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Save Our Schools Arizona
Weekly Education Report

56th Legislature, 1st General Session
Volume 5, Issue 3 • Week of January 23, 2023

New ESA Vouchers Threaten to Bankrupt Arizona

Last year, SOSAZ warned lawmakers that Gov. Ducey’s 2022 universal ESA voucher expansion would bankrupt our state. Last week, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC), which provides the Legislature with nonpartisan fiscal analysis, reported the universal ESA expansion has already racked up $200 million in entirely unbudgeted costs. They project these costs will balloon to $376 million by 2024 — a figure 700% larger than their original estimate. The JLBC also says the Arizona Department of Education has no way to pay for this shortfall and will require $200 million in supplemental funding. 

The takeaway: Our Republican-led legislature irresponsibly passed the nation’s largest voucher program and completely failed to budget for it. Where all this unbudgeted funding will come from, no one knows.

Universal ESA voucher costs are unbudgeted because 80% of the families taking these vouchers were already in private school or home education, rather than leaving public schools. In these cases, the money does not “follow the child,” as no funding was budgeted to the child to begin with. The ESA voucher acts as a taxpayer-funded coupon for a family who is entirely new to the system.

Arizona is already struggling to cope with Gov. Ducey’s massive 2021 tax cuts for the wealthy. The JLBC projects these revenue cuts, along with the expected coming recession, will act to entirely evaporate Arizona’s funding surplus, leaving the state in the red by FY 2025. And lawmakers intend to pile an unbudgeted private school voucher program on top of that? 

Our state cannot sustain an additional hundreds of millions of dollars each year in taxpayer-funded coupons for wealthy families who already choose private schools. The Arizona State Constitution requires the state to provide a public education to all students — it does not require the public funding of private schools or private home education. This Legislature must undo the harm last year’s legislature and Ducey caused, and repeal universal ESA vouchers before this unaccountable, wasteful program bankrupts our state.

With virtually no accountability or transparency for these funds and the dramatic costs to local public schools, Arizona voters are rightfully questioning these expenditures and agreeing with Gov. Hobbs’ assessment that the unfunded program must be overturned. 

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers are proposing yet another voucher expansion, this time for STO vouchers. When is enough enough?

Actions!

Use Request to Speak on these bills before Monday at 1 PM:

NO on HB2504 NO on SCR1002 NO on HB2421

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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!

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Bills in Request to Speak

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SCR1002, sponsored by Anthony Kern (R-27), would ask voters to restrict their own direct democracy powers by requiring a supermajority vote on constitutional amendments. Last year’s Prop 132, which instituted a requirement for a 60% supermajority vote on tax measures, started out as applying to all voter-initiated ballot measures — a high bar that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the country. The bill is motivated by majority lawmakers’ increasing frustration with measures they don’t like (voters’ frustration with lawmakers who don’t listen apparently doesn’t figure in) and their fear of losing control of the lawmaking process to Democrats. If both Republican-controlled chambers pass the measure, it will head to the ballot, and Gov. Hobbs cannot veto it. Scheduled for Senate Elections Committee, Monday. OPPOSE.

7

HB2421, sponsored by Matt Gress (R-4), would require district and charter schools to have at least one employee with a valid CPR certification, to annually provide at least one CPR training session, and to require one training for middle school students and a once-yearly training for students in high school. While CPR training for all is a worthy idea, that training is prohibitively expensive, and this bill contains zero funding for schools to run the training. Scheduled for House Education Committee, Tuesday. OPPOSE.

7

HB2504, sponsored by Barbara Parker (R-10), would expand the school tuition organization (STO) voucher program to students in foster care. STOs, or “Arizona’s first vouchers,” are dollar-for-dollar tax credits to private schools that result in significantly less money for public schools which serve the vast majority of foster youth. Since the STO voucher program’s creation, Arizona has lost out on over $2.1 billion in funding. Meanwhile, our state’s public schools remain in the bottom 5 nationwide for funding. Scheduled for House Education Committee, Tuesday. OPPOSE.

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Addressing the AEL

Lawmakers have introduced many bills to address Arizona’s outdated school spending cap. Each of these bills would avert teacher layoffs, program cuts and school closures, but in different ways and for varying lengths of time. A solution is needed because, without a 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. District schools would have to cut spending for this school year by nearly 20% across the board, potentially leading to school closures and furloughing teachers and/or staff.

The proposed bills on this topic fall into three general categories. We support all of these bills; we are watching to see which ones advance, and will keep you updated each week. 

One-Year Waivers

Any of these would require a 2/3 vote on or before March 1, 2023 to lift the cap for this school year only.

SCR1005 – Christine Marsh (D-4) 

HCR2001 – David Cook (R-7) 

HCR2002 – Matt Gress (R-4) 

Voter-Approved Permanent Resets

These bills come in pairs: one for the voters to approve at the 2024 general election, and a second that would kick in to clean up state statute if voters approve the first. 

SB1042 and SCR1004 – Christine Marsh (D-4) – Resets the cap to be based on spending in FY2024-25 instead of FY1979-80. 

HB2148 and HCR2010 – Jennifer Pawlik (D-13) – Resets the cap to be based on spending in FY2022-23 instead of FY1979-80. 

Voter-Approved Permanent Repeals

Like the reset bills, these also come in pairs. Because the school spending cap is being eliminated entirely, not just reset, the Voter Protection Act applies. This means the non-referral bill in each pair would require a 3/4 supermajority vote from each chamber of the legislature. 

SB1043 and SCR1003 – Christine Marsh (D-4) 

HB2069 and HCR2005 – Nancy Gutierrez (D-18) 

HB2294 and HCR2015 – David Cook (R-7) 

HCR2022 – Amish Shah (D-5) – Asks voters to fully repeal the AEL beginning in FY2025-26. Would appear on the 2024 general election ballot.

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