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Save Our Schools Arizona
Weekly Education Report

56th Legislature, 2nd General Session
Volume 6, Issue 13• Week of April 01, 2024

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Everyone: Reform Vouchers Horne: Nah

This week, Superintendent Horne and the Arizona State Board of Education (SBE) rejected proposed (and desperately needed) changes to the ADE’s ESA Voucher Handbook which would have provided basic guardrails to ensure more responsible use of taxpayer funds, including limiting the purchase of “luxury items” with state voucher funds. The proposed rules rejected by Supt. Horne and Republican lawmakers would have provided a thin veneer of oversight for Arizona taxpayers by disallowing things like waterpark tickets, big-screen TVs, dining, Apple watches, motorized vehicles, refrigerators, and musical instruments over $2,000. 

In rejecting these commonsense changes, Horne and the SBE quickly caved to Senator Jake Hoffman and other extremist Republican lawmakers who made ridiculous claims that these bare-bones rules would “overstep” the legislature, which “has not set any restrictions” on any items purchased with ESA vouchers. But the reality is the SBE is well within its right to regulate the program, and Senator Hoffman and his Republican colleagues are stubbornly opposing any and all transparency or fiscal stewardship of taxpayer funds.

Save Our Schools Arizona, a public education advocacy group that opposed the expansion of Arizona's school voucher program, accused Horne of caving to an intimidation campaign: "The fact that extremist Republican lawmakers are trying to stand in the way of these bare-bones regulations speaks to their myopic and stubborn unwillingness to listen to voters and ensure transparency of our taxpayer funds… It is clear that these extremists are out of touch with voters and will oppose any and all attempts to add accountability to the out-of-control ESA voucher program that will siphon $1 billion a year from Arizona's K-12 schools."

This represents yet another roadblocked opportunity to increase transparency or accountability of a $1 billion per year program that remains extremely vulnerable to even more bad actors, fraud and abuse. We call upon the Arizona Legislature and Gov. Hobbs to work together to significantly improve transparency and accountability and to roll back or cap this off-the-rails program. 

Tell lawmakers that Arizona voters don’t want a budget without major ESA voucher reform today at: bit.ly/VoucherReform

Actions You Can Take

💻 Use Request to Speak on the following bills:

👎 NO on HB2310

📧 Use our quick email tool to tell your lawmakers to vote NO on the current Prop 123 renewals moving in the Legislature and to work together for a bipartisan solution: bit.ly/Prop123Fix 

📧 Use our quick email tool to urge your lawmakers to reform and rein in out-of-control ESA vouchers! bit.ly/VoucherReform

👍 Need a RTS account? Sign up here

Voucher Watch

This week, SOSAZ published an OpEd in Tennessee’s largest newspaper, The Tennessean, detailing the devastating impacts of universal vouchers on our state. Tennessee’s legislature is considering vouchers, and grassroots groups of parents, educators, and community members are fighting back! We are excited to support them in their fight for strong public schools for all Tennessee children:

Dear Tennessee Voters:

As your lawmakers face a massive push for vouchers at your state Capitol, we want to alert you to the devastating impacts vouchers have had on our states.

Arizona and Florida are considered “No. 1 in school choice” by the dark money special interests that have spent millions to push vouchers onto our states.

This means public schools are underfunded in service of private school vouchers. Rural students and low-income families have fewer quality choices, while richer suburban families use vouchers as a coupon for the private education they were already paying for. And it means billion-dollar price tags for taxpayers, with no accountability, no transparency, and no return on investment.

We hear lawmakers in Nashville are trying to say they’ll “do it better” in your great state. But voucher lobbyists are solely interested in forcing through publicly funded vouchers in order to privatize the school system and dismantle public schools. They like to start small, with targeted programs for low-income students, but once the voucher door is opened in your state, it’s almost impossible to close, and millions will be spent to inch it ever wider each year.

… Their goal is universal vouchers, and low-income students, children of color and students with disabilities are deprioritized. To be clear, vouchers do not facilitate “parent choice”; private schools are the ones choosing which students they let in and which they reject. This will accelerate taxpayer funded segregation.

Arizona is now reeling from the impacts of universal vouchers, which are siphoning nearly $1 billion out of our local public schools this year. School districts are forced to make horrific decisions between shutting down schools, laying off hundreds of teachers, slashing bus routes, or firing counselors or social workers. Our class sizes are growing exponentially, while our buildings and buses fall into disrepair. Our Attorney General has also announced major cases of fraud in the past month that stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the voucher program. 

Fight back against the voucher scheme. Invest richly in local public schools as the most important economic driver for your state. Innovate from within. Pay your teachers and administrators like the professionals they are.  Keep the promise of public education — we promise your state will be better off.

Must Read!

We are so excited to preview an upcoming book on vouchers and school privatization by friend and colleague Josh Cowen. Josh is a professor at Michigan State University and a leader in the national fight against vouchers. Read about his research in Time and Brookings

You can pre-order The Privateers: How Billionaires Created a Culture War and Sold School Vouchers at local Changing Hands Books, the publisher, or Amazon today! SOSAZ is working to get Josh to Arizona for a book talk, so stay tuned!

In The Privateers, Josh Cowen lays bare the history of vouchers in the United States and warns of the dangers of education privatization. Cowen demonstrates how, as voucher programs have expanded in the United States, so too has the evidence-informed case against them. 

This thought-provoking work traces the origins of voucher-based education reform to mid 20th-century fears over school desegregation. It shows how, in the intervening decades, a cabal of billionaire conservatives supporting a web of special interests have converged around the issue of “education freedom” in an ongoing culture war. Through deliberate policymaking, legislation, and litigation, Cowen reveals an insular advocacy network that has enacted a deeply flawed system for education finance driven largely by dogma.

Far from realizing the purported goal of educational equity, privatization is failing students and exacerbating income inequality, Cowen finds. He cites multiple research studies that conclude that voucher programs return poorer academic outcomes, including lower test scores on state exams, especially among students who are at greater academic risk because of their race, their religion, their gender identity, or their family’s income. Continued advancement of these policies, Cowen argues, is an assault on public education as a defining American institution.

As the Legislature Turns

🙄 Another lawmaker spring break? Governor Hobbs is postponing budget negotiations until after the Finance Advisory Committee issues updated revenue projections on April 11. Unsurprisingly, Republicans find this deeply frustrating and are openly discussing taking another extended break from Capitol activity. 

📈 Caution in budgeting is warranted. It makes sense to get as full a budgetary picture as possible before beginning negotiations. Arizona lawmakers must come up with a projected $1.7 billion this year to fill the massive hole caused by former Gov. Ducey’s foolish tax cuts for the wealthy and the rampant, unbudgeted growth of universal ESA vouchers. Gov. Hobbs’ January budget projections were rosier than the state’s emerging fiscal picture. Waiting for updated April numbers is smart, and the only real reason lawmakers are antsy to pass a budget quickly is they want to get to campaigning in an election year. 

🗳️ A calculated strategy. Four in 5 Arizonans vote by mail. If the Legislature stays in session until the June 30 budget deadline, the primary will be upon lawmakers before they even get a chance to campaign. Republicans’ desire to wrap up early so they can get out and campaign may be driven by the fact that only 8 of Arizona’s 30 legislative districts (2, 4, 9, 13, 16, 17, 23 and 27) will have competitive general elections. The primary election, which takes place on July 30 this year, will likely decide the remaining 22 slates. 

❓Missing in action. Lawmakers debated some contentious bills, such as the anti-LGBTQ+ “shower bill,” which is culture-war driven and will certainly be vetoed by Gov. Hobbs if it gets to her desk. But, because the House was missing at least one Republican member on Wednesday and Thursday this past week, those bills did not receive final votes. We can expect the same for Monday and Tuesday. (Republicans hold the slimmest possible majority, just one seat in each chamber, so passing bills along partisan lines requires every Republican to be present.)

📣 Legislative checkpoint. Committee hearings have ended for the year (except for Rules). SOSAZ was glad to see a number of harmful bills fail to advance through the final deadline to be heard in committee. Even so, we are still tracking about 30 bills with wide-ranging destructive power. These bills would advance culture-war conspiracy theories, attack teachers and teaching, hamstring neighborhood schools with red tape, sabotage the bond and override process, harm vulnerable students, do away with transparent governmental processes, and violate the state and federal Constitutions in various ways. And, of course, there are the usual bills to expand vouchers and cut taxes. It has never been more clear that we desperately need a new legislative majority that will truly serve our public schools, students, and our state as a whole. 

😟 Un-veto-able ballot referrals. As disturbing as the measures we just mentioned are, we are confident that Gov. Hobbs will refuse to sign them into law. The ballot referrals we are watching are of more concern because they would bypass the governor’s veto. These measures include attacks on sensible budgeting, curriculum and equity bans, broadly written culture-war attacks, and harmful versions of Prop 123 that would fail to fund students’ many needs while also burdening schools with unnecessary penalties. 

🍿The next three months are hard to predict and business is often conducted behind closed doors, but we will keep you updated on floor action, bill passage, vetoes, lawmaker breaks, and budget negotiations. Stay tuned!

Upcoming Events

The Maricopa Action Summit is ONE WEEK away! Join SOSAZ and many incredible partner organizations on Saturday, April 6th for a FREE and fun-filled day with opportunities to attend a variety of classes, connect with organizations, hear from panelists and elected officials and make connections with other advocates!

Maricopa Action Summit

Saturday, April 6, 2024 – 8am-4pm – Tempe High School

REGISTER HERE

Running for school board and need support? Join SOSAZ and our partners for a 4-part training series available in April, May, and June!

School Board Candidate Training Series

Session 1: Nuts & Bolts + Fundraising

Wednesday, April 3 at 5:30 pm OR Sunday, April 7 at 1:00 pm

See all upcoming training dates and REGISTER HERE

Click Here for a list of all of SOSAZ’s upcoming online and in-person events!

Public School Proud!

Check out some incredible pictures and stories from across the state that make us #PublicSchoolProud! Know a story you think we should spotlight? Send an email to tyler@sosarizona.org to let us know!

Congrats to Jack from Liberty High School, a 2024 Top Ten C-CAP Arizona Junior Finalist! Jack was challenged to create a unique cookie based on his personal heritage, then explain the history and style it per food photography guidelines. His cookie was chosen as one of the Top 8 National Finalists for the People’s Choice Award! Shoutout to Chef Kriston Poe for her incredible leadership of the C-CAP, or the Careers through Culinary Arts Program.

Kenilworth Elementary in Phoenix Union got a special surprise visit from Baxter, who presented every student a copy of his new book “Baxter, Zac, and the Half-Moon Attack!” As part of Read Across America, the D-Backs partnered with Honeywell to create a book that would promote an interest in STEM and early literacy.

Congratulations to Izzy, a seventh grader at Pueblo Middle School, for earning second place in the Arizona Spelling Bee. Izzy is now headed to the Scripps National Spelling Bee — we’re rooting for you, Izzy!

We are excited to announce SOSAZ’s *NEW* Public Education Defense Fund, which will protect Arizona students’ right to a safe, quality, accessible public school in their community.

Every dollar contributed to this fund will go directly towards electing pro-public education candidates up and down the 2024 ballot, from school board to the state legislature. 

Donate to SOSAZ’s Public Education Defense Fund Today!

Building a strong Public Education Defense Fund is essential to fighting back against increasingly dangerous political agendas that threaten our students’ right to learn in safety, acquire a truthful understanding of science and history, and succeed in excellent public schools.

Your contributions will help us recruit, elect, and support public education champions running for local school boards and the Arizona state legislature, shifting the balance of power at the Arizona state legislature towards one that will prioritize, fund, and defend Arizona’s public school students, educators, and classrooms. 

Thank you for helping us work toward a future where a high-quality, fully-funded public education is available to all Arizona students.

On the Governor's Desk

 

HB2629, sponsored by Ben Toma (R-27), would require schools to include at least 45 minutes of instruction on “the history of communist regimes around the world and the prevalence of poverty, starvation, migration, systemic lethal violence and suppression of speech under communist regimes.” State lawmakers shouldn’t be establishing curriculum; that should remain the purview of those trained in curriculum development who understand history and pedagogy. Furthermore, this is another unfunded mandate for public schools but not private, voucher-funded schools. Schools would be required to include this instruction on world history in all American (not world) Government courses required for high school graduation beginning in 2024-25. The bill specifies Mao, Stalin, Castro, Lenin, Pol Pot, and Maduro as topics — but not Putin. Passed the Senate 3/27 on party lines; transmitted to the governor 3/28 for her signature or veto. OPPOSE. Email Gov. Hobbs and ask her to veto.

Bills in Rules Committees

Rules Committees exist only to consider whether a bill is constitutional and in the proper form. The committee doesn’t take public testimony, and the lawmakers don’t consider the merits of the bills. After being heard in Rules, bills are heard in caucus meetings (usually on Tuesday) and then brought to a full vote. Contact your senator (for House bills) or representatives (for Senate bills) to ask them to oppose. 

 

HB2310, sponsored by Travis Grantham (R-14), attempts to define “grooming” in statute, and would ban “distributing photographs that depict a person’s sex organs” — essentially making it a felony to teach a health class. State law already covers the behaviors in the bill, including luring or attempting to lure a child for sexual exploitation, with enhanced penalties for minors younger than 15. Scheduled for Senate Rules Committee, Monday. OPPOSE.

Bills on the Floor

Floor calendars come out only the night before the vote, so this list is for bills being heard Monday only. You can call or email your senator (for House bills) and representatives (for Senate bills) and ask them to take the appropriate action. 

HB2484, sponsored by Barbara Parker (R-10), would require district and charter schools (but not voucher-funded private schools) to prominently post on their websites whether they have a registered nurse. If they don’t, they must either post the health credentials of each person who provides health care services to students, or post that uncredentialed individuals provide health care. Scheduled for a Senate 3rd Read floor vote, Monday. OPPOSE.

SB1583, sponsored by Justine Wadsack (R-17), would require each public school in Arizona to give parents an overview of the ESA voucher program, including award amount and approved expenses; a list of charter schools located a “reasonable distance” from the school; and several pages of information on “Arizona’s school choice options” for the parent to sign. The school would be required to keep a copy of the signed disclosure in the student’s file and to assist any parent who wants to switch schools after reading the pamphlet. Scheduled for House COW floor debate, Monday. OPPOSE. 

Introducing the Save Our Schools Arizona Legislative Bill Tracker! This is your one-stop shop for following the K-12 legislation lawmakers will be debating in the 2024 legislative session.

Click here or on the image above to access the tracker. This is a live link that will continue to be updated as new information becomes available. Bookmark the link so you can access the tracker anytime!

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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