Tag Archives: Arizona

The Unremitting Attacks On Public Education

The attacks on public education by “privatization” ideologues have ramped up under Betsy DeVos, who–as Mother Jones has reported–wants to use America’s schools to build “God’s Kingdom” and who has spent a lifetime working to end public education as we know it. She has ramped up those efforts since becoming Education Secretary, and she has help from other billionaire privatizers.

Last September, The Guardian reported on an Arizona effort spearheaded by DeVos and the Koch brothers.

Arizona has become the hotbed for an experiment rightwing activists hope will redefine America’s schools – an experiment that has pitched the conservative billionaires the Koch brothers and Donald Trump’s controversial education secretary, Betsy DeVos, against teachers’ unions, teachers and parents. Neither side is giving up without a fight.

Groups funded by the Koch brothers and cheered on by DeVos succeeded in getting Arizona lawmakers to enact what the Guardian describes as “the nation’s broadest school vouchers law.” (If it is broader than Indiana’s program, that’s saying something.) The state-funded vouchers were designed to give parents more school choice and–like Indiana’s–could be used to enroll children in private or religious schools.

For opponents, however, the system wasn’t about “choice”–it was about further weakening Arizona’s public school system.

Six women with children in the public schools had lobbied unsuccessfully against the measure, and they decided to fight back. Arizona law allows referenda (Indiana’s does not), and the women decided–long odds or no– they would gather the 75,321 signatures they needed to get a referendum on the ballot to overturn the law. They formed a group, called it Save Our Schools, and set out to collect the needed signatures.

The six women inspired a statewide movement and got hundreds of volunteers to brave Arizona’s torrid summer heat to collect signatures – in parks and parking lots, at baseball games and shopping malls. Their message was that billionaire outsiders were endangering public education by getting Arizona’s legislature – in part through campaign contributions – to create an expensive voucher program.

One reason for their success in generating a movement was the fact that Arizona’s public schools are so obviously underfunded. Some classes have 40 students; schools have to ask private citizens to donate money for supplies and books.

One study foundthat Arizona, at $7,613, is the third-lowest state in public school spending per student, while another study foundthat from 2008 to 2015, school funding per pupil had plunged by 24% in Arizona, after adjusting for inflation – the second-biggest drop in the nation.

Save our Schools submitted 111,540 signatures to the secretary of state in August 2017, but the Koch brothers’ political arm, Americans for Prosperity, sued to block the referendum. A judge dismissed the lawsuit and approved the referendum for 6 November – it’s called Proposition 305. The vote will be closely watched by people on both sides of the debate as the Kochs and DeVos hope to spread the voucher scheme and opponents look to Arizona for clues on how to stop them.

Save our Schools won. 

A grassroots group of parents successfully overturned the massive school voucher expansion supported by the state’s Republican establishment, as the “no” vote on Proposition 305 won by a wide margin, the Associated Press has projected.

The “no” vote victory on Prop. 305 has major implications for the school-choice movement in Arizona and nationally, as the state has long been ground zero for the conservative issue and Republican leaders have crowned the Empowerment Scholarship Account expansion as a national template.

This is the way democratic systems are supposed to work when legislatures pass measures that conflict with the desires of the voters.

If we have public schools that are not performing satisfactorily, we need to fix them–not abandon them. And we absolutely should not be sending tax dollars to religious schools–a practice that only deepens America’s already troubling tribalization.

The Dinosaurs On Noah’s ark

Just shoot me now.

A column in the Arizona Republic newspaper reports that the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction has added a member to that state’s panel charged with reviewing science instruction in Arizona’s public schools.

And what eminent scientist or respected academic has been chosen for this important panel?

Here is a bit of instruction from a guy Superintendent Diane Douglas tapped to help review Arizona’s standards on how to teach evolution in science class:

The earth is just 6,000 years old and dinosaurs were present on Noah’s Ark. But only the young ones. The adult ones were too big to fit, don’t you know.

“Plenty of space on the Ark for dinosaurs – no problem,” Joseph Kezele explained to Phoenix New Times’Joseph Flaherty.

Flaherty reports that in August, Arizona’s soon-to-be ex-superintendent appointed Kezele to a working group charged with reviewing and editing the state’s proposed new state science standards on evolution.

Joseph Kezele, it turns out, teaches (his version of) biology at Arizona Christian University, and serves as president of the Arizona Origin Science Association.   The article describes him as “a staunch believer in the idea that enough scientific evidence exists to back up the biblical story of creation.”

Douglas has been working for awhile now to bring a little Sunday school into science class. This spring she took a red pen to the proposed new science standards, striking or qualifying the word “evolution” wherever it occurred.

Douglas wants the theory of Intelligent Design taught alongside the “theory” of evolution–a desire that confirms her total lack of understanding of the scientific method and scientific terminology.

A scientific theory is not the equivalent of a wild-ass guess. Scientific theories grow out of and are based upon groups of hypotheses that have been repeatedly and successfully empirically tested. Only after sufficient evidence has been gathered in support of those hypotheses will a theory be developed to explain the phenomenon in question.

Even then, scientific theories (unlike religious beliefs) remain subject to falsification–continued empirical testing to support or disprove the hypotheses upon which the theory depends. If a theory cannot be rejected, modified or confirmed by such empirical testing, it isn’t science.

Other beliefs may or may not be true (that sunset is beautiful!), but that doesn’t make them science.

Meanwhile, the new appointee to the panel reviewing Arizona’s science standards has already convinced the others to change the description of evolution from “the explanation for the unity and diversity of organisms, living and extinct” to “an” explanation–in other words, one “theory” among others.

As the columnist concluded,

So much for long-established scientific theory.

Kezele told Flaherty that there is enough scientific evidence to back up the biblical account of creation. He says students should be exposed to that evidence. For example, scientific stuff about the human appendix and the Earth’s magnetic field.

“I’m not saying to put the Bible into the classroom, although the real science will confirm the Bible,” Kezele told Flaherty. “Students can draw their own conclusions when they see what the real science actually shows.”

Because, hey, Barney floating around on Noah’s Ark.

Kezele told Flaherty that all land animals – humans and dinosaurs alike — were created on the Sixth Day.

And there was light and the light was, well, a little dim for science class, if you ask me.

The only good news here is that Douglas initially won the Superintendent’s office by a single percentage point, barely survived a recall effort, and decisively lost the 2018 Republican primary.

The bad news is, there were people in Arizona who voted for her.

Arizona and a Sigh of Relief

Among the end-of-term decisions handed down by the Supreme Court was Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. It was an important case–had the legislature prevailed, it would have dealt a near-fatal blow to the ability of good government groups to address the practice of gerrymandering.

Some years back, via a referendum, Arizona citizens struck a blow against gerrymandering by establishing a nonpartisan commission to draw its election maps. The state legislature sued, asserting that language in the Constitution limits the right to regulate national elections to Congress and state legislatures.

In a decision that legislative scholar Tom Mann called “a model of constitutional reasoning,” a divided Court upheld the right of citizens to determine who shall 

…have the ultimate authority over who shall represent them in public office. The majority opinion quotes Madison to powerful effect: “The genius of republican liberty seems to demand . . . not only that all power should be derived from the people, but those entrusted with it should be kept in dependence on the people.”

As Richard Pildes wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed,

The main, and best, justification for direct democracy is precisely the need for this kind of check, just as the voters in Arizona exercised, on the self-interested temptations of power when legislators regulate the political process itself.

Direct democracy is hardly a panacea or a pure expression of “the popular will,” whatever that means; voters must be organized and informed, which takes resources and organizational skill. Still, direct democracy remains an important means of policing the inevitable temptations those in power have to entrench themselves more securely in power.

On Monday the court rightly recognized that, when the Constitution assigned the elections clause power to the “legislatures,” the framers were not making a judgment about whether states could create direct democratic processes as another way to regulate the national election process. Unlike their rejection of popular Senate elections, the framers did not reject popular regulation of elections: They just never considered the idea. To reject it in their name, the court wisely concluded, would have been perverse.

It isn’t easy to rein in the self-interested process of legislative line-drawing under even the best of circumstances; those who have power only surrender that power when they have no choice. Had the Arizona legislature’s challenge succeeded, redistricting reform would be virtually impossible.

File this one under “dodged a bullet.”

Plastic Bags and Local Control

When I become morose about the sad level of policy in Indiana, a news item will often remind me that We Are Not Alone.

We have an excellent recent example from Arizona. Arizona is one of those states that can be depended upon to resist federal mandates and trumpet the virtues of local control. State level local control, that is. (Much like with Indiana, what state-level lawmakers really want is the ability to thumb their noses at both the federal government and local political subdivisions. If the statehouse exercises authority, it’s good; if a city or county wants freedom to manage its own affairs, that’s terrible.)

Case in point: Arizona just passed a bill banning efforts by local government units to discourage the use of plastic bags. As the New York Times reported,

State Senator Nancy Barto, the bill’s sponsor and a Republican, said that “excessive regulation on containers creates more work and cost for retailers and other businesses — and leads to higher consumer cost and a drag on economic growth.” She added: “Municipalities acting on their own to implement these mandates run counter to the state’s goal to overcome Arizona’s sluggish job growth and economic stability.”

The only city to carry out any such rule is Bisbee, southeast of Tucson, which banned single-use plastic bags and requires a 5-cent charge per paper bag.

Lauren Kuby, a city councilwoman in Tempe, cited estimates that 50 million single-use plastic bags are used each year in the city and that less than 5 percent are recycled. She said the city faced costs from litter, as well as from the damage the plastic bags caused to machinery at recycling facilities.

Allowing cities and towns to decide for themselves which policy is most cost-effective and/or environmentally sound is evidently unthinkable in Arizona’s statehouse.

Sounds a lot like Indiana, where lawmakers deeply resent regulation by the federal government, but made Indianapolis beg for three plus years for permission to hold a referendum on whether to tax ourselves to support decent public transportation.

Civics Education Should Start with Legislators

I’ve been pretty hard on Indiana’s General Assembly, and I’d argue deservedly so, but I certainly don’t want to give anyone the impression that we Hoosiers have cornered legislative incompetence. Over at Peacock Panache, for example, Tim Peacock reports on a bill introduced in Arizona, in the wake of Governor Brewer’s veto of that state’s badly misnamed “Religious Liberty” bill.

HB-2481, also called “Arizona’s First Freedom Act,” seeks to protect those solemnizing marriage in Arizona to protect them from ceremonies they do not want to participate in. Specifically, the GOP is marketing the legislation as protecting ministers from having to marry LGBT couples as it violates their freedom of religion.
Are the bill’s sponsors really that ignorant, or are they just playing to the perceived ignorance of their constituents?
The First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause already allows ministers to limit religious services as they alone see fit. No minister can be forced to preside over the nuptials of people in violation of his or her beliefs. Free Exercise allows any cleric to decline to perform any wedding: intermarriages, marriages of divorced people, same-sex unions….whatever his or her doctrine proscribes.
These clerical decisions cannot be overruled by government, thanks to the Separation of Church and State that so many conservatives insist we don’t have.
No statute is necessary to preserve this right. Any first-year law student who didn’t know that would be unceremoniously booted out of law school, and any lawmaker who is ignorant of so basic a principle of American law should forfeit re-election.
I really wish the people demagoguing about religious liberty would visit a high school class on the Constitution and discover what rights they actually do and don’t have. That won’t happen, of course, because they are thoroughly uninterested in accuracy. They are pursuing an agenda.
And people with an agenda read the Constitution the same way they read their bibles, if they read them at all: very selectively.