The Farley Report from Phoenix #229: 8-14-15

School is back in session, so I have a few assignments for you in this month’s Farley Report alongside the latest news from the Capitol. Don’t worry, I won’t be grading you. But first…


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—> Before we get to education, let’s do like Governor Ducey and the legislative majority do, and put private prisons first. 

You may recall that I wrote in the last Farley Report about the 4th-of-July prisoner riots at the “Management and Training Corporation” (MTC) private prison in Kingman, the same place where a prisoner was beaten to death earlier this year and three inmates escaped in 2010 and went on to murder a retired couple in New Mexico.  

I and my Senate Democratic Leadership colleagues wrote a response to these events in an editorial published in the Arizona Republic, calling for an indefinite suspension  of any RFPs for the new private prisons called for in the adopted majority budget.  

Yesterday, I watched a new movie based on the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment. It is absolutely chilling, claustrophobic, and unmissable. 

In a nutshell, college students are recruited for an experiment in which they are divided randomly into guards and prisoners after which they are confined to a basement hallway of classrooms for two weeks and told to play their roles — with no training or guidance. The guards are just instructed to maintain control using all available authority. 

They are also told not to touch the prisoners, but that border gets crossed quickly. In fact the guards, without training, almost immediately slide into patterns of abuse and humiliation and sadism which get progressively worse as time goes on, and the prisoners are pushed to explode. 

It appears that the same dynamics are what caused the Kingman private prison riots. Even conservative Sheriff Paul Babeu has now reached that conclusion based on his interviews with prisoners moved from the MTC Kingman facility to his jail. The underpaid, poorly trained guards repeatedly abused and bullied their charges and in Babeu’s words, “they were mistreated en masse.” 

If a private entity called Management and Training Corporation can’t manage or train their employees, and the Arizona Department of Corrections can’t correct MTC’s problems, it’s time to end our Arizona Private Prison Experiment now.

—> And if we stop wasting our money on dangerous private prisons to incarcerate Arizonans, that will give us more money to invest in public schools to educate Arizonans. 

The need grows every day for restoring education cuts and upping our investment to a much higher level. Is the Governor paying attention? It appears not. Yesterday, Gov. Ducey expressed to reporter Howie Fischer that he intends to push for even more tax cuts next session, rather than more education funding. 

Gov. Ducey and the legislative majority constantly repeat the mantra that low business taxes will create thousands of good jobs. The truth is that the quality of our education system and training of our workforce are much more important to businesses looking to relocate or expand here than the tax climate. 

The Phoenix Business Journal, a pretty conservative news source, just published an unsurprising but still shocking story on how the Arizona elected majority's focus on tax cuts is chasing away jobs and destroying our kids' chances at a decent future. Their reporter, Eric Toll, interviewed two business-relocation decisionmakers who decided to move their 3,000 jobs elsewhere instead of coming to Arizona.  

They asked to remain anonymous to avoid embarrassing anyone. But their quotes should cause shame in all those who believe that low business taxes are more important than good schools and a trained workforce.

“My key managers didn’t want to relocate to Arizona despite the golf and the weather," said one decision-maker. "They were afraid they would not find good schools for their own children. They also felt that the state’s reputation for poor education would affect the ability to recruit talent from outside.”

THIS MUST CHANGE. NOW. Every year that goes by, we lose another grade level of kids. We must work for a different majority in November 2016 for their sake and ours.

—> Ducey’s solution to the education funding crisis is not to settle the K-12 inflation lawsuit in which a court has ordered that we pay back at least $332 million stolen from our schools, nor to restore JTED or community college or university funding using the more than $772 million in surplus now sitting in our state coffers as our kids start another schoolyear of deprivation.

He wants to ask voters two years from now to endanger the state’s education land trust funds to give a temporary boost to schools (parceled out by a formula he chooses) that would amount to less over ten years than Jan Brewer provided over three years with her sales tax. 

I shared with you last month that State Treasurer Jeff DeWit had the courage to stand against his fellow Republican’s plan, rightly saying that this is not new money, it is not enough money to solve schools’ problems, and it might put the future of the land trust at risk. 

What did he get in return? A brutal ongoing attack by Ducey and his dark-money allies, reminiscent of the campaign earlier this year against the superintendent of Mesa’s public schools after he had the temerity to say that he opposed the Governor’s education cuts in the budget. 

Laurie Roberts tells the story of part of the attack, an article (and an unflattering caricature of DeWit) placed on conservative website by an employee of Sean Noble, who heads the dark money group American Encore that invested $1.5 million in the Governor’s election campaign last cycle.  

Plus, the Governor’s staff decided to helpfully arrange a series of propaganda posters for the plan around the entrance to Treasurer DeWit’s office, while giving anonymous interviews suggesting that DeWit was driven by jealousy and sour grapes. What’s a little character assassination among friends? 

As the Treasurer pointed out in response, the Governor should not be resorting to middle-school-bully tactics over a policy disagreement. If his plan is so good, he should defend it on its merits, not send henchmen to go after the guy who disagrees. 

—> Finally tonight, I want to give you an assignment to listen to a podcast of the fine radio show This American Life. It often goes after difficult topics and pulls no punches. This episode in particular is so important right now as we seem to be struggling across the country with issues of race, poverty, and education.  

New York Times reporter tells the history of desegregation in the US and story of an accidental experiment in desegregation happening now between two public school districts in St Louis. The urban one is 95% African American and includes the high school from which Ferguson resident Michael Brown graduated, and the suburban one is 95% Anglo. 

The reporting is honest and unflinching and demands that we pay attention. Especially here in Arizona where the Arizona Tax Research Association (ATRA) is still working overtime to eliminate court-ordered desegregation funding for our impoverished districts. Especially here in Arizona where figures like Joe Arpaio, Russell Pearce, and their followers continue to try to whip up fear and hatred toward Latino immigrants. 

The podcast drove me to research the effects of segregation and poverty in Tucson-area schools, and I found that the links among poverty, ethnicity, and achievement are hard to tease apart. I am still working on getting good data in that regard which I will share with you at a future time. 

It’s clear from what I have seen so far that the schools with the fewest anglos also have the most poverty and the lowest graduation rates. This is something that none of us should tolerate. I refuse to, and I am working on solutions. 

—> I’ll end with a hopeful note from an unexpected place. You may have seen that the aggregate results of the new AZMerit tests have been released and the results are unsurprisingly not good. Around two-thirds of students fail to meet the performance standards being tested. 

 (If you are a parent like me interested in seeing how your student did, we will have to wait until October.)

Much of the media blame these poor results on the lack of state investment in our education system, and that certainly is a huge part of the problem. But another part of the problem is the test itself. 

In talking with my daughter’s friends at Tucson High — good math students all — they told me that the test made them “feel dumb”. There were concepts they were not taught, and the format was foreign to them, including multiple choice sections in which they were expected to choose two or three correct answers. 

This is where the hope comes in.

We have heard plenty of protests on the Common Core curriculum coming from the right, and the AZMerit assessment has been portrayed as part and parcel of Common Core, which some see as a federal conspiracy to take away our freedom.

But there are also plenty of protests from the education community and concerned parents and people in the middle and on the left about the costs and accuracy of the AZMerit assessment. 

Given the problems with AZMerit that will be revealed as time goes on, I see hope that the pitched battles we have fought over Common Core could be replaced by pitching in together to turn AZMerit into a fair, accurate, and rigorous assessment tool that works for everyone.

I have already had a couple of fruitful meetings with some anti-Common Core folks. Imagine — a consensus-based process to improve education for all our kids, leaving ideology outside the room. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…

Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator. 


Steve Farley

Senator, District 9, Tucson

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