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Save Our Schools Arizona
Weekly Education Report

56th Legislature, 1st General Session
Volume 5, Issue 37• Week of September 18, 2023

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Deciding Voucher Vote Admits Regret

As concerns over Arizona’s budget-busting universal vouchers skyrocket, a hard-hitting expose released by Vox this week chronicles Republican Rep. Joel John’s regret over his deciding vote for universal ESA vouchers. 

In 2021, then-Rep. John voted universal voucher expansion down along with two other Arizona Republicans. According to the article, he was “concerned that public schools had to compete with unregulated private schools that lacked accountability measures.” 

However, after a year of intense pressure, deceptive tactics, and large ad buys from deep-pocketed special interests like Betsy DeVos-backed American Federation for Children, John cast a deciding vote to usher in the most expansive (and least accountable) voucher program in the country. Predictably, he now rues that choice: “To be frank, I have regretted it ever since.”

“To be frank, I have regretted it ever since.” – Rep. Joel John (R-25) regarding his 2022 vote to expand ESA vouchers universally.

According to the article, John spoke with a local banker: “I told him it was such bad policy, I was embarrassed I supported it. He said he was happy about it: it saved him seven grand per kid on tuition.” John is calling for its repeal or reform, saying “I’d like to see the legislature roll it back and reconsider the soundness of this policy, for sure.”

“I’d like to see the legislature roll it back and reconsider the soundness of this policy, for sure,” said John.

The Vox article goes on to chronicle the myriad issues with recent massive voucher expansions nationwide, citing economic and quality concerns with Arizona’s voucher fiasco: 

  • “In the short term, mostly it’s just going to be a funding giveaway to families that were already sending their kids to private schools,” said Douglas Harris, an economist at Tulane University who studies education policy. 
  • “By mid-May 2023, about 61,000 Arizona students were enrolled in an ESA, and the state department of education (ADE) estimated that number would rise to 100,000, about 8 percent of school-aged children in the state, over the next year.”
  • “Shortly after the universal program was opened, the state superintendent (then a Democrat) said that 75 percent of applicants had never attended public schools in the state… All we know for sure is that some families who weren’t using the public school system are now getting money to do what they were already doing, and some families who had been attending public schools are now getting money to go elsewhere.”
  • “What is the money producing? Again, the answer is unclear. The Goldwater Institute bragged in 2022 that Arizona’s ESA bill “does not have any testing requirements.” (Iowa legislators, in contrast, did include some.)”
  • Critics fear state money will go to low-quality private schools that don’t actually educate children well — and that, without transparent testing requirements, we’ll never find that out for sure.” As Morgan Polikoff, associate professor at USC Rossier School of Education said: “These policies being passed now are almost being evidence-proofed. You won’t be able to say, ‘This isn’t working, we need to do something different,’ because there won’t be the data.’” 

While Arizona is not seeing a decline in public school enrollment, funding cuts due to vouchers will certainly lead to teacher and staff layoffs, and ultimately school closures. As noted in the article, Superintendent Tom Horne has already said he would push to close public schools if enrollment dropped, which is just what rural school voucher skeptics have long feared.

The article also describes how vouchers will fuel the proliferation of for-profit K-12 schools, which will be eager to get their hands on newly available state funding (Arizona’s program is now estimated to cost $900 million annually by July 2024). “In some places where similar things have been tried for low-income kids, there were not enough private schools, so new low-quality private schools opened,” said Liz Cohen, policy director for Georgetown University’s FutureEd think tank. We are already witnessing this trend in Arizona with the proliferation of unaccredited strip-mall schools.

As the article reveals, private schools and microschools have “wide latitude to discriminate in admissions” — which begs the question, “Can it truly be called ‘universal school choice’ if children can’t get into the school they want?”

With COVID relief dollars ending, a Prop 123 cliff in 2025, and former Gov. Ducey’s revenue-decimating flat tax fully phased in, Arizona schools and other state services face a perfect storm of funding cuts. Add in vouchers, and a major disaster looms. The Vox article predicts vouchers will create a problem for states: 

“Either taxes will have to go up, or something — ESA [vouchers], public schools, or other state spending — will have to be cut.”

Voucher Watch

Arizona: This week, the ESA voucher program surpassed 66,000 students, quickly approaching the maximum number of students the state budgeted for for the entire school year. The 2024 budget allocated $624 million for ESA vouchers; at the average voucher cost of about $9300, that only covers the cost of 68,000 students. Every additional unfunded voucher threatens to plunge our budget deeper into the red. It is irresponsible of our state leaders to allow families to continue enrolling in a program when there is no funding to cover the cost.

Wisconsin: Democrats in the Wisconsin Legislature took a firm stance against school vouchers, introducing a slate of bills aimed at keeping public tax dollars in public schools in the face of potential voucher expansion next legislative session.

Ohio: A new report finds that Ohio has already received enough school voucher applications for the 2023-2024 school year to surpass the budget allocated to the program. Now, just like Arizona, Ohio’s school voucher program is on track to bust the budget. School districts in Ohio have filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state school voucher program. A Dayton school board member noted that “Vouchers are going on trial. And we will make our case in the court of law, where the law matters, and the constitution cannot be ignored.” Over 250 districts have signed on to the lawsuit.

Upcoming Events!

Tuesday is National Voter Registration Day!

Sign up to learn how to register voters, in person or online – Find an event HERE!

Are you ready to learn more and harness your power to be a parent advocate? Join us for any one of these dates to hear our BRAND NEW, short, engaging presentation for parents about how schools are funded, why PTOs and PTAs have to do so much fundraising, and what we can do about it! Sign up HERE:

Want to learn more about bonds and overrides and how they impact education funding in your community? With many local bond and override elections coming up this November, you won’t want to miss Education Forward AZ’s Education Power Hour on 9/28, featuring SOSAZ’s State Outreach Director Nicky Indicavitch and other AZ education experts! Register HERE.

Thinking About Running for School Board? 

Join SOSAZ and a host of pro-public education organizations to get information about what running for school board office entails, and how to get started! 

Saturday, September 30 @ 11am – register HERE

Tuesday, October 10 @ 6pm – register HERE

Sunday, October 22 @10am – register HERE

Yuma Rural Action Summit – November 4 – Mark “Going” HERE!

Get Plugged In!

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.

Around the Horne

Horne Aligns Himself with Hate Group “Moms for Liberty”: This week, Superintendent Tom Horne joined other far-right Republicans at a Moms for Liberty education town hall in Mesa. Moms For Liberty, a group labeled “anti government extremists” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is at the forefront of pushing the anti-LGBTQ, anti-equity conspiracy theories used to attack school boards, teachers, and books across the nation. The hate group is currently trying to grow its influence in Arizona by launching three new Maricopa County chapters. When asked why he agreed to speak at the event, Horne said “It’s no big deal with me,” and that he didn’t know much about the group but they appeared to support “school choice” (aka, ESA vouchers). At the event, Supt. Horne shared that he was happy to support Moms for Liberty in their goal of electing conservatives to Arizona school boards, stating, “That’s going to be my main occupation for 2024.”

Shouldn’t Horne’s “main occupation” be to support the public schools he was elected to serve as Superintendent of Public Instruction, instead of tirelessly pushing ESA vouchers, which drain public education funding?

Horne Can’t Play Nice: Arizona stands to lose $22 million in federal relief money earmarked for education because Supt. Horne is stubbornly refusing to work with Gov. Hobbs. While the grant in question was originally under the authority of the Arizona Department of Education (ADE), the US Department of Education shifted the authority to the Governor’s Office after the ADE “failed to meet certain deadlines.” Now, Hobbs’ office has been unable to disperse the funds because they lack the necessary information from the ADE. She has requested that Horne work with her to fulfill the grants, but thus far Horne has refused. In her most recent letter, Gov. Hobbs warned Supt. Horne of the potential federal reallocation of this desperately needed funding: “If you fail to fulfill your duties as superintendent by cooperating with my office, money that should be spent in Arizona to educate our children will be distributed to other states.”


Punishing Students: As we revealed last week, Supt. Tom Horne has stripped away federal grants awarded to various student support programs by former Supt. Kathy Hoffman. Arizona students are already feeling the impact of mental health support programs suddenly yanked out from under them. AZ Family interviewed two students who attended notMYkid programs until last week, when they were abruptly canceled. The loss of state funding has forced notMYkid to lay off more than 15 staff members who previously ran their support programs. One of the teens shared that her “world has been completely flipped over.”

K-12 Roundup

From lab supplies to furniture, cleaning supplies and books, there is an unspoken expectation that teachers dole out their own money to fill in the gaps left by inadequate funding. A recent article from HuffPost provided a rundown of all items teachers spend their own money on: 

“For all the lip-service that we pay teachers, it’s one of the only professions in which workers are routinely expected to provide the supplies necessary to do their job… If you haven’t had a child in a public school or worked in one yourself, you might assume that most teachers are given ‘the basics’ — but the teacher wish lists you may have seen online tell a very different story.”

Besides spending their own money, teachers often have to deal with convoluted regulations on how different pools of money can be spent. The article noted a district in Kentucky that provided the school with a new printer, but no ink. When asked how they could afford the $295 ink cartridges, the district informed the school they could use their yearly classroom budget of $300. 

Check out the article for the full list of items teachers have been forced to pay for out of their own pockets. Find Arizona teacher lists to fund at DonorsChoose.org.

Public School Proud!

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

Congratulations to Tuba City High School’s chess team for a great showing at the Region I Individual Qualifier. Aedhan Yonnie took 8th place with 4 wins, while Levi Andrian G. Decolongon took 2nd place with 5 wins and no losses. Best of luck at the next tournament this weekend!

Kingman Middle School’s 6th Grade resource class was visited by the district’s Special Education Transition Coordinator to explain their options for after high school, and show them how they can prepare to be independent young adults. Students had the chance to participate in empowering group discussions and activities, as well.

At Casa Grande Union High School, Mr. Morris’s engineering class was joined by students from ASU, U of A, and Embry-Riddle University to monitor their High Altitude Balloon flight, which achieved an altitude of 93,000 feet! Public schools can reach amazing heights when they are supported and resourced.

Upcoming Events!

Tuesday is National Voter Registration Day!

Sign up to learn how to register voters, in person or online – Find an event HERE!

Are you ready to learn more and harness your power to be a parent advocate? Join us for any one of these dates to hear our BRAND NEW, short, engaging presentation for parents about how schools are funded, why PTOs and PTAs have to do so much fundraising, and what we can do about it! Sign up HERE:

Want to learn more about bonds and overrides and how they impact education funding in your community? With many local bond and override elections coming up this November, you won’t want to miss Education Forward AZ’s Education Power Hour on 9/28, featuring SOSAZ’s State Outreach Director Nicky Indicavitch and other AZ education experts! Register HERE.

Thinking About Running for School Board? 

Join SOSAZ and a host of pro-public education organizations to get information about what running for school board office entails, and how to get started! 

Saturday, September 30 @ 11am – register HERE

Tuesday, October 10 @ 6pm – register HERE

Sunday, October 22 @10am – register HERE

Yuma Rural Action Summit – November 4 – Mark “Going” HERE!

Get Plugged In!

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!

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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 Plugged In!

unnamed-86

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.

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.

Request an SOSAZ Education Roadshow presentation HERE

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