Arizona Education Cuts Amount to a Tax on Women, Children, and Their Families


As a pastor in Arizona, I value one particular book very highly, but I have personally felt the power of education to improve lives. I received an outstanding public school education in my hometown in Ohio, I was the first person in my family to graduate from college, and I eventually earned a Master’s Degree. I believe in education, and even a casual reading of the Bible reveals that the nurture of children is deeply embedded in Judeo-Christian values.

Sadly, Arizona children may not have the same educational opportunities I received. Repeated state budget cuts to public education have knocked Arizona to near the bottom of the country in education funding.

As Arizona voters know well, the most recent budget cuts came after a four-day budgeting process ending in a budget passed in the middle of the night. Arizona has cut total education spending by 32% since the recession of 2008, more than any other state in the country.

The cuts have reduced education resources for Arizona’s children, from kindergarten to college. According to the Arizona Education News Service:

In Arizona, 41 mostly small, rural districts were on a four-day school week this school year. Next year, Apache Junction and Coolidge Unified will join them in an effort to cut costs, while Peoria Unified decided against it in early April and approved a plan at their board meeting last week to reduce expenses in other ways.

The effects of these cuts on our children’s education are devastating, and the cuts were not limited to elementary, junior high, and high school. From the Arizona Republic:

According to the report released Tuesday night by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Arizona is spending 47 percent less this year per college student than it did in 2008, adjusted for inflation. That’s a larger percentage cut than any other state, equating to $3,053 less annually per student.

The budget cuts further reduced funding to college students and actually eliminated all funding for Arizona’s three largest community college districts. In response to the cuts, Arizona college and university tuition has risen more than any other state since the Great Recession, placing the financial burden squarely on lower and middle class students and their parents who were already struggling to afford college anyway.

In addition, the repeated budget cuts have led to a teacher shortage in Arizona. The 2013-2014 school year saw a 29% increase in the number of substitute teachers, as 62% of school districts reported open teaching positions in their schools. Last school year, 74% of Arizona schools had between one and five teacher positions open in September. This school year, a member of the church I serve who is a principal in the Southeast Valley of Phoenix lamented that it was very difficult to hire enough teachers. As to the cause of the teacher shortage, 42% of former teachers reported that the primary reason they left teaching was to pursue a career offering higher wages. Already underpaid Arizona teachers simply can’t afford these cuts.

These budget cuts disproportionately affect women. In 2012, over two-thirds of all public school teachers in the U.S. were female. When public teachers pay, women pay. Not only are the budget cuts impacting Arizona students and their families, the cuts are directly affecting the jobs of thousands of Arizona women.

It may come as a surprise to some Arizona voters that the deep cuts to education coincided with tax cuts given to corporations. In 2011, while Arizona was still recovering from the Great Recession, lawmakers passed a bill giving a 30% tax cut to corporations, amounting to $270 million, more than K-12 received in funds. Prior to the 2011 tax cuts, nearly two-thirds of Arizona corporations reportedly paid almost no state tax. While I understand the need to lure new businesses to create jobs, Arizona’s excellent cities, abundant sunshine, and natural beauty can still help to attract corporations and employees, even if corporations foot something at least in the ballpark of their fair share of the tax burden.

Ironically, the education cuts may actually reduce the number of new jobs produced in Arizona. Phoenix Business Journal recently reported that two companies that would have added 3,000 new good-paying jobs in Phoenix chose to expand to other cities instead. What was the reason these companies took their 3,000 new jobs elsewhere? One manager explained:

“My key managers didn’t want to relocate to Arizona despite the golf and the weather,” said one decision-maker. “They were afraid they would not find good schools for their own children. They also felt that the state’s reputation for poor education would affect the ability to recruit talent from outside.”

Along with slower than recent migration to Arizona, the tax cuts actually created the deficit that the education cuts remedied. In 2015, however, the corporate tax cuts remained in place, while the education budget was further reduced. When tax cuts create a deficit, someone has to pay the bill, and the ones paying now are Arizona women and children. So much for “women and children first.” Speaking as a pastor, both the Jewish and Christian scriptures call this an injustice.

While Arizona cut its education budget more than any other state, it is not the only state to drastically cut funding for public education. Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Kansas have instituted deep cuts as well. Voters should be aware that the governors of these states seem to be following a shared pattern of behavior and also share a well-documented connection to the same donors and influencers. The education cuts appear to be part of a multi-state agenda.

Arizona voters are practical enough to know that there is a difference between fiscal conservatism and fiscal irresponsibility. Instead of asking corporations and those with means to pay anything close to their fair share of the cost, the repeated cuts to Arizona public education amount to a tax on Arizona lower and middle class families, and especially on women and children.

Social Justice, Uncategorized

What Evangelicals Could Learn from the Pope

Pope FrancisWhen Pope Francis visits the United States for the first time later this month, he will set foot in a country in which a segment of evangelical Christians are waging a crusade. I count myself as an evangelical, but there is a split in the party, so to speak. The centrist and progressive evangelicals are ready to move on from the culture wars of the past 40 years. The conservatives? They are moving, but seemingly backward.

An Apostolic clerk in Eastern Kentucky is being hailed as the newest evangelical martyr for refusing to issue marriage licenses, for God’s glory. The presidential candidate with the most evangelical support (20 percent) is the billionaire Republican frontrunner who “loves” a Bible he can’t quote and wants to build a wall to keep “illegals” (mostly Latino Catholics) out. And it’s impossible not to notice that as soon as same-sex marriage became law, the right wing culture warriors reverted back to raiding Planned Parenthood like it was 1992 all over again.

The theocratic fantasies of this segment of American evangelicals have now been laid completely bare. I support the protection of religious liberty as outlined in the First Amendment, but some Christians, like the emperor Constantine, seem determined to conquer under the sign of the cross. Even while forwarding chain emails claiming that Muslims are trying to enforce Sharia law in the U.S., culture war Christians are attempting to force all Americans to live according to their interpretation of religious law.

This culture war is taking its toll on faith in America. An alarming 36 percent of Young Millennials are now unaffiliated with any religion, and the percentage of “The Nones,” those who claim no faith, is up among all age groups. An earlier study revealed their reasons for leaving the faith; they believe that “… religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.” The rise of the Religious Right, an extreme politicization of conservative Christianity in the U.S., coincided with a rapid decline of faith.

While American evangelicals war against same-sex marriage and abortion rights, Pope Francis has clearly chosen a different path. Although the Pope supports neither, his actions have served to open the gate to those who have been shut out of their communities of faith. He agrees with evangelicals on many doctrinal issues, but his overall tone is one of bridge building instead of wall building. Pontifex means “bridge-builder,” so he’s living up to the title.

(Read the rest of the article at Huffington Post Religion here.)

Social Justice, Uncategorized

5 Scriptures That Should End Donald Trump’s Presidential Campaign

(This article originally appeared at Huffington Post Religion.)

“They have to go.”

That is the crux of the long-awaited Donald Trump immigration policy. This past Sunday, Trump repeatedly told Meet the Press host, Chuck Todd, that the 11 million people who entered the country illegally must be deported. He did not specify how the country could afford the hundreds of millions of dollars that a national deportation bureaucracy would require, but that’s the deal he’s offering.

But wait, there’s more…

Trump added that their children who were born in the United States would have to be deported as well. That, of course, would require repealing the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution that grants birthright citizenship to every person born in the U.S.

Every decent human being, regardless of faith, should feel righteous indignation at a brash billionaire threatening to nullify the Fourteenth Amendment, revoke the citizenship of children born in the United States, and ship them to another country. This policy punishes the most vulnerable in our society who had nothing to do with their parents’ actions, and it has no place in the United States of America.

Not only is Trump’s immigration policy a moral outrage, it is also hypocritical. The Atlantic pointed out that Trump’s policy would have barred his own grandfather from entering the country. We also know that two-thirds of “The Donald’s” wives were born outside of the United States. Thankfully, almost a super-majority of the nation of immigrants disagree with Trump, as 65 percent of Americans favor some kind of path to citizenship.

While I support regulated borders and a sensible and compassionate immigration policy, one of the most often repeated values in Scripture is offering hospitality to the stranger. Even dedicated people of faith may be surprised to know how forcefully the biblical authors spoke out on the issue of immigration.

With Trump’s immigration policy now public, those of us who desire to follow Christ have the opportunity to examine what our faith tradition teaches us about showing hospitality to the immigrants and the vulnerable among us. While some Christians short-sightedly stop at quoting Romans 13:1, others will step back, look at the big picture, and acknowledge the existence of a higher law. For example, consider Leviticus 19:33-34…

(Read the rest of the article at Huffington Post Religion.)


How Evangelicals Can Regain Our Superpowers


When I was four, my mom took me to see Superman II at a drive-in theater. Neither the awesomely bad, late-1970s special effects nor the tinny audio from a speaker hanging on the car door could stop this enthralled little boy from wanting to be Supes.

I jumped off the living room furniture wearing a red cape for the next several years. In spite of new incarnations, to me, Christopher Reeve is still the real Superman, and I’m sure somewhere deep in my psyche there still lives a four-year-old boy ever-aspiring to be a superhero.

In Superman II, the plot thickens when Superman, determined to love Lois Lane as a normal human, steps into a mysterious, clear chamber in the Fortress of Solitude and surrenders his superpowers. He emerges as a very human Clark Kent, but even more vulnerable than he realizes, as he now overestimates his strength. Having only felt super-human confidence his entire life, he fails to realize how weak he really is. On a subsequent dinner date, forgetting he is no longer the Man of Steel, Clark sticks up for Lois and gets bloodied in a bar fight.

Trying to make authentic disciples through a theocratic government

Around the time Superman II was filmed, conservative Christians began enjoying political power in the United States. The Moral Majority (also known as the Religious Right, Values Voters, Christian Right, etc.), led by televangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, attempted to legislate their Southern Evangelical version of Christian values. Recently defeated in his support for school segregation, Falwell led others to build a coalition united against women’s rights and gay rights.

You read that last sentence correctly. In 1967, Falwell started a whites-only “Christian” school named Liberty Christian Academy in Lynchburg, Virginia as an alternative to the recently desegregated public schools of the South. Ten years later, he blamed born-again Christian President Jimmy Carter for making it harder for these “Christian” segregation academies across the South to remain tax-exempt. Throughout the 1980s and all the way up to the presidential election of 2004, conservative evangelical Christians wielded impressive political power.

That level of political influence is now gone, and the memory of it seems as outdated as the Superman II special effects. When a favorite of Christian conservatives, Indiana governor Mike Pence, endured that humiliating press conference last month in which he sheepishly stated that he never expected such a backlash following his signing of Indiana’s so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, he was probably telling the truth…

Read the full article here.



Are Followers of Jesus the Kind of People Who Put Someone to Death?

This Holy Week, Shane Claiborne, Brandan Robertson, and other faith leaders are collecting signatures for a “Christian Faith Leaders Lenten Statement Calling for an End to the Death Penalty.”

You can sign the petition here.

The U.S. is among the last countries on earth to retain the death penalty. Of the 195 countries in the world, the United States is one of only 36 countries (18 percent) still enforcing the death penalty in law and practice. In 2013, the U.S. was the only country in the western hemisphere to carry out an execution. Pharmaceutical companies in the European Union are no longer supplying U.S. states with certain chemicals after they discovered their medicines were being used to put inmates to death.

We are known by the company we keep, and the list of 10 countries executing the most persons annually is one many Americans are not proud to make. The U.S ranked fifth in the number of executions worldwide in 2013, behind China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. The other countries rounding out the top 10 are Pakistan, Yemen, North Korea, Vietnam, and Libya.

The majority of executions in the U.S. take place within a small number of states. In 2014, U.S. states executed 35 persons, with 80 percent of these executions taking place in Missouri, Texas, and Florida. Texas has executed, by far, more inmates than any other state (522 since 1976), comprising 37 percent of all executions in the U.S. Since 1976, 81 percent of all U.S. executions have taken place in the South.

As we approach Good Friday, commemorating the crucifixion of Christ, it is worth noting that the Catholic Church opposes the death penalty, as do most mainline Protestant denominations. Evangelicals, not so much. The National Association of Evangelicals continues to support capital punishment…

Read more at On Faith here.


Why Evangelicals Don’t Want Brandan Robertson to Be an Evangelical

Brandan-RobertsonBrandan Robertson is a twenty-two year old blogosphere phenom.

His activism has scattered his posts, photos, and tweets all over social media. Last year, he started an organization called Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, and a few days ago he almost broke the Internet machine when he lost a book deal with an evangelical publisher after coming out as queer.

Brandan is committed to his evangelical faith. He entered Moody Bible Institute a wide-eyed conservative evangelical and left Moody an intellectually honest, progressive evangelical. He maintains a blog called Revangelical “to help others rethink, reform, and renew what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus in our post-modern, post-Christian world.”

There is one reason why the comments sections following his blog posts call to mind the Inquisition, and why he lost his book deal. It’s the same reason that evangelicals don’t want Robertson to keep calling himself an evangelical. If he is allowed to be part of their group, it means they’ve not only lost the culture war, but now they’re losing their own definition of “evangelical”…

(Read the full article at Convergent Books here.)