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Save Our Schools Arizona
Weekly Education Report

56th Legislature, 1st General Session
Volume 5, Issue 48• Week of December 11, 2023

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The Nation is Watching AZ

The nation is watching as Arizona’s voucher free-for-all leads to predictable results. The wealthy are using vouchers to subsidize tuition costs while private schools increase tuition, pricing out poor families. When former Gov. Ducey said “Our kids will no longer be locked in underperforming schools,” he really meant “My wealthy neighbors and donors will no longer be locked into pricey private school rates.”

This week, the conservative-leaning Wall Street Journal wrote a telling review of Arizona’s voucher program, leading with the headline: “Vouchers Helping Families Already in Private School, Early Data Show.” 

According to the WSJ, “since Arizona became the first state to allow any family to use public funding for private school or home schooling, students who had already opted out of public schools have been among the biggest beneficiaries. Data from a few other states that have since enacted similar programs show the same trend.”

SOSAZ had a chance to weigh in, pointing out that the Arizona Legislature had a chance to fund teacher salaries and other critical needs for Arizona’s public schools (which are funded 48th in the US) instead of draining resources to private schools for the rich. ‘It’s money that was on the table for public schools. We’re now propping up an entire other [private] school system,” said Beth Lewis, director of Save Our Schools Arizona. 

What could the $900 million in voucher funding pay for in public schools? For starters, $10,000 pay raises for all Arizona teachers and staff, plus school safety improvements, new technology, and basic supplies that teachers are currently fundraising to cover (like paper, markers and Kleenex).

The article goes on to point out, “Gov. Katie Hobbs, who took office in January, says ESA [vouchers] are part of the state’s budget problem, partly because it is funding students who would have attended private school anyway.”

Vouchers, paired with Arizona’s $400 million budget shortfall caused by Ducey’s tax cuts for the wealthy, are putting the state on track for an economic crisis. Republican lawmakers in the legislative majority refuse to take the issue seriously or budget responsibly, but in the meantime, districts are already facing budget cuts and potential school closures (see our K-12 Roundup below).

Universal vouchers are doing what they were designed to do: defund and dismantle public education.

BREAKING! One year of universal ESA vouchers has profoundly impacted Arizona’s public schools, economy, and quality of education. 

Read our in-depth report detailing the negative impacts of universal vouchers HERE.

Upcoming Events!

In partnership: Join several organizations, including Save Our Schools Arizona, at a town hall for Legislative Districts 2 and 4 on Saturday, December 9 at Paradise Valley Community College from 2-4 PM. We’ll hear from State Reps. Judy Schwiebert and Laura Terech. Sign up here.

Don’t Miss: Team SOSAZ is wrapping up our Education Advocacy Series with only 2 sessions remaining. Missed any of the first four sessions? Check out the video recordings of them here. Join us for the next two weeks to gain skills and knowledge that will empower you to take action as we head into 2024 and the legislative session.

Sunday, Dec 10 at 3:00 pm

2024 AZ Legislative Survival Guide

Register here! 

NEW! Help Save Our Schools Arizona FUNdraise for 2024 — AND join us for a night of trivia, PRIZES, and virtual fun on Thursday, December 14 at 6 pm! Register here for the event.

Can’t make it or aren’t interested in trivia? You can still contribute to your region’s team and help them toward victory. Every little bit helps! DONATE HERE

Voucher Watch

Spiraling Voucher Costs Hurt Rural Arizona Schools: The Payson Roundup outlined how the spiraling costs of universal ESA vouchers are on track to defund local schools, with particularly negative impacts on rural schools. “ESAs are not beneficial to rural Arizona, so funding to make it the best possible place for an education should be a priority,” said Don German, Executive Director of Arizona Rural Schools Association. Unfortunately, Republican lawmakers representing rural districts have bought into the voucher scam, abandoning the needs of their own voters. 

Bribery Investigation Re Tennessee Vouchers: The House Democratic Caucus in Tennessee is pushing US Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate Gov. Bill and the Tennessee GOP’s effort to pass the state’s 2019 voucher bill, an effort they allege includes attempted bribery. In an unprecedented move, Speaker Glen Casada kept the vote open for 45 minutes as he attempted to flip no votes. Former State Rep. John Mark Windle, who voted against the bill, confirmed that it was “suggested he could receive a Tennessee National Guard promotion in exchange for his vote.” 

As Tennessee Democratic Caucus chair John Ray Clemmons wrote, “Given the close connections between former Rep. Glen Casada, Gov. Bill Lee, and voucher supporters who are currently on the State’s payroll or being paid by private entities to promote Lee’s latest voucher scam, our duty to Tennesseans mandates that any lingering questions about alleged illegal conduct during the 2019 voucher vote in the House be resolved once and for all.”

Discriminatory Policies at Pennsylvania Voucher Schools: 

A new report,  “Pennsylvania Voucher Schools Use Tax Dollars to Advance Discrimination,” compiled by Education Voters of PA, found that private and religious schools receiving state funding often had policies or admission requirements based on “LGBTQ+ status, religion, academics, disability, pregnancy or abortion and a school’s determination of whether a student is the ‘right fit.’” 800 schools across Pennsylvania receive state voucher funding – of the 197 schools researched, 100% had discriminatory policies in place. 

Susan Spicka, executive director of Education Voters of PA, shared at a press conference: “Vouchers create the illusion of school choice… It is schools that are choosing students and these vouchers are funding discriminatory schools’ ability to choose the students that they want to enroll… Funding voucher schools does not help the state meet its constitutional obligation. And in fact every public dollar that funds tuition at a private school that picks and chooses the students that it enrolls leaves fewer dollars available to be spent in the state budget, which undermines the Commonwealth’s ability to fully fund public schools that educate all children.”

Iowa Private Schools Hike Tuition: Families in Iowa are struggling to afford tuition with school vouchers after private schools across the state hiked their prices. One mom noted that her daughter’s school raised tuition from $8,090 annually to $14,350. The state’s program has no caps on tuition increases – but that isn’t the only concern. According to Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand, “there are going to be no requirement for audit, no requirement for public records, no requirement for public meetings and just no transparency as to how that money is actually getting used.”

K-12 Roundup

Arizona’s universally expanded ESA vouchers are directly defunding school districts, causing school districts to explore hard choices including teacher layoffs and school closures. Now, Paradise Valley Unified School District is considering closing four local schools: Hidden Hills Elementary, Sunset Canyon Elementary, Desert Springs Preparatory, and Vista Verde Middle School. 

There are several factors at play, but examining the numbers shows the main culprit is Arizona’s universally expanded school voucher program, which is stripping desperately needed funds from local public schools. 

As of this summer, 2,700 students in PVUSD received a voucher, but district enrollment only decreased by 800 students (3% of total enrollment). That means there are almost 2,000 students now receiving vouchers who never attended district schools in the first place – but their vouchers lead to $20 million being siphoned away from the district. 

Although only 3% of students have potentially left Paradise Valley schools for vouchers, the associated cuts may potentially lead to 4 out of 45 (9%) of schools being closed. This speaks to the devastating impacts of universal vouchers on the local school system.  

It is heartbreaking that our districts are being forced to consider the drastic action of closing schools. Local schools are absolutely foundational to their local communities, and we lose a huge part of our neighborhoods when those schools close. Our districts should be focused on the best ways we can provide our students with a world-class education, but the state legislature has set us all up to fail. Districts now have to cut costs to deal with the devastating impact of ESA vouchers being felt locally only one year after the legislature expanded them universally. 

Public School Proud!

Check out some incredible pictures and stories from across the state that make us #PublicSchoolProud!

Know a story you think we should spotlight? Send an email to tyler@sosarizona.org to let us know!

Congratulations to Boulder Creek Elementary School in Paradise Valley Unified School District for being named the #1 elementary school in the state! AZ’s Family stopped by to see what makes the school so great – check it out here.

Gilbert High School welcomed Tony and Violet Duncan to celebrate the last day of Native American Heritage Month. Students enjoyed Tony’s performance of a traditional hoop dance.

At DeMiguel Elementary School in Flagstaff, Principal Biggs took over every teacher’s class for a special lesson on gratitude while the teachers got a much-needed break. Students drew portraits and wrote a list of all the things about their teacher they are thankful for.

1000 Strong for Public Education

We’re excited to announce 1000 Strong for Public Education, a Save Our Schools Arizona Network campaign to demonstrate the overwhelming support for public education in communities across Arizona. 

We’re asking 1,000 people to make a meaningful financial investment in our work by the beginning of 2024. All fully tax deductible gifts go directly to our largest budget expense — our people, who live and work in the communities they organize. Every dollar helps!

DONATE HERE TO BECOME A CHARTER MEMBER

Thank you for helping us work toward a future where a high-quality, fully-funded public education is available to all Arizona students.

Get Plugged In!

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Have you signed the AZ Loves Public Schools Pledge yet? Be part of our growing community of public school supporters, sign the pledge and then share with your friends! Also check out our map of Arizona’s public school supporters and help us fill it in!

Don’t forget to join us on social media. Pick your favorite(s) and join us for fun, engaging content!! This is where we post important updates, key news articles, and informative graphics and videos you can’t get anywhere else.

Join Team SOSAZ!

Sign up for a Community Action Team: East Valley, West Valley & North Phoenix, Scottsdale & Paradise Valley, Central & South Phoenix, Northern Arizona, and Southern Arizona! Your local coordinators will help you with using Request to Speak and contacting your lawmakers.

Request an SOSAZ Education Roadshow presentation HERE

Sign up to automatically receive the SOSAZ Legislative Weekly Report HERE

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