Call him “The Incremental Governor.”
Faced with a big public problem, Doug Ducey prefers a private sector solution.
--If prescription opioid abuse is on the rise, crack down on overprescribing by private physicians rather than implement big, new public programs to intervene in addictive behaviors and address the reasons behind them, as some states are now trying.
--And in public education funding, for which Arizona is justifiably scorned, defend subsidies to less-costly private schools and meeting legally required inflation payments as “All we can afford” rather than acknowledge that a dogmatic “No new taxes” pledge and continuing tax cuts have made any big-picture solutions impossible.
It’s enough to make you wonder why someone hasn’t mounted a campaign to draft ASU President Michael Crow to run for governor. The reason Crow has bootstrapped ASU into one of the world’s top universities even as state subsidies per student have tanked is his ability to build public-private funding partnerships around new and innovative concepts of what an institution of higher learning should be in the 21st century.
For now, absent that kind of dynamic leadership, public education advocates are going around the governor with a ballot proposal to increase the Prop. 301 sales tax for schools by at least $400 million a year – some want an extra $1 billion. To put that in context, Arizona now distributes about $6 billion a year in state and federal funds to its public schools, plus local property tax overrides. So a funding increase of up to 15 percent would at least help get teacher salaries up near the national median instead of wallowing near the bottom.
Instead, in keeping with his “no new taxes” mantra, Ducey has remained mum on a Prop. 301 increase as he prepares to run for reelection while continuing to back the expansion of private school vouchers. A group of corporate political supporters – all benefiting from tax cuts -- has begun a media campaign on his behalf touting increases in student performance that are still well below national averages and higher state school spending that is still $900per pupil lower than before the recession.
We don’t doubt the governor and his supporters want to improve public schools in Arizona. But incrementalism, especially in the face of tax cuts that so far have resulted in a net loss of $300 million to the state treasury, is not adequate to the size of the task. Like Michael Crow, Ducey needs to lay out a public education vision that is not only world-class but puts most every available tool on the table. That could mean, for example, not only targeted tax hikes but also holding teachers and principals more accountable to student performance and incentivizing businesses to do more in vocational education. And while we’re at it, let’s untangle the knotty school funding formula and do substantive tax reform around services and robotic manufacturing.
Thinking small isn’t acceptable when public opinion surveys show Arizonans want to think much bigger about their schools. And if Ducey doesn’t believe it can be done, just ask Michael Crow.