This time last year, Arizona was seeing red. The grassroots movement #RedForEd was front and center at the Capitol after tens of thousands of educators staged a walkout at schools that lasted several days. In the end, lawmakers approved pay raises amounted to 20 percent over three years that includes a 5 percent raise in this year's budget. Jason Freed, president of the Tucson Education Association, gave Lorraine Rivera an update on how the movement is continuing to advocate for more funding for public schools.
"#RedForEd will continue, continue to lobby at the state Legislature, continue to lobby our community," Freed said.
This week, teachers and supporters of #RedForEd rallied in downtown Tucson for more funding. Arizona 360 heard from educators about ongoing challenges they face in their schools.
Education may not be as dominant at the Arizona Capitol this year compared to 2018's historic #RedForEd demonstrations, but it is on the minds of politicians and lawmakers. Yellow Sheet Report editor Hank Stephenson explained how the Legislature is handling funding for education this time around.
"There's a lot of money to go around, but there's a lot of money that's been tied up. You know 10 percent raises, 5 percent raises, they want some money for school counselors, they want money for universities, they want money for other state employees. So really, in order to solve the education funding crisis, it's going to take a new revenue stream," Stephenson said. "None of them are going to come through the Legislature. It will have to be a citizen's initiative on the 2020 ballot."
Stephenson also discussed obstacles facing Gov. Doug Ducey's proposal to improve school safety, the possibility policymakers will look toward tax increases to increase funding for schools and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman's first 100 days in office.
Funding for more counselors is an issue at the forefront of discussions about how to improve K-12 schools in Arizona. Lia Falco is a former school counselor and professor of counseling education at the University of Arizona. She discussed the role counselors can play in a student's development.
"They're certified educators with a background in mental health. All school counselors have to have a master's degree in the state of Arizona to become certified. They really are well-positioned in the schools to be able to provide comprehensive, preventive and responsive support services for students," Falco said.
According to Falco, the latest data ranks Arizona last in the nation for the counselor-to-student ratio, with one counselor for every 900 students on average.
Early fundraising totals are out for candidates in what will be one of the most closely watched races in 2020. Democrat Mark Kelly and Republican Martha McSally were the only U.S. Senate candidates in Arizona to report donations to the Federal Election Commission website. In the first quarter of 2019, Kelly raised more than $4 million. Sen. McSally raised more than $2 million. Christopher Conover joined Lorraine Rivera in studio to discuss what the numbers indicate about national interest in the race so far.
Candidates running for state office have access to public funds from the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission. Those dollars come from a variety of sources to include court fees and funds that candidates raise from individuals, and not committees. Commissioner Mark Kimble discussed issues that have the board's attention ahead of next year's elections, like the prevalence of so-called dark money in Arizona.
"The Arizona Legislature has put up some roadblocks to protect some information on the sources of dark money. So that is something that I think is frustrating. I think the people ought to know where all the money that goes into campaigns, whether it's for candidates or issues, comes from," Kimble said. "I think it has given candidates a choice. You can go out and raise a lot of money from private donors, or you can raise a small amount of money to show that you're a viable candidate and then have your campaign funded by money from Clean Elections."
Aside from dark money, the commission is also concerned about the effects of Proposition 306. Voters approved the measure last November. It prohibits candidates from transferring public funds to political parties or groups. It also puts the commission's rulemaking under the authority of a council appointed by the governor. Because the commission was created by voters to function independently from the Legislature or governor, Kimble said the court will have to "iron out" whether the board can fall under the purview of the governor's office.