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Save Our Schools Arizona
Weekly Education Report

56th Legislature, 2nd General Session
Volume 6, Issue 1• Week of January 8, 2024

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Hobbs Launches Plan to Rein In Runaway Vouchers

This week, Gov. Hobbs announced an 8-point plan to reform Arizona’s universal ESA voucher program. The plan is a strong step in the right direction: it adds some much-needed transparency and financial accountability, increases child safety, and preserves parental rights, with the goal of holding voucher schools to some of the same standards as public schools. As Hobbs told press, “My plan is simple: every school receiving taxpayer dollars must have basic standards to show they’re keeping our students safe and giving Arizona children the education they deserve.” 

And indeed, a new poll shows a whopping 84% of voters agree the ESA voucher scheme needs reforms — including 81% of Republicans. 60% reject the voucher scheme altogether. You can read more about the poll here

Will the Republican-led legislature listen to voters and accept even the most basic attempts to rein in their unaccountable voucher scheme? House Speaker Ben Toma is dismissive, characterizing Hobbs’ plan as “unserious” and her basic accountability (a fraction of that imposed on public schools) as “death by a thousand paper cuts.” But business leaders see it differently: Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Sanders told Arizona Horizon this week that “we can’t be afraid to have the conversation” on “closing loopholes” for universal ESA vouchers. As public pressure to rein in this irresponsible, runaway program mounts, and our state begins work on a 2025 budget — the only constitutionally mandated action our legislature takes each year and one that must be negotiated between Republican-led lawmakers and a Democratic governor — as long as Hobbs holds firm, Toma may start singing a different tune.

2024 #AZLeg Timeline

Monday, 1/8 2024 Legislative Session begins 

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. The committee will not meet this first week, January 9.

The Senate Education Committee will meet Wednesdays at 2 PM this year. The committee will meet this first week, January 10; the agenda is routine. 

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

Actions You Can Take

💻 Email your lawmakers TODAY to let them know that you support Governor Hobbs’ plan to reform out-of-control ESA vouchers! Our easy-to-use email tool makes it turnkey to make your voice heard.

🍿 Watch Gov. Hobbs’ State of the State address, Monday at 2 PM, here

🛑 No Request to Speak this week

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. Link and 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

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 Session Preview

The 2024 legislative session is about to begin, and Houston, Republican lawmakers have a problem (or two). In 2022, they passed two $1 billion scams into law: a massive tax cut for the wealthy and a universal ESA voucher program. Now, just five months into the 2024 fiscal year, these same lawmakers say they’re “ready to negotiate immediately” to resolve the resulting $400 million-plus deficit. However, Republicans stubbornly refuse to revisit the tax cut or the voucher program, making responsible budgeting much more difficult. 

Republicans are calling the massive shortfall “easily manageable” and “a short-term cash flow problem not a structural problem.” Despite Republican denial, Arizona’s growing deficit is structural. Tax collections are down a shocking $830 million so far this fiscal year, almost entirely due to a sharp decline in individual income taxes, even as our massive universal ESA voucher program, originally estimated to cost just $64 million this fiscal year, is now projected at over $900 million. 

Republican lawmakers must address these structural deficits, ensure that Arizona’s K-12 public schools are fully funded, and prevent a budget catastrophe driven by runaway ESA voucher costs. We look forward to working with the governor and legislative leaders to achieve all of the above. Republicans may be declaring hopes for a short session, but we won’t hold our breath. 

What can we expect this legislative session? 

  • Itchy feet. With all 90 legislative seats up for election in November — and a House Speaker who’s running for Congress — lawmakers all want to adjourn, get out and campaign. Toma is optimistic for a productive 100-day session and a quick budget agreement with Hobbs. For our part, we reserve judgment. We predict two factors will determine the length of this year’s session. First, whether deeply divided Republicans are sufficiently threatened by Democratic policies to re-unify against them. Second, whether Hobbs stands firm enough on her priorities during budget negotiations to force Republicans to come to the table — which will certainly take longer than 100 days.

 

  • Scarcity mindset. Unfortunately, our snowballing state budget deficit, spurred by former Gov. Ducey’s tax cuts for the wealthy and universal ESA voucher program, means little hope of increasing desperately needed funding to public education. This deficit is exacerbated by the fact that last year lawmakers spent every cent of our more than $2 billion surplus. Even the hard-fought $300 million in one-time funding that legislative Democrats obtained for district and charter schools likely won’t continue into FY2025 (just as federal COVID relief dollars dry up). The only silver lining: Gov. Hobbs has vowed not to allow the needed cuts to come from our K-12 public schools. We acknowledge this clear reminder that elections matter, and are grateful for her leadership on this issue. 

 

  • Reining in the voucher grift. We didn’t get here overnight, so we won’t be able to reverse the damage overnight, either. We can start by instituting financial accountability for ESA vouchers and leveling the playing field between public and voucher schools, with curriculum transparency and standards, certification requirements, and a mandate that voucher schools respect a child’s IDEA rights for individuals with disabilities. Gov. Hobbs has included many of these ideas in her 8-point proposal for ESA voucher reform. Lawmakers must take that seriously and begin to address the glaring loopholes in this wasteful, unaccountable, runaway program.

 

  • Teacher retention and recruitment. Last month, Gov. Hobbs’ educator retention task force released 11 recommendations to address the crisis our state faces in keeping its teachers. Some of the task force’s common-sense recommendations include raising salaries to national averages; reducing the cost of health insurance and adding paid parental leave; and improving educators’ working conditions by decreasing class sizes and workload, increasing support staff and planning time, and addressing school safety concerns. Due to chronic underfunding and lack of support, Arizona teachers have been fleeing the profession (and the state) for years. Implementing even some of these recommendations would go a long way toward addressing that crisis.

  • Prop 123 renewal. We are glad to see both political parties acknowledging Arizona’s continued need for additional funding for public education. This week, Gov. Hobbs announced at a Chamber of Commerce event her upcoming proposal to renew Prop 123 (which allocates $350 million per year to school districts from the State Land Trust) and expand it to compensate education support staff and bolster school safety. Her remarks come on the heels of legislative Republicans’ announced intent to renew Prop 123. However, the Republican plan restricts the money solely to teacher pay, rather than allowing districts the flexibility to allocate the money as needed. The possibility for bipartisan collaboration on this issue is encouraging. Having both Republicans and Democrats at the table creates an environment that prioritizes the best interests of public schools, educators and students. SOSAZ looks forward to working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to alleviate Arizona’s teacher retention crisis. 
  • AEL off the table. This is the first year in a while that lawmakers aren’t required to take immediate action on the AEL school spending cap. A 2024 waiver was negotiated as part of last year’s budget, leaving lawmakers free this year to turn their focus to other education-related issues. 

 

  • Dead-in-the-water culture war issues. The extremist Republican majority in this Legislature will likely redouble its efforts at manufactured outrage: book bans, attacks on teachers and LGBTQ+ youth, curriculum micromanagement, and so forth. Speaker Toma says he now understands such bills just aren’t “doable” with Gov. Hobbs and her veto stamp standing guard — but Republicans have coded curriculum micromanagement and attacks on students and teachers into their 2024 legislative platform, and a large portion of the 218 bills introduced so far are rehashes of failed or vetoed culture-war nonsense. We intend to pay these bogus veto-bait non-issues no mind whatsoever, and encourage you to do the same. 

Voucher Watch

This week, Laurie Roberts issued a one-two punch of hilarity and common sense around Gov. Hobbs’ ESA voucher reform plan. We’ll give you the highlights: 

In her first OpEd on the matter, Roberts urges Gov. Hobbs to refuse to cave on her plan, saying “vouchers will be one of the major wars of the coming legislative session” in a critical election year. 

She points out that Republicans are “lining up to say oh hell no… to anything that might serve as a check on this runaway program.” Speaker Toma (R-22) says it’s a “cheap shot,” to which Roberts retorts “there’s nothing cheap about it… we are at $900 million and growing, as private school parents flock to collect money to flee schools their kids never even attended.” 

Toma also quickly called Hobbs’ detailed, 8-part plan “unserious” and Senator Jake Hoffman (R-15) called it “half-cocked” and “DOA,” laughably whining that adding basic accountability measures is “death by a thousand cuts.”

Laurie Roberts brilliantly asks: 

“So, now it’s death by a thousand cuts to try to make a runaway billion-dollar program accountable to the people who supply the billion dollars?

Since when does it strangle Empowerment Scholarship Accounts to suggest that the public should know how our money is being spent?

Since when is it unserious to suggest that we shouldn’t be paying for $4,000 pianos, ski passes at the Arizona Snow Bowl and ninja lessons at the local dojo? 

And why oh why is it unfair to propose that private schools be barred from suddenly jacking up tuition as they cash in on all that free money floating about?”

In her second commentary written only a day later, Roberts poked fun at the “school voucher squad” for “falling over in a hyperventilated heap over the idea of putting a few controls on the state’s runaway school voucher program.” Indeed, the voucher-pushing Goldwater Institute hysterically cried, “Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs is launching a direct attack on their families and the beginning of a government takeover of private and home-based education.”

To which Laurie Roberts asked some more questions: 

“What is wrong with suggesting that children have to actually attend a public school before they can score an Empowerment Scholarship Account to “flee” that school? Surely, that shouldn’t be a problem for a program that was sold to the public as a way for poor and middle-class students to flee failing public schools. Unless it never really was about poor kids and failing schools?

What is wrong with Hobbs’ call to end spending on “luxury expenses” over $500?

What is wrong with proposing that private schools not be allowed to gouge parents by jacking up tuition by 10% or 20%? 

And what is so horrifying about the idea of requiring annual state audits of the program, much as public schools are audited, so that we know how our money is being spent?”

We have the same questions, Laurie. Let us know if you get any real answers.

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!

Jan 8 Weekly Ed Report

Students from the Cambridge programs at White Cliffs and Kingman Middle School came together for a cross-campus team-building event. The students built a Rube Goldberg trash contraption to transport a marble all the way across the gym.

Jan 8 Weekly Ed Report

In the Higley Unified District in Queen Creek, students from the Cortina Elementary School Tiger Ambassadors program and National Elementary Honor Society spread holiday cheer by singing carols at a nearby senior living center.

Jan 8 Weekly Ed Report

Middle school students across the Valley came together for a bridge-breaking challenge celebrating the next generation of engineers. With the help of mentors, teams from five different schools built bridges out of popsicle sticks that were tested at the science fair. Mayor Gallego even stopped by to congratulate the bright young students!

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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