I had a meaningful Durant’s conversation with a trusted colleague this week about the coming Classrooms First effort to improve education finance laws in Arizona. Governor Ducey has inspired many such conversations since announcing his intention to address this issue. We each hold a firm commitment to do what it takes to start the larger conversation from a place of agreement.
So I say what I always say: “The “funnel” for school funding has spouted about 87 different spouts, too few of which are directed at classrooms and teaching salary. And not all of the spouts reach all of the students. We need to reform this or we will be pouring money into an inefficient system.”
And she says what she always says: “Sure.…” Aha! We agree. “BUT,” she continues, “None of that matters if there is nothing in any of the spouts.” Nothing. Nothing???
Me: ”Okay, yes. There is not enough money in the system. We officially have agreement number two.”
Her: “Well, then, you ‘guys’ go first.”
Me: “What ‘guys’? I don’t have ‘guys’.”
Her: “You represent the ‘nobody-needs-any-more-money guys’. Our ‘guys’ know you like to be called reformers but we think you just don’t want to spend any more money. So ‘you guys’ go first – put some money on the table. And be honest…you all have shorthand for us. I believe you have referred to us as the ‘we-only-want-more-money guys’.”
Totally unfair of her to notice that, as I was sure she never listened to me.
Although friendly in our case, this battle is personal. We oversimplify the beliefs of those who don’t agree with us, and we overstate the value of our own ideas. The battle over reform versus money has waged for years, and it wages this way in state after state. The formulas that fund our schools are undeniably broken, unequal, inattentive to quality, and ignore decades of progress in creating public school choices.
At the same time, our schools are undeniably starved for funding in too many parts of the state and nation. Plus, omni-present court battles over this make opponents of us all when we could be working together on solutions.
Where states make genuine progress on this, it is frankly because a strong governor lays out a broad vision, and enacts a strategy for bringing opposing sides together. He seeks to create trust.
Which is why I am so grateful for Governor Ducey’s proposal last week to substantially increase school funding, independent of all other reforms and disagreements currently being debated. The state land trust proposal is a serious plan that is not linked to anything other than a public willingness to support the law change needed to access the money.
The governor has been clear all along that he is a reform guy. And this past week he proved to be a money guy as well. That’s a critical trust move that should make it much easier for all sides to take the next essential steps and work towards agreement.