I am proud to be the first candidate to release a comprehensive education platform. I applaud Arizona’s teachers and administrators. They work hard and they make a positive impact on Arizona’s students every day. They do an incredible job of giving students the knowledge and skills they need, especially given the existing budgets and regulations they are asked to work within.
Arizona has a robust offering of charter and magnet schools that offer different electives and teaching methods. I’m committed to preserving parents’ ability to choose the school that has the right offering for their child.
Unfortunately, Arizona’s teachers deal with many problems our state has not yet confronted adequately. First, we have a significant population of students who do not speak English as a first language. Additionally, over the decades we have more students with single parents and parents who both work out of the home. Parents in these situations frequently expect schools to provide custom educational experiences that were traditionally taken care of at home.
The response of government to these cultural trends can be summarized as, “Good luck figuring it out.” If we are more supportive and less judgemental of the people who confront these situations, we will all benefit.
Unfortunately, the current governor has a history of leading the legislature in an assault that asks our schools to do too much with too little. Schools need more revenue to hire teachers and aids, keep buildings safe and attractive, and provide the technology and materials that make for a great educational experience. They need the freedom to teach in the ways that work best for them and their students, not be mandated to teach according to the latest fad or defunct ancient classroom techniques.
I consider myself part of Arizona’s education community. I was a substitute teacher, a junior high technology teacher, and college professor of video game programming and production. My father and aunt are both elementary school teachers. Many of my close friends are school teachers, staff, and administrators. I am passionate about solving these issues.
Below you will find a comprehensive program that:
Makes sure students are studying subjects and skills that will be most relevant to them from early childhood through college
Makes sure every student goes to a school with an adequate budget to meet their educational needs
Makes sure teachers have the flexibility to address student needs
To achieve rank 25 in per-student spending, putting us just barely in the top half of states, we need to increase student spending to $11,000 per student, an increase of $3500. In a class of 20 students, that’s an additional $70,000 per year to help ensure our students have great outcomes! With about 1.1 million students that’s almost $4 billion that must come either through additional revenue collection or redistribution from other programs.
While I do support trimming expenses in other areas, there are not enough programs to be cut to make a significant dent in this goal. However, we do not have to create new taxes. Rather, we simply have to close tax loopholes and fairly enforce the taxes that already exist.
The Arizona Department of Revenue generates a report on the value of tax loopholes, which they call tax “expenditures.” They’ve determined that tax loopholes cost Arizonans over $13 billion annually. In fact, there are over $1 billion dollars in loopholes that escape the prop 301 education tax. We don’t have to close all remaining loopholes to pay for education, just about 25% of them.
I do not propose mandating a specific use for these additional per-student funds. Arizona’s students will get the best result by allowing each county and school district to allocate the funds as they determine will yield the biggest benefits. In public schools, these allocations are decided by local elected officials, are debated openly, and are a matter of public record.
In some schools, this transparent budgeting process may allocate new funds to teacher pay. In others, it may be hiring more teachers or teachers’ aides to create a better student to adult ratio. In others, it may be technology. In others, it may be building improvements. All of these are valid uses, and each school and school board is qualified to make these decisions.
Charter School Accountability and Parity
The vast majority of charter schools do great work for their students. Most charter school teachers, administrators, and owners are committed to providing excellent educational opportunities. Along with all Arizonans, I am grateful for the charter school system and the choices and competition they provide.
Unfortunately, the laws governing charter schools allow a few bad actors to take advantage of the system, deceiving parents and defrauding taxpayers. These corrupt charter school operators are not representative of most charter schools, but they stain the reputation of all charter schools.
In order to protect the integrity of our charter school system, and allow them to participate in the increased per-student funding I propose, we must shore up these weaknesses. Specifically, we must require charter schools to provide all the same services that public schools are required to provide, and do so without additional fees charged to parents. These services include free and reduced lunch, special ed, bussing, before and after school programs, etc. Many charter schools already provide these services. Those that don’t must start.
Additionally, unlike other public schools, charter schools are not currently required to publish their expenditures. This results in some charter schools creating bogus budgets for public consumption that do not represent their actual cash flows. Schools that wish to take public money must be publicly accountable for those funds. Schools that wish to avoid this scrutiny should operate as private schools.
Making sure that all schools that receive public funds provide the same level of service and the same level of financial accountability will ensure that parents have the information they need to make the best choices for their children, and will give taxpayers confidence that their money is being used wisely.
Tax Credits and Private School Vouchers
I propose eliminating all educational tax credits and vouchers.
Tax credits rob the general fund of revenue that can be distributed according to need for clear academic purposes, and instead allow schools with wealthier families to use public tax dollars to pay for their child’s personal sports uniforms and elective field trips. While I am supportive of school sports and field trips, these endeavors should not take priority over the core educational experience. Additionally, it is a beneficial experience for students in both wealthy and poor communities to be required to personally raise funds for extracurricular activities.
Similarly, private school vouchers rob the general fund of revenue that can be distributed according to need, instead enabling the few families that send their kids to private school to get a slight discount. Vouchers do not open up opportunities to attend private school for a significant number of new children. Rather, they subsidize private school revenues for the 5% of parents who can already afford to send their kids there.
Teachers don’t make enough money. Unfortunately, this problem is not unique to teachers. Too many of our college graduates work as baristas and other minimum wage and low paying jobs. This is not because this is the kind of work they prefer, nor is that they lack the skills for higher paying jobs, nor even just that they are unwilling to make the sacrifices to get better jobs. Rather it is because the current Governor has advocated for economic policies that favor top executives at big corporations without benefiting average Arizonans.
In Arizona, median family income is just over $61,000. This means that more than half of families, many with 2 earners, make due with less than $61,000. Starting teacher salary in AZ is about $35,000. This means that a family of 2 20-something teachers makes $70,000, which is significantly better than the average family, including households with much older and experienced breadwinners. More experienced and educated elementary school teachers can earn around $50,000, while experienced high school teachers can earn $61,000 or more by themselves.
I am supportive of teachers using their collective bargaining rights on a district by district basis to advocate that new funds be allocated in the best possible way for students. This may very well include improvements to teacher pay.
Measuring student achievement and the effectiveness of teaching methods is paramount to student success and parent understanding. However, summarizing these measurements as a single letter grade applied to the entire school is a disservice to parents.
Many excellent teachers that are passionate about delivering an excellent education to disadvantaged students are penalized for not dedicating their talents to students with better support systems and innate talent. Parents are tricked into avoiding these excellent educational experiences.
Just as children have a report card that gives them grades in several subjects and various measures of citizenship, I will fight for a robust, multi-faceted school grading system that does not facilitate false snap judgments, but rather counteracts them.
Early Childhood Education
About ninety percent of a child’s brain growth happens before kindergarten. Therefore, it is incredibly important that young children have supportive and loving environments in which to learn the basics of language and social interaction. Informal games and activities with parents, family and caregivers help children understand how the world works and prepares them for kindergarten and beyond.
Research shows that children who have strong early childhood experiences, either in-home or out of home, arrive at kindergarten ready to learn. Children who are healthy and prepared when they enter kindergarten have better language, math, and social skills, are less likely to need special education, and are more likely to read at grade level by third grade. They also are more likely to enroll in and graduate college.
Through programs like First Things First and Head Start, Arizona is building a rich support system for parents who need help providing a healthy environment for their children and educational experiences for children whose parents think early exposure to the classroom will be advantageous. I am passionate about protecting funding for these programs, and will advocate for new funds should someone propose innovative expansions of these programs, or new initiatives that offer families with young children the support they need.
As society moves forward, computer programming is a skill that will need to be as ubiquitous as reading and addition. Great programmers of the future may be heralded in much the same way great authors are celebrated today. It is not a successful author’s mere ability to write that we respect, but rather the power of their thoughts. Though we don’t all write for a living, we all write. Programming will soon be the same way.
We need to expose our students to computer programming concepts beginning in kindergarten, just as we do with reading and math. While robust computer programming requires a strong understanding of English and strong math fundamentals, young students can be exposed to the basic ideas of data structures, syntax, logic, conditions, variables, etc., There are also visual programming languages that help students understand and use these concepts without the confines of syntactic perfection, proper spelling, etc.
By the time students graduate high school, they should have:
A robust library of personal computer code that they have written in a variety of programming languages
A history of making meaningful contributions to open source projects
A strong understanding of how to write new code or leverage open source code to tackle the problems they will encounter in the future.
Progress Driven Instruction
The social experience of education is very significant. For many students, socializing is as significant as studying, sometimes more so. We offer our students recess, field trips, electives, dances, student government, sports, clubs, and more to explore and improve these social ties.
Historically, our students have been grouped primarily by age in grades. At the end of the year students either move forward with their grade or are held back. Given the all-or-nothing stakes, parents and teachers rightly worry about how being held back will affect a child. How will their friendships change? How will their self-esteem be affected? Will they be wasting their time with some instruction they already understand?
I propose eliminating the process of being held back entirely. Students will progress through grades with their cohort regardless of their academic achievement.
Some subjects and student expectations are not built on foundational material. A student who fails or misses a unit on the Civil War can still perform well on a unit about the Great Depression. A student who struggles with the water cycle may still do well with astronomy or cellular biology. Subjects in which each unit does not require mastery of the prior unit, such as science, social studies, and most electives, will continue to be taught according to grade level.
However, English and math generally require mastery of one unit before a student can move on to the next and expect to be successful. Today, teachers in these subjects routinely have classrooms in which student ability ranges from 2 years below grade level to a year or 2 above grade level. While these teachers do an admirable job trying to provide customized instruction to each student, the situation itself is inefficient.
Instead, math and English teachers should be organized around teaching competencies, rather than being organized by grade. When a student completes one competency, they can move on to another competency in the same tree. This may involve changing classrooms, and may have them working with students above or below their grade level.
This program will allow schools to deploy their limited resources in the best way possible, and will allow teachers to specialize in students of a particular ability, rather than students of a particular age. In the short term, schools can plan and deploy their resources using their data, state curriculum expectations, and a manual planning process that is revisited on a monthly basis. Additionally, the state can quickly develop software to help schools decide how to best allocate their teachers and students to ensure the student body achieves the highest increase in competency during the school year.
The laws governing education in Arizona are lengthy. Many of them are well-meaning, but ultimately misguided. Additionally, many education laws require the Arizona Department of Education to provide additional rules and regulations that bind teachers and administrators to work within certain limitations that, again, are well-meaning but ultimately ineffective or counterproductive.
Teachers are passionate about teaching. While paperwork and bureaucracy are a necessary reality of teaching, it is possible that these considerations can end up taking up more time and effort than they are worth, just as government regulation and reporting can be overly burdensome on private sector businesses. For Arizona teachers in 2017, this is not only a theoretical possibility, it is a grinding reality that demotivates and lowers their effectiveness every day.
As Governor, I will work with the legislature and the department of education to eliminate unnecessary regulations and requirements on teachers. Our shared goal will be to empower teachers and administrators to solve the challenges they and their students face with innovative, custom solutions that cannot possibly be anticipated or mandated by distant state rule makers.
It is a mistake to say that college is the new high school. Assuming that all young people should expect to stay in school until the age of 22 before they become productive members of society is not helpful. Rather, we should focus on getting young people marketable skills earlier in their education.
Many high-demand skills, such as computer programming, can be learned without the benefit of college courses. Vocational schools are also a viable path for making the most of one’s talents and finding gainful employment.
As Governor, I will encourage Arizona employers to eliminate language on their applications that requests or requires college education without a specific reason for doing so. Employers will be benefitted by evaluating employees based on their talents and capabilities, and college education is not necessarily a great proxy for these attributes.
However, certain careers in medicine, engineering, law, and other professions do require significant formal study beyond the high school years. Additionally, students who do not want to pursue these professions, but desire the social and developmental benefits of a traditional liberal arts education should be empowered to do so.
Unfortunately, in the last couple decades, our universities have exhibited an unacceptable paradox. On the one hand, the cost of information is falling rapidly because of the internet and other technological advances. Furthermore, our university enrollments are higher than ever, which should result in economies of scale. However, the cost of a university education has been steadily rising. In fact, it has doubled since I received my bachelor’s degree in 2003. This rapid increase in price cannot be explained by inflation or any similar phenomena.
For this reason, I will be pushing to significantly lower tuition and fees for in-state students, and I expect we can be successful. Students who do not get help from their parents or qualify for federal aid should be able to pay for tuition, fees, books, and frugal living expenses on a part-time, minimum wage job. In 2018, that means that all of these expenses should cost no more than $10,000 per year.
To support our vision that young adults should not have to think of a college degree as an essential requirement to confidently enter the workforce, we should strengthen the appeal of a competing path: attending trade school. Trade school certificates can frequently be obtained in 6 months to 1 year. Median pay in plumbing, air conditioning, and many medical fields is substantially above median pay across all industries, including some industries that require a college degree.
Additionally, our economic growth as a state is being held back because the skilled labor force is not as large as the demand for skilled labor. To meet the demand, I propose starting state-sponsored trade schools, just as we have state-sponsored universities. In times of skilled labor shortage, tuition payments for trade school can be postponed while a student is making satisfactory progress in their studies. After graduation, students who stay in Arizona and work in their trade for 5 years can have their tuition forgiven completely.
Many in our society have lost track of an important fundamental truth. Teachers are not responsible for student achievement. Rather, they are a key ally in helping parents unlock their child’s potential. Ultimate responsibility for a child’s success must be placed with the parents.
Most parents are positive participants in their child’s education. They are grateful for the role of a passionate, capable teacher in their child’s life. However, there are some parents who approach their child’s education with a sense of entitlement. These parents fight to give their child an unfair share of resources. They can drag down the learning experience of an entire classroom by justifying and defending their child’s shortcomings rather than helping their teacher overcome their child’s challenges.
Many administrators have been given the impression that it is their duty to calm these parents by granting their irrational demands. Many teachers feel exasperated that they are powerless to resolve issues with one or a few children that negatively affect their whole class. I will make sure that this destructive pattern is reversed. I will stand beside teachers and administrators who speak up for the majority of their students by rejecting the nonsensical demands of misguided parents.
There are many parents who confront the opposite challenge. They want to be more involved in their child’s education, but they have to work long hours. They arrive home tired and have too many domestic responsibilities to really help with homework and check their child’s understanding. They can’t afford to escape from work for a few hours to volunteer in their child’s classroom or at school events.
Though it is not directly an educational policy, my commitment to raise median income will benefit the children of these families. Higher wages will mean these parents can come home a little earlier. They’ll be able to tap into the PTO, attend parent-teacher conferences, read to their children, and help them with their homework. These newly empowered parents will be the key to increasing student achievement throughout our state.
Arizona students, parents, teachers, and administrators deserve better than we’ve been giving them.
Many of the changes I’ve proposed do not require additional revenue. I am incredibly confident that we can achieve these changes with nonpartisan cooperation.
I expect that some ideologues will resist my proposals which do require increased revenue. However, this resistance will be short lived. Having traveled across this state, held virtual town halls, and received communications from constituents from every district, I am confident that the voters want these reforms. They will make sure their legislators hear them, and they will overpower the dark money and special interests that are only concerned with lowering taxes for the rich and putting state education dollars in the hands of education moguls.
We will achieve these reforms. We will ensure our teachers feel valued and are proud to work in our state. We will make sure Arizona’s education system will no longer be the laughing stock of the nation. We will attract new businesses because of our educated workforce. And we will fulfill our sacred obligation to provide every generation with better opportunities than the last.
We need to keep up the momentum. We need to to make sure more teachers and parents hear about my awesome education plan every day. There are 2 things you can do to make sure that happens: