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Save Our Schools Arizona
Weekly Education Report

56th Legislature, 1st General Session
Volume 5, Issue 30 • Week of July 31, 2023

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$1 Billion Failed Experiment

When it rains it pours — and if this week has any clear theme, it’s the growing sentiment across Arizona that the $1 billion experiment known as universal ESA voucher expansion has been a dismal and costly failure. 

Hobbs Projects $320M ESA Voucher Shortfall

This week, Gov. Hobbs’ office released a memo outlining a $950 million projected expenditure for ESA vouchers this coming school year. This comprises 1/8 of the entire state K-12 budget and is being diverted from local public schools to unaccountable private options that are legally allowed to discriminate and peddle conspiracy theories, incorrect history and science, religion, and more on the taxpayers’ dime. As the Arizona Republic’s deep dive into a new ESA voucher-funded Christian private school reveals, “there is little public oversight of what students are learning, whether they are achieving at their grade level and the training their instructors receive” for extremist schools like Tipping Point Academy that “promise to integrate a Biblical worldview into every lesson.” 

Worse, the legislature has zero plan to pay for the nearly billion-dollar program — an astronomical $320 million overage has already blown up a budget that went into effect less than a month ago. With hardly any surplus for next year, lawmakers will be forced to either raise taxes to cover this shortfall, strip funds from public schools and other essential services, or deplete the state’s “Rainy Day Fund” savings. 

Mayes Protects Parents & Kids

Attorney General Kris Mayes issued strong warnings around the ESA voucher program this week, alerting parents to the fact that when they leave public school and use a voucher, they lose many rights and protections. For example, students no longer have a federal right to privacy or a “free and appropriate education.” 

According to Mayes’ office, many private schools have admissions policies or practices that would be illegal at public district and charter schools, like only accepting students of a certain faith or denying students with different learning needs or disabilities. In the press release, Mayes said “families should know that when they accept an ESA, they lose protections from discrimination related to a child’s learning abilities, religion and sexual orientation.” When asked to respond, Supt. Horne said he “hasn’t had a chance to research that and doesn’t yet have a comment.”

“Families have no recourse under federal law… It’s important for Arizona families to be aware of the rights they give up when they leave the public school system.”

The Longest Legislative Session in State History

Monday marks the 204th day of this legislative session — easily the longest in state history. After over seven weeks of inaction, the Arizona House and Senate are set to gavel back in and, hopefully, wrap things up. Republican House Speaker Ben Toma told press recently that lawmakers plan to advance a Prop 400 deal on Monday, along with some “administrative types of things,” and then adjourn sine die (a Latin term meaning “for good”). 

Currently, legislators are pocketing tens of thousands of dollars in per-diem and mileage claims for doing essentially nothing. Scandals are continuing to pop up around lawmakers gaming the system to get higher payments — as one journalist put it, “essentially stealing taxpayer dollars.” 

Bottom line: This is a legislature that should have gone home months ago. The one thing they should be focusing on (rolling back ESA vouchers and adding serious guardrails against fraud and abuse) they refuse to do. The end can’t come soon enough for us.

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!

Statewide Rural Action Summits - Mark Your Calendars!

Statewide Rural Action Summits – Mark Your Calendars!

Sierra Vista – August 26 – Register here!

Yuma – November 4 – Save the date!

Screenshot 2023-07-29 at 10.25.22 AM

Welcome to Team SOSAZ!

Monday, August 7 at 6:30pm – Register here!

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East Valley K-12 Community Townhall

Dobson Ranch Grande Room

Saturday, August 5, 3pm

Register HERE

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Celebration of Arizona’s Public Schools

Fundraiser at the Arizona Science Center

Saturday, September 23, 5:30pm

Get your tickets HERE

Get Plugged In!

Make sure you’re signed up for our important text alerts. We won’t text you often, only when it’s really important! Click on bit.ly/JOINSOS or text JOINSOS to (520) 779-4568.

TEXT SOSAZ

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.

Voucher Watch

This week ushered in even more chaos at the Arizona Department of Education as ESA voucher program director Christine Accurso suddenly resigned, followed shortly by another high-ranking ESA voucher administrator. Meanwhile, first-quarter voucher funds are set to hit accounts next week, over 230,000 pending reimbursements are still in queue, and the RFP process for the ESA voucher tech marketplace is clouded by squabbles and accusations. 

The ADE’s ESA voucher department sent out an email this week approving water parks as PE expenditures. After widespread shocked reaction, Supt. Horne tried to walk it back, but the public is rightly suspicious about how many other extravagant or ridiculous non-educational expenditures are being approved because the program is a black box. 

Gov. Hobbs also issued a letter to Supt. Horne raising concerns about an ADE security breach being investigated by Homeland Security that may have revealed personally identifiable information about voucher recipients and disability categories. Once again, Supt. Horne’s ADE is showing it is completely inept at running this off-the-rails program. 

All in all, our taxpayer dollars are being mismanaged, local public schools are being defunded, and ESA voucher families are being left out to dry.

K-12 Roundup

As schools around the state gear up to welcome students, they are working out plans to serve those students in the midst of teacher and staff shortages driven by low pay and poor working environments created by the Arizona Legislature’s chronic underfunding of public schools. 

According to the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association, there were almost 3,000 teacher vacancies in January 2023. Arizona has the lowest average elementary school teacher pay in the country, at $5,000 behind the national average and lagging behind our neighboring states.

In Littleton, skyrocketing enrollment is at odds with a growing teacher shortage. Lakin Prep Academy, opening this school year, has resorted to recruiting teachers from Spain, the Philippines, and across the world. In spite of these efforts, they are still short on teachers for the upcoming school year. 

In light of teacher shortages, LIttleton Superintendent, Dr. Roger Freeman made a plea: “If we abandon our schools, I think we are abandoning a lot more than that in our society, and so that’s my final message is an ask for people to rally around public schools. In the long term, it’s going to be in everyone’s best interests.”

In Chino Valley, the district is offering teachers housing options in tiny studio homes as a way to offset lower pay. While it is laudable that Chino Valley School District is attempting to assist with housing, this is not a solution. The Arizona legislature needs to pay our teachers a competitive wage that attracts and retains the best teachers in the nation.

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! 

Page Middle School prepared rising 6th graders for the new school year with a new day full of team building, ice breakers, and other activities to get students ready for middle school and excited for the new school year. What a great idea to reduce the stress around starting middle school!

Students from 6th through 12th grade in Tanque Verde Unified School District flexed their musical muscles at Orchestra Camp. A picture is worth 1,000 words, but we sure wish we could hear their musical stylings!

Glendale Unified School District is celebrating their amazing GUHSD Bus Drivers! Bus drivers are the first and last people students see each and every school day – students truly wouldn’t get anywhere without them.

Upcoming Events!

Statewide Rural Action Summits - Mark Your Calendars!

Statewide Rural Action Summits – Mark Your Calendars!

Sierra Vista – August 26 – Register here!

Yuma – November 4 – Save the date!

Screenshot 2023-07-29 at 10.25.22 AM

Education Advocacy Mini Sessions

Welcome to Team SOSAZ!

Monday, August 7 at 6:30pm – Register here!

unnamed-26

East Valley K-12 Community Townhall

Dobson Ranch Grande Room

Saturday, August 5, 3pm

Register HERE

unnamed-25

Celebration of Arizona’s Public Schools

Fundraiser at the Arizona Science Center

Saturday, September 23, 5:30pm

Get your tickets HERE

Get Plugged In!

Make sure you’re signed up for our important text alerts. We won’t text you often, only when it’s really important! Click on bit.ly/JOINSOS or text JOINSOS to (520) 779-4568.

TEXT SOSAZ

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.

Get Your SOSAZ Merch

AZ Loves Public Schools Car Magnets & Yard Signs!

Be the first to order HERE!

Note: Yard signs are currently available only in Maricopa, Pima, and Yavapai Counties where our field team can personally deliver.  Check back for more counties soon!

Order AZ Loves Public Schools Tees, Tanks & Sweatshirts on AMAZON!

Be the first to order HERE!

Don’t forget your red #PublicSchoolProud shirt – order HERE. While we get ready to change suppliers, we’re offering 2 shirts for your donation of $30, or one for an $18 donation. Wear Public School Proud gear to show your dedication to well-funded public education in Arizona!

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.

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