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Rogue Columnist

School's out completely

  • Doug Ducey speaking at the Arizona Republican Party 2014 election victory party at the Hyatt Regency in Phoenix.
    Gage Skidmore/FlickrDoug Ducey speaking at the Arizona Republican Party 2014 election victory party at the Hyatt Regency in Phoenix.

Whatever the final numbers, the outlook for education in Arizona is grim. Blame the Kookocracy. Blame the governor, wealthy Republican Douglas A. Roscoe Jr. aka "Doug Ducey." Or credit them. A majority of Arizonans voted them in.

Education Week's respected Quality Counts report ranks Arizona 47th overall. The state has been down in the basement with Mississippi in per-pupil funding for years. By no measure has funding kept up with student population or dealt with inequalities among districts.

Similarly, higher education has received ever-decreasing portions of the state general fund. The slash-and-burn cuts that are imposed every few years are never restored.

The new regime intends to double down: at least $104 million in cuts to universities, elimination of all state support for the largest community college districts, and, despite a claim of increasing K-12 funding, a serious reduction there because the promises aren't in real dollars. Including inflation, the actual spending on K-12 will be a 13.5 percent reduction from 2005-2006.

Now, my mother said, "If you can't say something nice about a person, become a newspaper columnist." In that spirit, I can't even credit the Kooks with originality. They are merely playing out a national strategy being enacted in every state capitol where Republicans hold sway.

Even so, Arizona has suffered so many decades of such vandalism, the consequences will be more severe. Real lives will be affected, opportunities to escape poverty and climb the ladder of opportunity smothered. The damage won't stop there.

We live in a knowledge economy. States with higher investment in K-12 and higher education tend to have better economies, higher incomes, and are more competitive against global rivals. A good education is essential to making citizens, not mere worker bees. You know all this.

What do the Kooks think? Do they think they think?

Apparently the reasoning is that the budget can only be balanced by budget reductions. Times are hard. "We have a budget that reflects the values of Arizonans," Gov. Roscoe said.

Perhaps he's right, these are the values of the majority of old, Anglos who take the time to vote. Many of them "paid for schools back home" and don't want to do so again in their Arizona golden years. Others are dogmatically against anything done in the public interest, quite a stance in a state whose very existence has come from massive government spending.

As to the rest, the foundation of the Kooks and their puppetmasters at ALEC and other right-wing outfits is tax cuts. Taxes must always be cut. Every problem is addressed by tax cuts. Like the AFLAC duck they repeat it, tax cuts!, and enact them again and again.

The result is always disastrous, either quickly or creeping. There's no free lunch. Thus, Arizona has a half-billion structural deficit because of tax cuts. Plus it is decades behind in catching up with basic infrastructure, the costs exacerbated by rapid population growth, much less investing to compete at a quality level.

But admitting this and aligning revenue with needs is blasphemy. So the tax cuts feed the budget cuts, the lack of investment perpetuates a low-grade extraction economy, the Kooks keep getting re-elected. Things are getting a bit more desperate because the old growth machine (with championship golf!) isn't coming back. This should cause a rethinking of "the plan." But no, of course not. The feedback loop keeps working, after its fashion.

It's a little bit of pathos and a little bit of bathos to see one-time fixers lobbying to save the schools — except the local companies and stewards they once served, and whose word carried weight at the capitol, mostly no longer exist. It's bracing to see Michael Crow tell it like it is. And the protests are nice — but you need thousands, not hundreds. And even that didn't deter Scott Walker in Wisconsin, backed by a similarly whackadoodle legislature.

Only elections will change things.

Meanwhile, Arizona will get more of the radical agenda. At least give the Kooks credit for their convictions.

Postscript: After the weekend wrecking was done, Slate had this headline: "Republicans Are Gutting Arizona's Public Colleges to Save Some Corporate Tax Cuts." Great international publicity.

And it's not as if the state is giving breaks to retain Boeing and one of the world's two most important aerospace clusters, as in Washington. These are merely reductions for the state's existing low-wage corporatocracy.

No wonder a data center or two are being trumpeted as huge economic-development victories. They end up employing 100-150 people. These are the crumbs of Silicon Valley, Boston, Seattle, and Austin, usually dumped in the rural South.

Jon Talton is a fourth-generation Arizonan who runs the blog Rogue Columnist. He is a former op-ed and business columnist of the Arizona Republic, and retired as the economics columnist of the Seattle Times in 2019. Talton is also the author of 12 novels, including the David Mapstone Mysteries, which are set in Arizona.

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