on homeowners to pay for schools but decreasing the burden on businesses.

Ted Simons:
Respond to that. Because it sounds like there's a lot of cutting, cut, cut, cut and here’s an opportunity, $250 some odd million dollars on something that historically has been there, that could come back and help.

John Kavanagh:
The majority of that money is paid by businesses. Their property taxes are twice the rate of a residence. So, right off the bat, they're getting hit. The bottom line is that California is raising every tax they can find. Businesses are fleeing California. We want them to, as they drive through Arizona, say, hey, they're not raping the business owners in Arizona. Let's stop here, lets set up factories and jobs, and taxes and revenue, we'll get far more back.

Kyrsten Sinema:
I think that John brings up an important point. And that is we do want to attract businesses to Arizona. And business property taxes are higher in Arizona than they should be. And the way to fix that is to find some balance. One thing to remember is that businesses won't come to Arizona if we don't have a healthy and strong education system.

John Kavanagh:
The additional businesses which your tax reform, which is actually tax increases by expanding the sales tax to every service you can find, that's not going to bring businesses here. When you suddenly throw all of these accounting requirements onto lawyers and doctors, hairdressers --

Kyrsten Sinema:
It's not our proposal. That's Rick's proposal. Rick Murphy's.

John Kavanagh:
You do want to increase the sales tax.

Kyrsten Sinema:
We do want to repeal the accounting credit. You know businesses actually get paid to do their taxes but homeowners and regular people don't. So we think, that's a $24 million savings.

John Kavanagh:
This is not for doing their own taxes. That fee, is for doing the paperwork to submit the sales tax we collect. So it's a little bit different and what about the $233 million that you want to pass on to electric ratepayers, most of them who are ratepayers? You don't mention that.

Kyrsten Sinema:
Actually the utility excise tax, we think, is a really great idea. What it would do is put 1/10th of 1 cent tax on the production of non-renewable energy, most of which actually is shipped out of state and paid for by taxpayers in other states.

Ted Simons:
Last question for both of you. Quickly here. Critics will say that the Republican plan loses sight of the quality of life and it's a numbers game only. Respond to that, please.

John Kavanagh:
Overall cuts, 6.5%. Education, 2.2% of total spending. This is not a budget that decimates Arizona. And, in fact, this budget is very light on the cuts and the idea is to let people keep their jobs by not destroying businesses by raising taxes to phenomenal levels.

Ted Simons:
Last question for you, the government, Arizona general fund has increased far more the population and inflation combined. Isn't it time -- there's no other way to do it. You've got to cut.

Kyrsten Sinema:
Well, absolutely we have to cut. Unfortunately, cutting is not the solution to get out of all of our problems, the problem is too big to cut. The fact is that as Arizona was growing very rapidly. We were growing with formulaic spending, which means spending we had to do to keep kids in school and pay for healthcare. But there was also some discretionary spending. Like full-day kindergarten. And spending on things like child protective services to keep kids safe. For every dollar in new spending we did we also gave a dollar in tax cuts. And we have to solve that. And the answer is simple: make cuts where you have to and raise revenue where you have to.

Ted Simons:
Alright we have to stop right there, thanks for joining us.

Kyrsten Sinema:
Thanks.

John Kavanagh:
Thank you Ted.

Lower-cost College Degrees

  |   Video
  • Budget cuts and tuition hikes have prompted the Arizona Board of Regents to take a closer look at the affordability of higher education. The President-elect of the Arizona Board of Regents talks about one idea to provide students with lower cost options for earning a college degree.
Guests:
  • Ernest Calderon - Vice President-elect,Arizona Board of Regents


View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Budget cuts and tuition hikes have prompted the Arizona board of regents to take a closer look at the affordability of higher education. One idea being considered would give students lower cost options to earn a college degree. Here to explain is Ernest Calderon, president-elect of the Arizona board of regents. Ernie good to have you here.

Ernie Calderon:
Pleasure to be here, Ted.

Ted Simons:
The goal of lower-priced college degrees, what are we talking about here?

Ernie Calderon:
There's been an outcry, from parents and legislators and governor herself has challenged us to reform higher education in Arizona and asking for us to have a more affordable baccalaureate degree granting institution or institutions. Right now tuition is roughly around $6,00 a year. Right now, the suggestions have been can you do it for half that? Can you do it for 40% less? In order to do that, we have asked each of the three university presidents to bring their ideas, suggestions as a point of departure.

Ted Simons:
The idea of a lower-priced degree, does that by nature mean it's a less valuable degree?

Ernie Calderon:
It can, but it won't be in the case of Arizona if we're successful. See, the higher priced degree is because our three universities are research oriented. They're scholarly and well respected based on their heavy research and teaching. If we go to a strictly instructional model and we don't have the capital infrastructure -- huge libraries, athletics facilities and those sorts of things -- then the costs will naturally decrease. In some cases, part-time faculty, other human costs, human capital costs might also be considered in order to help reduce the cost.

Ted Simons:
Where would this new four-year university slash college, where would it be?

Ernie Calderon:
I'm glad you mentioned that. The idea was that we would have several new options and somehow the idea of a fourth university entered the public debate or discussion. It could be a fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, new universities or it could be the three universities we have now, creating satellite campuses or creating something as A.S.U. in Pason or ASU in lake Havasu you might even see NAU in Yuma spin-off, there are a variety of courses. Keeping the quality of education high but also trying to make sure there aren't those intrinsic high dollar barriers there.



Ted Simons:
What about community colleges? Why not all of them, a few of them become four-year institutions?

Ernie Calderon:
I think that's something that needs to be entered into the debate. The problem with that, though is we don't want the community colleges to lose the mission they've followed. We have a wonderful community college system in Arizona. They're wonderful partners with our universities. They provide a different service than the research institutions provide. They provide a much lower cost product and it's limited in scope relative to the associate's degree. We want to make sure we don't lose that if we go in that route. But it's something to consider.

Ted Simons:
Maybe something like a third or fourth -- how about third and fourth years?

Ernie Calderon:
We technically do that, NAU technically does that, with a variety of the community colleges where you can stay in a community college campus and complete your third and fourth years through N.A.U., but appears as a seamless plan. That’s something as well we need to take a look at, do we expand on the 2+2 or 3+1 program as well. Our goal is in December to have four or five various options for public debate and discussion. So that we can see if there's some way we can provide a more affordable bachelor's degree.

Ted Simons:
Last question, why are there not more smaller, private public colleges in Arizona?

Ernie Calderon:
That has been the subject of a lot of discussion. In a sense, we have benefited from it in that our three universities are very high in caliber, very high in quality. In another sense, we've not. We don't have a lot of small colleges around and people are now saying it's time to move - let the pendulum swing back into geographic accessibility.

Ted Simons:
Thank you for being here.

Ernie Calderon:
Have me back and we'll tell you what we found.

Ted Simons:
It's a date.

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