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Save Our Schools Arizona
Weekly Education Report

56th Legislature, 1st General Session
Volume 5, Issue 46• Week of November 20, 2023

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$500 Voucher-Funded Lego Sets?!?!

This week, the House ESA Ad Hoc Committee on Oversight and Governance met for the second (and likely last) time. Despite having been heralded as a major accomplishment in last year’s budgeting process, the sham committee offered very little new information and zero solutions for actual “oversight” or “governance.” 

Although the official presentation labored mightily to appear informative, it conclusively confirmed what we already know: universal ESA vouchers do not save the state money, and in fact cost the state more per student. According to the JLBC, universal ESA vouchers cost $700-900 more than a district student would receive, and in non-state aid districts like Scottsdale $6900-7700 more than the state would receive. 

Speaker Toma’s privatizer-stacked hearing quickly devolved, as one parent angrily justified using a voucher to buy a $500 Lego set. Since ESA vouchers are funded from the state’s K12 budget, each voucher dramatically reduces funding for district and charter school funding. This exorbitant ESA voucher-funded spending spree on ski trips, pianos, kitchen appliances, golf clubs ignores the reality that Arizona’s public schools are funded almost last in the nation — forcing our students to go without basic resources. 

As Laurie Roberts pointed out in her fiery OpEd, the committee adjourned “having come up with absolutely no ideas for how to better oversee the state’s rapidly ballooning Empowerment Scholarship Account program that is expected to cost us $780 million this year.” Yet, the ESA voucher program continues to grow unabated and — as the ADE, the Governor’s office, and SOSAZ have reported — these costs may rise to nearly $1 billion this year.  

As we testified in committee, this leaves many Arizonans to wonder: Why are Republicans who prided themselves on being fiscally responsible not curtailing this wasteful spending — especially when the program is nearly $1 billion and our state faces a $400 million budget deficit?”

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again — the lack of accountability and transparency is by design. It’s time to look at serious solutions now, before this budget-busting voucher scheme sinks our state. 

Upcoming Events!

Don’t Miss! Team SOSAZ has launched our Education Advocacy Series for November and December! Join us weekly every Sunday through December 17 to gain skills and knowledge that will empower you to take action as we head into 2024 and the legislative session

Register here: bit.ly/SOSAZseries 

Sunday, Nov 19 at 3:00 pm

Behind the Scenes at the Legislature: Bills, Budgets, and Backroom Deals w/ Representative Lorena Austin 

Register here! 

Saturday in Mesa! Join SOSAZ, Opportunity Arizona & partner groups for a special townhall with LD9 and LD13 lawmakers, Rep. Lorena Austin, Rep. Seth Blattman, and Rep. Jennifer Pawlik. 

We will discuss education, the economy, and voting rights. 

Register HERE– see you there!

Voucher Watch

Texas Rejects Vouchers (Again): By a 84 to 63 vote, the Texas House rejected vouchers by stripping them from HB1 altogether. Despite massive pressure from Governor Greg Abbott and DeVos-backed American Federation for Children, Democrats and “The 24” Republican holdouts held strong and gave vouchers a Texas-sized boot — AGAIN. 

Unlike Arizona, Texas does not have ESA vouchers. They’ve learned by watching Arizona’s massive fiasco of a voucher program that they would rather prioritize a free, quality, accessible public education for all. 

Watch Rep. James Talarico’s incredible comments here. He cites Arizona as a prime reason why Texas should never pass welfare for the wealthy, where 75% of ESA vouchers go to students who were already attending private schools and homeschools. In other states that have these scams, this has become a coupon for wealthy families to save on their private school bills… Do you know what % of the recipients of AZ’s voucher program were already in private school? 75%.”

K-12 Roundup

Teacher pay raises are critically needed, but the paper-thin proposal for a “teacher pay fund” unveiled by legislative Republicans this week leaves more questions than answers. While we are hopeful that this proposal will lead to sound policy, we are skeptical. The proposal does not create new dollars for schools or teachers and in fact appears to shortchange other real classroom needs, moving existing funds from one pot to another. In real dollars, it has the potential to represent deep cuts to K-12 schools.

Legislative analysts say that this proposal will shift $300 million in costs from the voter-approved Prop 123 land trust to the state’s general fund. In fact, this moves protected funding for schools to a budget area that’s easier to cut later. Republicans know that, because Arizona is facing a $400 million deficit, there is zero money to cover these new costs, meaning inevitable future cuts. The details of the plan are still unclear, however, as no public education stakeholders were consulted in the drafting of the proposal. As GOP Chair Jeff DeWit noted, “[Teacher] pay should be funded through the state budget and not tied to the unpredictable nature of voter decisions.”

Arizona voters overwhelmingly support and want to fund public schools and raise teacher salaries. We are glad to see Republican leadership at the Arizona legislature acknowledge this obvious reality of Arizona’s teacher retention crisis, though we are frustrated that it comes wrapped in the language of campaign slogans after years of attacks on and cuts to public education.

Republican lawmakers had the opportunity and the ongoing funding to increase teacher pay in 2022 — but instead, they chose to force through a universal expansion of ESA vouchers, diverting funding from schools and now on track to bankrupt our state. 

We are glad to work with lawmakers who are serious about raising new dollars to fund our teachers, but until we get more details this plan appears to just be more unacceptable sleight of hand. Arizona voters are tired of the same old smoke and mirrors and demand real, sustainable funding solutions for our students. 

Public School Proud!

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

At Greenfield Elementary School in Gilbert, the whole school gathered by the flagpole to honor the veterans teaching at their school, living in their community, and across the entire country.

Students at Ronald Reagan Elementary School in Yuma participated in Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day! The students learned about and honored Ms. Bridges' historic integration of William Frantz Elementary School only 63 years ago. It is easy to imagine integration as something from the history books, but it’s important for children today to confront our shared and troubled past today.

During the month of October, Window Rock High School students interested in pursuing a career in veterinary medicine, animal science, and agriculture/livestock management had the amazing opportunity to work with Mid-Western University (MWU) College of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Rez-Q Inc, a local nonprofit. These students played an important role in Navajo Nation fall herd management, providing critical herd treatments before winter.

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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