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December 2, 2013

Host: Ted Simons

AZ Giving and Leading: Acts of Simple Kindness

  |   Video
  • An Arizona widow turns her grief into action by helping children who have lost parents. The nonprofit, “Acts of Simple Kindness,” provides financial grants to children so they can continue or pursue extracurricular activities like sports, music and the arts. Founder Karen Turner came up with the idea after she saw how sports helped her son heal after his father died.
  • Karen Turner - Founder, Acts of Simple Kindness
Category: Giving/Leading   |   Keywords: arizona, nonprofit, children, giving, leading,

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Ted Simons: Losing a family member is difficult at any age. But for children, it could be especially hard. And in tonight's edition of Arizona giving and leading, producer Christina Estes and photographer Steven snow show us how one group is helping children who suffered the loss of a loved one.

Karen Turner: He was an amazing man, he was funny, and hard worker, and loyal, and great father and amazing husband.

Christina Estes: Karen Turner's joy turned to pain in August of 2007, when her husband, Steve, died unexpectedly.

Karen Turner: He was 41years old. -- I was 38 and our son was just 4 and a half ..

Christina Estes: Telling her son was heart-breaking.

Karen Turner: When you talk to a child about grief, you can't say daddy is sleeping or daddy has gone away. You have to say that daddy has died and is not coming back and is dead. You have to use those words. And it is gut-wrenching.

Christina Estes: Steve's death meant the loss of Alan's basketball Buddy, Karen's confidante, and their security.

Karen Turner: Our health insurance was carried through him and his company. We lost his, our insurance overnight, I lost his income overnight.

Christina Estes: As bills pile up, Karen says it's easy for parents to push aside the extras like sports, tutoring and musical lessons. But it's the little things that can make a difference. She's seen it with her own son.

Karen Turner: Right before Steve passed away, we had talked about enrolling him in T-ball. Steve had grown up playing little leagues, and he could not wait to get his son on the field. So when he died, I went ahead and enrolled him in T-ball, and first we played t-ball that and then soccer and then flag football, and that was it for him. He just -- on that field, he's like every other kid. And not one person there cares if his dad has died, they care that he's going to. Was the ball and he's like every other kid, and that's important for a child.

Christina Estes: Seeing Allen smile made Karen smile and led her to create Act of Simple Kindness

Karen Turner: Acts of simple kindness stands for a for Allen and s, for my husband, Steve, and then Karen.

Christina Estes: The group provides financial friends to cover extracurricular activities for children who lost parents.

Christina Estes: Susan Johnson used a grant to cover the gymboree membership for his son.

Susan Johnson: We had his half birthday and a week later his father took his life. He was dealing with -- he had issues with drugs and alcohol. And so, I became a widow when he was six months. And being a single mom, in my 30s, I don't have any friends that have lost a spouse. All my friends are either single or newly married or, you know? Their happy times. I didn't have anyone to relate to. To talk to about losing my husband.

Christina Estes: Until she met Karen and the other families involved in acts of kindness. They understand moving forward is important. And so is cherishing the past.

Allen Turner: We miss him and we still like to talk about him.

Susan Johnson: I have often wondered what he would think about. I didn't want his death to be in vain. I wanted to do something in his name, and I had no idea that an idea that literally started on the back of a napkin, would turn into what it has. I am proud of what we're doing.

Christina Estes: Karen says the grants are gifts. All they ask in return is a photo of the child showing how the money was spent.

Susan Johnson: We had one boy who was in a small town, and when his dad died in a drowning accident, he felt very isolated. There was no one else in his class that understood. So, his mom allowed him to go to the college to take the rest of his courses so that he could graduate from high school. And I think one of the best pictures we got was when he sent us a picture of him in his cap and gown because he was able to graduate thanks to a grant we had given him.

Ted Simons: Acts of simple kindness has helped nearly 60 children, the group relies on corporate and individual donations along with a charity bowling party set for February. You can find out more information at

Ted Simons: Tomorrow on "Arizona Horizon," we'll see how Arizona -year-olds stack up in a study measuring the proficiency in reading, math and science literacy on the next "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons and thank you very much for joining us, and you have a great evening.

Mesa Light Rail Extension

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  • Federal officials announced last week that Mesa’s light rail extension to Gilbert Road posed no environmental or cultural threats and allowed it to proceed. Mesa’s Transit Services Director Jodi Sorrell will discuss the extension.
  • Jodi Sorrell - Director, Mesa’s Transit Services
Category: Business/Economy   |   Keywords: mesa, lightrail, exntension, gilbert,

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Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Federal officials gave the ok last week to another lightrail extension in Mesa. This one will take the tracks out to Gilbert road. Here to tell us more is Jodi Sorrell, Mesa's transit services director. Good to have you had a err and thanks for joining us.

Jodi Sorrell: Good to be here.

Ted Simons: This, again, goes from past pioneer park out to Gilbert, how far are we talking?

Jodi Sorrell: 1.9 mile extension

Ted Simons: Ok, and this starts when?

Jodi Sorrell: Right now we're in the preliminary design phase, so we have a bit more work to do, and construction probably won't start until, until like mid to late 2015.

Ted Simons: And completed when?

Jodi Sorrell: By 2018

Ted Simons: By 2018. So this should go through what is now being constructed in downtown Mesa all the way out to Gilbert. Why is this important?

Jodi Sorrell: Getting to Gilbert road, stepping the lightrail to Gilbert road is very important to our council and to the city because once you get to Gilbert road you have options. Gilbert is a connective route to two major freeways, so it's a station at the end of the line is easier to, to access and, and it just provides a better gathering point for some of the lightrail riders and the buses to serve that area.

Jodi Sorrell: A good park and right out there, I would imagine?

Jodi Sorrell: Yes.

Ted Simons:A massive one.

Jodi Sorrell: A good size one, yes.

Ted Simons: And now, the Feds had to give the ok for this. What were they looking at? What kind of environmental, historical, or cultural factor?

Jodi Sorrell: Every project goes through the environmental assessment process, and they look at things from, you know, historic resources, are you hitting buildings, historic signs, and what is the noise and vibration impacts and the real estate impacts and the traffic impacts? All of those factors go into, into the document, a big, a big document submitted to the Federal Government.

Ted Simons: Anything come up, any concerns more than the usual?

Jodi Sorrell: There was really nothing in the, in the -- the way that the alignment is designed, we really minimize a lot of the impacts to the community. There is no, no historic impacts along there and, there is, except for minor right-of-way, no real buildings or signs, structure impacts along with this. So, we are excited about that.

Ted Simons: And as far as the costs, what are we talking about here and how will that be paid for?

Jodi Sorrell: The primary estimate for the project is about 143 million dollars. And, and we're doing some creative -- we have, we have, we are doing a unique financing. We're not going on the typical route where we go to the FTA and ask for a grant, and we are looking at, at taking Federal money that's, that's coming to Mesa anyway for streets, and re-purposing that street money, and making it into transit capital, so we're kind of flexing it into transit capital, and we can use that to build the extension.

Ted Simons: So this money set aside for road and street projects can be set aside for this, the Feds say that's fine?

Jodi Sorrell: Yep.

Ted Simons: And what about the match.

Jodi Sorrell: The match does change because for the street element, it was about a 30% local match that had to go into it for, for the, the, this particular project, it's a 5.7% match, so it saves Mesa some money in that realm.

Ted Simons: And it sounds like Mesa is thinking, city bonds, makes sense, but, I understand that the city bonds might be repaid by the Feds, as well?

Jodi Sorrell: What this is, is, you know, you may have heard when people tried to advance the freeways through the valley, there is the highway project advancement notes, and two years ago, coming up on two years, the legislature passed the transportation project advancement notes which allows us to issue the notes for, for transit projects. As transit capital, so that's what we'll issue, and to pay for, for this, and then pay it back with, with other reimbursement money coming back to the city.

Ted Simons: So, but, it almost sounds as if it will pay for itself, or close?

Jodi Sorrell: Not quite. Not quite.

Ted Simons: Close to it? For 7$ million for 1.9 extension for the lightrail. That’s not a bad deal.

Jodi Sorrell: We do have the financing costs with all of that, as well. But, yeah, it's a good deal.

Ted Simons: And the 3.1 extension that goes through downtown, that one is not even finished yet, correct, an update.

Jodi Sorrell: That one is not finished. We had been under construction for a couple of years. And right now, it's, if you drive in downtown, or if you drive through Mesa, between the Sycamore station and passed the Arizona temple, you will see construction, which is a good thing, it's a sign of progress. And in the downtown area, we have the construction moratorium in the winter months, and to give the businesses a breather and help the tourists navigate into downtown. And so, that will go until May 1st. The utility relocation is done and you will see the work in the middle of the street, where the tracks start getting late in the middle of the street.

Ted Simons: That's a 3.1 extension in downtown. We are looking at the extension we talked about earlier, and that's the one that extends from the -- well, will this get started as the 3.1 is, is still being constructed?

Jodi Sorrell: They should be done just about -- the 3.1 should be done, that should be done really by late 2015. And, and then, the Gilbert road, the next 1.9 miles to Gilbert road won't start until later that year.

Ted Simons: And you mentioned the moratorium on business as far as construction, and some would I would say there is a moratorium on construction. And talk about the impact of businesses, what do you tell the folks now with the extension, the 1.9 extension, what did you tell the folks in Downtown?

Jodi Sorrell: Well, the construction is construction, and it's going to -- any time that you get in, on a street, it does impact people. And metro and the city have worked to develop business assistance programs. And that we're encouraging the businesses to take care of. One of the things that we did on the first 20 miles, that I think helped a lot of the businesses, at least get an idea of what to expect as we were fortunate enough to have already gone through lightrail construction. And so, we brought some of those businesses in to talk about what would they do differently? How would they prepare, and what did they learn? And which of these businesses look out for? So, some of that has helped a lot of the businesses take advantage of some of the programs.

Ted Simons: And I guess with this extension you will have another group of folks?

Jodi Sorrell: Another group that can walk -- we can bring them down the street.

Ted Simons: Right, and a little parade there.

Jodi Sorrell: Right.

Ted Simons: And congratulations on this. It sounds like a lot of things are happening there, so it must be an exciting place to work. And it's good to have you here.

School Funding Lawsuit

  |   Video
  • Some charter school students and their families are asking that the Arizona Court of Appeals reverse a Maricopa County Superior Court ruling from last April that upheld the current funding system for K-12 schools. Those filing the suit say that system gives much more money per pupil to traditional public school students. The plantiff’s attorney, Korey Langhofer, and Arizona Education Association President Andrew Morrill, will discuss the case and school funding for charter and traditional public schools.
  • Korey Langhofer - Attorney
  • Andrew Morrill - President, Arizona Education Association
Category: Law   |   Keywords: Maricopa County, arizona, education, public schools,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: A group of charter school students and their families are asking the Arizona court of appeals to reverse a Maricopa county superior court ruling that upholds the current funding system for K-12 schools. Those appealing the ruling say that the system gives much more money per pupil to traditional public school students at the expense of charter school students. Joining me now is the plaintiff's attorney Kory Langhofer and also joining us is Arizona Education Association President Andrew Morrill. Good to see you both here and thanks for joining us. Talk to us about this suit now, what are you asking the appeals court to do?

Korey Langhofer: The education funding system is outdated. The major parts were put in place in 1980 when Arizona had one fax machine. It's very old. And because it's so outdated, there are significant disparities or inequalities in the system. The average student gets of 8800 dollars of funding a year. Some schools, though, have as much as 19,000 dollars a year for their students. So there is a huge disparity, what the lawsuit is asking, is for the court of appeals to say to the legislature, it's time you revisit the system and update this outdated system, and make it more equal, more fair.

Ted Simons: Is it not equal? Is it not fair, as it stands?

Andrew Morrill: It's, as complicated as the education funding has been, one thing, the legislature has modernized it, and by cutting about 1.5 billion over the last five years, so it has been adjusted. And we would stipulate that it's been, been insufficient, and underfunding students, whether you are talking about charters or traditional schools. We need to get the numbers right. The fact is, that it's really not disputed among education groups, and the joint legislative budget committee will tell you in terms of the state funding per pupil, charter schools get more per pupil than tradiational schools, and that's why you see right now, in the last session, about 60 schools converting over to charter school funding so that they can get that additional funding, so let's make sure that we are talking about state funding, which is what this is really about.

Ted Simons: Does -- there is a discrepancy in a discrepancy here.

Korey Langhofer: So, the, the -- it's not accurate. It is true that many public district schools are creating charters within the district system. So that they can sort of double dip. There is a gimmick in the law, you can take advantage of, to get extra money for schools by being a Charter School. And, and the, the record in the case just doesn't show, though, that the charter schools are overfunded. When you look at the appropriated state funds, go to, that go to charter schools, we get 1,000-1,300 less per student every year. And that's what the evidence in the case shows.

Ted Simons: And what's going on here? We're seeing numbers over here and numbers over there.

Andrew Morrill: Right. And what we need to do is take a look at the Federal funding, and that is offered to school districts with additional responsibilities attached to those. And we know that we have got local funding mechanisms of overrides and bonds and that really points to the difference of charter schools versus traditional public schools, yes, they are all publicly funded, but one major difference is that when communities fund, overrides and bonds, those assets that add to the district remain in the public sector. Those are public assets. And so, buildings expanded, buildings built, and they remain in the public trust as taxpayer funded and owned. You don't see that with charter schools. So, there are a number of, a number of differences. Teacher certification requirements, the mission of charter schools when you look at the spread across our charter schools in Arizona, the student body is being served. The representation of ethnic diversity, the special needs students, and one begins to feel that there is a different mission to our charter schools. The courts evidently found so because they rejected some of the claims as to the inequitable funding.

Korey Langhofer: So, the basic point, and I don't think it's controversial, is students have to be treated equally. Right. It's not fair to start charter students or public school students behind the line, right, at a disadvantaged spot compared to other student. And I think that, that just from our conversation here, you could see our system is so complicated, you have got many from local taxes, federal taxes, state taxes, and it's so complicated and it has been so long since it was updated. That, that we have no longer have a guarantee that our students are being treated equally regardless of where they attend school.

Ted Simons: It sounds as though the students being served, that, that particular focus, that's not equal, as well. Charter schools do have more freedom in what they do and how they do it. As opposed to traditional public schools. And if that's the case, should the funding still be exactly the same?

Korey Langhofer: So, it is true that charter schools have less regulation, than public district schools, and in fact, that's one of the reasons why, why with the same, with less funding, we're able to achieve the same results as public district schools. And the mismatch in funding between the district schools and charter schools hasn't been tied to those regulations. Just a number that has come about. And if it were tied, if the difference that it were tied to the regulations it would be a better argument for the state but right now, it's just a difference without a reason.

Ted Simons: Is it fair that charters don't have the safety net of taxing, of bonding of overrides?

Andrew Morrill: Well, they may not have those but they have the ability to control the funds that they are receiving, in ways that the district cannot. Case in point, we know that small schools get additional funds, from the state, and charter schools have the ability to treat each of the schools within a charter as separate entities. And districts have to add up all the schools, and if they go over the total, they cannot access that funding. So, really, this is a, a disparity as you said within a disparity, but the mission, the relationship of traditional schools to the community, the separation that makes charters publicly funded, but able to hold private assets, within a private structure, really makes this more complicated than just the, the question of should the funding be the same. The courts have said, as long as we're funding charter schools consistently, and traditional schools consistently, they do not have to be funded the same because they have different missions.

Ted Simons: Is consistency more important to the plaintiffs, more so than making that number whatever it is equal, even though again, charter and traditional public, not necessarily equal

Korey Langhofer: What is essential, what can't be changed is that students have to have equal starting points. You can't say, that, that the charter school system has the same results of the public district system, and therefore, it's fine. We have to, to be given the same starting point and under the current system, it's outdated, and we don't have that.

Ted Simons: Starting point not the same, agreed?

Andrew Morrill: We backed off the starting points, to the point that the funding is inadequate across our schools, and look at the distribution of charter schools across the state. Some are exploring serving student needs and students in areas that they have not, traditionally. Let's remember the charter schools came into the state on a promise of better for cheaper, we have not seen the better because they perform at about the same distribution of traditional schools, and now, the cheaper argument seems to be being wrestled with and changed somewhat, in this case, and in other situations.

Ted Simons: Is it ok, though, to see that better and cheaper, that formula may not be working, let's go ahead and tinker and improve it, if it means better education for kids.

Andrew Morrill: One of the things that we could do with charter schools, any time that we wanted was say, for the expansion of funding in the capital areas, to build buildings, that's fine, but, those will retain and stay state property, if they are publicly funded, why not have them remain as public assets? That would be interesting. But, there are many challenges that the charter schools launch where they say, on the one hand we want public funds, but we don't want to play by the same rules as other schools.

Ted Simons: Are charters willing to play by the same rules if that means the same funding?

Korey Langhofer: That's the modernization that we need, and I think we are willing to have that conversation and we want to.

Ted Simons: Before I let you go, this idea of charter schools having to repay money, I know that's in the courts, as well, and where does that stand and what's going on here?

Korey Langhofer: So, this is a completely separate matter, but, and in 2011 and in 2012, the, the state department of education had a way of allocating tax dollars to schools. And they changed that method in 2013. And they wanted to apply the new method backwards. So the money you receive under old plan should have been -- they might want to take that back. And the new lawsuit is, basically, insisting that, that the old rules apply then and the new rules apply going forward.

Ted Simons: 30 seconds left here.

Andrew Morrill: My understanding is that one of the problems with that particular issue is that you have charter schools that are, are not wanting to return money that, that, for years when they may not have been operating. So, I'm not, not sure that, that it's a, as simple of a matter as it seems. The districts that ended up owing money and there were not very many, are under a plan, negotiated with the department of education to pay that back.

Korey Langhofer: And the, the districts who, that received excess money under the new rule, that has been improved, all get to keep the funding. We're not trying to take the money away from the districts at all.

Andrew Morrill: Many districts ended up being owed money. My understanding from talking to the department of Ed, is that they tried to negotiate as fair of a settlement for everybody as was possible.

Ted Simons: Ok, we'll stop it right there. A good discussion.

Andrew Morrill: Thank you very much.