The Farley Report from Phoenix #230: 9-14-15

Education is still at the top of my mind as we watch our kids make their way through yet another underfunded year. There’s lots to talk about on that front so let’s get going…

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—> Last Friday, I was honored to be invited to speak for four hours to 160 students in four groups at Lauffer Middle School in Littletown in the Sunnyside district. Like many of our excellent public schools, they focus on sending all their students on a path toward higher education. I shared with them my life story and how college played its part in my successes, and I answered scores of terrific questions from these brilliant kids on every topic under the sun. 

This is our future, and it couldn't be brighter. But we must not let these energetic students down; we must boost our education investment at all levels NOW. These kids deserve so much more than last-in-the-country funding levels. Invest in them and they will save us from the messes our generation has created.

One of the tips I shared with them was how to do better on the SAT and ACT tests they will be taking as they continue along the college journey. I told them it’s simple: Read. Everything, all the time, with a curious mind. You learn new words, new worlds, and new ways of thinking. 

I specifically suggested they read the New York Times at least every Sunday, which can give you unexpected and fascinating takes on everything from cryogenics to Snoop Dogg and everything else under the sun. This past Sunday, the Times magazine featured a number of articles on the state of higher education in the US, directly relevant to the future of the kids at Lauffer and beyond.   

One article, “A Matter of Degrees” by Adam Davidson of Planet Money, pointed out some interesting information about costs of college relative to other items over time. Median household income for the country in 1974 (which was about the same in AZ) was — in 2015 dollars — about $62,000, 20% higher than today. An average new car was about $21,300 in today’s dollars — about the same as today.

On the other hand, the average cost of attending a public university for one year in 1974 was around $2,500 in today’s dollars — it’s now quadruple that at UofA. Today’s $11,000 yearly tuition violates the Arizona Constitution’s requirement that our universities be “as nearly free as possible” and puts college out of reach for a whole lot of students

The increases in tuition have been directly caused by the reduction in funding from the legislative majority. Over the last five years, we have cut state funding to our universities by more than $2.5 billion.  

Why is this happening? The Times journalist posits, “Republican governors with national political aspirations have found that “taking on” public education can enhance their popularity with primary voters.” Sound familiar?

The thing is, these political decisions are devastating our children’s ability to provide for themselves individually and for us as a whole as competition increases from around the world. In the 1970s, when college was affordable to many more Americans, we led the world in college attainment. Today we are 14th. 

One particular problem is how this affects those on the bottom of the economic ladder and our future workforce. As Mr Davidson puts it, “Without greater access to higher education, the United States is likely to have even greater income inequality, a huge segment of the population will see its income fall, and some of our core assumptions about national identity — ours as a land of opportunity, a prosperous democracy — will be at risk. 

He points out that economists have shown “every $100 invested in schools brings in another $15 in income for every year of a person’s working life. This expands the state’s economy and generates enough tax income to more than pay back the original outlay on education. Someone who graduates from a four-year institution earns about $1 million in additional future earnings.”

And — exposing the backwardness of Gov. Ducey’s zeroing out of support to community colleges in Pima and Maricopa counties — even a community-college degree confers similar benefits to the economy. “Those with associate degrees would earn so much more over their lifetimes that they would pay an additional $165,000 in taxes, while saving the state more than $40,000 in criminal justice, health, and public-assistance costs.”

—> Why has this Governor and his predecessor presided over a regime of massive cuts to public education at all levels? In order to pay for massive tax giveaways to large corporations in the hopes of gaining jobs. But this strategy has appeared to backfire. 

You may recall that I shared with you in last month’s Farley Report that Eric Toll, the Phoenix Business Journal reporter, interviewed two site selection consultants from businesses who decided against bringing 3,000 jobs to Arizona because of concerns about lack of funding for our schools and a workforce that may not be adequately trained by those schools. Here are the key quotes from another article published more recently:

“Another site selection consultant, Didi Caldwell, co-founder and senior principal in Global Strategies, is an industrial specialist. She has to balance both the infrastructure with the talent.

She said in looking at talent for industrial users, community college and technical training program depth and capability is an important part of her diligence. She was aware that the 2016 state budget cut funding for community college and technical training programs.

Site selectors say it is talent and locations, not necessarily tax breaks and incentives that help land a business.

“ ’Tax incentives are great when we have to get to the bottom line," Caldwell said. "It’s not going to be the reason we consider a site.’

“Gregg Wassmandorf, a site selection consultant from Canada, had a slightly different view. ‘Incentives will not make a bad location good," he said. "You’ve got to have an educated workforce.’ ”

—> Apparently — despite the overwhelming evidence of the disastrous effects the cut-schools-and-cut-corporate-taxes strategy is having on Arizona — the state’s current crop of leaders are racing full speed ahead on this highway to hell. 

On August 25, the judge in the K-12 inflation funding case announced in open court that the negotiations between our public schools and President Biggs and Speaker David Gowan were at an impasse. For eight months, Biggs and Gowan have refused to give our schools the voter-approved money the legislative majority stole from them over the past five years, despite a court order to do so, and despite the more than $750 million in our current surplus. Now, the plaintiffs will be asking not just for $332 million for the most recent year, but also $1.3 billion in back pay stolen from our schools over that time -- money the plaintiffs had in the settlement talks offered to forego. I'm not sure how refusing to take that offer is fiscally conservative.

Immediately upon the judge's announcement, Biggs and Gowan issued a joint press release declaring their own "plan" to fund schools with no details and no reference to the money they already owe our schools. It is not a plan at all, but rather a cynical attempt to distract attention from the fact that they have been fighting tooth and nail to starve our schools from funding for their entire political careers.

Even now, weeks later, there are still no details on their plan. There have been persistent rumors of a special session sometime soon, but that session — if it happens — would only deal with Gov. Ducey’s suspect plan to raid the education trust fund for a short-term gain producing a long-term loss to our K-12 schools.  I believe that the first order of business is to settle this suit and pay our schools what we owe them NOW. Then we can talk about other sources of funding to get us up from 50th in the country in state support. 

It's up to the judge whether to hold the current Senate President and House Speaker in contempt of court, but the judicial process will take too long to save our kids' futures. Let's hold them in contempt of electorate and boot them out of the majority next November.

—> Finally, some hopeful news. After nearly five years, the final draft of the ADOT Tucson to Phoenix Passenger Rail Study is available for public comment. Here are some topline findings for the Yellow line as the likely preferred option:

• By 2035, travel time of one hour and 23 minutes from end to end will beat I-10 drive time by a full hour, even at full build-out of I-10.

• The project will save around 40 lives and 650 injuries per year from reduced traffic congestion on I-10. 

• The project will save 566,914 vehicle miles per day and 17,522 vehicle travel hours per day from the highway alternative.

• Transit-oriented development and its benefits to the environment and economy will increase dramatically.

• Air pollution in the corridor will be reduced.

• More than 200,000 new permanent jobs will be created within three miles of the stations, along with thousands more from construction and operation.

• By 2035, 1,188,103 people will live within three miles of the stations.

• More than 3,000,000 gallons of gasoline will be saved per year.

• There will be 15 stations for local commuter service, along with express service that operates nonstop from Tucson to Phoenix.

The estimated capital costs are estimated to be $4.5 billion, and the annual operating and maintenance around $66 million, all or most of which can be paid for by private investors in partnership with the state. I am intending to shop around this project to very large investment funds and investor groups who are currently looking for large infrastructure projects around the world. Several have previously expressed interest to me in this project. Now that this study is almost done, we can get to work finding that funding!

Download your own from this page: http://www.azdot.gov/plan…/CurrentStudies/PassengerRail/deis

And come out to one of the public comment forums to voice your support for an alternative to the dangers and drudgery of driving on I-10 that can grow our economy for decades to come!

They will be held in three locations THIS WEEK:

• Sept. 15: 5:30 to 7 p.m. — Phoenix Public Library, Burton Barr (1st Floor Pulliam Auditorium); 1221 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 85004

• Sept. 16: 5:30 to 7 p.m. — Tucson Convention Center (Leo Rich Theater); 260 S. Church Ave., Tucson, 85701 

• Sept. 17: 5:30 to 7 p.m. — Central Arizona College, Signal Peak Campus (Room M101); 8470 N. Overfield Road, Coolidge, 85128

I'll see you at the Tucson session. 

Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator. 

Steve

Steve Farley

Senator, District 9, Tucson

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