Goldwater Institute: Who Is Really Responsible for Teacher Pay?

by Matthew Simon

West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona have all been mired in a teacher pay debate, but one question is rarely asked or answered: Who is really responsible for teacher pay?

In states across the country, the clamoring for increased pay has been well-coordinated, and the demands are costly. Teachers in West Virginia left their classroom posts for nine days, and teachers in Oklahoma rounded out their first week out of the classroom. Teachers in West Virginia returned to their classrooms after receiving a 5 percent pay increase and teachers in Oklahoma still walked out of their classrooms after receiving an average increase in pay of $6,100, demanding that it be $10,000. In Arizona, this has been dubbed the #RedforED movement. Teachers in one school district shut down nine schools in a coordinated “sickout,” and more are purportedly planned to come. Arizona Educators United and the Arizona Education Association have outlined demands in order not to abandon their classrooms, which was agreed to under their contract. Among these demands include a 20 percent teacher pay raise, which could cost Arizona taxpayers approximately $680 million in the first year alone, not including the annual inflation adjustment. Their total funding demands, according to some estimates, reach into the $5 billion figure.

The debate over teacher pay reached new heights in Arizona when the Legislature passed a 2.12 percent teacher pay increase over two years on top of all of the other funding put into schools in 2017. This pay raise was outside the norm and is not how schools are funded in Arizona. It created cumbersome language to ensure that the dollars went to the intended recipient. Not only was this just bad policy because the state doesn’t fund teachers (it funds students), but also because it reinforced this idea that state lawmakers dictate what teachers’ salaries are.

What is far too often left out of the conversation are locally elected school district governing boards. These independently elected governing boards wield considerable power in their positions by creating policies, crafting school district budgets and setting teacher pay. Collectively, these school district governing boards allocated over $8.7 billion during the 2017 school year. Because of this local management of dollars, the Classroom Spending Report produced by the Auditor General becomes increasingly informative. The Auditor General puts school districts into operational efficiency peer groups by the size, type, and geographic location of school districts.

According to the 2017 report, Tempe Elementary School District (TESD) and Alhambra Elementary School District (AESD) were in the same operational peer group. Both served a similar number of students, and they are elementary districts in urban areas. However, when you look at teacher pay and revenues generated per student, it becomes clear how local decisions can have a huge impact on teacher pay. TESD received, on average, 25 percent more per pupil than AESD but paid its teachers almost 30 percent less, on average.

TESD AESD
Students 11,049 12,524
Schools 21 14
Per Pupil $11,512 $8,562
Teacher Ratio 15.1 20.6
Avg. Years 9.3 10.4
Teacher Pay $40,899 $58,362

This isn’t the only example. Paradise Valley Unified School District (PVUSD) has been the subject of much media attention. In fact, one of the teachers within the school district posted her pay stub on social media. Her annual salary: $35,490. How could a teacher with nearly 10 years of experience and a school district that receives $10,501 per pupil be paid so little? It becomes even harder to comprehend when compared to Gilbert Unified School District (GUSD). Again, the Auditor General put these two school districts in the same operational peer group. GUSD received 16.9 percent less per pupil than PVUSD, but it was able to pay its teachers 5.5 percent more.

PVUSD GUSD
Students 30,741 33,808
Schools 44 40
Per Pupil $10,501 $8,720
Teacher Ratio 17.4 17.8
Avg. Years 12.7 11.9
Teacher Pay $48,299 $51,125

And just to make the point abundantly clear, Balsz Elementary School District (Balsz) and Tolleson Elementary School District (Tolleson) show a similar trend. Tolleson receives 24.5 percent less than Balsz per pupil, but it is able to pay its teachers, on average, 13 percent more.

Balsz Tolleson
Students 2,315 2,980
Schools 5 4
Per Pupil $11,998 $9,049
Teacher Ratio 17.7 19.6
Avg. Years 8.9 9.6
Teacher Pay $44,954 $51,705

If Arizona teachers and the public have a gripe with elected officials, the elected officials they should be targeting with this anger need to be their locally elected school district governing boards. The comparisons make it clear: It’s about how those dollars are spent. When a school district governing board prioritizes teacher pay, teacher pay is higher. If the Legislature were to meet the multi-billion dollar demands of #RedforED, there is no guarantee that those dollars would get where they were intended to go. Instead, these teachers and the public should be attending their local school district governing board meetings, examining their budgets, and holding them accountable.

This article can be read here.

Matthew Simon is the director of education policy at the Goldwater Institute. 

Dick Foreman: Getting back to basics in public education

By Dick Foreman

When it comes to education basics, the seas are not just getting choppy, they’ve been choppy and seem to be getting worse. One has to wonder, after all these years of research, student data, and models of reform from all 50 states to compare to, what is really working? Have we even addressed our most basic needs?

Have we figured out this “parent choice” thing yet?

ABEC is proud to not only represent business, community and education voices, but also traditional public as well as public charter schools. We realize and support, a system of parent choice that preserves opportunities for school children of every age. Indeed, many education reforms begin with “choice.” But we must also remember that the choice by design or default of the vast majority of Arizona parents remains the traditional public school. Quite simply, Arizona families both want and expect their neighborhood schools to be both excellent choices and safe neighborhood assets. There is no rocket science engaged in this deduction. You can arrive at this conclusion not only by what school parents most often choose for their children to attend but how they buy and sell their families most precious asset, their homes.

But today, education in Arizona suffers for at least three very basic reasons.

Dick Foreman

Dick Foreman

First, the choice parents make should be based on opportunity, not failure. Some policymakers believe that the best accountability for a failing public school is to close it or abandon it. But just on the taxpayer side of things alone, stranding their assets based on the choice of a few parents is a poor calculation. In fact, it permits a catastrophic result for both children and the property values of the entire community. Making matters worse, state policies that enable increasing disparities in state education funding formulas coupled with the increased erosion of public funds through targeted tax credits is a strategy for destabilization, not student achievement or respect for choice.

Making matters worse, responsibility is dodged. When parental concerns for quality are raised, a “buyer beware” approach to selecting schools is suggested. At the accountability zenith of this policy is a traditional public or charter school whose doors are shuttered. We should never accept the failure of a public school, and we should never celebrate this heart-breaking news as an accountability. After all, the reasons for this failure were not molecularly connected to the brick and mortar!

Secondly, we know what best enables student achievement. Simply put, it is the teacher that matters. It has always been the teacher. And it will likely always be the teacher. Here’s how Kata Mihaly, economist for the Rand Corporation who specializes in using econometric modeling to assess educational achievement, puts it:

“When it comes to student performance on reading and math tests, a teacher is estimated to have two to three times the impact of any other school factor, including services, facilities, and even leadership.”

Getting bogged down in school leadership models, lawsuits over capital facilities, competition or engaged but selective parent choice as the drivers of achievement will not address Arizona student needs. It will, at best, address some student needs. And that’s not good enough for 1.1 million Arizona school children. And it is not good enough for taxpayers.

What is good enough?

Simply stated, it’s keeping a qualified teacher in position for as long a period of time as is possible. The teacher and their skills remain the single greatest barometer of student achievement that can be measured.

Third, the single greatest predictor of student success remains demographics. If a student lives in poverty, their lack of achievement is indeed predictable and unacceptable. But can this be addressed by policy? Of course, it can. In fact, 43 states have added a “poverty weight” to their school funding formulas to do just that, including Arizona. But unfortunately, Arizona has very limited application in this respect (largely, a limited weight for 3rd Grade reading).

Here is an interesting data point on this failure from Diane Ravitch’s Blog of March 1, 2018:
*Students in the South and Southwest face a “double disadvantage” because their states provide low funding with no boost in funding for high poverty districts. States with flat or regressive funding include … Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico in the Southwest.

*Only a few states, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Wyoming, provide high levels of school funding and distribute more funding to their high poverty districts. Notably, New Jersey and Massachusetts are the top performing states on student outcomes.”

Perhaps there is wisdom in getting back to the basics.

How about we work with policymakers to lay down the swords of philosophical agendas and work together to positively address the real basics? First, let’s respect all public education choices and resist creating winners and losers. Parent involvement and choice should always be encouraged but not confused as a necessary antecedent to student achievement overall. Secondly, let’s encourage maintaining a highly trained, long-term teaching workforce in Arizona’s classrooms. And thirdly, let’s recognize poverty as the single greatest indicator of student achievement and do something about it in the school funding formula.

NOTE: Dick Foreman is president & CEO of ABEC.  To contact, please send him an e-mail.
 
 ABOUT ABEC

The Arizona Business and Education Coalition (ABEC) is the coalition of Arizona business and education leaders committed to helping create public education policy essential to a vibrant, growing Arizona economy. The coalition is a 501(c)(3), non-partisan, statewide membership organization focused on K-12 public education while recognizing the importance of early childhood development, post-secondary education and workforce development.

Free Firearms Training for Arizona School District Officials

Gunsite

Gunsite Academy Inc., the Nation’s oldest privately owned and operated civilian firearms training academy, is saddened and angered by the violence in our schools.

Our mission is “. . .  to provide good people with the skills by which they may conduct themselves as responsible citizens of a free Republic.”  We recognize that the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.   Proper training is crucial to achieve the objective of keeping our young people safe in their schools.  It is crucial that we recognize that local leaders must be the impetus of changes in the safety and security policies in our local schools.

To further positive changes of the safety and security in our Republic’s schools, Gunsite will offer a free five (5) day 250 Pistol Course (tuition) at our northern Arizona training facility to School Superintendents, Assistant Superintendents, and School Board Presidents.

Our hope is that we educate these policy makers and help them formulate programs within their schools to train and arm their teachers to better protect our youth.

Those wishing further information should contact Gunsite Chief Operating Officer Ken Campbell at (928)-636-4565 or Ken@gunsite.com.

Very Respectfully,

Ken Campbell

Sheriff Ken P. Campbell (Ret.)
Chief Operating Officer
Gunsite Academy, Inc.

View press release here.

Representative Jill Norgaard Introduces Legislation to Expand Instruction Options for English Language Learners

Jill NorgaardSTATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Representative Jill Norgaard (R-18) has introduced HB 2281, legislation that will remove the requirement of a four-hour block of daily structured English emersion for English Language Learners if they are enrolled in a dual language program.

HB 2281 passed the House Education Committee with unanimous support, of 9-0.

English Language Learners are K-12 students who are not proficient in the English language, as scored by the Arizona English Language Learner Assessment.

“Studies have shown that dual language programs can be a more effective way to educate English language learners without having to pull students from their core classes for a required four-hour block of daily emersion,” said Representative Norgaard. “Affording schools the flexibility to determine how to best educate their English Language Learners will help prevent students from falling behind and will put the power back in the hands of the teachers and families.”

Attorney: Scottsdale Unified School District Official Broke The Law

Scottsdale Unified School District Chief Financial Officer Laura Smith broke state law and district policy according to an attorney hired by the governing board. An attorney hired by the district to investigate conflicts of interest found that Smith signed off on nine change orders to a company that she had an interest in at the time she approved the orders.

Smith eventually left the company but her sister has remained president of the same consulting firm. Smith resigned her position with SUSD.

The Arizona Republic’s Yihyun Jeong produced this article and AZFamily put out this video report.

How this affects the superintendent and governing board is still to be determined.

Poll: 2:1 Arizona Voters Support a Soda Tax Benefiting Education

Marijuana legalization has poor support if held in a mid-term election

PHOENIX (November 20, 2017) – Last week we released poll results regarding President Donald Trump’s approval rating and the state of the current U.S. Senate race here in Arizona. We also asked several other issue questions. Please note, none of these issues tested are on the ballot for 2018, although our results could lead to an interesting debate.

We conducted a survey of six hundred likely 2018 General Election Democratic, Republican, Independent and Non-Declared voters across Arizona, based on likely 2018 turnout participated in this survey with a +/-4% MOE.

We begin by looking at the top-line results of the first issue question regarding a soda tax:

Respondents by an almost 2:1 margin support a tax on soda where the proceeds would go directly to education with less than 10% having no opinion. Half of Republicans would be in support, and a plurality of 2/3rd’s of Democrats and Independents support the hypothetical measure.

Females were overwhelmingly supportive and far less opposed compared to males.

·       Male support/oppose       51% / 41%

·       Female support/oppose   67% / 23%

Historically, rural Arizona is more Conservative than Pima and Maricopa counties. Much to our surprise, when looking at the geographic breakdowns, rural Arizona respondents were the most supportive of such a measure, which goes against the grain given conservatives are the most ardent opponents to tax increases.  67% of rural respondents support the measure while only 24% oppose. This may say more about the perceived condition of rural education as it does political ideology.

“According to respondent’s soda is the new ‘sin’. Just like cigarettes and alcohol, people don’t mind adding taxes there for the greater good,” said Mike Noble, managing partner and chief pollster at OH Predictive Insights, a Phoenix-based leading behavioral research polling company. “Cubs win the world series, Trump gets elected president and a Bloomberg policy has 59% support in Arizona – this is the year of the possible.”

The second question dealt with legalization of marijuana:

Legalization of marijuana for personal use was on the ballot last year in Arizona. However, it failed to pass by less than 3-points even though a large amount of money was spent in support of the measure. If this measure was on the ballot for 2018 it would underperform compared to the 2016 election results.

“Legalizing marijuana in Arizona is much less viable in a mid-term election however there is a strong chance we will see them take another run at it in 2020,” said Noble.

Finally, the remaining issue questions asked:

By more than a 2:1 margin respondents opposed non-U.S. citizen students receiving the benefit of in-state tuition at an Arizona University. 85% of Republicans and half of the Independents were in opposition, although half of Democrats were in favor. Interestingly, 25% of respondents who have some college education or are a college graduate held a negative 37-point opinion.

 

Methodology: This automated survey was completed by OH Predictive Insights on November 9th, 2017, from a likely 2018 General Election voter sample. The sample demographics accurately reflected party affiliation, geographic location and gender however age leaned heavily towards 55+ respondents due to it being automated. The sample size was 600 completed surveys, with a MoE of ± 4%.

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.