Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

July 29, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Budget Agreement

  |   Video
  • Arizona Guardian reporter Dennis Welch provides an update on a budget agreement between the Governor and Republican legislative leaders.
Guests:
  • Dennis Welch - Arizona Guardian
Category: Government

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
State lawmakers make a strong push to end their special session to balance the budget and possibly send a tax increase to voters. Arizona may soon be competing for billions of federal dollars that will go to states leading the way on school reform. That's next, on "Horizon." Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. This is the fourth week of a slow-moving special session, but lawmakers started moving fast today. Republican leaders reached a budget agreement with the Governor and began hearing bills related to that plan. It's reported to include sending a measure to the ballot and raising the state sales tax by a penny. Both are temporary, lasting only three years. Here is Dennis Welch of the "Arizona Guardian." This came out of the blue a little bit here, huh?

Dennis Welch:
By all appearances, when we were called back to the special session, looked like we would be sitting around for most of August because a lot of people are on vacation. They set the one deadline for October 1st to get that kind of thing done. This coming out now is really fast, and really, nobody saw this coming.

Ted Simons:
The Governor gets the referral to the ballot in the deal. But the referral isn't necessarily all she was asking for, correct?

Dennis Welch:
That's correct. She does get the referral out of the whole thing; she's going to get her penny increase for the first two years. But on the third and final year of this temporary sales tax, it's going to be reduced down to half a penny.

Ted Simons:
She gave a little bit on that third year. She gave a little on the capping state spending. The taxpayer bill of rights is back in play.

Dennis Welch:
Yes, it is. Right now, spending would be capped; it could not exceed $10.2 billion. That was the 2009 fiscal year spending limit. That could have significant ramifications for access with their caseload growth, education with their growth and whatnot.

Ted Simons:
Is that cap referred to the ballot, as well, or is that something apart and aside?

Dennis Welch:
It could be part of the deal, it was a little unclear. I'm not sure how that could pass the single subject test if it was referred to the ballot. It would have to be an individual ballot item. As far as this deal goes there's only two issues going to the ballot.

Ted Simons:
We should mention again this is an agreement and deal being hashed out as we speak.

Dennis Welch:
It's in motion. They are in meetings right now trying to work this thing through. They will probably be there most of the night.

Ted Simons:
Indeed. Referring a suspension of voter protection act, as well. Is this teamed with the other items? Again, you can't team things that are separate.

Dennis Welch:
No. No, you can't do that, they are both two separate questions that voters are going to be asked about this kind of thing. The 105 money, the voter protected money, is something that a lot of Republicans really want. They feel their hands are tied when dealing with this type of a budget crisis going on because a lot of that, a majority of the budget is off limits, it's mandated spending.

Ted Simons:
Things referred to the ballot, should this go through, there's a deadline for that, isn't there?

Dennis Welch:
It's got to be done by, depending on who you talk to, by the end of this week or potentially next week to get everything set up for November elections. It's one of the reasons we're starting to see a sense of urgency coming out of the legislature this week.

Ted Simons:
There is also $650 million somewhere in tax cuts, not going to be referred anywhere. Those cuts are a done deal?

Dennis Welch:
They are. One is $250 million, which would be immediate. We're starting to see everything speed up now because that property tax was initially temporarily suspended three years ago. It went back on the books at the beginning of the fiscal year. Before the county starts sending out tax notices, they want to be able to kill that thing.

Ted Simons:
You've got $650 million in tax cuts that are a done deal if this goes through. You've also got a referral which could very possibly be voted down.

Dennis Welch:
Yes.

Ted Simons:
That's a lot of cutting going on.

Dennis Welch:
That's a whole lot. Let me tell you, a lot of the folks voting to put this on the ballot are going to actively work hard and campaign against it come this fall. It's going to be a well-organized well-funded opposition to this tax increase.

Ted Simons:
As far as this is concerned, what are you hearing as far as education cuts?

Dennis Welch:
I'm hearing that education cuts, people in education aren't happy with them. They are getting cut on what's called their 2% inflation growth, where they are given certain money on baseline spending and every year it goes up by 2%. They are going to take that away and it's about a $102 million cut. That has serious ramifications.

Ted Simons:
Democrats, I'm guessing, somewhat on the outside of this?

Dennis Welch:
Democrats thought they were negotiating with the leadership all long. They thought they were really close to a deal, according to Democrats. They thought they were about $50 million off on a deal they could get the votes on. All of a sudden we get word that the Republicans had kind of gone behind their back and cut a deal with the Governor, leaving the Democrats out.

Ted Simons:
So that suggests not a whole heck of a lot of Democrats are going to vote for this thing. The question is, are there Republican holdouts, folks from the G.O.P. that aren't happy for one reason or another?

Dennis Welch:
Yes, there are, on both sides of the political spectrum of the Republican Party. On the far right you have the real hard core conservatives who don't want to send any type of tax increase to the ballot, no matter what they get. Even though they are getting $60 million in property taxes and income tax cuts, they still don't want to send this thing to the ballot. On the more centrist part of the ballot, they are saying why are we sending this to the ballot to make these cuts permanent? Why not tie these things together, so in case the ballot measure goes down we don't get the tax cuts and put ourselves in a huge hole?

Ted Simons:
Before I let you go, there was some talk of late that everything up to and including the House building, the Senate building, everything could be for sale as far as a lease back is concerned? And that includes things like prisons, as well.

Dennis Welch:
We were told by house leadership that the capitol is not for sale, it never was. They don't know where that came from. It might have been a proposal they had been looking at. They were looking at a lot of different things. What is up for sale is state prisons out there. That is up for a sale lease back, including Iman, one of your high-security types of prison where you see everybody from your violent offenders, serial killers, these types of people, that could be sent out to public bid to have public companies run those facilities.

Ted Simons:
Good information. Things are going on as we speak and will continue, but it sounds like an agreement. Thanks for the details.

Dennis Welch:
Thank you.

Education Roundtable

  |   Video
  • Education experts discuss the state of public education in Arizona and President Obama’s “Race to the Top” education reform initiative that provides more than $4 billion in incentives for states and schools that meet certain requirements. Guests Eileen Sigmund, President of the Arizona Charter Schools Association; John Wright, President of the Arizona Education Association; and Dr. Marjorie Kaplan, Director of the “Beat the Odds Institute” for the Center for the Future of Arizona.
Guests:
  • Eileen Sigmund - President, Arizona Charter Schools Association
  • John Wright - President, Arizona Education Association
  • Dr. Marjorie Kaplan - Director, “Beat the Odds Institute” for Center for the Future of Arizona


View Transcript
Ted Simons:
It's the start of a new school year and with it comes a new financial incentive for states to lead the way on education reform. President Barack Obama's "Race to the Top" initiative will award over $4 billion to states and school districts that meet certain criteria. It'll highlight returns in four areas. Internationally benchmarked standards and assessments, data-driven teaching, recruiting, retaining and rewarding effective teachers, and turning around our lowest performing schools. Joining me to talk about the incentive program is John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association. Eileen Sigmund, president and C.E.O. of the Arizona Charter Schools Association, and Dr. Marjorie Kaplan, director of the Beat the Odds Institute, an arm of the Center for the Future of Arizona, which provides support and training for principals of high poverty, high minority School Districts. Thank you all for joining us on "Horizon."

John Wright:
Thank you.

Ted Simons:
Let's start with an overview of state education in Arizona. Eileen, how are we looking?

Eileen Sigmund:
We're starting out the school year with 500 charter schools, the first time we've topped the 500 mark. We're a bust in school choice and in a race to the top with a vibrant charter community.

Ted Simons:
State of education in Arizona?

John Wright:
I think we have a dichotomy going on because we're opening schools across the state, all the children are coming back and getting ready to learn and teachers ready to do heroic work. We have energy, enthusiasm, and innovation going on across the state. At the same time, the legislature has us under attack. They are just pulling the rug out from under our students as they walk into the schoolhouse door.

Ted Simons:
State of Education in Arizona?

Marjorie Kaplan:
I would say it's a mixed bag right now. We have results that said that students are doing very well on the AIMS testing, they are improved. The federal scores aren't doing as well. The ones who aren't doing as where will the students with challenges. That's who we're trying to educate in beat the odds, and the students on which we focus. We provide services in a very important area.

Ted Simons:
John mentioned what's going on down at the Capitol. Talk to us about the latest budget ideas and how that plays into education in Arizona.

Eileen Sigmund:
Well, the budget, we just saw the budget being released this afternoon. We understand that the votes may not be there. However, in charter schools we're in current-year funding. Which means -- and district schools are in prior-year funding. When we start next week, some have already started; we have to have our students enrolled. We get paid on the students enrolled. In district schools they are able to use the student count from last year. It's different in that, if we get cut in real-time, we have contracts out for teachers, we have a lot of different effects.

John Wright:
I wouldn't say that difference is really what the issue is here. The issue is that schools began charter or traditional, based on a budget passed in the first week in July. It includes funding for inflation and a number of other programs. Districts hired employees and started the school year based on that information. That's about to get pulled away at the whim of legislators who don't understand the impacts.

Ted Simons:
Talk about the students when these budget maneuvers are done.

Marjorie Kaplan:
This is providing a very unstable situation for the schools. We don't, in the Center for the Future of Arizona and the Beat the Odds Institute, we don't take political positions. But we recognize that the more stable a school is -- in fact, that's one of the practices of being able to help student achievement -- the more stable the school, the better it'll typically do.

Ted Simons:
It sounded like stability was something you were concerned about, especially with things changing and not knowing where you stand.

Eileen Sigmund:
Absolutely. I would agree with both statements, that we need to know. We did know as of July, and now it's being taken away. At least that's one of the proposals. We don't know where it'll be when it hits the Governor's desk.

Ted Simons:
You mentioned a number of schools excelling but the federal assessment is not so rosy.

John Wright:
It's much more sophisticated. We have a much more robust assessment of school performance than a single school or a single test one time a year, which is what No Child Left Behind does to us. Our tests take into account gain over time. In some of the schools and Beat the Odds schools, teachers are doing heroic work to move them a year, year and a half, two years in one academic year at schools, and that's recognized as being successful. The federal system doesn't recognize that as success.

Marjorie Kaplan:
The difference is that the state system is still -- yes, it is more robust and considers more indicators, and I agree with that. But it still works on averages as far as student performance. The federal government, whether we like it or not, is looking at subgroups of students. If certain minority groups or children who are disabled, high poverty students, if they don't do well, then a school doesn't do well.

Ted Simons:
Let's talk about "Race to the Top," the federal program here. In a nutshell, what exactly is it?

Eileen Sigmund:
It is a -- Well, remember, President Barack Obama is a community organizer at his heart, that's where he started. What he's trying to do is get the state to do a benchmark. Here he's picked four different buckets. And then how can we move forward as a state, collaboratively working together. It'll be submitted by the Governor, signed by Tom Horne and the State Board of Education chair.

Ted Simons:
And we mentioned the four standards, benchmark standards, teachers, principles, turning around struggling schools and good data. Where are we in those four criteria? And does the state have to work this to even qualify for the funds?

John Wright:
The federal government and the Department of Education want to look at that benchmark: Where are we? Two areas we're about on par with the rest of the states, and that's teacher quality. The two areas not on par, we have been seen as above par on data systems. They have ranked us at below par on charter school laws because there is a lack of accountability. One of the things Duncan wants to do is make sure we raise accountability for all schools and work towards those standards. Another key component is collaboration.

Ted Simons:
Charter schools, please.

Eileen Sigmund:
Dr. Kaplan knows this. We were part of a federal grant and we have a data system called the Arizona Growth Model where we track individual student data and how that student is growing. That is going into the accountability because we're using that on the five-year, 10-year, and 15-year renewal.

Marjorie Kaplan:
One of the concerns I have about "Race to the Top" is that there are requirements for the state to be able to participate. One of them is there needs to be adequate funding. They will look at whether the state increased funding, kept it the same or decreased it, compared to the previous year. It is important for Arizona to do well as far as funding, if we are to be even eligible for these funds.

Ted Simons:
If the funding for Arizona, let's say, right now the deal being talked about, goes back to 2009 levels, is that something the Feds are saying, not crazy about it?

Marjorie Kaplan:
They haven't put out their requests for proposals yet. But the rules are out for comment. In the comments we'll see how people respond. So these rules aren't final yet, but so far it looks as if you're going to at least have to have the same amount of funding.

John Wright:
It's a decision point on that issue. The guidance says that our 2009 funding had to be at the 2008 level. Cuts in January might have taken us below that. The other factors would be capital funding and construction to see exactly where we are. We might have lost that chance in January.

Ted Simons:
Does it make sense that states working toward reform to get more money for reform, as opposed to states that might need a boost to help them get on the right path -- in other words, the criteria seems like they are going after states that are doing certain thing. Seems like the states that aren't doing certain things need more help.

Eileen Sigmund:
I think that's going to be the criteria that they are looking at for the Department of Education. But this is a "Race to the Top." The Department of Education has their criteria out and when they are asking, is it going to be a political question decided in Washington, D.C., I think they are looking for the best states so those examples can be replicated to other states.

Ted Simons:
It is called "Race to the Top." In the race to the top are you leaving a lot of folks behind?

John Wright:
This is looking for innovation. There are hundreds of billions in other Department of Education programs to try to help low-performing schools, help recruit and train the best teachers and meet a number of other needs. These particular funds, at the discretion of the Secretary of Education, really are to look for innovation and reward and look for that wherever possible.

Ted Simons: Does that make sense to you that the states are delineated in this way?

Marjorie Kaplan:
In looking at the requirements, what comes clear is that this is definitely an incentive. So what I think they are trying to do is provide incentives for states to support education adequately. So they are saying, you know, you'll get this money if you can demonstrate that you're supportive of education. So it's kind of an inverse way to reach it. But I know why they are doing it.

Ted Simons:
The concept of an incentive, money, to encourage reform -- does that make sense?

Eileen Sigmund:
Absolutely.

John Wright:
There is a leadership team working right now with the director of the Center for the Future of Arizona that includes Greater Phoenix leadership, business interests, teacher and union interests, to talk about the Mark Tucker concepts of tough choices for tough times. Is there a way to change how we govern, manage and administer schools in a fundamental way, to help make sure our students are meeting international benchmarks and are ready to move on in postsecondary pursuits? We would like to look for some of those funds for that effort here in Arizona.

Ted Simons:
Financial incentives tied to education. Again, make sense?

Marjorie Kaplan:
I would say the government has a long history of doing that. One of the oldest programs is Title I, and that's a financial incentive on a large scale. It seems to work, you know, people do better when they get the funding and the support.

Eileen Sigmund:
The carrot, not the stick.

Ted Simons:
Okay. Let's say you are now in charge of all things education Arizona. You get to do one thing, one reform that will benefit the most students in Arizona and in their education. What would you do?

Eileen Sigmund:
I would look at data, and I would use the data, the student level growth data to target individual students' strengths and weaknesses and make sure that you're working for that 15 individual student as he progresses through our K-12 system.

Ted Simons:
Is there one reform you would like to see more than others?

John Wright:
There's no one reform that can make the difference. One of the key reforms is included in the "Race to the Top" incentive. One criteria is the extent to which leadership of the state's teacher union has demonstrated a strong commitment to their state's application. That means the state's leadership; they need to talk to the Arizona Education Association if their application is to be accepted.

Ted Simons:
One thing.

Marjorie Kaplan:
I would go as Eileen; data-driven instruction seems to make the biggest difference as far as increasing pupil achievement. We know teachers analyze, they teach, they look at the results from the students, and then they re-teach or recycle through. So they are constantly practicing diagnosis and prescription to see how the students are doing. Of the variables that we teach to the principles that we train, that one has made the greatest difference in pupil performance.

Ted Simons:
Optimistic about Arizona's future with education?

Eileen Sigmund:
Enthusiastic, yes.

John Wright:
Because of our educators, yes.

Marjorie Kaplan:
I'm always optimistic.

Ted Simons:
Thank you all for joining us tonight on "Horizon."

Content Partner: