Thursday, January 30, 2014

We're getting closer to real, substantive immigration reform

Republican U.S. House members today released their guiding principles for a debate on immigration reform.

The Senate last year passed its own immigration package, but the GOP principles document in its preamble makes clear that the House legislation won’t go to a conference committee to be reconciled with the Senate’s bill; and that’s okay. The very fact that there is positive movement on the House side towards various pieces of substantive legislation should be applauded. It would be easy to wait until after the November election even to release these principles. House Speaker John Boehner’s hiring of Arizonan Becky Tallent, an alumnus of the staffs of former Rep. Jim Kolbe and Sen. John McCain and a veteran of the immigration battles of the past is another sign that we’re on the precipice of something very good.

The economic benefits to be had from an immigration overhaul are too big to ignore, especially in a soft economy that could use a shot of adrenaline. Using last year’s Senate bill as a baseline, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that immigration reform could reduce federal budget deficits by nearly $200 billion.

Leading the Republicans’ list is border security. This is critically important to Arizona, not only because border states like ours bear an outsized burden for lax border enforcement, but also because our state is economically tied to our ability to process legitimate trade and travel through well-staffed border ports of entry. As we celebrate the 20th year of the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, we should embrace immigration reform as means to improving our legal arteries for trade.

The document also speaks of the importance of modern employment verification and workplace enforcement systems. Arizona has proven through the widespread use of E-Verify that this technology can be adopted by employers in a thoughtful way that is not overly burdensome to the hiring process.

American business should be encouraged by the Republican’s effort to offer reforms to the legal immigration system. The principles speak to the need of an immigration system driven by economic needs, one that welcomes talented individuals trained at U.S. universities and that establishes a workable, realistic guest worker program.

For the Dreamers, those who were brought to this country by their parents as children and know no other home, the principles state that legal residence and citizenship should be made a reality.

For those living here now in an undocumented status, the principles state that individuals who meet certain eligibility requirements could be able to “live legally and without fear in the U.S.” But the document also says certain unspecified enforcement triggers must be met.

This outline of principles establishes clear guideposts for crafting legislation that members of both parties can support. I’ve been saying for years now that real immigration reform was imminent, but I believe we’ve now taken a step closer to reform than we’ve ever gotten before to actually sending a bill to the president’s desk. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Arizona kicks off School Choice Week with AZ Charter Schools Association and Stand for Children panel breakfast

This morning I had the opportunity to sit on a panel kicking off School Choice Week in Arizona. I sat alongside esteemed education experts including Lisa Graham Keegan; Julia Meyerson, the founder and E.D. of Vista College Prep; Adrian Ruiz, the Executive Director of Espiritu Community Development Corporation; and DeAnna Rowe, the Executive Director of AZ State Board for Charter Schools. The panel was moderated by Jay Heiler, one of Arizona’s top experts on the charter school movement. The topic of this morning’s meeting was Public School Accountability – something the Arizona Chamber is working diligently to increase.

Among the issues that were brought up this morning, I wanted to highlight a few of the key items. Julia Meyerson runs Vista College Prep, a K-5 charter in south Phoenix with a winning model. Meyerson’s classrooms are named after universities and the kids are taught that college preparation starts in Kindergarten.  Meyerson indicated that one of her greatest challenges in opening her school was gaining access to a facility. Charter schools don’t have easy access to start-up capital, and the Arizona Chamber seeks to address this issue with a legislative policy that will open up some empty school buildings to high-performing charters and districts. We need to diligently pursue policies that open up opportunities for our highest of performers.

There was also mention of the importance of funding a data system that will be used to maximize accountability. The Arizona Department of Education has been flagging this as a necessity for quite some time, and Governor Brewer proposed in her budget to fund the data system to the tune of $16.5 million. The business community strongly supports this, as we know that without data and measurable outcomes, we can’t measure success.

Also in the Governor’s budget was a $40 million request for “Student Success Funding,” which fits nicely with the topic of accountability. These dollars are based on student performance and are therefore tied directly to accountability. This is yet another example of where Arizona is headed in terms of demanding excellent schools and rewarding them accordingly.

There is much work to be done here in Arizona to ensure that every student, regardless of their zip code, receives a top notch education. Be on the lookout for an announcement later this week to get just at this topic. Thanks to all who made this morning’s bipartisan event possible. It was great to have both chairmen of the Approps committees, Senator Shooter and Representative Kavanagh, as well as a number of other legislators and business leaders in the room. John Fisher and Kelly McManus of Stand for Children, along with Eileen Sigmund of the AZ Charter Schools Association put on an excellent event full of Arizona’s education thought leaders on the topic of school choice. Thanks for including me! 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

George Will misses the mark in criticism of state education standards

When it comes to baseball, George Will knows his stuff. Unfortunately, he has missed the mark in his recent piece on the movement to increase the rigor of K-12 education in 45 states, including in Arizona.

George does get one part of this right: Academic standards are a state issue. This is why our primary concern should be whether Arizona’s new state standards are better than our old ones.

And we know, our old standards weren’t working. Less than 20 percent of Arizona students graduate from a four-year institution within six years. Sixty percent of students who attend community college require remedial coursework. Forty-two percent of Arizona employers report that newly hired high school graduates are deficient in writing, math and reading.

In 2010, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute analyzed Arizona’s previous standards and graded them a B in math and B in English. Compare this with the B+ and A- that the new Arizona College and Career Ready Standards received, and it’s clear we are headed in the right direction. This is not to say that we shouldn’t continuously be looking to improve the Standards, but we are on the right track.

Someone with George’s national platform should also reconsider his criticism of the process that resulted in the Common Core State Standards. The idea of state academic standards began during the Reagan administration. After the release of the Nation at Risk report, states started developing academic standards and assessments designed to measure progress against those standards. The process was expensive and the results disappointing.

In the early 2000s, when state superintendents and governors recognized the need but lacked the resources to develop more rigorous standards, they innovated and collaborated. The outcome was a better overall product and a more efficient use of limited resources.

The federal government and the Obama administration got involved after the fact. Yes, there was Race to the Top money, which provided incentive (or coercion, depending who you talk to) for states to adopt a version of the Common Core State Standards. But the Standards themselves were developed in 2006, when President Obama was still a freshman senator. The facts support the idea that this was a state-led effort, developed voluntarily by state officials who, as George points out, are the best at developing creative solutions.

This is a good model. It is appropriate and resourceful for governors to collaborate on issues of national significance, and education is absolutely an issue of national significance. Americans are more mobile than ever (consider the fact that the president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce is a New York native) and children need to know English, math, science and history regardless of whether they are from Massachusetts or Mississippi. I would encourage our nation’s governors to continue to collaborate on these types of issues, to learn best practices from other states and adopt versions of these practices that best suit their individual states.

So, George, allow me to borrow from the game we both love and remind you to keep your eye on the ball. Arizona’s current standards are not preparing our kids to be college and career ready.  We need to keep our focus on improving our system to better prepare our kids. This starts with getting away from our old standards that weren’t making the grade, and ensuring that the more rigorous Arizona College and Career Ready Standards are fully and properly implemented.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Trade Promotion Authority critical to U.S. competitive standing abroad

Earlier this week at her State of the State address, Gov. Jan Brewer announced her plan to make Arizona a better place for manufacturers to operate and conduct business in the state. Manufacturers help to drive Arizona’s economy, with $15.1 billion in manufactured goods exported in 2012. Of those, $7.7 billion was with our free trade agreement (FTA) partners. This helps create jobs in the state. In 2009, 25.6 percent of Arizona’s employment stemmed from exports.

While the governor and Legislature are doing what they can at the state level, a crucial piece to our manufacturers’ success lies with trade agreements negotiated at the federal level. We need trade agreements in place in order to open up new markets abroad and increase competition and consumer choice here at home. A key component of our ability to negotiate these new deals is Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which gives Congress the ability to approve or disapprove - but not amend - trade agreements.

Trade Promotion Authority is important to the American economy as it levels the playing field, increases competition and opens up access to foreign markets. The U.S. is the world’s largest economy and the largest exporter and importer of goods and services. The U.S. has free trade agreements with 20 countries, which make up 50 percent of all U.S. manufactured exports. TPA gives U.S. negotiators the opportunity to get the best trade agreement possible with oversight from Congress.

When overseas markets are open, businesses and employees benefit. One of five jobs in the U.S. today are supported by trade. As the U.S. negotiates the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership, the need for TPA is critical. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Roadmap for Readiness: Arizona Chamber Foundation hosts briefings for business leaders across the state on ACCRS

A Guest Post from Gretchen Martinez, executive director of the Arizona Chamber Foundation and Katie Fischer, research analyst for the Arizona Chamber Foundation 

Here at the Arizona Chamber Foundation, we don’t get out much. Typically, you can find us buried in the books, getting deep in the weeds on the issues that impact the Arizona business community. 

Last week, however, we got out of the office and onto the road to talk about education with local businesses. In partnership with the Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Arizona Chamber Foundation sponsored briefings throughout the state for local business leaders to hear about Arizona’s new K-12 standards from former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan and education policy expert Becky Hill. 

Known as Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards, these more rigorous learning goals were created in the early 2000s, following a cry from business leaders for graduates who were more prepared to enter a rapidly changing economy. Governors and State Superintendents from across the country developed a more rigorous set of math and language arts standards designed to achieve the levels of reading, writing and arithmetic necessary to be ready for college, career and life. Arizona adopted these Standards in 2010, and our teachers have been diligently implementing them ever since. 

As we enter a new legislative session in Arizona, it’s important to reaffirm our support for these Standards, rededicate ourselves to enacting positive changes to our education system and remember where these reforms originated. In his State of American Business Address, U.S. Chamber President Tom Donohue expressed his support for the new Standards, which have been adopted in some iteration in 45 states, and acknowledged the opportunity for continued improvement: 

“Economic growth is absolutely critical, but it is not a panacea. I’ve talked in positive terms about America’s energy revolution. Well, we need a positive revolution in American education and training as well. 

“It is beyond me how this nation can be so complacent while some 30% and more of our young people don’t even graduate from high school. Millions who do graduate have not even learned to properly read, write, or count—and tragically, that can be a prescription for permanent inequality. 

“Where is the outrage? Where is the urgency? Where is the political courage to really challenge the status quo in our educational establishment? The severe educational and skills gap we face is a challenge that should unite us as a nation and a society. 

“Of course the states should adopt and implement the Common Core educational standards, which the Chamber strongly supports. But that’s just a start. Teachers, parents, school districts, businesses, community leaders, and institutions of higher education must all get directly and personally involved. “We must ensure that every young person learns basic skills and is properly equipped for jobs and careers that are actually going to exist in the 21st century.” 

Mike Petrilli, executive vice president of conservative education policy think tank, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, recently reminded the Idaho Legislature of the importance of moving forward with Idaho’s version of these higher standards: 

“I’m here to remind you that it’s been conservatives, for thirty years, ever since the Nation at Risk report during the Reagan Administration, who have been fighting for higher standards and greater accountability for our schools. 

“It’s been defenders of the status quo who have been arguing, all these years, that it’s ‘not fair’ to hold schools accountable for results, because there are so many factors schools don’t control. Really, it’s not fair to expect schools to teach students to learn to read, write, and compute? 

“It’s been defenders of the status quo who have been arguing, all these years, that it’s ‘not fair’ to have high expectations of kids growing up in poverty, that they face too many challenges. But it’s fair to give those kids a diploma they can’t read, or pass them along from grade to grade even if they can’t write or do math?” 

As we traveled across the state, we were inspired by the desire of business leaders to engage on this issue. We sincerely enjoyed these briefings as an opportunity to talk with local business leaders about the new Standards and the importance of raising the bar for Arizona students to become the innovators of tomorrow.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Gov. Brewer's State of the State reminds Ariz. and nation of competitiveness reforms

I had the privilege today of being on the floor of the state House of Representatives as  a guest of Speaker of the House Any Tobin for Gov. Jan Brewer’s State of the State address.

I was thrilled that Mexican Consul General Roberto Rodriguez Hernandez delivered remarks to the assembled representatives and guests before the governor’s arrival, stressing the importance of the Arizona-Mexico relationship. It’s encouraging to hear that more legislative delegation visits to Mexico are in the planning stages.


Governor Brewer delivered a speech that made clear to anyone listening that Arizona has done more than any other state to attract jobs. She mentioned a number of the tax reforms we’ve made over the years, including reductions in the corporate income tax and capital gains. As she said, “Our message to job creators has been heard: Arizona is open for business.”

She mentioned companies like Apple, GM and State Farm by name, saying that landing those deals over the last several months was made possible by listening to what businesses need. To that end, the governor called on the Legislature to end the sales tax assessed on the power manufacturers consume. Expect this issue to be a major one this session.

Washington’s stumbles

The governor contrasted Arizona common sense with the silliness that plagues Washington, citing the brouhaha over keeping the Grand Canyon open while Congress and the White House stumbled their way through the government shutdown. She rightly urged the feds to get to work for American people.


The governor shifted to education’s essential connection to a thriving economy. She commented that improving the business environment has been a hallmark of the last five years, but that she’s proud of what we’ve done for families, including school choice legislation.

By 2018 three out of five jobs will require post-secondary training. The governor made a full-throated appeal to stop funding the status quo, to reward innovation and to fund the results we want. She is seeking this session to reward and replicate the practices that help students achieve through her Student Success Funding model, which will reward schools monetarily for student results.

In the area of higher education, she called on the Arizona Board of Regents to develop a plan and adopt a policy for stable tuition for the four years it should take a student to graduate.


As you could imagine, reforms at Child Protective Services loomed large. The governor announced that she had abolished CPS as we know it in place of a child welfare office that will report to governor. She called on the Legislature to statutorily establish a separate agency that focuses on families in distress and makes child safety must be priority.

This might be Gov. Brewer’s final State of the State address. She has many challenges ahead of her this legislative session, but she should not be bashful about telling the world about all that Arizona has done to jumpstart its jobs machine. She should be applauded for continuing to keep her foot on the gas in 2014.