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Save Our Schools Arizona
Weekly Education Report

56th Legislature, 1st General Session
Volume 5, Issue 28 • Week of July 17, 2023

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Back to School — Already???

Many school districts across Arizona will be welcoming students back as early as this week. That means tens of thousands of teachers and staff are already working tirelessly to prepare their classrooms (out of their own pockets). This makes us ask – if the state adequately funded public schools, wouldn’t these basic learning items be covered? Short answer: yes. 

Arizona teachers and parents are forced to equip their own classrooms, while publicly-funded ESA vouchers are being used for gourmet espresso machines, chicken coops, trampolines, out-of-state waterskiing lessons, and home improvement projects. We can’t make sense of it either. 

Public School Enrollment on the Rise: Special interests, extremist politicians and voucher pushers (we admit, that was redundant) would have us believe that public school enrollment is dwindling while private school voucher demand is through the roof… but that’s definitely not the case. 

In many districts, public school enrollment is skyrocketing and districts are struggling to accommodate the growing number of students. Recently, a district in Buckeye reported it had converted its gymnasium into classrooms to handle their student boom. West Maricopa districts Agua Fria and Tolleson are “bursting at the seams.” Families are in no way walking away from public education — but growing enrollment means growing needs from the state, and Arizona remains mired at 48th in the US in K-12 spending.   

While ESA Vouchers Dwindle:  After the initial enrollment explosion, the AZ Department of Education (ADE) is now reporting declines in ESA voucher enrollment. According to the Arizona Republic’s Mary Jo Pitzl, ESA voucher enrollment declined from approximately 61,000 students to 56,000 students in June as families make decisions about staying with the program or moving back to public schools. Frankly, we aren’t surprised by this 8% drop in enrollment. Thousands of parents have filed complaints against the ADE and ESA Director Christine Accurso, claiming she is mismanaging the program, opening it to fraud and abuse, and prioritizing wealthy religious schools over special needs students. Rural parents are making the case that the voucher program is not designed for them, and that ADE is refusing to accommodate rural families. 

Make no mistake — despite these struggles, the ESA voucher program is still on track to cost $900 million by next year, jeopardizing our entire public education system and bankrupting the state. Special interests and Supt. Horne’s ADE continues to pour massive advertising dollars into diverting public funds to private pockets, even targeting low-income and Spanish-speaking families with a cynical fantasy that the program will work for them. Stay tuned for more alerts and a roadmap for fighting to take back public education in our state!

Around the Horne

Superintendent Tom Horne is “doubling down” on pushing strict classroom discipline over proven approaches like Social Emotional Learning (SEL). Horne has decided (seemingly based solely on a single letter he received in 2011) that the biggest problem with Arizona education is SEL, which he claims distracts from “core academics” despite the mountains of research showing the benefits of Social Emotional Learning for student learning. Horne also claims that SEL is driving teachers out of the classroom, ignoring the outcry from classroom teachers and administrators, who know that emotional and mental health is a foundation on which academic success is built. 

This week, Horne’s ADE doubled down on this approach, training teachers to use old-fashioned forms of classroom management, such as “increasingly focused forms of physical attention to stop a student from goofing off in class” including squirm-inducing stares and silently standing over students. Experienced classroom teachers know that above all, strong relationships and building an inclusive classroom community are far more effective ways to manage a classroom. Horne’s draconian approach fails to account for neurodiversity, learning differences, and a host of other issues that might be impacting a student’s behavior such as hunger and trauma..  

Handling behavior issues solely with “strict discipline” is backward and ineffective, just another example of Tom Horne’s out-of-touch approach to running the Arizona Department of Education. 

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. In order for Arizona to move forward and thrive, these critical discussions need to take place. Find your legislative district here. Email and phone information for your representatives is here and your senator is here.

Upcoming Events!

Speaking of Schools Event

Speaking of Schools: 

Advocating for Public Schools in Rural America

*THIS* Monday, July 17 at 5:00 pm

Register here! Space is limited – you don’t want to miss!

Upcoming RAS

Statewide Rural Action Summits – Mark Your Calendars!

Navajo Nation – July 22 – Register here!

Sierra Vista – August 26 – Register here!

Yuma – November 4


Voter Registration Training

Thursday, July 6 at 6:00 pm

Register here!


Education Advocacy Mini Sessions

Monday, July 24 at 6:30pm – Register here!

Back to School & Parent Advocacy

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Public School Proud!

Amazing things happen in Arizona’s public schools every single day. Let’s take some time over the summer to highlight stories from our community schools that make us #PublicSchoolProud! 

Congratulations to the Round Valley Middle School FBLA for their great showing at Future Business Leaders of America Nationals. Alivia Page and Kody Eagar were finalists for the Marketing Mix Challenge, Cassidy Elmer took 6th in Learning Strategies, and Ashlyn Haws took first place in Career Research out of over 13,000 attendees!!! Way to go!

High school basketball players from Coconino, Page, Winslow, Tuba City, and Williams High Schools went “down under” to play in the 2023 Nunawading Tournament in Melbourne, Australia!

Students from Isaac School District are working with APS to create cooler campuses by choosing the best locations to plant trees on campus to provide new shade cover. This is project-based learning and community partnerships at their finest - you love to see it!

Voucher Watch

Arizona’s ESA (Empowerment Scholarship Account) voucher system is the least accountable in the entire country, with no standards in place for financial transparency, academic accountability, or student safety. Vouchers are an irresponsible and dangerous policy rife with opportunities for fraud and abuse, opening our education system and children to grifters and bad actors. 

Let’s run down the various ways the ESA voucher program fails any measure of accountability to Arizona’s taxpayers.

    • No Checks on Waste, Fraud, and Abuse: Unlike public schools, Arizona’s ESA voucher system lacks any measure of financial transparency. There is no formal disclosure of how taxpayer dollars are being spent through vouchers – and the examples cropping up in ESA parent groups show vouchers funding nonessential (and even luxury) expenses like trampolines, gourmet espresso machines, chicken coops, and cowboy classes
    • No Learning Required: ESA vouchers have no curriculum requirements, no testing requirements, and no certification requirements for teachers. Examples abound of white supremacists and far-right curricula used by Arizona homeschool students and private schools, including Hillsdale College, Abeka, Bob Jones U, the so-called “School of the West,” the ATI curriculum used by the Duggar family in “Shiny Happy People,” and Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point Academies.
    • No Protections for Arizona’s Kids: To make sure our kids are safe, public schools require rigorous background checks and fingerprinting for everyone regularly interacting with students including substitutes and parent volunteers, and there are systems in place to deal with all allegations of improper behavior. There are no safety requirements or background checks for private school teachers, ESA tutors, or ESA vendors in order to receive voucher funding, and no systems in place to deal with reports of bad actors. After an ESA vendor was arrested for 8 felony child sex crimes, his karate studio remains listed as an approved ESA vendor.

Any school or education service provider that receives taxpayer dollars should follow the same requirements as public district and charter schools – requirements put in place to keep children safe, guarantee they’re learning, and ensure public funds are being used properly. Check out our latest blog for more on how ESA vouchers fail Arizona’s students and families.

Arizona’s Voucher System Has the Lowest Standards In the Nation

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