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Save Our Schools Arizona
Weekly Education Report

56th Legislature, 1st General Session
Volume 5, Issue 9 • Week of March 6, 2023

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Arizona Schools Face $4.5 BILLION Gap

Volume 5, Issue 9 • Week of March 6, 2023 Image 01

This week, SOSAZ reported that Arizona schools face a $4.5 billion deficit compared to the national average in annual per-student spending. Instead of acknowledging this problem, legislative Republicans are doubling down on the systematic shrinking of our state budget, pushing endless and costly tax cut proposals that will make future funding of Arizona’s schools (and other vital state services) next to impossible. 

Unfortunately, they’re also subjecting the people of Arizona to nonstop political theater, free of any serious solutions or proposals. Arizona families are struggling, educators are fleeing the classroom, and children are suffering — and some lawmakers seem to think it’s all a big joke. 

The Republican majority is behaving in deeply unserious fashion: continuing their attacks on teachers and vulnerable trans youth, taking aim at pronouns and drag queens, and advancing unworkable and even unconstitutional bills despite a clear backstop of guaranteed vetoes. They need to stop their childish antics and let the grownups in the room take over before it’s too late. 

Make no mistake: dramatic improvements can be accomplished relatively overnight. The New Mexico legislature has made significant investments in K-12 education over the past few years, advancing from 39th nationally in per-student spending to 28th in just a few years. New Mexico’s governor also passed major teacher raises in 2022 in order to ameliorate their teacher retention crisis. 

And yet, time and again, far too many lawmakers whine that they have no idea how to address Arizona schools’ burgeoning needs, and complain that education experts “have never given them a number” for the size of the hole they have created. Now that we’ve given them some Cliffs Notes just in time for real budget talks to begin, maybe they’ll do their homework?

Bills in Committee

7

SB1182, sponsored by Ken Bennett (R-1), would allow private and for-profit universities in Arizona to provide taxpayer-funded financial assistance to students in teacher training programs on the same terms as those at Arizona’s three state universities. Grand Canyon University was the only organization to testify in support of the bill in committee. These private, for-profit universities would get a share of the $20 million in tax funding, decreasing the funding available to accredited public universities. Public universities do a more efficient job of providing education to a wider range of students with fewer dollars; private universities are often more selective, costlier and do not offer in-state benefits for students. This is not only privatization, but poor value for tax money. Scheduled for House Education Committee, Tuesday. OPPOSE.

Actions!

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Bills in Committee

7

SB1182, sponsored by Ken Bennett (R-1), would allow private and for-profit universities in Arizona to provide taxpayer-funded financial assistance to students in teacher training programs on the same terms as those at Arizona’s three state universities. Grand Canyon University was the only organization to testify in support of the bill in committee. These private, for-profit universities would get a share of the $20 million in tax funding, decreasing the funding available to accredited public universities. Public universities do a more efficient job of providing education to a wider range of students with fewer dollars; private universities are often more selective, costlier and do not offer in-state benefits for students. This is not only privatization, but poor value for tax money. Scheduled for House Education Committee, Tuesday. OPPOSE.

7

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 already 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 required to include voucher students even though they’ve chosen to go to school elsewhere. Scheduled for House Education Committee, Tuesday. OPPOSE.

7

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 House Education Committee, Tuesday. OPPOSE. 

7

HB2003, sponsored by David Livingston (R-28), would slash corporate income taxes nearly in half by 2025. Last year, Republican lawmakers slashed personal income taxes beginning this year, leaving experts concerned that Arizona won’t have enough revenue to sustain critical services once pandemic relief money runs out and the next recession arrives. Arizona’s tax giveaways already far outpace the entire state budget, and our unbalanced tax structure relies heavily on volatile sales tax; we’re currently one of just 11 states with a corporate income tax rate below 5%. The bill is retroactive to January 2023. Part of an overall package of tax cuts which would impact the state General Fund by billions of dollars. Scheduled for Senate Appropriations Committee, Tuesday. OPPOSE.

7

SB1577 and its companion bill SCR1035, sponsored by JD Mesnard (R-13), would mandate that, if Arizona has a budget surplus in any given year, the state must automatically cut income tax rates by 50% for the following year. Arizona has just begun to dig itself out of the Great Recession, which left Arizona underfunded in nearly every area and still struggling to fund K-12 schools. Meanwhile, Arizona still gives away more money every year ($24.5 billion) in tax cuts, credits and carve-outs than it spends in its budget. The budget surplus isn’t evidence that we’re collecting too much revenue; it’s evidence of lawmakers’ persistent unwillingness to invest in our public schools and services. The fiscal note projects a FY2027 General Fund loss of $253.5 million. Part of an overall package of tax cuts which would impact the state General Fund by billions of dollars. Both bills are scheduled for House Ways & Means Committee, Wednesday. OPPOSE.

7

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. Getting a concealed-weapons permit in Arizona is ridiculously easy. Meanwhile, angry parents are disrupting school board meetings and threatening school staff. Do we really want to arm them? A federal law, the Gun Free School Zones Act of 1990, protects nearly every school as a gun-free zone. Part of a package of bills trying to force guns into schools. Scheduled for House Judiciary Committee, Wednesday. OPPOSE.

7

SCR1015, sponsored by JD Mesnard (R-13), would ask voters to restrict Arizona’s initiative and referendum process by requiring ballot measures to collect signatures from a percentage of voters in each of Arizona’s 30 legislative districts: 10% for initiatives and 15% for a constitutional amendment. This anti-democracy measure would effectively give any single district veto powers over the rest, and would almost certainly end citizen initiatives in Arizona. Nearly identical measures have been proposed in at least four other sessions, including last year, but have never passed. Scheduled for House Ways & Means Committee, Wednesday. OPPOSE.

It’s no secret that Arizona’s universal ESA voucher program is a giant fiasco, driving up $200 million in unbudgeted costs to taxpayers — but currently, the fiercest critics are the parents who signed up for the program before the universal expansion. 

On Monday morning, these angry parents turned out en masse to testify for hours in front of the Arizona State Board of Education. Their demand? The ouster of Christine Accurso, the Arizona Department of Education’s new Director of ESA appointed by Superintendent Tom Horne.

Last year, SOSAZ sounded the alarm that the universal expansion would harm students, removing priority access for the kids with special needs for whom the program was originally intended. Sadly, as we predicted, the rollout of universal vouchers has been a disaster, with massively extended wait times for families already in the program. To make matters worse, Horne and Accurso have rolled out multiple confusing, mid-year administrative changes that directly conflict with the ESA Handbook as approved by the State Board of Education. This is a lose-lose situation: families in public schools are watching resources siphoned away and special needs families are being deprioritized in favor of wealthy families who have always attended private school.

The Arizona Legislature must take immediate action to ensure appropriate management of the ESA voucher program. Sen. Christine Marsh’s SB1706, currently awaiting a vote of the full Senate, would mandate that ADE follow more comprehensive reporting requirements to give taxpayers more information about how the ESA program spends their money.

Use our one-click email to contact your lawmakers TODAY, urging them to pass universal ESA voucher accountability. If you’ve already emailed, please do it again! 

Bills in Rules Committees

The goal is likely for these bills to receive a floor vote this week, so after you use RTS, contact your senator for Senate bills, your representatives for House bills.

Remember, the Rules committees don’t take public testimony and won’t read your comments.

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 House Rules Committee, Monday. OPPOSE.

SB1559, sponsored by Steve Kaiser (R-2), would exempt from state taxes all of the first-year profits for a corporation in its first year of business, half the profits in its second year, and a quarter in its third year. It would also waive all fees. Arizona already gives away far more in tax loopholes and carve-outs than it spends in its state budget every year, while most corporations in Arizona pay only the minimum tax of $50. The bill’s fiscal note observes “a lack of detailed business income data” and estimates the cost at an “understated” $34.3 million in FY2025. State revenues are already forecast to crater over the next two years, impacting the state’s obligations to fund public education and other essential services; this is no time to further cut taxes. Scheduled for Senate Rules Committee, Monday. OPPOSE.

SB1694, sponsored by Jake Hoffman (R-15), would ban the state, including public schools, from requiring “diversity, equity, and inclusion programs” for its employees, spending public funds on such programs, or setting policies to influence the composition of its workforce on the basis of race, sex, or color. Any employee required to participate would be authorized to sue. Diversity, equity and inclusion is a philosophy designed to harness the differences, talents and unique qualities of all individuals. Of course, this bill does not impose any requirements on taxpayer-funded private schools receiving ESA vouchers. Scheduled for Senate Rules Committee, Monday. OPPOSE.

SB1700, sponsored by Justine Wadsack (R-17), would double down on last year’s measures to ban many books from schools and institute public review of such books. Any parent would be allowed to ask a school to remove a book, ADE would be required to keep a list of banned books, and public schools would have to make a list of books available to the public for 4 months before giving them to students. The bill takes aim at “gender fluidity” and “gender pronouns,” and would introduce an inaccurate, weaponized definition of “grooming” into statute. Attempts to ban books in schools are on the rise nationwide, with a new focus on local school boards. This horrifying bill not only harms the fight against child sexual abuse, but harms our children’s ability to learn. Many of the books that some see as controversial reflect the realities kids across Arizona are living; choosing to pull reality out of libraries won’t create good citizens. Scheduled for Senate Rules Committee, Monday. OPPOSE.

Bills in Motion

Any of the bills marked “ready for floor” could be brought up for a vote with less than one day’s notice. Bills that are “ready for rules” first require caucus meetings, which usually happen once weekly, before being brought to a vote.


Key: ⚠️= veto-proof bill, ⏱️= time is running out, 📥= on Gov. Hobbs’ desk, ☠️= dead

Attacks on teachers & curriculum:

  • SB1001, Kavanagh (R-3), would ban teachers from using a student’s chosen pronouns without written parental permission. This manufactured, divisive culture-war bill further politicizes teachers and will deepen Arizona’s ongoing teacher retention crisis. Doesn’t apply to taxpayer-funded private schools taking ESA vouchers. Passed the Senate on party lines. Awaits House first reading and committee assignment. OPPOSE.
  • SB1040, Kavanagh (R-3), would ban trans kids from using the school bathrooms, changing facilities and “sleeping quarters” that align with their gender identities, further politicizing teachers. Doesn’t apply to taxpayer-funded private schools taking ESA vouchers. Passed the Senate on party lines. Assigned to House Education Committee, not yet on an agenda. OPPOSE.
  • 📥SB1305, Mesnard (R-13), would ban teaching “controversial topics” in district and charter schools (but not ESA taxpayer-funded private schools). Violators would lose their licenses and face $5,000 fines. Doesn’t apply to taxpayer-funded private schools taking ESA vouchers. Passed both chambers 2/21 on partisan lines with Republicans in support, thanks to duplicate bill HB2458, Pingerelli, R-28. Awaits transmittal to the governor’s desk. OPPOSE.
  • SB1323, Hoffman (R-15), would make it a felony for any public school employee to violate last year’s prohibition on referring students to or using any so-called “sexually explicit” material, which includes commonly taught literature and even the Bible. Doesn’t apply to taxpayer-funded private schools taking ESA vouchers. Scheduled for Senate Rules Committee, Monday; a floor vote is next. OPPOSE.
  • HB2523, Parker (R-10), would require every K-12 student to recite the Pledge of Allegiance daily at district and charter schools. Doesn’t apply to taxpayer-funded private schools taking ESA vouchers. Passed the full House 2/21 on partisan lines, with Republicans in support. Assigned to Senate Education Committee, not yet on an agenda. OPPOSE. 
  • HB2533, Gillette (R-30), would require public schools to post a list of every single item teachers use or discuss with students. Doesn’t apply to taxpayer-funded private schools taking ESA vouchers. Passed the House on party lines. Awaits Senate first reading and committee assignment. OPPOSE.
  • HB2786, Heap (R-10), would require school boards to notify parents of recommended or funded “training opportunities” for staff. Part of the hunt for nonexistent “critical race theory” in schools. Doesn’t apply to taxpayer-funded private schools taking ESA vouchers. Passed the House on party lines. Awaits Senate first reading and committee assignment. OPPOSE.

Voucher expansions:

  • SB1243, Mesnard (R-13), would bolster profit for STO vouchers by rolling them into a single category and increasing the maximum contribution amount. Assigned to House Ways & Means Committee; not yet on an agenda. OPPOSE. 
  • HB2014, Livingston (R-28), would more than triple over 3 years the amount Arizona spends on a specific type of STO voucher. Scheduled for a House floor vote, Monday. OPPOSE.
  • HB2504, Parker (R-10), would expand STO vouchers to students in foster care. Public schools serve the vast majority of foster youth, who are already eligible for ESA vouchers. Awaits Senate first reading and committee assignment. OPPOSE.

Attacks on schools, school boards, districts:

  • SB1026, Kavanagh (R-3), threatens school funding by banning “drag shows” for people under 18. Violators would lose state funds for 3 years. Broad enough to include school plays and pep rallies. Awaits House first reading and committee assignment. OPPOSE. 
  • SB1331, Shamp (R-29), would allow parents to carry guns on school property with a valid concealed weapons permit, violating federal law. Passed the full Senate 2/21 on partisan lines, with Republicans in support. Scheduled for House Judiciary Committee, Wednesday. OPPOSE.
  • ⏱️SB1410, Wadsack (R-17), would allow lawmakers to order the Attorney General to investigate if school boards are violating state law, potentially obstructing local control by blocking policies they disagree with. Awaits a Senate floor vote. OPPOSE.
  • SB1599, Mesnard (R-13), would fine school districts that don’t post teacher salary information as already required by law up to $5,000 per day. Passed the full Senate 2/16 on partisan lines, with Republicans in support. Scheduled for House Education Committee, Tuesday. OPPOSE. 
  • ⏱️SB1694, Hoffman (R-15), would ban the state, including public schools, from requiring “diversity, equity, and inclusion programs” for its employees. Awaits Senate Rules Committee, then the floor. OPPOSE.
  • SB1696, Hoffman (R-15), broadly doubles down on a ban on district and charter schools exposing minors to “sexually explicit materials.” Being amended to apply only to cities and counties. Awaits House first reading and committee assignment. OPPOSE.
  • ⏱️SB1700, Wadsack (R-17), is a broadly written book ban that takes aim at “gender fluidity” and “gender pronouns,” and would introduce an inaccurate, weaponized definition of “grooming” into statute. Awaits Senate Rules Committee, then the floor. OPPOSE.
  • ⏱️SB1704, Wadsack (R-17), would make it an “unlawful discriminatory practice” for public schools to ask for kids’ shot records. Vaccination rates in Arizona are dropping and measles is making a comeback; it’s dangerous to children. Awaits a Senate floor vote. OPPOSE.
  • ⚠️⏱️SCR1024, Wadsack (R-17), asks voters to enshrine racism in the state Constitution. This would negatively impact student learning, teacher retention and teacher recruitment. Awaits a Senate floor vote. OPPOSE.
  • ⚠️SCR1025, Wadsack (R-17), would ask voters to insert the “parents’ bill of rights” into the state Constitution as a far-right political bludgeon against public schools. Does not apply to private schools receiving taxpayer funds via ESA vouchers. Awaits House first reading and committee assignment. OPPOSE.
  • HB2539, Pingerelli (R-28), would force the State Board of Education to implement a “public awareness program” to prop up school choice in Arizona, including free, mandatory publicity for taxpayer-funded ESA vouchers. Scheduled for a House floor vote, Monday. OPPOSE.
  • HB2546, 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 could lead to educational gerrymandering. Awaits Senate first reading and committee assignment. OPPOSE.

Attacks on direct democracy: 

  • ⚠️SCR1002, Kern (R-27), would ask voters to require a supermajority vote on constitutional amendments. Passed the full Senate on partisan lines, with Republicans in support. Assigned to House Government Committee, not yet on an agenda. OPPOSE.
  • ⚠️SCR1015, Mesnard (R-13), would ask voters to require ballot measures to collect signatures from a percentage of voters in each of Arizona’s 30 legislative districts: 10% for initiatives and 15% for a constitutional amendment. Passed the full Senate on partisan lines, with Republicans in support. Scheduled for House Municipal Oversight & Elections Committee, Wednesday. OPPOSE.

Resources & Accountability:

  • SB1281, Shamp (R-29), gives state income tax rebates of $200 individual, $400 joint, to anyone who filed a return in 2022. This would drain $936 million from the state General Fund, which would mean massive cuts to K-12 education. Assigned to House Ways & Means Committee; not yet on an agenda. OPPOSE.
  • ⏱️SB1674, Epstein (D-12), would require a cost study of Arizona online instruction to make sure students are learning and taxpayer dollars are properly spent. Awaits Senate Rules Committee. SUPPORT.
  • ⏱️SB1675, Epstein (D-12), would make menstrual hygiene products available free of charge in public district and charter schools that serve students in grades 6-12. Awaits Senate Rules Committee. SUPPORT.
  • ⏱️SB1706, Marsh (D-4), creates reporting that requires the ADE to release more information about who is using ESA vouchers and how taxpayer funds are being spent. Awaits Senate Rules Committee. SUPPORT.
  • ⚠️SB1577 and SCR1035, Mesnard (R-13), would mandate automatic 50% income tax cuts if Arizona has a surplus. These are permanent cuts to the state general fund – and desperately needed dollars that could be used to bring funding for K-12 schools out of the bottom 5 nationally. Both bills are scheduled for House Ways & Means Committee, Wednesday. OPPOSE.
  • ⚠️SCR1034, Mesnard (R-13), would ask voters to amend the state Constitution to automatically extend the previous year’s state budget if lawmakers don’t pass one in time. This would remove the only structural motivation lawmakers have to work together. SCR1034 is assigned to House Appropriations Committee. See duplicate bill HCR2038, Livingston (R-28), which has been scheduled twice for a House floor vote, but retained. OPPOSE.
  • HB2003, Livingston (R-28), would slash corporate income taxes nearly in half by 2025. Arizona’s tax giveaways already far outpace the entire state budget. Scheduled for Senate Appropriations Committee, Tuesday. OPPOSE.
  • HB2538, Pingerelli (R-28), would allow live, remote instruction for grades 9-12, with bonuses for passing grades. This would monetize learning, leading to cherry-picking of students and other forms of inequity. Scheduled for a House floor vote, Monday. OPPOSE.
  • ⚠️HCR2038, Livingston (R-28), would ask voters to amend the state Constitution to automatically extend the previous year’s state budget if lawmakers don’t pass one in time. This would remove the only structural motivation lawmakers have to work together. See duplicate bill SCR1034,  Mesnard (R-13). Awaits a House floor vote; scheduled twice, but retained both times. OPPOSE.

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