Updated as of Sunday, July 29, 2018 12:12 PM
Everyone at the Legislative District 1 candidate forum July 25 agreed on one thing: Schools need more money. Where the dollars come from and how they get to public, charter and private schools, is another matter.
The forum, held at Prescott High School’s Ruth Street Theatre, attracted about 275 educators and members of the community, and was sponsored by four entities: Yavapai County Education Service Agency, Prescott Education Advocacy Council, Arizona Interfaith Network, and Prescott Unified School District Education Foundation.
All seven candidates answered four questions with which they were provided ahead of time. Running for Arizona Senate are incumbent Karen Fann (R) and challenger Jo Craycraft (D). Running for Arizona House were incumbents Noel Campbell (R) and David Stringer (R) and challengers Ed Gogek (D), Jan Manolios (D), and Jodi Rooney (R).
Karen Hughes, principal of Lincoln Elementary School, Prescott, reminded the candidates about acceptable behavior: no campaigning, no mudslinging, and pointed out the timekeepers. She cautioned the audience that there would be no booing and no applauding.
Following testimonials from several teachers and former teachers, Lisa Hosking and Frank Davidson presented a PowerPoint on the Arizona budget, Prop 123, per pupil spending, oversight of charter schools, Prop 305, and the Invest in Education Act.
All candidates agreed that they would work to create a secure funding source for public education. Most agreed to support ending further tax cuts, especially for corporations, at least for now, although Fann said not all tax cuts are bad.
With regard to accountability and transparency in all schools, Fann said those already exist and she would like to see stricter compliance surrounding finances with the charter schools and how funds are allocated in public schools.
“My view is the charters have the ultimate accountability to the parents,” Stringer said. “Those that don’t do a good job go out of business.”
Campbell said he judges schools “by the product they produce.” He wants to see all schools’ websites list graduation rates and how many students go on to higher education or the military. He gave examples of BASIS, Tri-City Prep and AAEC (Arizona Agribusiness Equine Center) rates, and said he didn’t see the same stellar numbers in public schools.
Craycraft, Gogek, Manolis and Rooney all spoke to the complete lack of transparency and inequality in reporting requirements for charter schools. “Public schools are open to scrutiny. Charters must be the same and also undergo state-run audits and Auditor General reports,” Craycraft said. “Lack of accountability contributed to the 43 percent failure rate of charter schools.”
INVEST IN ED ACT
This gives Arizona voters a funding source for education by increasing state income taxes for individuals making $250,000 or more, or households earning $500,000 or more.
“I have a problem when one group of people raise taxes on another group,” Gogek said. He does support Invest in Ed, but said it won’t produce enough money.
Manolis supports the new tax because legislators won’t be able to take it away in an economic downturn. Craycraft, too, supports the tax “because students and teachers need the funds now.”
Rooney will not support it, saying the burden should be spread to everyone. “I believe in balance and this is not one I can support.” Stringer said he is troubled by the tax on “people of means,” and said he will be actively campaigning in opposition.
Campbell also opposes the tax, calling it “class warfare.” Fann said it is a flawed, badly written bill. Dentists, doctors, small business owners who file their personal with their business taxes will pay double the current tax rate; she won’t support it.
This proposition will expand the Education Savings Accounts (ESA) which gives money to families who homeschool or send their children to private schools. By 2022, all K-12 students would be eligible to apply for ESA subsidies.
Rooney and Manolis both oppose Prop 305. Craycraft, drawing laughter once again with her enthusiastic “This is my favorite question,” said she is against using public funds going to private schools, as she believes in separation of church and state. The current law on ESA is unconscionable, unjust and unreasonable, she said.
Gogek called ESAs a direct assault on public schools. With adequate funding, public schools would be so good children wouldn’t need charter or private schools, he added.
Campbell, Stringer and Fann support expanding ESAs. Stringer said he backs the expansion as it is cheaper than public school. Also, charter schools don’t oppose Prop 305.
“We have amazing public schools,” Fann said, listing Prescott, Humboldt and Chino Valley districts. “That’s not the case in other districts.”
Rooney said she is grateful for the diversity found in public and charter schools, and said, “We have more work to do.”
Stringer said he is happy to meet with constituents, and that people can’t measure success in education with how much is spent. “There is simply no correlation between spending and student outcomes.”
Campbell encouraged teachers and educational organizations to call him any time. He said, “There are show horses and work horses. I hope you’ll send this old work horse back.” Fann reminded everyone that “politics is a nasty business. We have to make sure we work together.”
Craycraft said she is listening to educators and “bringing government back to serve the people.” Gogek wants legislators to stop diverting money and to fund public schools.
Manolis said human capital is essential to human productivity. “Education is our lifeblood.”
Following the forum, Emma Gifford, PUSD teacher, said she appreciated hearing directly from the candidates. She may look at issues and candidates differently, but she didn’t hear anything that changed her opinions. She liked that the crowd was respectful to all candidates.
Molly Littrell, who also teaches in PUSD, said she thought the questions were good, but there were no surprises in terms of candidates’ responses, which she felt were partisan responses. She was unhappy with current representatives, saying she thought they were out of touch with the realities of public education and taxpayer accountability.
Editor's Note - this article has been updated to reflect the seat (House) that Jan Manolios (D) is seeking.