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Save Our Schools Arizona
Weekly Education Report

56th Legislature, 2nd General Session
Volume 6, Issue 4• Week of January 29, 2024

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Voucher Scam Shutting Down Public Schools

School districts are reeling across the state as they begin to confront the devastating impacts of Arizona’s massive, unaccountable voucher scam. Vouchers are set to divert nearly $1 billion in public funds away from local public schools this coming year alone, and districts are buckling under the looming cuts. Arizona’s defunded public schools have been destabilized under the guise of “school choice” — and students, teachers, staff, and families across the state will feel the impacts as their choices are robbed from them. After decades of chronic underfunding, vouchers are the straw that will break Arizona’s public schools’ backs — by design.

School closures. Paradise Valley Unified (PVUSD) is considering shutting down 4 local schools, a full 9% of their district, after this year. This impacts not only the students and educators in those schools, but also those across the district that will be crammed with new students from the closing schools. The district must cut $2.4 million – meanwhile, vouchers are draining $28 million in Paradise Valley alone. 

Parents, teachers, and students are devastated — the entire community will be impacted. It’s worth noting that 3 out of 4 of the schools set to close (75%) are Title 1, low-income schools, whereas only 35% of the district schools are Title 1. As usual, underserved students are hurt first and worst by vouchers. 

Teacher and staff layoffs. This week Mesa Public Schools, the largest school district in the state, sent out an email to all teachers and staff warning them of upcoming reductions. The letter made it clear that many educators may also have to relocate. The district is facing cuts of $4.3 million — meanwhile, vouchers are draining $34 million in Mesa alone. 

Transportation cuts. Flagstaff Unified is cutting transportation services for nearly 600 high school students. Because the district is facing budgetary constraints, it cannot meet requirements and is forced to cut transportation access for students — meanwhile, vouchers are draining $8.2 million in Flagstaff. 

Cuts to mental health supports. Dysart USD has voted to eliminate all social worker positions after this school year, saying they have no funding to continue the positions — meanwhile, vouchers are draining $18 million in the Dysart area. 

Unfortunately, these closures and layoffs will be the rule, not the exception, across Arizona. We predict the impacts of vouchers on an already starved system will lead to a domino effect of cuts to extracurriculars and programming, teacher and staff layoffs, 4-day school weeks, and more school closures. 

Gov. Hobbs’ ESA voucher reform package is a common-sense approach to begin addressing these woes. By passing her 100-day requirement (which requires students to have attended public school for 100 days total in their school careers), Hobbs’s plan would end the costly voucher handout for families who had already chosen (and afforded) private schools. The JLBC estimates this would save the state $250 million — a sum that could keep schools open, teachers in the classroom, buses on the road, and mental health supports in place. 

The legislature has the power to stabilize public education. Tell your lawmakers to support Hobbs’ ESA voucher reforms today with our quick and easy email tool: bit.ly/VoucherReform

Actions You Can Take

🛑 Use Request to Speak on the following bills:

👎 NO on HB2629

👎 NO on SB1005  👎 NO on SB1007 

👎 NO on SB1097  👎 NO on SCR1007

👎 NO on HB2088  👎 NO on HB2310

👍 YES on SB1105

💻 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

💻 Email your member of Congress to tell them NO to federal vouchers by using this easy tool from our friends at the Network for Public Education: actionnetwork.org/letters/tell-congress-no-federal-vouchers-not-now-not-ever

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

Everyone is invited to Parents Day at the Capitol — parents, grandparents, students, educators, community members, and more! Hear from public school advocates, meet with lawmakers, and learn how you can advocate for public schools. Lunch will be provided so be sure to register!

Parents Day at the Capitol

Monday, February 5 at 11:00 am-3:00 pm – Phoenix – Register HERE

As the Legislature Turns

A discussion on whether Arizona’s school board races should be partisan dominated this week’s Senate Education Committee. Warnings from education experts that the move would prevent boards from reaching consensus, usher in conflict unrelated to school issues, subject candidates to attacks, and even deter people from running for office were ignored. Sen. Justine Wadsack (R-17) made this jaw-dropping remark: “We should have partisan judges, maybe we should do partisan everybody, because right now the world is split.” As Laurie Roberts comments in a fiery op-ed, “Republicans passed this ‘nonpartisan’ bill on a 4-3 party-line vote… because if there’s one thing we need, it’s more government bodies that function like the Legislature.” 

SB1097 is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Rules Committee on Monday, meaning a floor vote is likely not far behind.

Meanwhile, over in the Senate Government Committee, Republican legislators led by Internet troll farmer and fake elector Jake Hoffman (R-15) are pushing once again to ban diversity, equity and inclusion in state-funded institutions like public schools — despite the fact that those programs help public school teachers and students harness the differences, talents, and unique qualities of all people. 

This ill-considered attack bill springs from the same poisoned well as the school boards bill. The “anti-DEI movement” is based on the same nonsense, culture-war grievances we have seen over the last four years in attempts to discredit our public schools. 

Republican lawmakers have tried in previous sessions to pass similar bills. Each time, they’ve failed — and they’re sure to fail again, given that Gov. Hobbs has vowed to veto any such nonsense that crosses her desk. Voters are increasingly expressing frustration and saying they want “less negativity and more progress on important issues” in today’s politics. We couldn’t agree more with this op-ed from GOP-run North Carolina: “Why are the state’s legislative leaders unrelenting on forcing party politics – most significantly these days – in public education? It is not a formula that promotes consensus nor one that drives decision-making based on what is best for students and teachers’ success in the classroom. Rather the priority is what promotes the power and dogma of a particular political party. It is really about camouflaging the true intent: pressing the culture wars in the nation to stoke prejudice and fear. Our schools, teachers, parents and children deserve better.”

Bills in Committee

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; setting curriculum 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 in all American Government courses required for high school graduation beginning in 2024-25. The bill specifies Mao, Stalin, Castro, Lenin, Pol Pot, and Maduro as topics.  Scheduled for House Judiciary Committee, Wednesday. OPPOSE.

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. 

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 would be authorized to sue. Diversity, equity and inclusion programs are designed to harness the differences, talents and unique qualities and to ensure everyone is treated fairly. Of course, this bill does not impose any requirements on taxpayer-funded private schools receiving ESA vouchers. Last year’s effort did not pass out of the House. Scheduled for Senate Rules Committee, Monday. 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 builds on last year’s 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. Last year’s effort did not pass out of the House. Scheduled for Senate Rules Committee, Monday. OPPOSE.

SB1097, sponsored by Justine Wadsack (R-17), would make school board elections partisan, a move being pushed by national extremist organizations. Local school boards are our most democratic institutions, and should stay above party politics the same way judges are tasked to. The goal is not to remove all politics from governing, but to steer clear of conflict that keeps school boards from doing their job or forcing party politics into public education. Making school boards partisan turns them into just another venue for extremist conflict. A similar bill failed its very first committee hearing in 2022. Scheduled for Senate Rules Committee, Monday. OPPOSE.

SB1105, sponsored by Catherine Miranda (D-11), would group school counselors, social workers and psychologists under one term — “school mental health professionals” — opening Arizona’s school safety program to participation from psychologists. The American School Counselor Association recommends a student-to-counselor ratio of 250-1; in 2021-22, Arizona’s ratio was 651-1. Passed Senate Education Committee, Wednesday 1/24. Scheduled for Senate Rules Committee, Monday. SUPPORT

SCR1007, sponsored by Frank Carroll (R-28), would ask voters to ban “Arizona public entities,” including public schools, from signing contracts of over $100,000 with companies unless they agree not to “discriminate” against gun manufacturers. This would create new hurdles for Arizona’s neighborhood schools in everything from building facilities to purchasing supplies. Similar bills from previous years have been backed by the NRA. Scheduled for Senate Rules Committee, Monday. 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 Rules Committee, Monday. 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 House 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! 

Voucher Watch

Voucher Students Fare Poorly: Arizona has the least accountable voucher system in the nation — so it should come as no surprise that there is zero data on how voucher students perform academically.

But in states like Tennessee that do require testing, the results are in and they don’t look good. Tennessee test scores for ESA students show participants performed lower than their public school peers during the first year of the program in 2022-23.

The national, nonpartisan think tank Public Funds for Public Schools presents 39 different voucher performance studies on their research website. Every single study shows that voucher students perform worse than or on par with their peers — not one indicates that vouchers help students perform better academically.

Around the Horne

One year into the Horne administration, the Arizona Republic decided to check in to see what exactly Supt. Horne’s “CRT Hotline” has actually turned up… Drumroll please…


Nothing!

Out of the tens of thousands of reports received by the hotline, only about 25 were deemed “credible” by Horne’s ADE. 

Of these 25 complaints, Horne’s ADE has only reported on three, all in a press conference last June. The three districts mentioned in his sensationalist press conference were not contacted by the ADE regarding the hotline complaints either before or after the press conference. Had they been contacted, they might have been able to inform the Superintendent that the issues in question had either been previously resolved or were completely non-existent. 

Laurie Roberts once again hit the nail on the head in her recent op-ed: 

“We’re paying for a hotline — and an investigator who doesn’t actually investigate — so that Horne can crow about indoctrination that apparently doesn’t exist.

Swell.

Meanwhile, I’m guessing that Horne’s school voucher marketing campaign — the $10 million we are spending to convince kids to take tax money and flee public schools — isn’t going so well. Gov. Katie Hobbs recently reported that nearly 50,000 of the 73,000 children who are getting Empowerment Scholarship Accounts were never even in public school before grabbing the money to “leave public schools.”

One wonders how much better the public schools — the ones the vast majority of Arizona’s children attend — might be if, instead of trying to tear them down, our leaders spent some time trying to build them up. Instead, we have a state Legislature that is focused on boosting private schools and a state superintendent who is obsessed with chasing phantom conspiracies … and we pay for it.

More importantly, our kids do.”

At this point, it is beyond clear that Superintendent Horne’s hotline only exists to erode public support for our community schools. This is a well-documented, national strategy spearheaded by anti-public school activists like Christopher Rufo, Moms for Liberty, and the Heritage Foundation. Check out this article recently featured in the Tucson Sentinel for more on this strategy: “How the anti-CRT push unraveled local support for schools.” 

There is one thing that we do agree with Superintendent Horne’s spokesperson on: “If people were upset, they could be complaining.” It is safe to assume that Arizona parents are satisfied with their local schools, despite whatever culture-war boogeyman far-right politicians like Tom Horne are pushing!

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!

Chandler Unified School District is celebrating the winners of Arizona State University’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Student Content. Students created creative works that followed the theme of “Building History,” and were honored at a ceremony.

At the Terramar Arts Academy in Deer Valley, Mrs. Rhoades’ 7th-grade class explored the rock cycle with an engaging, hands-on lab featuring Starbursts. Students learned how different natural processes create sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous rocks.

In Flowing Wells, staff at Centennial Elementary’s Reading Lab transformed their classroom into StarBOOKS cafe. Students were able to celebrate the joy of reading with yummy snacks and beverages thanks to the finest baristas around — their teachers!

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.

Get Plugged In!

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