VIP & Allies Temporarily Avert School Spending Crisis in Arizona
Valley Interfaith Project (VIP), along with allied organizations, temporarily averted a $1 billion funding crisis for Arizona public schools. A decades-old spending limit would have required school districts to abide by 1980 spending levels without legislative action. Normally, the legislature would vote to override the limit as a routine procedure. However, partisan brinkmanship, amidst a closely divided legislature, led to individual legislators withholding their votes.
While school district budgets were based on funding that the Legislature had approved last year, this arbitrary spending limit, if left unchecked, would have resulted in massive budget cuts as soon as April 1, 2022. The cuts would have amounted to $1.2 billion statewide, resulting in widespread layoffs or school closures.
VIP leaders met with individual legislators and mobilized a flood of constituent phone calls in key areas. On February 21st, only one week before the statutory deadline, the Senate followed the House's lead and voted to allow school districts to exceed the arbitrary spending limit for the current school year.
While leaders celebrated the last-minute fix, the long-term outlook has Arizona revisiting this crisis every year until voters can repeal the outdated spending limit. VIP leaders hosted a leaders assembly with two senators to explore a more permanent resolution.
[In photo: Revs. Brooke Isingoma and Martha Seaman discuss the spending limit with State Senators Tyler Pace and Sean Bowie.]
"Arizona Senate Votes to Raise Education Spending Limit, Avoiding Big School Funding Cuts," Arizona Republic [pdf]
AIN Leverages $5 Million to Expand Career Pathways in Arizona
Arizona Interfaith Network (AIN) leveraged a $5 million investment from the state of Arizona to help hundreds of families step into economic security with the expansion of long-term workforce development initiatives JobPath in Pima County and Arizona Career Pathways in Maricopa County.
AIN leaders worked with state legislators to direct $5 million from Arizona’s federal Coronavirus relief funding to expand the program in the wake of the pandemic. This investment will ensure that low-income families can access high-quality education and training for lower earning families.
The completion rate for Arizona Career Pathways is 90%, the job placement rate is 85%, and the average starting wage is $24.50 per hour.
JobPath is an initiative of Pima County Interfaith and Arizona Career Pathways is a Valley Interfaith Project initiative.
MOC Creates Permanent Housing for People Experiencing Homelessness in Marin County
Marin Organizing Committee (MOC) has for several years worked toward developing permanent housing solutions for unsheltered people. That goal was advanced Tuesday, as the Marin County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to accept a state "Project Homekey" grant and move forward with a site in an abandoned nursing home, creating permanent supportive housing for 43 people.
Hundreds of leaders from MOC member institutions signed and shared the petition in support of the project, wrote letters to the Board, and spoke at the Board meeting both in person and over Zoom. While the project faced significant opposition, MOC demonstrated to elected officials that MOC leaders support and believe in this project.
[In photo: Former nursing home to be converted into permanent, supportive housing. Credit: Shary LaVars, Marin Independent Journal]
Marin Voice: In Support of ‘Housing First,’ Supervisors Should Push for Larkspur Homekey Site, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
Texas IAF Orgs Impede Plans to Conceal Chapter 313 Data
Following an opposition campaign by Texas IAF organizations, Comptroller Glenn Hegar is backing away from his proposal to gut Chapter 313 reporting and accountability requirements in the program’s final year of existence. Hegar signaled the change Friday after significant pushback by Chapter 313 critics, including a press conference held by Texas IAF organizations in December, and a barrage of public comments submitted to his office against the proposal, with the largest portion coming from Texas IAF leaders.
During the 2021 Legislative Session, the Texas IAF, along with allies, stopped the reauthorization of Chapter 313, the State’s largest corporate tax subsidy program. Though the current program, which costs taxpayers $1-2 Billion per year, is set to expire in December of 2022, Comptroller Hegar had proposed in November to reduce the reporting requirements on jobs, wages, and overall costs to taxpayers.
“Comptroller Hegar has recognized the voices of voters from across the political spectrum, including our organizations, and now says the data we are concerned will continue to be available,” said Bob Fleming, a leader with The Metropolitan Organization, the IAF affiliate in Houston. “However, we remain vigilant because he says the rules will still be revised and made ‘more efficient’. Given the history of this failed and discontinued program, we need even more transparency and accountability, not less.”
[Photo Credit: Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle]
After Backlash, Texas Comptroller Abandons Plan to Hide Details of Controversial Tax Break Program, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Network of Texas IAF Organizations, Press Release
AMOS Leaders Create New Child Crisis Support System in Iowa
In Des Moines, Iowa AMOS leaders organized a listening campaign in which they learned how the pandemic was wreaking havoc on the mental health of their children. They then launched a research campaign with 85 local officials and health system leaders to undergird the creation a new child crisis support system in central Iowa that includes: the hiring of two mobile crisis responders trained to work with children and adolescents by the Broadlawns Medical Center; a new Polk County Children’s Crisis Mental Health System including a warm line, community stabilization team, youth stabilization center; and youth-trained mobile crisis team. At a delegates assembly, leaders furthermore secured commitments from the Des Moines Police Chief to hire a mental health clinician within 911 dispatch.
Each piece required careful consideration and mobilization of community leadership to demonstrate political support. For example, 100 AMOS leaders appeared at a Broadlawns Medical Center Board Meeting to support the hiring of two mobile crisis responders trained to work with children and adolescents. During the hearing, one of the Trustees declared, "Wow, that's a lot of people."
AMOS leaders followed up on this and other plants of the program, inspired by thousands of Polk County residents who shared stories based on their experiences, conducted research, and organized postcard campaigns and neighborhood walks over 4 years to make new children's crisis support system a reality.
New Mental Health Resources Coming for Children in Polk County, Des Moines Register [pdf]
Polk County Unveils New Mental Health Services for Children, KCCI Des Moines [pdf]
At Urging of CTI, Travis County & City of Austin Invest $200+ Million into Homelessness Prevention & Support
After years of working to protect the dignity of people experiencing homelessness and preventing low-income families from displacement, Central Texas Interfaith leaders celebrated the investment of $220+ Million in federal funding into homelessness prevention and support.
Over 100 CTI leaders were joined by City of Austin Mayor and Travis County Judge Andy Brown who expressed appreciation for the organization's partnership and doggedness in addressing key regional challenges. Leaders relayed how this effort was connected to a multi-year effort that resulted in passage of an affordable housing bond in 2018, $40 Million in rental assistance during the first year of the pandemic, and now over $217 million in federal dollars into homelessness prevention and support.
Elected officials further committed to identifying sources for additional rental assistance as eviction moratoriums lift.
Church leaders praise city, county for committing fed funds toward homelessness, Austin Monitor [pdf]
Central Texas Interfaith Leaders Share Plans for $200 Million, Will Be Used to Address Homelessness, CBS Austin [pdf]
Homeless Housing Plans, Spectrum News [video]
Several Austin City Council Members Concerned About Spending on Homelessness Services, KXAN [pdf]
Interfaith Group Calls for Immediate Action on Homelessness, Austin Monitor [pdf]
Headlines / Quote of the Week, Austin Chronicle [pdf]
Líderes Religiosos Exigen Que las Autoridades Locales Tomen Acción para Ayudar a Indigentes, Univision [video]
Central Texas Interfaith Calls on Austin-Travis Officials to Invest, Address Homelessness, CBS Austin [pdf]
Press Conference Footage, Central Texas Interfaith
One LA Leaders Persuade City Planning Commission to Reject Demolition of Affordable Housing Near Temple
One LA leaders from Temple Beth Am played an important role in the Los Angeles Planning Commission's decision to reject a redevelopment project that would have eliminated 12 units of affordable housing in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, a desert for subsidized housing units. The proposed plan would have resulted in the demolition of 6 commercial properties and 12 units of rent stabilized housing to construct a 7-story hotel in their place.
Temple Beth Am leaders from One LA have been working with city officials to mitigate the loss of precious affordable housing. While not opposed to the redevelopment of the area, they expressed concerns about losing housing in a neighborhood where the local city council district office had confirmed that it did not have any housing units that could benefit from the city’s linkage fee program.
Nancy Goldstone, a leader with One LA and resident of Pico-Robertson said,
“This hotel project was going to eliminate affordable housing in an area where there is very little to none.
As a One LA leader it was important for me and our team to organize and have conversations with city officials to let them know that this project did not serve the interests or general good of the neighborhood.”
City Planning Commission Rejects Pico-Robertson Hotel Development, Urbanize Los Angeles
Study Shows Project ARRIBA Has $893 Million Impact on El Paso Economy
Project ARRIBA has been quietly working with El Paso leaders to help hundreds of mostly Hispanic students from poor families through nursing school and drastically changing their lives since 1998. They’ve been at it so quietly they barely get noticed publicly anymore. But they have been busy.
The Hunt Institute of Global Competitiveness at the University of Texas at El Paso released a study last month that found for every dollar invested in Project ARRIBA, $28 is returned to the region. ARRIBA has added $893 million to El Paso’s economy in earnings by the program’s graduates since 1995, the report says.
The nonprofit recently received a $250,000 Bank of America grant for regional workforce development to address “a shortage of healthcare workers at a critical time.” The El Paso region has long suffered an acute shortage of nurses, but since the novel coronavirus made its debut, the shortage has worsened. And hospitals in El Paso, like many others across America, are short on registered nurses by the hundreds.
El Paso businessman Woody Hunt endorsed the organization in the announcement, saying,
“Project ARRIBA has become a crucial community partner that is helping build the next generation of healthcare workers who come from and understand the unique needs of our region...."
ARRIBA sprang from a social justice organization that El Paso’s Catholic Diocese formed in 1985 known as the El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization, or EPISO. It’s now called EPISO-Border Interfaith because churches of other denominations have joined.
[In photo: Roman Ortiz, Executive Director of ARRIBA. Photo Credit: David Crowder, El Paso Inc.]
Report: ARRIBA Program That Helps Low-Income Students Through Nursing School Has $893 Million Impact, El Paso Inc. [pdf]
COPA's Restorative Justice Initiative Advances with Support from City of Watsonville & Police
After engaging over 350 Watsonville residents in conversation about public safety and the quality of interactions with police, COPA leaders presented their findings to the Watsonville City Council. Their findings, rooted in the experiences of hundreds of people from diverse walks of life and ages, were quickly integrated into an official report by an ad hoc committee on Policing and Social Equity.
COPA pointed out that policing and safety are not necessarily equivalent terms, and that systemic investments in mental health, youth and family programming, and budget alignments in city and police spending would go a long way towards making Watsonville safer -- particularly for youth of color.
Prior to the pandemic, over 100 COPA-IAF leaders had convened with the Watsonville Police Department Chief and Santa Cruz County Supervisor to address identified concerns about engagements between police and community. Soon after, the City responded with an invitation to participate in an ad-hoc committee on Policing and Social Equity. But COPA leaders first wanted to include more residents in the discussion, and with the support of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), COPA engaged hundreds more residents in substantive conversations about direct experiences with Watsonville police and what restorative justice can look like.
COPA's reported findings have so far been met with a positive reception by Watsonville elected officials. Leaders plan to persist in their efforts as the City identifies a new Chief for the Watsonville Police Department.
[Photo Credits: (top) Tarmo Hannula, Good Times; (middle) courtesy of COPA]
Watsonville's Policing Committee Releases Report, Readies Recommendations, The Pajaronian
South County Residents' Mixed Response to Watsonville Police Department, Good Times
Watsonville Committee Calls for more Police Accountability, Santa Cruz Local
City of Watsonville Report, Watsonville Ad Hoc Committee on Policing and Social Equity
Report on Police Reforms Filed by Watsonville City Council, Santa Cruz Sentinel [pdf]
Wrapping Up My Term as Mayor, The Pajaronian [12/2020]
A Deep Look into the Watsonville Police Department, The Pajaronian [08/2020]
Watsonville Police Oversight Committee in the Works, The Pajaronian [07/2020]
Watsonville, Santa Cruz to Start Police Reform Committees, Santa Cruz Local [07/2020]
New Committees Address police Reform in Watsonville, Santa Cruz County, Santa Cruz Local [02/2021]
Arizona Interfaith Proves Vital in Petition Drive Against Lowest Flat Tax in Nation
Education advocacy groups on Tuesday filed hundreds of thousands of signatures to block Gov. Doug Ducey’s sweeping income tax cuts, the largest in state history, from going into effect and forcing a public vote on them.
For that to actually happen, at least 118,823 of the 215,787 signatures the Invest in Arizona coalition submitted on one of the measures must be deemed valid by elections officials. If they are, Arizona voters will decide the fate of the tax cuts in November 2022.
[The flat tax] ..."is an affront to the voters of the state, an insult to our teachers, and it’s a direct attack on people that all of us people of faith are instructed to protect: children, the vulnerable, those who live in the margins and have suffered the most in the pandemic,” said Rev. Jeff Procter-Murphy, a member of the Valley Interfaith Project.
Procter-Murphy highlighted one of the points the Invest in Arizona coalition has made since the launch of its referendum campaigns in July: The planned tax cuts won’t just affect education, but the overall state budget.
“The utter lack of political will to invest in future generations has to stop,”
he said. “We see how this rushed tax code will handcuff our state in coming budget cycles, we see how it shortchanges our most vulnerable families for generations to come. We see how these expanded tax cuts will cripple our state government beyond education, health and human services and public safety will also be impacted affecting everyone. Today we are standing up for those whom our elected officials have refused to defend: the poor, the vulnerable, and our children.”
Behind him, white boxes were stacked, some with a red sticker on it with a message in white letters: “The people of Arizona gave Senate Bill 1828 an F.” Next to him were school-aged children holding white poster boards with different messages on them. Some read, “Governor, your handout to the wealthy is in time-out!” “$1 Billion to the wealthy at the expense of my classroom? Not today Governor!” and “Invest in AZ now.”
[Photo Credit: Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services]
School Advocates Turn in Petitions to Overturn Arizona's $1 Billion Tax Cut, Arizona Republic [pdf]
Foes of Massive Arizona Tax Cuts File to Block Them, Associated Press [pdf]
Education Advocates File Signatures to Force Vote on Ducey’s Tax Cuts in 2022, Arizona Mirror [pdf]
Petitions Turned in, Apparently Will Force Public Vote on Arizona Tax Cut, Arizona Daily Star [pdf]
Tax Cut Likely to Go to Voters, AZ Capitol Times [pdf]