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Save Our Schools Arizona
Weekly Education Report

56th Legislature, 1st General Session
Volume 5, Issue 5 • Week of February 6, 2023

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Forward Progress: Make Your Voice Heard for Public Schools!

This past week, we were encouraged to see forward progress on the school spending cap (AEL)! The Senate is bringing one-year waiver SCR1009 directly to the floor on Monday for a full vote, bypassing all the other steps. Rumor has it duplicate bill HCR2001 is headed to the floor Monday also. We fully support this solution; lawmakers should have already taken care of this pressing issue instead of playing partisan games with Arizona school funding. 

We are also very excited to report that Sen. Christine Marsh (D-4) has introduced a slate of bills that would create desperately needed accountability for ESA vouchers, which is costing the state $200 million in entirely unbudgeted costs (and growing).

Email your lawmakers TODAY: use our one-click email tool to demand accountability for universal ESA vouchers. Emailing only takes 2 minutes!

After the irresponsible, unbudgeted rollout of the universal expansion, it’s more obvious than ever that this program needs serious accountability to protect against grift and abuse of taxpayer dollars and to improve academic and safety standards. These bills are a good step in the right direction: 

  • SB1706 – Creates reporting that requires the ADE to release more information about who is using ESA vouchers and how taxpayer funds are being spent
  • SB1707 – Requires the legislature to appropriate sufficient funding for the universal ESA voucher program each year, ensuring responsible budgeting
  • SB1708 – Requires academic testing for ESA students in grades 3-12, exempting students with special needs. This evens the playing field, helps parents know whether their children are learning, and allows taxpayers to know whether their dollars are being used responsibly.
  • SB1498 – Requires voucher schools that accept ESA students with special needs to inform families what IEP or 504 services they will provide before families pay tuition or fees
  • SB1266 – Schools with one or more ESA students must require their employees to obtain a valid fingerprint clearance card as a condition of employment, improving student safety

This week, the Senate Education Committee will also consider a repeal of Arizona’s inequitable “results-based funding” program which sends the money where it will do far more good: early childhood education. It’s long past time for this solution, which we fully support. 

In other news, only two weeks remain until the first bill deadline. After that date, if House bills haven’t made it through their House committees, and Senate bills through their Senate committees, they are considered dead for the year. This means agendas are getting longer: we have a whopping 14 bills for you to weigh in on this week.

Budget Updates

The Republican-only “status quo” budget, which contains no new spending, passed the Senate last week on partisan lines and is expected to pass the House on Monday.

This is clearly an exercise in futility, as Gov. Hobbs is expected to veto it.

We urge lawmakers to do the hard task of actual governing by working with the governor to advance a responsible budget that provides for Arizonans and prioritizes public education.


Use Request to Speak on these bills before Monday at 10:30AM:

YES on SB1231

YES on HCR2001

NO on SB1026

NO on SB1163

NO on SB1174

NO on SB1243

NO on SB1305

NO on SB1323

NO on SB1331

NO on SB1564

NO on SB1599

NO on SB1657

NO on HB2523

NO on HB2538

NO on HB2546

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Want a refresher? Our friends at Civic Engagement Beyond Voting are hosting RTS trainings every Monday at 6:30 PM through March 6.

Your voice matters. A simple phone call or email to your lawmaker asking them to prioritize funding for schools and responsible policies for education goes a long way. Find your legislative district here. Email and phone information for your representatives is here and your senator is here. Make your voice heard!

Upcoming Events!

Education Advocacy Mini Sessions – Mondays at 6:30pm –

2/13: Using Social Media to Advocate

Bills in Request to Speak


SB1243, sponsored by JD Mesnard (R-13), would eliminate the “individual” and “switcher” categories for STO (School Tuition Organization) vouchers, roll them into a single category, and increase the maximum contribution amount. This would reduce tracking, make it easier for STOs to take in more dollars with less administration cost, and circumvent requirements that students attend public schools first. In other words, it’s a way to bolster profit. We support the amendment from Sen. Mitzi Epstein (D-12) to prevent double-dipping in both STO and ESA vouchers. Scheduled for Senate Finance Committee, Monday. OPPOSE. 


HCR2001, sponsored by David Cook (R-7), would waive Arizona’s archaic school spending cap for one year, averting teacher layoffs, program cuts and school closures. Without this waiver, the public district schools which serve 70% of the state’s school children will be legally unable to spend $1.4 billion in funds the Legislature has already allocated to them, and would have to cut spending for this school year by nearly 20% across the board. The bill will require a two-thirds supermajority vote before March 1 (40 in the House, 20 in the Senate). Scheduled for House Rules Committee, Monday. The next step is a House floor vote, which could happen this week. SUPPORT.


HB2523, sponsored by Barbara Parker (R-10), would require every K-12 student to recite the Pledge of Allegiance daily at district and charter schools (but not private, ESA-funded voucher schools). The only exemption is for parents, or students over 18. In 1943, the US Supreme Court ruled that no school or government can compel someone to recite the Pledge of Allegiance because it violates the First Amendment. Scheduled for House Education Committee, Tuesday. OPPOSE. 


HB2538, sponsored by Beverly Pingerelli (R-28), would allow district and charter schools to offer live, remote instructional courses for students in grades 9-12 in exchange for a portion of school funding. ADE would pay the district or charter an incentive bonus of $500 for each remote student who passes the course. Offering bonuses for passing grades monetizes learning and leads to cherry-picking of students and other forms of inequity. Scheduled for House Education Committee, Tuesday. OPPOSE.


SB1026, sponsored by John Kavanagh (R-3), threatens school funding by prohibiting organizations that receive state tax dollars (including public schools) from hosting “drag shows” to entertain people under 18. Violators would lose state funds for 3 years. The bill’s definition of “drag show” is broad enough to include school plays such as Shakespeare or football players who dress up as cheerleaders for pep rallies. Identical bills have been introduced in several other states, prompting concerns of model legislation drafted by a hate group. Scheduled for Senate Government Committee, Wednesday. OPPOSE.


SB1163, sponsored by Steve Kaiser (R-2), would ban anyone who contributes to a bond or override campaign from bidding on a contract that is funded as a result of the bond or override. This bill would dramatically limit funding abilities for bonds and overrides, which many school districts rely on to meet their basic needs because the state has neglected its duty to adequately fund them. Scheduled for Senate Education Committee, Wednesday. OPPOSE. 


SB1174, sponsored by John Kavanagh (R-3), changes how school funding is calculated for students who are absent more than 10 days. If a student is unexcused for 10 consecutive days, the school would lose funding for that student, whether or not the student has withdrawn. Many situations, including family trauma, life-threatening accidents, and more can lead to unreported absences. Scheduled for Senate Education Committee, Wednesday. OPPOSE. 


SB1231, sponsored by Christine Marsh (D-4), would repeal Arizona’s inequitable “results-based funding” (RBF) program and redirect the money to early childhood education. This would be an incredibly positive change for Arizona’s students. Because results-based funding is centered on test scores, which correlate strongly with students’ socioeconomic status, RBF unfairly benefits students in wealthy areas, reinforcing the achievement gap in public schools instead of narrowing it. Education advocates who helped create the model say the program now “feel(s) more like a punishment than a reward for certain schools.” By contrast, early childhood education has been proven to increase student achievement throughout K-12 and beyond. Low-income and disadvantaged kids would reap the biggest benefits — that’s the very population RBF purported to, but did not actually, help. Also assigned to Appropriations; not yet on an agenda. Scheduled for Senate Education Committee, Wednesday. SUPPORT.


SB1305, sponsored by JD Mesnard (R-13), is an “anti-CRT” bill fueled by anti-public school culture wars. This would ban teaching “controversial topics” in district and charter schools (but not ESA taxpayer-funded private schools) and drive further distrust of educators. Teachers could be disciplined up to losing their teaching certificate, and school districts would face penalties of up to $5,000. Students need to know both the good and bad of our history so they can learn from the mistakes of our past. We should support critical thinking which teaches kids to interpret and analyze ideas on their own, not censor classroom conversations. This bill is identical to one from last year which did not pass. See duplicate bill HB2458, sponsored by Beverly Pingerelli (R-28). Scheduled for Senate Education Committee, Wednesday. OPPOSE.


SB1323, sponsored by Jake Hoffman (R-15), would make it a felony for any public school employee (but not an employee at an ESA-funded private school) to violate last year’s prohibition on referring students to or using any “sexually explicit” material. This has already essentially frozen the teaching of books like “The Color Purple,” “The Canterbury Tales” and “Atlas Shrugged,” preventing Arizona’s students from getting a well-rounded education. State law already makes it a felony to show pornography to children. Scheduled for Senate Judiciary Committee, Wednesday. OPPOSE.


SB1331, sponsored by Janae Shamp (R-29), would ban school governing boards from restricting or prohibiting the parent of a student from carrying or transporting a firearm on school property if the parent possesses a valid concealed weapons permit. A federal law, the Gun Free School Zones Act of 1990, protects nearly every school as a gun-free zone. Scheduled for Senate Education Committee, Wednesday. OPPOSE.


SB1564, sponsored by Steve Kaiser (R-2), would mandate that students at small private schools or who use ESA vouchers must be allowed to try out for interscholastic activities at public schools. Athletics should be something parents consider when choosing a school for their student. ESA vouchers siphon dollars away from local public schools; it is unreasonable to require them to cover non-attendees’ costs for extracurriculars. When parents opt out of local schools, they opt out of extracurriculars. This bill places an unreasonable burden on public schools, who would be expected to include voucher students without any additional funding. Scheduled for Senate Education Committee, Wednesday. OPPOSE.


SB1599, sponsored by JD Mesnard (R-13), would impose penalties of up to $5,000 per day for school districts that don’t post teacher salary information as already required by law. Along with being egregiously excessive compared to the nature of the offense, this mandate does not include a requirement to post a comparison to teacher salaries in other states, nor does it apply to taxpayer-funded, private voucher schools. Scheduled for Senate Education Committee, Wednesday. OPPOSE.


SB1657, sponsored by Ken Bennett (R-1), would reinstate a statewide K-12 exit test. In 2015, when Republican lawmakers overwhelmingly chose to repeal the requirement that students pass a test in order to graduate from high school, they stated that “the test has no meaning behind it” and that “placing all the responsibility and stress on individual students for the success of our educational system is unfair.” Other states that have repealed their high-stakes testing requirements caution against conflating a measure of learning with “a meaningless hoop to jump through.” This bill contains no exceptions for students with many forms of special needs who struggle to pass standardized tests. Scheduled for Senate Education Committee, Wednesday. OPPOSE.


HB2546, sponsored by Rachel Jones (R-17), would force any school district with at least 35,000 students to call an election to decide whether to split the district into two or more. This is “educational gerrymandering“: in some areas of the nation, especially those with scarce state funding, wealthier areas are choosing to break away from poorer ones, leaving kids with fewer resources behind. Arizona ranks 47th in per-student funding. The bill contains no appropriation to pay for the required elections. Scheduled for House Municipal Oversight & Elections Committee, Wednesday. OPPOSE.

Around the US, voucher bills are being propped up by special interests and passed at an alarming rate. These special interests are holding up Arizona’s dismal universal ESA vouchers as an example, ignoring the fact that they are blowing a massive hole in our budget and defunding our local public schools.

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Iowa: Despite overwhelming public outcry, Gov. Reynolds signed into law a massive ESA voucher program that will phase in universal vouchers over 3 years.

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Nebraska: Facing opposition from parents and teachers, Gov. Pillen and special interests are forcing through private school tax credit vouchers. 

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Utah: Despite opposition from the Utah PTA, teacher groups, and more, Gov. Cox signed a bill tying $6,000 teacher raises to $8,000 private school vouchers.

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Ohio: Ohio is facing a universal voucher bill that eliminates income caps and expands private school and homeschool tax credits. A similar bill from 2022 was projected to cost the state $1 billion.

Special interests are forcing these bills en masse, an onslaught that may spell the end of public education as we know it in Arizona and many other states.

Addressing the AEL

If not lifted by March 31, Arizona’s outdated school spending cap (AEL) will force the public district schools which serve 70% of the state’s school children to be legally unable to spend $1.4 billion in funds the Legislature has already allocated to them. District schools would have to cut spending for this school year by nearly 20% across the board, leading to school closures and furloughs of teachers and/or staff.

We’re following all AEL bills and will update you on their progress here weekly. See our January 23 report for a full rundown of all AEL bills introduced. 

One-Year Waivers

Requires a 2/3 vote on or before March 1, 2023 to lift the cap for this school year only

House AEL Watch: ⭐HCR2001, sponsored by David Cook (R-7), passed House Education Committee, 1/31. Passed 8-1-1; Quang Nguyen (R-1) voted No and Pingerelli (R-28) voted Present. All other members voted yes.

The bill will be heard in House Rules on Monday. This is an encouraging step which will hopefully lead to a full floor vote this week. 

Senate AEL Watch: ⭐SCR1009, sponsored by Ken Bennett (R-1). We applaud the Senate for advancing this one-year waiver directly to the Senate floor for a full vote. This is the decisive action lawmakers could and should have taken on their very first day of session!

Unfunded Mandates: Death by 1,000 Cuts

Standardized testing requirements for graduation. CPR trainings for all students and teachers. Mandates to include private school kids in public school sports. In-school, sequestered, supervised suspensions. Required elections to decide whether to split school districts up. 

What do all these ideas have in common? All are bills recently introduced at the Arizona Legislature. Some require extra staff. Some require extra training or materials. But — here’s the key — all of them require schools to do something extra without getting any extra funding. 

Our state government exercises a tremendous amount of control over public schools. Every year, lawmakers pass new education policies and mandates, yet at the same time, fail to supply adequate funding for them. The resulting unfunded or underfunded mandates and regulations eat away at the services schools can provide. If the proposal doesn’t come with new funding attached, then public schools must take money away from  benefits students are already getting.

Meanwhile, every dollar must be meticulously accounted for. Arizona ranks 47th in the nation in per-student spending, so unfunded mandates have a real impact on  schools’ budgets. When a school is already running short on Kleenex and copy paper, being buried under a blizzard of extra demands can feel like death by a thousand cuts. 

And then there’s the intangible cost of complexity — the weary burden of managing and juggling so many tiny requirements. It’s impossible to put a price tag on, but affects schools nonetheless. Meanwhile, for-profit voucher schools, which receive public funding with no strings attached, are propped up as the shiny, convenient alternative. And no one pays a bigger price than our kids.

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