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Save Our Schools Arizona
Weekly Education Report

56th Legislature, 2nd General Session
Volume 6, Issue 15• Week of April 15, 2024

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Vouchers & Abortion Bans: The Venn Diagram is a Circle

Arizonans are reeling after the April 9th Arizona Supreme Court decision to abolish nearly all abortions in the state, reinstating a Civil War-era law and giving Arizona one of the strictest bans on freedom and autonomy in the US. But what does this have to do with private school vouchers? Actually, everything. Read an excerpt from our newest blog below, or read the whole thing HERE.

⭕ When it comes to vouchers and abortion bans, the Venn diagram is a circle. For decades, the same organizations spending millions to push vouchers in Arizona (under the guise of “choice”) have also fought tooth and nail against a woman’s right to choose. It’s no coincidence that Arizona now has the most expansive universal ESA voucher program and also the most restrictive abortion ban. This is the direct result of millions of dark money dollars deliberately spent to elect an extremist Arizona state legislature that does not reflect their constituencies and that will push extremist laws to advance an extremist platform based on Christian nationalism. 

💰 It’s simple: Abortion bans and religious school vouchers are spreading like wildfire across American red states because they are the long-term priorities of the Christian Nationalist Right. The same groups that spend big to fight for school vouchers also spend big to restrict reproductive freedoms. The Betsy DeVos-backed American Federation for Children alone has spent millions in Arizona to push for private school vouchers — and other deep-pocketed dark money Christian Nationalist groups like the Heritage Foundation, the Alliance Defending Freedom, and the Center for Arizona Policy have joined them. These groups have three things in common: they are propped up by far-right billionaires, they believe America was founded as a Christian nation that should be guided by Christian laws based on their interpretation of the Bible as God’s truth, and they want private school vouchers to “advance God’s kingdom.”

Case in Point

The case that led to this week’s AZ Supreme Court ruling was brought by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal advocacy group based in Scottsdale that has for decades been a major player in legal battles and culture wars across the country. 

Michael Farris, President & CEO of the Alliance Defending Freedom from 2017 to 2022, made remarks to a secret group of far-right Christian millionaires that were recently exposed by the Washington Post

In the tapes, Farris said he wanted to take down the education system as we know it today” in order to usher in universal vouchers. He blamed public schools for teaching a secular worldview that amounts to a godless religion and proposed lawsuits alleging that schools’ teachings about gender identity and race are unconstitutional, which would lead to a Supreme Court decision that would mandate the right of parents to claim billions of tax dollars for private education or homeschooling (aka, vouchers).

In 2017, when out-of-state special interests first tried to push universal private school vouchers onto Arizona via SB1431, the groups that lobbied in support were the Center for Arizona Policy, the Goldwater Institute, the Institute for Justice, Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, and DeVos-funded American Federation for Children. In 2022, when the Legislature discarded the will of Arizona voters (who rejected SB1431 on the ballot in 2018 by a 2-1 vote) by expanding ESA vouchers universally via HB2853, the exact same groups poured major dollars into defeating the effort once more. 

Private school vouchers are a vehicle for Christian Nationalist ideas to take root. What better way to indoctrinate a future electorate than to set up a tax-funded system of private and homeschooling that instills their insular and dictatorial worldview? When these same extremists accuse public schools of “indoctrinating,” they’re merely telling us all what they intend to do themselves. 

What is the Privatization Playbook? Much of the legislative action around school vouchers has focused on pushing taxpayer funding into church-run schools and microschools with no regulation around what is taught. As a result, Arizona taxpayer funding is now being used to push dangerous, anti-scientific religious curricula such as materials from Bob Jones University, Abeka’s biblically based curriculum, and Accelerated Christian Education. 

The end goal for these high-powered special interests is not just to privatize public education — but also using taxpayer-funded religious education to “advance God’s kingdom” and to create a broader electorate that is open to Christian nationalist laws and government structures. The end goal of most of these groups is to have the Bible be the law of the land. And private school vouchers are a bullet train to speed America forward toward that vision. 

Actions You Can Take

🔥Love our new billboard near the AZ Capitol? Help us put up a few more by donating at sosarizona.org/donate

It’s really ticking off all of the right people 😉

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

☎️ Call your lawmakers to tell them to reform and rein in out-of-control ESA vouchers! Here’s the Senate, here’s the House!

Voucher Watch

🔥 Read the latest op-ed from Beth Lewis, Director of Save Our Schools Arizona, and Damaris Allen, Director of Florida’s Families for Strong Public Schools! It is being published in newspapers across the country, from Tennessee to New Hampshire! States across the nation are waking up to the voucher scam — and looking to states like Arizona and Florida for what NOT to do. 

Check out an excerpt below, or click here to read the full article

“Arizona and Florida have the dubious distinction of being considered “#1 in school choice” by the dark money special interests that have spent millions to push vouchers in our states. This means our 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. This is [billions] of taxpayer dollars being spent with no accountability, no transparency and no return on investment.

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. Arizona class sizes are growing exponentially, while our buildings and buses fall into disrepair. Just this past month, our attorney general announced major cases of fraud, in which hundreds of thousands of dollars were stolen from the voucher program.”

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

Around the Horne

😡 After reports that Supt. Horne is withholding an unprecedented 20% of federal Title I funding for low-income schools, school districts and state lawmakers are demanding answers. The House Democratic Teacher Caucus sent a letter to Horne this week demanding an explanation for the math behind his decision: “As teachers, we require students to show their work. Please share the formula that was used to calculate the 20-percent reduction, the process for distributing these funds, the timeline for making adjustments once the official federal data is released, and any other information and data that was used in arriving at this decision.”

Rather than simply provide the information requested, Horne claimed that “like some districts and charters, these legislators do not understand this process at all” — despite the fact that his Department is withholding double what they have in the past, and far more thany other state education agencies across the country. 

Meanwhile, districts are left in the lurch as the budget for next year with massive reductions in their state funding. Districts like Washington Elementary and Cartwright Elementary have already said they’re cutting programs like summer school that have major academic impacts on students. 

As the Legislature Turns

📈 This week, the legislature’s Finance Advisory Committee (FAC) met to review updated revenue projections. The news was marginally better, but Arizona still faces a massive budget shortfall due to Ducey-era universal vouchers and tax cuts for the rich. Instead of a combined $2.2 billion shortfall for this year and next, the FAC now anticipates “we will need $1.8 billion of shortfall solutions.”

💸 Senate Minority Leader Mitzi Epstein was quick to point out that the budget shortfall is directly caused by the large tax cut and expanded universal vouchers enacted under former Gov. Ducey: “This FAC meeting showed the deficit continues into FY27.  The chart is negative for four fiscal years. That’s not a cash flow problem. That’s irresponsible budgeting over the course of decades by the Republican majority in the Legislature.”

🤞 Now that revenue projections are finalized, Gov. Hobbs and legislative leaders will have to roll up their sleeves and get down to the hard work of negotiating a budget that will require major sweeps of one-time funding and cuts to Arizona’s already emaciated general fund. Hobbs’ executive budget proposes cuts to the ESA voucher program to cover some of the massive shortfall — but Republicans are stubbornly refusing to restrict this runaway cash  grab for the rich. Arizona’s general fund, one of the lowest per capita in the US due to decades of tax cuts, is already stretched far too thinly to cover public schools, higher ed, health care, public safety, roads, prisons, and more. Any cuts will ultimately hurt Arizonans, no matter how this is sliced. 

Contact your lawmakers and ask them to cut cash giveaways, not the public programs Arizonans depend on. Tell lawmakers that Arizona voters don’t want a budget without major ESA voucher reform today at: bit.ly/VoucherReform

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!

Upcoming Events

SOSAZ and partner orgs have already engaged over 1000 people in action summits across the state! Each summit has been unique, enlightening, and an absolute blast, and has drawn dozens of groups and hundreds of volunteers ready to connect, learn and engage. We are SO excited to finally bring all we’ve learned and more to the Tucson area June 8th, 2024!

Pima County Action Summit

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Tucson area – More details coming soon! 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

See all upcoming training dates and REGISTER HERE

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Volunteer Outreach Weekly Virtual Phonebanks

Call SOSAZ volunteers to tell them about important events and help them engage in ways to help flip the Legislature! We have a lot of fun, join us!

Next one: Thursday, April 18 from 5:30 – 7:00 pm

Register here!

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Persuasion Training & Canvass for Judy Schwiebert and Stephanie Simacek

Saturday, April 20, 10:00 am-1:00 pm

1524 W. Bell Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85023

Register here!

Up your game in reaching swing voters in this persuasion training and try out your new skills right after in a community canvass. Drivers and Door Knockers needed!

Upcoming Events

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!

Congratulations to the Odyssey of the Mind teams from DeMiguel Elementary School in Flagstaff for qualifying for the World Finals! Both teams placed second in their respective categories at the Northern Region Tournament. One team focused on the vehicle category, where they were required to “create an original performance complete with a “small, self-propelled vehicle” that needs to perform tasks related to visiting a drive-in theater, such as having food loaded onto it and collecting a ticket.” The other team chose the technical category, where they had to “creat[e] a robotic device and surrounding performance about its efforts to determine whether different artwork is beautiful.” Way to go to these amazing STEAM students! They are currently fundraising for their trip to the World Finals in Iowa — you can donate here.

Students in the Vail School District had their eclipse glasses at the ready for Monday’s total solar eclipse. While they weren’t in the path of totality, students got to witness the moon cover 75% of the sun.

Congratulations to Manuela from Franklin Jr. High in Mesa for winning the first-ever Maricopa County Recorder's Office Youth "I Voted" Sticker Contest! Manuela’s design was voted on out of hundreds of entries and placed in the top two for the youth category — now it will be used on “I Voted” stickers across the county. And, to top it all off, Manuela’s class will receive a pizza party 🍕

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.

Get Plugged In!

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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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