Opinion: Brewer flip-flops stance on Medicaid like a pair of sandals

 
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COLUMN BY NICK KINTOP — 

Over the course of the past week, Gov. Jan Brewer has developed a liking for political 180s, leaving anyone short of a presidential candidate in late October either gasping with outrage or filled with quiet, professional admiration. This out-of-character behavior from the notoriously anti big-government Governor began early this past week in a surprising policy turn when she announced her support for increased Medicaid funding for Arizona under the auspices of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The governor’s new proposition took the form of a $9 billion spending plan for the Arizona educational system, which is a different approach to Medicaid spending.

Jan Brewer

Political cartoon by Brian Regan.

Brewer’s new education plan includes increased funding for Arizona universities and nearly $50 million to programs geared toward successfully integrating struggling youth into the public school system. This emphasis on child welfare is by itself a complete reversal from her 2011 educational policy, which saw her completely eliminate Arizona’s child welfare program, KidsCare.

The most sweeping changes found in this new proposal are its plans for the revamping of the functioning of the Arizona public school system. In addition to allocating $400 million toward secondary education, the new plan calls for a complete change in how the state assesses the success of public schools and, in turn, the funding they receive. While Brewer’s new plan has been hailed as revolutionary, some of its methods and policies disconcertingly echo the disastrous and damaging reforms of President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind program.

The problems in this new education proposal become apparent upon a cursory examination of how its policies would translate into practice. The plan calls for schools to be graded on a 200-point ABC system. The more points a school is awarded, the more funding it receives. One hundred points are awarded based on graduation rate improvement and students’ proficiency in Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards tests. This half of the plan is prone to the same recurring abuse of fudging dropout rates and lowering academic standards to facilitate a higher graduation rate seen during the No Child Left Behind era. The true problems arise when incorporating this half of Brewer’s new plan to the allocation of the other half.

The second 100 points are awarded based on the academic improvement of students in any given school, with special emphasis placed on the bottom 25 percent of a class. This plan sounds appealing in its attitude, yet it becomes problematic when one considers how schools already struggling with funding and academics will gain little from the program. The new system possesses contingences almost completely negating its emphasis on academic improvement.

If a school is already lacking proper funding, and is given a D rating, it receives no additional funding. Even if the school improves in points while falling short of a C rating, it still receives no significant additional funds. This system creates a cycle where the currently more successful public schools continue to receive increased funding, while the struggling schools face the danger of an uphill battle to improve academically without being forced to fudge numbers or lower standards. This is extremely harmful to actual academic improvement in many schools and hopelessly dooms this $9 billion expenditure’s optimistic aim of academic growth. Unless major changes are made before its implementation, this proposal is bound to face the same grim fate of No Child Left Behind.

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