The Daily Agenda: Slow down, lawmakers
Gowan gets shot down ... Townsend backs down ... And all the news news that's fit to print.
The House Appropriations Committee approved a sprawling overhaul to the school funding formula in a last-minute bill that lawmakers first saw last week and schools hadn’t even digested yet.
Appropriations Committee chair Rep. Regina Cobb allowed just three speakers for and against the bill, which would enact a generational overhaul of how we fund schools, despite double the people signing in to oppose Republican Rep. Michelle Udall’s strike-everything amendment to Senate Bill 1269. Each person who testified only got a couple minutes. The entire vote was over in an hour or so. That was the extent of the public’s involvement in public policymaking.
And Cobb threatened to censure Democratic Rep. Kelli Butler for aggressively questioning the merits of the bill and trying to allow additional testimony from a rural school administrator who had driven into town to tell lawmakers how it would impact their small, rural school district.
Make no mistake: Arizona’s school funding system is outdated and messy. It is in need of a revamp. And you can stakeholder an issue to death by sending it through endless study committees over years that don’t actually lead to new laws.
The bill itself wonky as all hell, but it basically changes the state funding formula to get rid of some programs that pay more to districts with more experienced teachers and higher test scores. It puts $215 million more into schools, but more than 120 school districts, many of them in rural areas, could actually see a funding cut. It changes transportation funding for schools. A lengthy fiscal note from the Legislature’s number-crunchers includes a spreadsheet of how each district would be affected. Check it out to see how your kid’s school fares. And read the overview story by the Republic’s Mary Jo Pitzl to understand where the groups you trust fall on the bill.
For the side that’s been involved in crafting the bill, like Great Leaders Strong Schools and the Arizona Tax Research Association, the time has come for an overhaul. A school finance system built on bonds and overrides creates inequity — some districts stay poorer because voters can’t afford or don’t want to pay for another local property tax increase done via ballot. Proponents say the bill provides a way to equalize and modernize that system.
AZ Education Assoc. 🍎🏫 @ArizonaEAStop the corporate takeover of schools #SB1269 Take Action! https://t.co/fU87Vr049r
Sean Rickert, the superintendent of the Pima Unified School District, said his district couldn’t wait another session while both sides hammer out a compromise at the Capitol.
“Last time we went out for an override, 93% of voters voted no. … The economic realities in agricultural, rural communities are the economic realities. You’re not going to get overrides passed. You’re not going to get bonds passed. This provides an alternative,” Rickert said.
But for those who were still reading through the 101-page amendment, such massive changes couldn’t be parsed out in such a short period of time. Scott Thompson, the assistant superintendent of the Mesa Public Schools, said he didn’t want to be at the hearing testifying against the bill, given he didn't fully understand its implications.
“This is a lot to deal with. And I’ve been trying to figure out Mesa’s numbers for over a week while doing my day job. It’s very difficult,” Thompson said.
Arizona House Democrats @AZHouseDems“That's the biggest red flag I have," said David Lujan CEO of the Arizona Children's Action Alliance. "They are trying to put forward major changes to school funding with very little input.” Background on the potential Alt Schools Fiasco #SB1269: https://t.co/NhLRRMeS1o
This kind of decision — to oppose or support a bill you don’t fully understand — exemplifies the Arizona Legislature’s operations. It’s both avoidable and completely common. Strike-everything amendments, some inconsequential and some that affect millions directly, rush through as the legislative session winds down every year. They avoid most elements of public scrutiny and input before rushing to final votes.
That unnecessarily rushed process leaves the public and minority party in the dark about the actual policies being proposed. Because they often don’t fully understand how their constituents will be affected, Democrats instead rail against a hurried process.
GOP lawmakers apparently learned nothing about unintended consequences from the precinct committeemen fiasco. It’s clear this bill will get more amendments in order to get the votes it needs to make it to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk, but it deserves a more deliberate, fair process for such a consequential, long-simmering problem like how our kids’ schools get paid.
Speaking of a desk (this is a stretch of a transition), we now have one! We rented a desk where much of the Arizona press corps works at the Capitol. It costs us $100 per month, so if you want to pitch in to help us afford our anachronistic office setup, smash the button below.
Some bad ideas don’t become laws: A last-minute proposal from Arizona Sen. David Gowan to raise lawmaker pay, alongside a few government transparency measures, failed in the House Appropriations Committee yesterday. And the expected Senate Government Committee hearing we previewed yesterday was canceled this morning after Sen. Kelly Townsend claimed victory for getting the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to fulfill a records request.
More national outlets come to town: Longtime Arizona politics reporter Jeremy Duda will be leaving the Arizona Mirror to help national outlet Axios launch a local news operation here in Arizona. We wish him luck, but his newsletter better not be better than ours. (We noticed that the Axios local newsletters do the weather, so we might just start doing that too to compete.) And Republic reporter Jen Fifield, who extensively covered the audit and its fallout, will move to Votebeat as it also opens an Arizona outpost to cover elections.
Zoom is not a good learning tool: Educators worry that students’ pandemic-related learning loss could mess up a whole generation of kids, and they’re looking for solutions, including through the Arizona Department of Education, the governor’s summer school program and local initiatives, the Arizona Capitol Times’ Kyra Haas writes.
Zoom in a second language is worse: Students learning English have been especially hard hit by pandemic-induced remote learning, as they’re missing out on body language and nonverbal cues that they can pick up on in class, and their parents are often unable to shoulder the additional teaching burden virtual learning has placed on them, the Republic’s Daniel Gonzalez writes. English Language Learners already had the lowest standardized test scores of any demographic in the state — a problem magnified by Arizona’s onerous “English only” law, which lawmakers have unsuccessfully sought to repeal in recent years.
Politicians regret not spending more on census: If Arizona hadn’t undercounted so many people of color in the 2020 census, we may have gotten a 10th congressional district (not to mention hundreds of millions more in federal funding), according to new data that the Republic’s Ronald J. Hansen parsed.
“There is no official finding that Arizona, or any state, was undercounted by a known amount. But the new estimates offer strong evidence that Arizona was among the most adversely impacted politically and financially by a census viewed as the most challenging since World War II,” Hansen wrote.
Fodder for her opponents: Democratic candidate for Maricopa County Attorney Julie Gunnigle wouldn’t enforce an anti-abortion law like the one that sits on Ducey’s desk now because it intrudes on people’s health care decisions, she told 12News’ Brahm Resnik on “Sunday Square Off.” GOP county attorney hopeful Gina Godbehere, meanwhile, wouldn’t say whether the 2020 election was stolen, AZFamily’s Dennis Welch reports.
We recommend us: And speaking of Square Off, Rachel and Hank were on too. We talked about last week’s reporting on the frequent bouts of unconstitutionality common to the Arizona Legislature.
Today in news that is sure to please local public records hound and ball golf course hater Jeremy Thacker: The Republic’s environmental reporter, Zayna Syed, wrote about how Oro Valley’s Rancho Vistoso golf course is now a nature preserve after neighbors raised money to buy the shuttered 18-hole course.
The kids are Surprised: The city of Surprise’s economic development department included residents under the age of 18 for the first time in its annual survey asking residents what kinds of shopping and entertainment venues they want, KJZZ’s Christina Estes reports.
The future’s too bright: A three-part series from Circle of Blue, a water-focused journalism outfit, explores Arizona’s dire water situation. With Arizona’s massive population growth, an incredibly warm climate, an unending drought and a dwindling water supply, our state faces a future that looks uncertain and different from the decades when cities here exploded, Keith Schneider reports.
This is a sports newsletter now: Could new Arizona Cardinal JJ Watt host a happy hour at a local watering hole to meet his new Arizona fans after local Twitter personality Clue Heywood compelled the offer? We’d go just to meet Clue.
We spend so much time writing about bad bills that the Legislature passes, let’s take a moment to acknowledge a good one.
House Bill 2659 from Republican Rep. Steve Kaiser would prevent health care providers from denying people organ transplants solely because they have a developmental disability.
The bill sailed through the Legislature unopposed and Ducey signed it last week, following testimony from parents of kids with Down syndrome and other disabilities, who said that people with disabilities are regularly turned down for organ transplants, despite toothless federal laws preventing discrimination.
Importantly, the bill would also offer a streamlined appeal and enforcement mechanism through the courts if health care providers do deny transplants to people with disabilities. Thirty other states have passed similar legislation.
We recently picked up a copy Zero to One by Peter Thiel (with help from Republican U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters), and while the book includes several nuggets of wisdom and comedic gems, this passage about how hipsters are a lot like terrorists is our favorite part so far.
“(Ted) Kaczynski’s methods were crazy but his loss of faith in the technological frontier is all around us. Consider the trivial but revealing hallmarks of urban hipsterdom: faux vintage photography, the handlebar mustache and vinyl record players all hark back to an earlier time when people were still optimistic about the future. If everything worth doing has already been done, you may as well feign an allergy to achievement and become a barista.”