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Save Our Schools Arizona
Weekly Education Report

56th Legislature, 2nd General Session
Volume 6, Issue 7• Week of February 19, 2024

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Republicans Kill Protections for Special Ed Students

In a shocking and infuriating move, this past Wednesday all four Republican members of the Senate Education Committee voted against SB1354 (Marsh), which would have provided sensible protections for students with special needs using an ESA voucher. To avoid any regulation of the runaway voucher program, Senators Wadsack, Bolick, Bennett, and Kerr have denied Arizona’s most vulnerable students and their families the most basic layer of protection. It goes to show — the lobbyists and deep-pocketed special interests pushing vouchers and fighting these provisions have never cared about helping Arizona’s students with special needs. 

What’s the Big Deal? SB1354 requires private voucher-funded schools to:

  • Notify ESA voucher parents of the special education services and accommodations they would provide upfront and in writing — importantly, before parents sign a contract or pay fees. 
  • Provide services under an enrolled child’s special needs plans (IEP, 504, etc.), unless the parent waives these services or accommodations. 
  • Issue a refund of voucher funds to the family if the child’s agreed-upon services aren’t being met. 

To explain her “no” vote, Senator Justine Wadsack quoted word-for-word the dishonest and false arguments from school voucher lobbyists like Love Your School, the Heritage Foundation, and Cathi Herrod’s Center for AZ Policy. Despite her claims, SB1354 would not force ESA voucher parents to get special education IEPs or 504 plans updated every year. It also would not require onerous paperwork or force private schools to turn away students with special needs.

Put simply — voucher lobbyists are pushing for zero regulations of private schools no matter what, even if these laws would keep kids safe or protect their rights. And bought and sold Republican lawmakers are more than happy to toe the line. 

The Smallest Victory: The Senate Education Committee did pass SB1353 (Marsh), which would facilitate responsible budgeting for the runaway $1 billion a year ESA voucher program. This doesn’t regulate private schools in any way, or provide much in the way of taxpayer protections. It simply requires the ADE to provide an annual estimate of the voucher program’s costs — a provision required of every other government agency for every publicly funded program. The fact that the bill met great consternation as an overreach by Senators Wadsack, Bolick, and Kerr and only received a 4-3 vote shows that lawmakers will go to great lengths to evade any and all transparency for the program. 

ESA Voucher Reform Bills Dead… For Now: This week was the last week for most committees to hear bills in their chamber of origin (House bills in House committees, Senate bills in Senate committees) before “crossing over” to the other chamber. This means ALL of the ESA voucher reform bills outside of SB1353 did not receive a hearing are functionally dead. These bills were always going to be part of budget negotiations, so have no fear and keep up the pressure! Tell your lawmakers you demand collective action on ESA voucher reform NOW: bit.ly/VoucherReform

Maricopa Action Summit

**NEW** We’ve heard your calls and we can finally announce: the Maricopa Action Summit is happening!!! Join SOSAZ and many incredible partner organizations on Saturday, April 6, 2024 for a FREE and fun-filled day to grow your advocacy skills, make connections, and hear from incredible speakers!

Maricopa Action Summit

Saturday, April 6, 2024 – 8:00am-4:00pm – Tempe High School

REGISTER HERE

Actions You Can Take

🛑 Use Request to Speak on the following bills:

👍 YES on SB1572

👎 NO on HCR2047 👎 NO on HCR2048

📧 Use our quick email tool to tell your lawmakers to vote NO on the current Prop 123 renewals moving in the Legislature! 

☎️ Call your state senator and ask them to oppose SCR1019, SCR1040 and SCR1041. The legislature must not clutter the ballot with measures that would harm our public schools. Contact information is here.

💻 Email your lawmakers to let them know that you demand reforms for out-of-control ESA vouchers! If you’ve done it already, please do it again. Our easy-to-use email tool makes it turnkey to make your voice heard: bit.ly/VoucherReform

👍 Need a RTS account? Sign up here. Want a refresher? Our friends at Civic Engagement Beyond Voting are hosting RTS trainings on Mondays at 6:30 PM beginning January 8. Sign up here

Prop 123 Update

Last week, the Prop 123 plan introduced by Republican Senators Mesnard (SCR1027) and Hoffman (SCR1034) passed Senate Education Committee on a party-line vote and is now on its way to a vote on the Senate floor — while the stakeholder-approved, pro-public education plan introduced by Senator Marsh (SCR1029) was not even allowed a hearing. Mirror House bills, introduced by Representatives Gress (HCR2047) and Smith (HCR2048), were originally assigned to the House Education Committee, but will now be heard in the House Appropriations Committee this Monday.

Let’s be clear: the Republican “Fire Teachers First” plan is an unserious proposal that is deeply flawed and must be rejected.

This flawed plan, clearly crafted as a vehicle for election talking points but not good governance, would shift funds away from flexible general education use and force districts to fund performance-based teacher bonuses at an increased percentage — even if the legislature cuts K-12 funding or falling property values lead to decreased local funding. This ultimately will force district and charter schools to fire teachers, thereby increasing class sizes and reducing student support. That’s why we’re calling it the “Fire Teachers First” Plan.

While all Arizonans agree that increasing teacher pay is critically necessary, it shouldn’t come at a cost to other positions and programs. The “Fire Teachers First” Plan fails to fund other positions (like aides, counselors, librarians, and bus drivers), which will inevitably lead to deep classroom cuts. The Republican Prop 123 Plan also sneaks in a dangerous scheme to disqualify so-called “lower-performing” teachers, creating a pay-for-performance structure based on subjective and unreliable teacher evaluations. Under this scheme, teachers with higher-needs classrooms will suffer, as will some less experienced teachers and those facing hardships. 

Lawmakers must not play politics with Arizona’s public schools, or the 1 million children whose families choose those schools. We call upon lawmakers to scrap the “Fire Teachers First” Plan and work together to devise a solution that will work for Arizona students, educators, and public schools. 

NEW! Use our one-click email tool to alert your lawmakers that you oppose the Fire Teachers First plan: https://bit.ly/Prop123Fix

Then, email or call House Appropriations Committee members before Monday at noon to urge them to vote NO on HCR2047 (Gress) and HCR2048 (Smith). 

David Livingston – Chair

Joseph Chaplik  – Vice Chair

Seth Blattman

Selina Bliss

Michael Carbone

Patricia Contreras

Oscar De Los Santos

Lupe Diaz

Timothy M Dunn

Matt Gress

Nancy Gutierrez

Quang H Nguyen

Barbara Parker

Marcelino Quiñonez

Judy Schwiebert

Julie Willoughby

602-926-4178

602-926-3436

602-926-3996

602-926-4018

602-926-4038

602-926-4057

602-926-4098

602-926-4852

602-926-4139

602-926-4105

602-926-4134

602-926-3258

602-926-3681

602-926-3285

602-926-3390

602-926-4153

 

Email all by copying & pasting this list: dlivingston@azleg.gov, jchaplik@azleg.gov, sblattman@azleg.gov, sbliss@azleg.gov, mcarbone@azleg.gov, pcontreras@azleg.gov, odelossantos@azleg.gov, ldiaz@azleg.gov, tdunn@azleg.gov, mgress@azleg.gov,  ngutierrez@azleg.gov, qnguyen@azleg.gov, bparker@azleg.gov, mquinonez@azleg.gov, jschwiebert@azleg.gov, jwilloughby@azleg.gov

Voucher Watch

Last week, the Arizona Capitol Times reported that three women were indicted on charges of “funneling more than $100,000 from the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) into private school and caretaking companies.” This includes $87,900 defrauded from the ESA voucher program alone.

The three women created fake vendor companies — including “Academic Training AZ, All Family Solutions, Love Learning LLC, and Arizona School for Exceptional Kids” — in order to charge the state of Arizona with falsified education receipts. 

State law does not require ESA voucher vendors to undergo any kind of vetting. In fact, Supt. Horne stripped out previous requirements from the ESA voucher handbook and is now offering “accreditation” to any vendors that have a high school diploma. Once vendors achieve this paltry accreditation and join the program, there is no oversight. When asked what kind of oversight the ADE has over voucher vendors, Horne’s spokesman shared that “as with any purchase of goods or services, buyers are encouraged to educate themselves on a vendor’s reputation before making a decision.” In other words, buyer beware.  

This is only the beginning. Attorney General Mayes is continuing to investigate waste, fraud, and abuse within the ESA voucher program. In a statement last summer, Mayes warned parents of “possible scams within the voucher program, and promised that “if vendors or private schools take advantage of this, the Attorney General’s Office will investigate to the fullest extent of our authority.” Arizona voters of all political stripes are demanding voucher reforms to increase accountability and transparency, and to ensure Arizona children are safe. Yet Republicans (who hold the slimmest possible majority in both the House and the Senate) have dug in their heels and refuse to hear these common-sense proposals. 

As the Legislature Turns

“Trash Can Approps”: Friday, Feb. 16 marks the deadline for bills to pass through committees in their chamber of origin (the House for House bills, the Senate for Senate bills). The Appropriations committees usually have an extra week to hear bills, which has given rise to the term “trash can approps” in which many ideas are given last-chance hearings via long agendas packed with miscellany. 

Prop 123 Shenanigans: One of the packages being heard in this year’s “trash can approps” is the Republican version of Prop 123, being discussed Monday in House Appropriations. Republicans and Democrats have each released proposals to renew Prop 123, which currently injects $330 million into Arizona’s classrooms from the state land trust each year, but as Republicans have a one-vote margin of control over both legislative chambers, only the Republican plan is getting hearings. See the “Prop 123 Update” section of this week’s report for much more on this proposal. We oppose these bills in their current form and urge lawmakers and the governor to work together to devise a plan that will work for Arizona students, educators and public schools. 

Ding, Dong, Most Bills are Dead: As is usual, the majority of the 1,759 bills introduced this session did not receive a hearing and thus are dead in their current form. Republicans’ one-vote margin of control over both legislative chambers gives them control over the legislative process, from bill assignments and committee chairmanships to which bills receive hearings. This means many good bills have died without ever being heard. A lot of really terrible ideas have also been quietly shoved in a drawer (where they belong).

Pour One Out for the Good Guys: Here’s a list of good bills that didn’t receive hearings this year. While the bills themselves are dead, we expect these concepts to be revived as part of budget negotiations — and a budget without major ESA voucher reform is a budget that’s bad for kids and bad for Arizona

  1. SB1399, Epstein (D-12), and HB2705, sponsored by Lupe Contreras (D-22), make many accountability and transparency changes to Arizona’s ESA voucher program, including requiring fingerprinting, limiting luxury purchases, notifying parents of their legal rights, requiring voucher schools to report performance and financial metrics, and requiring ADE to budget appropriately for the program. 
  2. SB1351, Miranda (D-11), and HB2795, Gutierrez (D-18), would require voucher-funded teachers to have a bachelor’s degree, 3+ years of teaching experience, or subject matter expertise. 
  3. SB1356, Marsh (D-4), and HB2774, Terech (D-4), would require those who take funding from ESA vouchers and have unsupervised access to children to undergo background checks.
  4. SB1487, Diaz (D-12), and HB2478, Terech (D-4), would require the Auditor General to perform an annual financial audit on schools that accept ESA vouchers. 
  5. HB2462, Pawlik (D-13), requires schools that accept ESA vouchers to notify parents of whether they provide special-education services for their students, and sets up a complaint process with the State Board so schools are held accountable to parents.
  6. HB2563, Gutierrez (D-18), and SB1485, Diaz (D-22), would prohibit purchases of luxury items using the ESA voucher program and would require increased oversight of high-dollar items.

Maricopa Action Summit

**NEW** We’ve heard your calls and we can finally announce: the Maricopa Action Summit is happening!!! Join SOSAZ and many incredible partner organizations on Saturday, April 6, 2024 for a FREE and fun-filled day to grow your advocacy skills, make connections, and hear from incredible speakers!

Maricopa Action Summit

Saturday, April 6, 2024 – 8:00am-4:00pm – Tempe High School

REGISTER HERE

Upcoming Events

Statewide Volunteer Huddle w/ Rep. Oscar De Los Santos

Sunday, February 18 at 6:00 pm – Virtual – Register HERE

*NEW* Check out SOSAZ’s updated Upcoming Events page to find all of our online and in-person events near you!

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!

Great news out of Tucson Unified School District — all students will now receive breakfast and lunch for free! Previously, only 60 out of TUSD’s 87 schools were eligible for the free federal lunch program. Now, all 41,000 students across all 87 schools qualify.

Bag this for evidence: recently in Yuma, students from five different local high schools competed in the SkillsUSA Crime Scene Investigation Regional competition!

Congratulations to Raquel Mamani, resource teacher at Madison Park Middle School, for receiving the “You Make the Difference” award! Ms. Mamani always has a positive attitude and creates amazing relationships with students and colleagues. When she isn’t working in the classroom or serving on her local PTO, Raquel is a SOSAZ Community Action Team Organizer! We couldn’t be more proud of all her amazing work — Congratulations, Raquel!

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.

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Bills in Committee

SB1572, sponsored by TJ Shope (R-16), adds dual enrollment programs to the teacher professional development program, and repeals the pay-for-performance incentive bonus passed last year for teachers whose students pass dual enrollment courses (which allow them to earn credit for college classes). Only about half of Arizona schools offer dual enrollment; low-income and rural students have the biggest access gaps. This bill would help narrow that gap. Scheduled for Senate Education Committee, 2/14, but held. Scheduled for Senate Appropriations Committee, Tuesday. SUPPORT. 

HCR2047, sponsored by Matt Gress (R-4), would ask voters to put a new version of Prop 123 in the state Constitution that restricts funds to “eligible teachers” only, rather than the many and varied needs of public schools as the expiring version of Prop 123 allows. Individual schools are best suited to determine their own needs, and don’t need a top-down mandate. We encourage Republican lawmakers to work with the governor and their Democratic colleagues to craft a more flexible solution that has bipartisan support and will be roundly approved by voters. Please use your RTS comments to say the same. Scheduled for House Appropriations Committee, Monday. OPPOSE with comments.

HCR2048, sponsored by Austin Smith (R-29), would ask voters to set the actual salary schedule for Prop 123. Normally the legislature does this internally in case anything needs changing, but sending it to voters makes it impossible to tweak later. It directs funds to classroom teachers only, and bars district and charter schools from reducing teacher salaries below the FY2024-25 amount, even if the prop fails to direct the necessary funds to schools. This inflexible proposal will force districts to cut programs, slash resources, close schools and lay off teachers. It restricts funds to only certain types of teachers, which Judy Schwiebert (D-2) said is like buying a new transmission for a car but not replacing its four flat tires. And it puts two measures on the ballot in an already crowded year, which would both need to pass to be functional. We encourage Republican lawmakers to work with the governor and their Democratic colleagues to craft a more flexible solution that has bipartisan support and will be roundly approved by voters. Please use your RTS comments to say the same. Scheduled for House Appropriations Committee, Monday. OPPOSE with comments.

Bills in Rules Committees

After being heard in Rules Committees, these bills will go through caucus meetings (which usually happen on Tuesdays) before being brought to a full vote. These agendas are very long this week, so we are listing only ballot referrals. We urge you to call your senator (for SCRs) and ask them not to clutter the ballot with measures that would harm our public schools.

SCR1019, sponsored by Anthony Kern (R-27), asks voters to enshrine racism in the state Constitution. These culture-war-driven measures would prevent the state from giving minority-owned businesses any preference in state contracts, keep school districts from specifically hiring black or brown teachers in an effort to increase representation, block teachers from discussing inclusion and equity issues that have arisen despite the 14th Amendment, and ban certain content from being taught in schools. This would negatively impact student learning, as well as teacher retention and recruitment. Because this measure would go directly to voters, Gov. Hobbs cannot veto it. Scheduled for House Rules Committee, Monday. OPPOSE. 

SCR1040, sponsored by JD Mesnard (R-13), is a ballot measure that would permit the Arizona State School Fund (the state land trust from which Prop 123 monies flow) to provide guaranteed financing for district and charter schools, including bonds, overrides and capital financing. This could put the land trust’s current ability to fund schools at risk; it also clutters the ballot, making it more likely any potential Prop 123 extension will fail due to voter confusion. Because it would go directly to voters, Gov. Hobbs cannot veto it. Scheduled for Senate Rules Committee, Monday. OPPOSE. 

SCR1041, sponsored by JD Mesnard (R-13), would ask voters to change the state constitution to allow anyone to sue to knock a citizen initiative off the ballot on grounds that it is not constitutional. This constitutes yet another attempt to stifle citizens’ initiatives. Because it would go directly to voters, Gov. Hobbs cannot veto it. Scheduled for Senate Rules Committee, 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! 

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