Clyde Steele

Governor Ducey’s new budget again shortchanges both students and teachers.  A report from Capitol Media Services on the 13th of this month, reported that Governor Ducey is offering the average Arizona teacher a $900 a year raise by 2022. Who says there isn’t money in teaching?  If this isn’t depressing enough the article goes on to report that The National Education Association puts Arizona’s average salary at $45,477 a year, the lowest in the nation.  

But help is on the way.  The budget calls for providing  $10 million this coming year to use in schools in the poorest neighborhoods for full-day kindergarten. But then went on to report that at one time Arizona had $240 million for such programs.  But of course the devil is always in the details.  The detail being in order for Governor Janet Napolitano to get all day kindergarten she had to agree to cuts in the state income tax. Of course when the financial meltdown occured, there went all day kindergarten.  

But of course the tax cuts stayed because they were needed for all the job creators.  For our Universities it’s even worse.  There is nothing in the plan to restore some of the state aid cut during the recession, including $99 million taken directly from the schools in Governor Ducey’s first term. But there is a one-time windfall of $15 million that can be used for priorities.  For the U of A they get a staggering $4.2 million. So let’s take a look at the reduced funding for our universities of higher learning and see if perhaps there may be more to this than meets the eye.  

In the Arizona Daily Star and Arizona Capitol Times it was reported in April of last year that someone inserted $5 million into the budget for universities for “economic freedom schools”. It’s strange how our legislature refused to properly fund Arizona universities, but they could come up with $5 million for “economic freedom schools”.  Arizona’s universities have endured the deepest cuts in the nation since the Great Recession, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Last year alone, the Legislature and Gov. Ducey cut $99 million from universities, and 13 percent cut in state funding. This, on top of $400 million in previous recession-era cuts. But somehow (nobody is saying) the legislature managed to come up with $5 million for “economic freedom schools”.  

The report goes on to say that former Senate President Andy Biggs and House Speaker David Gowan inserted the $5 million both at the time congressional candidates seeking favor with big donors to conservative causes. All this while State support for universities has dropped from $1.1 billion in 2008 to $550 million this year. From $9,439 per student in 2008 to $4,196 per student this year. So the question is what exactly are “economic freedom schools”?  Simply they are the invention of the Koch Foundation (Koch Brothers). 

Arizona’s new education budget gives $2 million to the University of Arizona’s Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, to which the Koch Foundation originally gave ($1 million to fund it in 2011). Arizona State will get $3 million to establish a new school by combining the existing Center for Political Thought and Leadership, to which the Koch Foundation gave ($1 million to help originally fund). What does this all mean, when cutting state funding for all education, but somehow coming up with $5 million to fund a political ideology?  In a story by Capitol Media Services on Jan. 13 this year an Arizona lawmaker (Rep Thorpe) proposed more ethnic-studies limits. But why is it ok to spend $5 million dollars for Economic Freedom and Political Thought but not “ethnic studies”? According to Rep. Thorpe it’s because he feels that students are being taught hatred at the public expense. But doesn’t the fact that teaching a political form of “economic ideology” constitutes one form of bias over another?  Shouldn’t schools of higher learning teach both sides of the issue?  So what makes (Koch Brothers) have so much influence over what is being taught in Arizona and in other states as well?

From the Wall Street Journal March 26, 2015 reporting on the basic conceit of UnKochMyCampus, “a campaign uniting students at universities around the country who are working to increase transparency on their campuses and fight attempts by corporate donors like Charles and David Koch from influencing their education. That money comes with strings attached that gives corporations more and more influence over education and research at both public and private universities around the country”.  As students at Florida State University and Clemson University discovered in 2011, grant agreements between universities and the Koch Foundation often gives them influence over the hiring of professors and development of course curriculum. In other words, on top of reshaping studies to further their bottom line, the Kochs are also trying to reshape public education to match their libertarian ideology. The Foundation has pledged $1.5 million for positions in Florida State University’s economics department. In return, their representatives get to screen and sign off on any newly hired for the program’s “political freedom enterprise.” 

This story has many parts (as I have discovered over a period of two years) But the bottom line is this, why is it that our Governor and Legislature can’t find the money to properly fund education, but can find the money for a certain ideology?  I wonder what would happen if someone were to give money to our high schools to fund ethnic studies, and then insist that only they get to pick the teachers and curriculum?  


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