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Save Our Schools Arizona
Weekly Education Report

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

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Hobbs Budget Delivers — Rs Pitch a Fit

This week, Governor Hobbs released a balanced budget proposal that banks on common-sense reforms to the state’s massive, runaway ESA and STO voucher programs. Meanwhile, reckless Ducey-era vouchers and tax cuts continue to plague Arizona’s budget, now nearly DOUBLING as updated projections show the deficit now at a staggering $1.7 billion over two years.

Reforming Vouchers Saves Money. We applaud Hobbs’ budget, which refuses to cut any funding for K-12 schools and instead reins in irresponsible private school vouchers. Much of the cost savings comes from requiring universal voucher students (not special education students) to have previously attended a public school for at least 100 days. The JLBC estimates this would return roughly $250 million to the state General Fund in FY25 alone, since about 50,000 of Arizona’s universal ESA vouchers are currently going to families who were already choosing (and affording) private schools. The Hobbs budget would also repeal STO tax credit vouchers, saving the state an estimated $185 million in FY26 and $230 million in FY27. 

Unsurprisingly, Republican legislative leaders immediately threw a fit, characterizing the proposals as “an unserious mess” and “dead on arrival.” But, as journalist Jim Small points out, “the discussions on topics like school vouchers aren’t going to be with lawmakers. They’re going to be with voters. And there’s no more important time for her to tell them that Republicans are backing out-of-control, unaccountable spending and handouts to the wealthy than right now.” 

Slashing Spending. The legislature and governor will have to agree before June 30 on how to cut state spending by a jaw-dropping $1.7 billion: $835 million from the budget they just passed in May, which is already well underwater, and $879 million from the coming year’s budget. (The Arizona Constitution forbids the state from running a deficit.) So far, the GOP reaction to the deficit they created is still to pretend it doesn’t exist, and if it does, it’s definitely not their fault. But facts are stubborn things. A deficit of this magnitude is going to require a lot more of lawmakers than an “easily manageable” trim around the edges. We predict it’s going to be a long slog until the June 30 budget deadline. 

Prop 123 Talks. We’re also watching closely as both parties at the Capitol indicate interest in renewing Prop 123, which helps fund schools through the State Land Trust. As the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and others have noted, a bipartisan measure is likely to be better crafted and to have better chances of passing at the ballot — plus, in Arizona, education funding measures rarely pass without the governor’s support. Worryingly, however, Republican Senate President Warren Petersen is indicating he has no interest in working with the governor, saying derisively, “It’s a referral; the governor has nothing to do with referrals. The governor doesn’t run bills; we do. So the question is, is she going to work with us?” He also hinted he plans to saddle the measure with unrelated culture-war issues, which would spell its certain doom at the ballot. Neither Republicans nor the governor have introduced details of their proposals, so we remain hopeful that a compromise can be reached.

Actions You Can Take

🛑 Use Request to Speak on the following bills:

👎 NO on SB1005 • 👎 NO on HB2086

👎 NO on HB2088 • 👎 NO on HB2095

💻 Email your lawmakers TODAY to let them know that you support Governor Hobbs’ plan to reform 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!

Upcoming Events

Join us for the first Statewide Volunteer Huddle of 2024! Get the details about what’s happening in the legislature from our policy experts, hear from guest speakers and get to know other public school supporters in your area!

Statewide Volunteer Huddle

with Senate Minority Leader Mitzi Epstein

Sunday, January 21 at 6 pm – Virtual – Register HERE

Jan 8 Weekly Ed Report

It’s that time of year! New to Request to Speak, have an RTS account but don’t know how to use it, or just need a refresher? Join Save Our Schools Arizona and Civic Engagement Beyond Voting for a  basic walk-through of the system gives anyone a few shortcuts and tips, and gets you going on this uniquely Arizonan way to tell your AZ legislators which bills you support or oppose.

Make Your Voice Heard: Request to Speak 101

Monday, January 22 at 6:30 pm – Virtual – Register HERE

Jan 8 Weekly Ed Report

2024 #AZLeg Timeline

Monday, 2/5 Bill introduction deadline 

Friday, 2/16 Last day for a bill to get out of committees in its originating house 

Monday, 2/19 Crossover Week begins (most committee hearings are suspended) 

Friday, 3/22 Last day for a bill to get out of committees in its crossover house
(and the last day to use RTS until a budget drops)

Tuesday, 4/16 100th Day of Session (the stated end goal; can be changed) 

The House Education Committee will meet Tuesdays at 2 PM this year. See this week’s agenda here.

The Senate Education Committee will meet Wednesdays at 2 PM this year. See this week’s here. 

Click here to view all committee memberships, dates, times, and contact info.

ESA Voucher Accountability Bills

We’re tracking the bills below, which would reform the wasteful, unaccountable universal ESA voucher program, very closely. We will keep you abreast of their progress and update this list as more bills are introduced. 

HB2462, sponsored by Jennifer Pawlik (D-13), would require 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. 

HB2478, sponsored by Laura Terech (D-4), would require the Auditor General to perform an annual financial audit on schools that accept ESA vouchers.

HB2562, sponsored by Nancy Gutierrez (D-18), would establish a sunset date for the ESA program like that of every other statewide program, including the Departments of Child Safety, Corrections and Transportation, and require lawmakers to review it via a sunset committee of reference.

HB2563, sponsored by Nancy Gutierrez (D-18), would prohibit purchases of luxury items using the ESA voucher program and would require increased oversight of high-dollar items. 

HB2624, sponsored by Mariana Sandoval (D-23), would open schools that accept ESA vouchers to some of the same requirements as district and charter schools, including financial record-keeping and reporting, performance audits, and letter grades. 

Bills in Committee

SB1005, sponsored by Jake Hoffman (R-15), would ban the state, including public schools, from requiring “diversity, equity, and inclusion programs” for its employees, spending public funds on such programs, or setting policies to influence the composition of its workforce on the basis of race, sex, or color. Any employee required to participate could sue. Diversity, equity and inclusion is a philosophy designed to harness the differences, talents and unique qualities of all individuals; this bill pretends our differences don’t exist. When did acknowledging our world is full of all kinds of people, and intentionally making space for them, become a bad thing? Hoffman introduced the same bill last year, which failed to pass. Scheduled for Senate Government Committee, Wednesday. OPPOSE.

SB1007, sponsored by Jake Hoffman (R-15), would put Arizona public school teachers (but not teachers at ESA-funded private schools) behind bars for up to two years if they so much as recommend a book to students that lawmakers consider too “sexually explicit.” This would attempt to build on a 2022 ban which has already essentially frozen the teaching of books like “The Color Purple,” “The Canterbury Tales” and “Atlas Shrugged,” preventing Arizona’s students from getting a well-rounded education. State law already makes it a felony to show pornography to children. Hoffman introduced the same bill last year, which failed to pass. Scheduled for Senate Judiciary Committee, Thursday. OPPOSE.

SB1017, sponsored by John Kavanagh (R-3), would allow the Arizona Department of Education to hire its own legal counsel separate from the state’s attorney general. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, a Republican, is suing Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes in an attempt to stop Arizona schools from using dual-language models to teach English Language Learners. Mayes has issued an opinion stating that dual-language models are permissible, as the State Board of Education has approved them. Kavanagh said he filed the bill at Horne’s request. Horne should follow AG Mayes’ legal advice, not seek to spend even more of our tax dollars going around her. Scheduled for Senate Judiciary Committee, Thursday. OPPOSE.

HB2086, sponsored by Laurin Hendrix (R-14), repeals the requirement that candidates for county school superintendent must hold a basic or standard teaching certificate in Arizona. Scheduled for House Education Committee, Tuesday. OPPOSE.

HB2088, sponsored by Laurin Hendrix (R-14), would ban anyone who contributes to a bond or override campaign from bidding on a contract that is funded as a result of the bond or override. This bill would dramatically limit funding abilities for bonds and overrides, which many school districts rely on to meet their basic needs because the state has neglected its duty to adequately fund them. The same bill failed to pass last year. Scheduled for House Regulatory Affairs Committee, Wednesday. OPPOSE.

HB2095, sponsored by Barbara Parker (R-10), would expand the school tuition organization (STO) voucher program to students in foster care. STOs are dollar-for-dollar tax credits to private schools that result in significantly less money for public schools (which serve the vast majority of foster youth). Since the STO voucher program’s creation, Arizona has lost out on over $2.1 billion in funding. Meanwhile, our state’s public schools remain in the bottom 5 nationwide, even after recent investments. Gov. Hobbs vetoed this bill last year. Scheduled for House Education Committee, Tuesday. OPPOSE. 

 

Voucher Watch

Vouchers Do NOT “Save Taxpayer Dollars.” This week, Brahm Resnik of 12 News puts the false claims to rest, showing that research by the Legislature’s own Joint Legislative Budget Committee proves that the state general fund pays out more for ESA vouchers than it does for public school education. 

According to the report, the JLBC did an apples-to-apples comparison and found that, for non-special education ESA vouchers:

  • For large school districts that receive state aid, the per-pupil cost was $700 less than the cost of an ESA voucher
  • For public high schools, the per-pupil cost was $900 less than an ESA voucher
  • The disparity is much larger for districts in well-off areas that don’t receive any state aid, such as Scottsdale Unified and Cave Creek, creating entirely new costs for the state when students take a voucher. 

As Republic columnist Laurie Roberts noted, “numbers don’t lie; Republicans are utterly wrong about school vouchers.” Roberts put it best: “With Arizona facing a $835 million budget deficit, now seems like a good time to talk about the impact of the universal voucher program on the state budget. You know, the runaway program now approaching $900 million — the one we are assured has nothing to do with our $835 million deficit?

“Republicans assure us Empowerment Savings Accounts [vouchers] actually save the state money, even as they allow legions of poor children to flee failing public schools…. But they’re a drain on the state general fund — the one that is $835 million in the red this year, with another $879 million deficit expected next year, according to new projections from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.”

Vouchers Used by Students in Wealthiest Zip Codes in AZ. Also this week, the “Data Guru” Garrett Archer of ABC 15 analyzed income data from a new report from the AZ Department of Education that organizes voucher students by zip code. 

ABC’s analysis shows ESA voucher students skew heavily towards higher-income zip codes, with over half (52%) living in the top quarter of zip codes with the highest incomes. According to the report, another quarter (25%) come from zip codes in the next highest quartile of household incomes. 

This data estimates “there are approximately ten times more ESA [voucher] students in Arizona’s top 25% highest income zip codes compared to the lowest 25%.”  

Around the Horne

Instead of addressing serious issues in the ESA voucher program he administers, Superintendent Horne has other priorities: continuing his one-man culture-war crusade. In the latest update, Horne is requiring all public district and charter schools to respond to a list of divisive and misleading questions on so-called “Critical Race Theory.” Of course, this doesn’t apply to voucher-funded private schools. Here is the full list of yes-or-no questions: 

  1. The school protects instructional time from excessive distractions labeled as Social Emotional Learning.
  2. The school/district appropriately respects all students as individuals, avoiding concepts like Critical Race Theory, that promote racial division.
  3. The school/district fully supports teacher discipline recommendations.
  4. Sexual content taught in school is developmentally appropriate.
  5. Curriculum at school does not expose students to explicit or graphic content that is developmentally inappropriate.

Unlike other areas of the school report card which are left blank to denote a lack of data, schools that do not respond to these incendiary questions will be marked with, as Horne described, “big red letters… [that a school] …refused to respond.”

This is all just a distraction. In the face of increasing scrutiny of universal ESA vouchers, Supt. Horne is doing whatever he can to try to discredit public schools and divert attention. This certainly won’t be his last attempt — we will fight back, and keep you updated and informed.

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 Mesa Unified freshman Mack, who just returned from a solo performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City. He was one of 36 winners of a concerto competition hosted by the Carnegie Foundation. Bravo, Mack!

Hualapai Elementary School students in Kingman spent their winter breaks reading after a successful Book Blast Fundraiser. Every student in the school received at least one book.

The Native American Student Services Department in the Tucson Unified School District joined forces with the Tribal Images Youth Council to host “A Taste of Indigenous Culture” at the end of 2023. Students and the community sampled native treats and teas from the Yaqui, Navajo, and Mexica, and even participated in a traditional dress fashion show.

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.

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