62 Percent Of AZ Schools Have No Plan To Maintain Operations When COVID Relief Monies Expire

62 Percent Of AZ Schools Have No Plan To Maintain Operations When COVID Relief Monies Expire

By Corinne Murdock |

Up to 62 percent of Arizona’s public-school districts and charters have no written plan for maintaining current operations once relief monies run out next September.

Most districts’ lack of preparedness was revealed in an auditor general special report issued last week. 55 percent of those districts and charters revealed the absence of a plan in an auditor general report, with another seven percent failing to respond to the auditor general’s request for a written plan.

The COVID-19 relief funds presented an overall boon to public school districts and charters: from 2020 onward, district fund balances increased by 34 percent ($1.13 billion) and charter fund balances increased by 115 percent ($310 million). 

However, the true amount of funding spent or remaining remains a mystery for over one-third of the schools. 213 districts and charters (36 percent) reported relief monies contradicting their reported fund balance.

The auditor general specifically named Gilbert Unified School District (GUSD) and Portable Practice Education Preparation (PPEP) for reporting to have spent all $41.5 million and $4.8 million of their relief funds, respectively. However, the auditor general found that GUSD had used $30.4 million for continuing costs, $24.7 million for salaries and benefits, and a fund balance increase. The auditor general also found that PPEP had only reported $2 million spent for employment retention salaries and benefits with student count declines, and a fund balance increase. 

Due to the lack of transparency, the auditor general promised to add additional fund balance/reserve reporting to district and charter fiscal year 2023 annual financial reports and fiscal year 2025 budget forms.

Additionally, 9 districts and 16 charters haven’t corrected their cited noncompliance with statutory reporting requirements. In January, that number was 21 districts and 64 charters. 27 districts and 26 charters didn’t submit required follow-up reporting.

Districts and charters reported spending $2.2 billion of the $4.6 billion in relief funding through last June. The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) only spent 21 percent of its discretionary relief funding as of last June, leaving a remainder of $322 million (79 percent). 

The district that received the most relief funding was Mesa Unified School District at $291.6 million, followed by Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) at $289.15 million, Phoenix Union High School District at $182.21 million, Cartwright Elementary School District at $124.76 million, Washington Elementary School District at $119.51 million, and Alhambra Elementary School District at $103.74 million.

Details on school expenditures using COVID relief funds remain murky at best. While the auditor general successfully categorized a number of expenditure types for schools — maintaining operations, mental and medical health, personal protective equipment, technology, school facilities, and food service — there remained the “miscellaneous” or “other” category of expenditures, totaling nearly $121.4 million already spent and over $196.45 million planned for future use. 

“Miscellaneous” spending on classroom salaries and benefits totaled $21.66 million, and $23.63 million for other classroom spending. Non-classroom salaries and benefits classified as “miscellaneous” totaled $4.77 million, and $70.8 million for other “miscellaneous” non-classroom expenditures. 

As AZ Free News reported last year, districts like Mesa Public Schools (MPS) refused to divulge how millions were issued in expenditures behind labels like “indirect costs,” “other,” and “etc.” MPS claimed it couldn’t produce records that didn’t exist.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

The American Work Tradition Is Under Siege

The American Work Tradition Is Under Siege

By Dr. Thomas Patterson |

Suddenly America is facing a severe structural labor shortage. We all feel it, whether we’re trying for reservations at a restaurant that has reduced hours, seeking handyman help, or just trying to get somebody to answer the dang phone.

Nurses and teachers are in short supply. Employers report at least two job openings for each job seeker. Beyond personal inconvenience, when workers produce fewer services and goods for dollars to chase, prices go up and inflation results.

You can partly blame it on COVID. Politicians shut down much of the economy, then shoved trillions of dollars in “COVID relief funds” to those forced not to work.

Unfortunately, the spigot was never fully closed, and many Americans found that sleeping in agreed with them. Europe, Canada, and Japan all rebounded while the U.S. was left with about one million fewer workers.

Adding to the problem, the youth anti-work movement continues to grow. Work is for suckers and victims. Social media outlets praise workers for quitting their jobs. Others are lionized for being “quiet quitters,” idlers who do the least work possible while still collecting a paycheck.

The inspiration for the anti-work cult traces back to the Marxist anti-capitalist movement, a long-time foe of the American work tradition. Their thesis is that capitalist employment is exploitive and therefore, not working is virtuous.

It coincidentally turns out that, for many Americans, government policy has significantly disincentivized work. And for these people, working harder is no longer the way to get ahead.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Phil Gramm and John Early explain how this effect is commonly underestimated because of the way income is reported by the federal government. The Census Bureau, inexplicably, does not treat most transfer payments as income.

That’s important because government transfer payments to the bottom 20% of households, income-wise, ballooned by 269% between 1967 and 2017 while the middle 20% realized only a 154% increase in their after tax income.

The results were staggering. In 2017, the bottom 20% of households had $6,941 in “income” and only 36% of working age people actually worked. However, after the transfer payments and taxes are included, as they should be, their total income was $48,806.

The second to the bottom quintile had 85% employment and an average total income of $50,492, actually less than a $2,000 difference from the lowest group. The middle quintile was 92% employed and earned $66,453, but after taxes and transfers that shrank to $61,350, merely 26% more than the bottom quintile.

But wait, there’s more. Family units are smaller in the lowest quintile than the others. Per capita, the adjusted net income was actually $33,653 in the lowest quintile, $29,497 in the next lowest, and $32,754 in the middle.

Sorry for all the numbers, but they tell an important story. For 60% of Americans, working much harder and even earning more money produced a negligible net benefit. Means-tested government programs were just as lucrative. It’s not hard to understand why the percentage of working age people in the lowest quintile who were employed fell from 68% in 1967 to 36% in 2017.

Policymakers seem to believe that incentives don’t matter, but they do. People who choose not to work and live off the labor of others earn some understandable resentment, but they’re not acting irrationally under the circumstance. The heart of the problem is their enablers in Big Government who, for their own political purposes, created this perverse system.

It’s often forgotten that in the 1990s, governments established work requirements for many means-tested benefits. “Workfare” was a generational policy success. In spite of hysterical warnings that “children would starve in the streets,” poverty rates dropped as employment increased.

Unfortunately, the advocates for workfare declared victory and moved on. But welfare bureaucrats stayed put, patiently reestablishing their vision of welfare without requirements. So now poverty is supported rather than reduced. And Arizona was among the states that quietly removed the work requirements for Medicaid and other welfare programs.

But government handouts that replace labor don’t work. They erode self-reliance, worker pride, and self-sufficiency. They threaten our shared prosperity. And most of all, they undermine American values.

Dr. Thomas Patterson, former Chairman of the Goldwater Institute, is a retired emergency physician. He served as an Arizona State senator for 10 years in the 1990s, and as Majority Leader from 93-96. He is the author of Arizona’s original charter schools bill.

The Urge to Spend Is Out of Control—And Time Is Running Out to Reverse Course

The Urge to Spend Is Out of Control—And Time Is Running Out to Reverse Course

By Dr. Thomas Patterson |

Loma Verde, California is building a $24 million recreation center with a pool. Forest Lakes, Minnesota is getting a $1.5 million golf clubhouse, while San Antonio is purchasing a $15 million theme park.

These may seem frivolous when rampant inflation is threatening, but never mind, they’re all “free,” a synonym for “paid for by the feds.”

America is awash in cash. Hundreds of other communities are enjoying similar goodies. States in no fiscal difficulty whatsoever have been given billions in budget boosts.

Checks for thousands of dollars have gone to citizens not even claiming to be in need. Millions of Americans receive enough government cash that they can now avoid the inconvenience and degradation of work.

These are the outcomes of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion-dollar American Rescue Plan, although the link to COVID may seem obscure to some. But the bigger point is that our governing culture today sees government spending as a positive good, which may be prompted by any excuse or none at all.

This is a continuation of the age-old argument over the role of government. For those who see government as a benign force that can efficiently, by use of its taxing power, address the common welfare and assure equitable outcomes, every dollar transferred from private to public hands is a positive.

Moreover, Big Government clearly increases the power and prestige of government officials. It creates beneficiaries highly likely to vote for those politicians who “cared” enough to send Other Peoples’ Money their way.

Vastly expanded government has also affected the attitudes of Americans toward the role of government in their lives. To an extent unthinkable to earlier generations, Americans now assume the federal government will take responsibility for such matters as healthcare, education, childcare, and aging parents.

The founders of our Constitution would not be pleased. Their original intent was to create a more just and independent society than the autocracies which had plagued mankind for millennia. Regrettably, Americans have blandly looked on while much of their birthright has been stolen.

Much of the recent confiscation of our nation‘s economic output has come under the pretext of COVID spending. But remember that the COVID financial crisis was a self-inflicted wound. The lockdowns were unprecedented and proved ineffective as a pandemic response strategy, but they precipitated a huge expansion of government power.

America has so far spent $6.4 trillion in COVID relief bills. The $1.9 trillion in the 2021 American Rescue Plan alone was enough to buy every COVID vaccine, ventilator, and hospital in existence. But much of the money went to beyond-obvious pork and to support Democratic political constituencies.

New York, among others, is reportedly sitting on $12.7 billion in unneeded COVID funds that they hope will revert to “unassigned” dollars. The money was pushed out so carelessly that the Labor Department IG estimates $163 billion of the $872 billion in COVID unemployment funds were dissipated in fraud.

The consequences of all this unnecessary spending are predictable and enormous. In 2009, then-President Obama warned against continuing deficits when the debt had doubled from $5 trillion to $10 trillion under his predecessor.

It was $20 trillion by the time he left office, stands at $30 trillion today, and will reach $45 trillion by 2032 according to Biden’s own budget projections.

But trifles like stifling debt and lack of need can’t suppress the political urge to spend. With COVID receding and no extraordinary expenses pending, Joe Biden’s new budget proposal rings in at $5.8 trillion, fully 31% higher than in 2019.

Federal revenues rose 18% in 2021, then 26% this year, but it’s not enough. Biden‘s $2 trillion projected deficit means the debt will have climbed $7 trillion in just the last three years. Multi-trillion-dollar deficits have effectively been normalized.

It could be worse. We narrowly escaped passage of the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better boondoggle. Yet now Biden has the gall to demand $30 billion more for COVID expenses when at least $500 billion from the last COVID relief bill is still unspent.

The mindless, immoral imperative to spend more knows no bounds. Time is running out to reverse course. When will we come to our senses?

Arizona Should Conduct an Audit on Mesa Public Schools’ Hidden Spending

Arizona Should Conduct an Audit on Mesa Public Schools’ Hidden Spending

By the Arizona Free Enterprise Club |

For years now, we’ve heard the same old talking points from the left when it comes to our state’s schools. It always goes a little something like this:

    • Education is underfunded in Arizona…
    • Teachers aren’t paid enough…
    • We need to raise taxes to pay our teachers more…

Do these lines sound familiar? They should. Anytime a new proposition is rolled out to voters, teachers’ unions and other liberals push this same narrative. We heard it when they campaigned for Prop 208 a couple years ago. And despite the fact that the Arizona Supreme Court struck down Prop 208 because Arizona is already funding schools at historic levels, we continue to hear it from Red4Ed and others as they target the state’s $1.8 billion tax cuts.

That’s what makes the latest news out of Mesa Public Schools (MPS) even more outrageous.


Mesa Public Schools: No Records Exist for Over $32.3 Million ‘COVID’ Expenditures

Mesa Public Schools: No Records Exist for Over $32.3 Million ‘COVID’ Expenditures

By Corinne Murdock |

Mesa Public Schools (MPS) won’t explain where over $32.3 million of their federal emergency funds slated for COVID-related expenditures went. The lack of transparency calls into question the amount of funds funneled into undisclosed areas potentially unrelated to education while teachers struggle for increased salaries and school supply funding. 

AZ Free News inquired with MPS about their COVID-19 expenditures after readers requested we look into reports that teachers were asking parents to donate basic supplies like paper because they were running out — and apparently their district wouldn’t cover it. In its annual financial report submitted last October, MPS reported nearly $40 million remaining in their maintenance and operation funds

That led AZ Free News to look into MPS expenditures. The millions we inquired about came from their latest public Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) report. Specifically, we inquired about what was behind the repeated listings of “indirect costs,” “other,” and “etc” expenditures that MPS allocated millions of dollars toward. AZ Free News focused on these expenditures:

  • Page 8: the “other (includes indirect costs)” totaling over $16 million
  • Page 9: the “etc” expenditures under PPE totaling nearly $1.7 million
  • Page 9: the “other” and “indirect costs” together totaling over $554,000
  • Page 10: the “COVID relief positions” totaling over $122,000
  • Page 10: the “indirect costs” totaling nearly $4.3 million
  • Page 12: the “indirect costs” totaling over $9.6 million

With each public records request, MPS officials would refer us back to the public ESSER report. After several follow-ups, MPS General Counsel Kacey King informed AZ Free News that MPS could not fulfill the request further because explanation of those additional expenditures in full would require MPS to “create records.” Under Arizona law, government entities aren’t required to create records that they don’t have. 

In all, Arizona has received over $4 billion in ESSER funding. MPS received some of the largest bulk of that funding, coming in second for most ESSER funds received: around $229.2 million, coming in second only to Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.