In Al Melvin's op-ed in the September 30 issue of The Explorer, he defends Arizona's educational funding, and his honor, against assaults from a letter writer. It's not the first time we've seen that in these pages. Melvin tends to get defensive when he's criticized, then muddies the waters with distortions and half truths.
But rather than hashing over those old arguments once again, let me try a new approach. Let's look at The Year in Education Funding According to Al Melvin.
Freshmen legislators usually come in with grand expectations, as well they should. The best among them start out as cock-eyed optimists, planning to change the world for the better. But Melvin began as something more like the grim reaper.
"When everyone is on their knees, so to speak, from the adverse economic situation," Melvin said in January of this year, "you can get more accomplished in a fundamental way than you can if you're flush with revenue. Under these circumstances, you can effect fundamental change. I'm looking forward to it."
Melvin reveled in the prospect of a citizenry on its knees. Our financial pain was his legislative gain.
"There will be no new taxes," he said around the same time. "There will be no borrowing. There will be cuts."
That's what Melvin was looking forward to. Budget cuts, and more budget cuts.
That included education. He supported cutting $133 million from the 2009 education budget, and he expected 2010 would bring "approximately the same amount of reduction." Though he campaigned on improving education in Arizona, he never saw a cut to schools he didn't love, or vote for.
When parents and teachers told Melvin they were worried the cuts would harm children's educations, Melvin treated their concerns with contempt. "You would think a nuclear bomb hit the K-12 system," he said disparagingly.
Melvin knew federal stimulus money would ease some of the state's budget pain, but that didn't appeal to him. "I've heard it described as pork from a fire hose, full pressure," he said in February. He thought a small stimulus might be OK, but he preferred the idea of tax breaks, which, I guess, would give him even more budget cutting to look forward to.
In May, Melvin shared his vision at Fort Huachuca. During a luncheon with legislators, a local group, including retired military people, urged legislators to protect public schools. They were worried that lowered education funding could put the Fort on the military chopping block, which would destroy the local economy.
Melvin's answer? He told them about the great parochial schools he attended as a child and suggested they start up some charter schools in the area. That would take care of things.
For Halloween, Melvin should dress up as Marie Antoinette. When someone cries, "Our schools are starving!" he can answer, "Let them eat private and charter schools."
In last week's op-ed, Melvin wrote, "We're spending more money (on education), not less." It's an absurd statement on its face, but any maintenance of education spending happened in spite of Melvin's efforts. The budget he and his fellow Republicans crafted was so mean-spirited, Governor Brewer threatened a veto, stating, "I'm not going to decimate education or the most vulnerable of our population."
Melvin poo-pooed her concern with a mildly sexist insult. "If she vetoes it, it's only because she's in a huff because she didn't get her tax increase." If that wasn't enough, he accused her of "pandering" to what he called with a sneer, "the education community." I guess he was referring to people like parents, and teachers, and principals, and school board members.
After Brewer vetoed the bill, the Republicans sent her something slightly less odious. The new budget, together with a huge dose of stimulus dollars (two years worth to be spent in the first year) saved our schools, which already have the lowest funding per student in the nation, from plummeting into an educational abyss.
But no thanks to Al Melvin. If it were up to him, our school finance mess would be far worse than it is today.
Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.