A Civil War Era Monument That Was Never Built

By Dick Foreman

I’ve written this blog about 14 times. Seriously.

And each time it goes to the cutting room floor. My analysis of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts has been set aside by a recall issue. School Funding is a critical discussion turning into the flavor of the day but at least ideas are emerging and competing. And then Charlottesville happened and the focus lurched into a new discussion. Shall we bulldoze Confederate monuments or not? Sweet mercy sakes, I thought we had some tough challenges with public education issues, and now Confederate monuments are bumping our schools’ needs off the radar. One of my keenest advisors and observers of the Arizona political and policy scene said this to me, “I am annoyed at everything.”

Yes. I am annoyed, too. But not at everything. In fact, as I think about it, I am far more grateful for the opportunity to support the over 1 million Arizona children who have started school again this month. And, with due gratitude to Dr. Ruth Ann Marston and Phoenix Elementary School District Superintendent Larry Weeks for tipping me off, I now have a keenly refreshed perspective on this point. Perhaps you might appreciate it, too. Read on.

It is a sacred opportunity to define the mission in public education. It’s as American as our American Founding Fathers, who unequivocally endorsed it. So, understanding our roots might help, like learning the real pioneer history of public education in Arizona. What are we doing this for? Who is our “Education Founding Father?” Do we have one?

Yes, indeed we do. And he’s an incredible role model and inspiration as well.

Don Estevan Ochoa

Don Estevan Ochoa

So, I’d like to reflect on Don Estevan Ochoa, born in Chihuahua, Mexico in 1831. Senor Ochoa is Arizona’s Education Founding Father. To me, this is not a debate. It is an irrefutable truth.

In a nutshell, Ochoa was a Tucson merchant who, during the Civil War, refused to shift his loyalties from the United States Government to the Confederacy in deference to the demands of the commander of the marauding army from the south. When he told them “no,” they confiscated all his worldly goods (which was a lot as he was one of the most successful merchants in Tucson at the time) and ordered him out of the Territory. Forcibly put outside the protective Tucson Presidio, he vowed to return to drive the Confederates from Arizona. And he did! Ochoa made his way through hostile Indian lands to fetch a Union battalion at the Rio Grande that returned with him, successfully restoring Arizona to the Union. He was a bonafide war hero and American patriot. And this curious fact remains true to this day; in 1875, he was elected Tucson’s first and last Mexican American Mayor.

As accomplished a career as this was, it was still not enough for Ochoa. He was also president of the school board where he upstaged the Arizona territorial legislature and a domineering Catholic bishop to single-handedly raise the funds and donate the land to build the town’s main public school. He accomplished this as a follow up to his efforts three years earlier, as chairman of the territory’s Committee on Public Education, to establish Arizona’s first public school system in Tucson.

Author Jeff Biggers wrote about Ochoa in an online piece A Mexican Immigrant’s Act of Honor for the New York Times (See A Mexican Immigrant’s Act of Honor, by Jeff Biggers, The New York Times, February 14, 2012):

In the spring of 1876, the Arizona Citizen declared: “Ochoa is constantly doing good for the public,” and concluded, “Ochoa is the true and useful friend of the worthy poor, of the oppressed, and of good government.” With the school completed in 1877, the same newspaper raved: “The zeal and energy Mr. Ochoa has given to public education, should give him a high place on the roll of honor and endear him more closely than ever to his countrymen. He has done much to assist in preparing the youth for the battle of life.”

Wow. This reads like a very sensationalized western novel. But it’s not a novel, it’s Arizona’s pioneer heritage. Maybe it’s time to finally desegregate our opinions and integrate our collective hopes.

For many, our respective engagements in public education seem hopelessly mired in what I do not affectionately refer to as political “flotsam and jetsam.” I’ll say this as positively as I can, our vision for Arizona’s educational future remains a critical thinking opportunity.

In my more pessimistic moments, it seems we’re bent on ignoring our past to get to a future that we collectively refuse to envision through consensus building. That’s a problem. What is NOT a problem is where we started. Don Estevan Ochoa was Mexican by birth, American by choice and a hero by deed. He gave up his fortune to fight the Confederate marauders. He got into politics, bless his soul. But most importantly from my perspective, he created the Arizona public education system. He started it all.

Perhaps we should build another Civil War inspired monument – to Don Estevan Ochoa. Senor Ochoa was a real Arizona Civil War hero, an immigrant, a businessman, a true patriot, a rugged pioneer, a proud Republican, and the founder of Arizona’s public education system.

Now isn’t that a heritage all Arizonans can be proud of?

NOTE: Dick Foreman is president & CEO of ABEC.

Secretary of State Completes Preliminary Review of Referendum Petitions

Michele Reagan

On August 8, 2017, Save Our Schools Arizona filed an estimated 9,078 petition sheets containing 111,540 signatures in support of R-02-2018.

The Secretary of State’s Office has completed its preliminary review of referendum petitions in accordance with Arizona law, and has determined that the committee filed 9,291 petition sheets.  Of these, 8,950 petition sheets containing 108,224 signatures remained eligible for random sampling and County Recorder review.

A 5% random sample of these signatures has been sent to the County Recorders for signature verification under Arizona law.  In order for the measure to qualify for the 2018 General Election ballot, the County Recorders must collectively validate at least 3,767 signatures (or 69.6%) from the random sample.

The deadline for County Recorder review is September 11, 2017.

Read more about Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan here.

Jonathan Gelbart Files for Superintendent of Public Instruction

Jonathan Gelbart

Tempe, AZ (August 7, 2017) – Jonathan Gelbart, former Director of Charter School Development for the nationally top-ranked BASIS Charter Schools, today announced that he is a candidate for the Republican nomination for Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction. He has resigned his position at BASIS to campaign full-time.

“I’m running for this office because nothing is more important for Arizona’s long-term success than our public education system,” Gelbart said. “And our incumbent has really engaged in dereliction of duty. We need a state schools chief with a fresh perspective, the will to fight for our public schools, and the long-term vision necessary to build the education system of the future. Our workforce is facing an oncoming freight train called automation, so business as usual isn’t going to cut it anymore.”

Gelbart has managed the opening or expansion of schools for more than 8,000 children across Arizona, including the number one public high school in America according to U.S. News & World Report. Gelbart’s efforts involved building relationships with communities from Prescott to Tucson and obtaining more than $250 million in bond funds for school construction, renovation, and expansion.

To ensure broad, ongoing feedback from education professionals, Gelbart has formed an Educators Advisory Group composed of educators and school leaders with more than 100 years of combined experience in Arizona schools. “I want our Arizona school system to be one of the best in the country, and Jonathan can help us move in that direction,” said Michele Savoia, a member of the group and a psychology teacher in the Deer Valley Unified School District for 28 years.

“Arizona has the opportunity to lead the nation in creating a more flexible education system that truly prioritizes creativity, self-motivation, and critical thinking,” Gelbart added. “Schools need to treat every child as an individual human being, not a test-taking robot.”

Gelbart was born and raised in northwest Phoenix, graduated as salutatorian from Barry Goldwater High School, and earned a master’s degree in engineering from Stanford University. His family roots in Arizona go back nearly 70 years. If elected, Gelbart would be the youngest Superintendent of Public Instruction since statehood.

About Jonathan Gelbart
Gelbart earned his bachelor’s degree in international relations and master’s degree in civil engineering from Stanford University in four and a half years. Through his work with the BASIS charter schools, he managed the opening of 12 campuses in Arizona and three in Texas that will serve more than 10,000 students this fall. He serves on the Sandra Day O’Connor Institute’s Millennial Council and the Tempe Neighborhood Advisory Commission. He and his newlywed wife Cara live with their rescue cattle dog mix, Kermit, at their home in Tempe.

For more information or to sign up for campaign updates, please visit www.gelbartforaz.com.

Arizona Teachers Should Pay Off Debt BEFORE Retirement

A recent article in the Arizona Republic written by Alexa Chryssovergis caught my eye given that I now work in the world of public education.

Teachers across Arizona work multiple jobs to make ends meet,” gave several anecdotes of teachers who were struggling to survive just on their compensation. The article continued on the theme that Arizona public school teachers are among the lowest paid in the country. The data absolutely supports that.

One recurrent theme was that many teachers have student loans that they are struggling to pay off as part of their monthly budget.

Although the author provided no data as to the average student loan burden, stories I’ve heard (including during legislative testimony) reveal that teachers are carrying this form of debt that poses serious challenges to making ends meet.

However, what the article did not mention is that every public school teacher is forced to “contribute” 11.48% of their gross earnings into the Arizona State Retirement System. The contribution is mandatory but the rate is adjustable.

The bottom line is that teachers are paying student loan companies AND the State of Arizona retirement system before they even pay themselves.

In the wisdom of financial experts like Dave Ramsey, debt should always be paid off BEFORE putting money into a retirement account. And most student loan is manageable and can be paid down in a reasonable amount of time.

What if public school teachers were allowed to suspend their mandatory contributions to the Arizona State Retirement System in order to redirect that income toward paying down their student loan debt? This would lighten their financial burden, get them in the financial black and put them in a position to start building wealth with “gazelle intensity.”

Next year when the Arizona Legislature convenes, I hope to see several lawmakers sponsor a bill that gives teachers and other participants the option to suspend their mandatory contributions into ASRS so they can reduce or eliminate their student loan debt.

We all know that Arizona public school teachers are under compensated. Forcing them to divide their take-home pay between Sallie Mae and ASRS puts teachers further into a difficult financial position that sucks the joy out of doing their job.

Let’s give teachers a break by holding off mandatory contributions to the state until they dig out of student loan debt.

Republicans Pass Budget That Raises Teacher Pay by $1,000 Above Inflation

Republicans Pass Budget That Raises Teacher Pay by $1,000 Above Inflation and Invests Over $300 Million in New K-12 Spending

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (R-17) and Senate President Steve Yarbrough (R-17) this morning applauded passage of a budget that increases teacher pay by an average of $1,000 and adds over $300 million for K-12 education.

“Republicans in the Legislature and Governor Ducey have worked hard to craft a budget that reflects Arizonans’ top priority: education,” said Speaker Mesnard.  “This budget includes a $1,000 raise beyond inflation for public school teachers, over $300 million in new K-12 spending, a massive investment in university research facilities and infrastructure, and dozens of other provisions that boost education funding.”

“Conservative budgeting over the past few years put extra money in our state coffers,” said President Yarbrough.  “With that, this year we boosted teacher paychecks, provided funding for school repairs and the construction of six new schools, targeted tens of millions of dollars to schools getting results, guaranteed yearly funding for university building projects and provided an additional $30 million to repair our roads.  We also delivered a broad-based tax cut and left the state with a structurally-balanced budget.  I’d say the people of Arizona are better off because of this state budget.”

Highlights of the budget:

·         In addition to inflation and growth increases, directs $68 million over two years for an average $1,000 raise for public school teachers.

·         Appropriates $62.9 million for new school construction projects.

·         Provides $37.6 million for Results-Based Funding for K-12 education.

·         Offsets the impact of Prop. 206 on the developmentally disabled community by directing $45 million to the Department of Economic Security and AHCCCS.

·         Demonstrates a commitment to rural transportation by appropriating $30 million to the Highway User Revenue Fund.

·         Appropriates $27 million to provide debt service to allow universities to construct new facilities through bonding that could exceed $1 billion in value in future years.

Liberal free-speech defenders aren’t as free-speechy as they may seem

Unctuous liberals faking deep love for the First Amendment are a dime a dozen right now, what with their educational spawn on U.S. campuses turning out to be every bit as totalitarian as they taught them to be.

And, yeah, I know. Arizona Republic contributor Mike McClellan is a very minor-league example of the genre. But he wrote a classic case study this week depicting why the Left really doesn’t mean it when mumbling their “I cherish free speech” mumbo-jumbo.

So let’s yank him by the collar out from behind the “antifa” crowd he’s helped create.

If you’re going to establish your “Mr. Reasonable” bona fides and argue that even disagreeable people have a right to the public square, quit with the insufferable virtue-signalling pejoratives about what awful human beings they are.

As wicked as they are… as evil as they are… as contemptible as they are… as… Republican as they are… we simply must, for the sake of our own precious nobility, let the heathens speak!

Ann Coulter is “a publicity-seeking shill.” Charles Murray has “written about the alleged genetic inferiority of blacks.” Along with a white nationalist whose bad-guy rep until recently couldn’t raise four figures for that great, liberal fundraising machine, the Southern Poverty Law Center, McClellan says “all three stake out various degrees of putrid points of view.”

Let these intellectual empty vessels speak, he says: “Are they afraid Coulter and Co. will win the day and influence students to adopt their repulsive views?”

Be kind and gentle to these “objectionable folks,” he says: “”Chances are you’ll find them ridiculous, offensive and lacking substance as they present their distorted, often fact-free opinions.”

Let’s remember who McClellan’s audience here is: our darling campus snowflakes, who have learned their sense of unchallengeable  nobility from people like McClellan, a retired high-school teacher. Does he really think these charming knowledge-seekers are interested in listening to the arguments of people that even Mr. Reasonable considers “repulsive?”

Are they? How about them? Or maybe this lovely bunch?

These very illiberal children of McClellan’s corn already believe very strongly that conservative speakers are repulsive. All conservatives. They believe they’re objectionable. That their points of view are distorted and fact-free (even though, like McClellan in reference to Murray, they don’t know jack, themselves).

What do liberals like him think they’re actually telling to these kids if not to hate the haters? McClellan obviously does.

Does he really think that they make a moment’s distinction between an Ann Coulter and, say, a Heather Mac Donald, who is the country’s most eloquent, fact-based thinker on behalf of cops? Or the Vice PresidentBecause they don’t.

And don’t get me started on this guy’s insultingly disingenuous posture pretending to have just discovered this free-speech hub-bub on campuses (“There apparently is an informal speech police present” on campuses… well, freaking DUH!)

I’m sure that campus unrest dismays the land’s McClellans. It seems to have kinda, sorta dismayed this one. And I’m sure they all have a nostalgic fondness for the First Amendment.

But if you really want to call off the campus hounds, try not to justify every hate-thought they already have.

 

‘School Choice Matters’ Ad Indicates Education To Be Top Issue In 2018

If you’re a Sunday Square Off viewer, you probably saw this political “thank you” ad air several times during the show. There was no “paid for” disclaimer but the ad was produced by the American Federation for Children.

The ad is airing to support and thank Governor Doug Ducey and the Arizona Legislature for passing and signing Senator Debbie Lesko’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) legislation. The law now expands school choice (although capped) throughout Arizona.

During final debate, opponents (primarily the Arizona Education Association) whipped up cataclysmic hysteria over the bill. Casual observers would have thought Arizona public education was about to be nuked into oblivion.

School choice advocates were probably caught off guard by the rapid rabid response.

Thus, the American Federation for Children realizing the need to recover the narrative and refocus the debate on children and parental choice, injected itself into the debate.

Anyone watching the warmup for Arizona’s 2018 election cycle can see that next year’s top political issue will be education.

And at the center of that debate, stand Arizona teachers.

Get ready. Every political candidate will position himself/herself as an advocate and “friend of teachers.”

The data proves that Arizona teachers deserve to paid more and if that means unclogging the pipes and removing the administrative clogs to get more money into the classroom, then so be it.

As the Arizona Legislature wraps up the budget and 2017 session, Governor Ducey and lawmakers are poised at an advantage in controlling the message heading into 2018. How they address direct delivery of tax dollars into the classroom, handing out teacher raises and elevating respect for the teaching profession will establish the battlefield for next year’s election.

Republicans have the opportunity to own and make 2018 the “Year of the Teacher.” If they seize the day, Arizona taxpayers, parents, teachers and children will win.

 

BOOM! Arizona lawmakers pass broad ESA expansion

by Matthew Ladner

Arizona lawmakers passed legislation tonight that will phase in near universal eligibility for ESA program. This will start with public school students in kindergarten and 1st grade, 6th grade and 9th grade in 2017-18, and then add grades from the on ramps (K,1,2 and 6,7 and 9-10 in year 2 and the next year K,1,2,3 and 6,7,8,9,10,11). The bill will also increase academic transparency and improve administration of the program.

Governor Doug Ducey’s stalwart support of expanding options proved crucial to this victory. Huge kudos to the bill sponsor Senator Lesko and Rep. Allen as well as the members who took a tough vote in the face of determined opposition. Groups including the American Federation for Children, Americans for Prosperity Arizona, the Arizona Catholic Conference, the Arizona Chamber, the Center for Arizona Policy, Ed Choice, Excel in Ed and the Goldwater Institute all made vital contributions. Senator Worsley also deserves recognition as someone who played the role of honest broker in crafting a compromise that a winning coalition in each chamber supported. We’d all like to live in a world where there was no need to compromise, but that world is not the one we find ourselves in.

The Census Bureau recently announced that Maricopa County (Phoenix metro) as the fastest growing county in the nation-nudging out the Houston area. Enrollment growth is firing up again and the expanded ESA will give parents a broadening array of private educational choices to consider in what is already a robust public choice market. ESAs are an unfolding experiment in liberty, and future legislatures will debate further refinements and improvements, but this is the first big private choice victory of 2017, so…

House Ed Chair Paul Boyer, Rep. Drew John Endorse Tracy Livingston for Superintendent

Phoenix, AZ – Two more members of the Arizona House of Representatives, House Education Committee Chairman Paul Boyer (R-LD20) and Representative Drew John (R-LD14) today announced their support for Tracy Livingston as the  next Superintendent of Public Instruction.

“As Chairman of the House Education Committee, I am responsible for advancing policies that will strengthen every classroom in Arizona,” said Rep. Boyer. “As a teacher, I am responsible for the best interests of my classroom full of kids. Because I have to approach education from both perspectives, I am very encouraged by what I’ve seen and heard from Tracy Livingston. I’m supporting Tracy for Superintendent of Public Instruction because we need someone who understands the impact education policies have on kids, on teachers, and our classrooms. Tracy will fight to end Common Core and will champion giving parent’s choices and control over their kids’ education.”

Echoing the sentiments of his colleague, Rep. John had this to say: “Improving Arizona’s schools will require more than just good policies. We are going to need dedicated teachers who love their kids and what they do. And what better place to put just such a teacher than into the office of State Superintendent. That’s why I’m endorsing Tracy Livingston and why I hope you will support her.”

While 13 states currently elect their Superintendent, none of those elected in recent years appear to have spent the majority – or even a significant portion – of their careers in the classroom. Unlike them, Tracy Livingston has spent her entire career teaching kids and understands the needs of students, parents and teachers alike.

“The non-traditional student of 20 years ago is now the norm,” Mrs. Livingston noted, “and teachers are having to adapt, but school policy and administration isn’t keeping up. Teachers are facing a greater burden today than ever before, yet the enormous run-up in educational spending over these last few decades hasn’t reached the classroom. As a classroom teacher, I know we can do better – and I know what we need to do to make it happen. It’s time for a teacher to lead.”

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Mrs. Livingston is a graduate of Arizona State University with a Bachelors in Broadcasting from the Walter Cronkite School, and a Masters of Education. First elected in 2014, Tracy is a member and former President of the Maricopa Community College Governing Board. Before that, she served two years on the Peoria Unified School Board. Tracy has also served as an elected Republican Precinct Committeeman in Legislative District 22 since 2011.

Tracy and her husband, David, have one son, Kyle, who is an EMT in Prescott, Arizona. David Livingston is a member of the Arizona House of Representatives. The family currently lives in Peoria with their two rescue Siberian Huskies, Katie and Spencer.

Guest Opinion: Arizona Board of Education Rubber Stamps Common Core for 7 More Years

State Board of Education Ignores  Governor, Parents, and own Policy and  Rubber Stamps Common Core for another  7 Years

After a raucous 2014 election year for the office for Superintendent of Public Instruction only 16,034 votes separated the outcome of the 2014 election results between Diane Douglas and David Garcia. One would like to suggest Douglas’ opposition to the top down federal one-sized-fits all standards helped ensure she was the victor. This was a coup for the parents who despised the unconstitutional federal outreach in their children’s classrooms – later only to learn the fox was in the hen house all along.

A quick history lesson on Common Core in Arizona. In 2010, the Arizona State Board of Education adopted Common Core standards for all public schools throughout Arizona. As these standards were being implemented, parents and practitioners alike started to have difficulty learning and teaching them.

This classroom battle came to a head in 2013 inciting a Republican primary challenge to then-Superintendent John Huppenthal who was fully engaged in implementing these standards that had to be rebranded to “college and career ready” due to public outcry.

Like so many top-down government mandates, implementing Common Core became a gravy train for special interests who only care about their profits, not about the outcome of our children’s future. These same corporate entities joined local business chambers to ensure they helped elect pro-Common Core candidates for local and statewide offices.

Meanwhile, grade school children who loved math started to hate math. Other children who loved writing, started to hate writing. Parents knew something was wrong.  In some instances, parents with higher degrees in engineering and math could no longer help their children with basic arithmetic homework.

As with the other 49 states, Arizona retains the authority to approve and modify its academic standards. More importantly, there is no federal law requiring the adoption of specific standards. Yet, 46 states originally adopted common core.

To address this, Governor Doug Ducey directed the State Board of Education (SBE) on March 2015. His direction was for the State Board of Education to “make right the situation…with full transparency.” Direction was given for “teachers and parents to bring [standards] forward together.”

In response, the Arizona SBE created a review process that included 17 members representing different sectors of communities across Arizona. Six of these members were parents from various parts of Arizona. This group was called the Arizona Standards Development Committee (ASDC), consisting of educational experts and parents. Its task was to recommend updated standards to the SBE per the Governor’s request.

However, for the past year and a half the standards were only being reviewed by “technical professionals” and lobbyists in closed-door meetings. These individuals were largely pro-common core individuals. Multiple requests were submitted to the Arizona Department of Education to include parents or people with opposing viewpoints, but these were turned down each time.

On December 14th, the ASDC was scheduled only 3 hours to review and possibly approve hundreds of standards. Up to this point, the ASDC had no substantive discussion on the standards and very little time to study the latest version of the standards.

After two and a half hours of presentations and public comments, the ASDC had 30 minutes to discuss and feel comfortable recommending hundreds of pages of standards. They were concerned that many issues with common core remained. Further, there was no evidence that hundreds of public comments were received or one standard changed by public comments. Many of the ASDC were concerned.

Thus, the parents requested additional time to discuss the standards and voted 8-7 vote to delay approving any current recommendation of these newly revised standards to the SBE until at least January 2017.

It should be noted that the clear expectation from ADE and the SBE staff was for the ASDC to rubber stamp the draft and not ask too many questions. At the same time, the Executive Director and President of the State Board of Education posted an agenda item on the SBE’s December 19th  agenda for the SBE also to rubber stamp the standards. Most of them had never read these “new” standards in any substantive detail.

On December 19th, the SBE shocked the public and the ASDC by rubber stamping the recommended standards. The request of the Governor to have standards brought forth by teachers and parents were largely ignored. Not one person in opposition appeared to speak in public because they trusted that the SBE would respect the direction of the Governor and the ASDC to do their job and recommend standards to the SBE.

In a shocking irony, the very person—Diane Douglas–who promised to “stop common core”, recommended the ‘revised’ standards; standards virtually identical to the common core state standards foolishly adopted by the SBE in 2010.

It is no wonder why President-elect Donald J. Trump is in line to become our next President. No one trusts the government. If a process is in place it should be adhered and there shouldn’t have a go-around if the vote doesn’t fall in your favor. Our Republic doesn’t exist to be overrun by bureaucratic tyrants.

As members of this subcommittee we waited patiently for the review and public commenting period to end. We welcomed proponents of these standards to our public meetings and only gave them the deepest respect at our meetings even though they didn’t always model the best public decorum they would want their children or students to convey.

We call upon Governor Doug Ducey to request that the SBE reconsider the vote; respect the public; and follow the process established.

We also call upon Governor Ducey to seat people on the SBE that truly respect the parents of our State who are deeply concerned with the direction of public education in our State.

Respectfully Submitted By

Scott Leska; Public School District Elected Board Member
Grant Peterson; Middle School Parent
Dr. Richard Rutkowski; Business Community Member
Olga Tarro; Elementary School Parent
Maureen Tozzi; Business Community Member
Shawnna Bolick; High School Parent