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Save Our Schools Arizona
Weekly Education Report

56th Legislature, 2nd General Session
Volume 6, Issue 10• Week of March 11, 2024

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The ABCs of Vouchers

With lawmakers on leave and a slow news week, we thought we’d break down the myriad problems baked into Arizona’s voucher program in a high-level snapshot.

❌ A is for Accountability — to No One. Arizona’s ESA voucher program is a black box, by design. Arizona taxpayers have no idea how much funding is going where, what is being purchased, how our funds are being used, or whether there is any return on investment. 

💸 B is for Bankrupting AZ’s Budget. Arizona is facing an $835 million shortfall this year (and $850 million the next), while funneling nearly $1 billion into ESA vouchers a year. Arizona Republican lawmakers have starved the public school system of funds, and the state definitely can’t afford to also fund a separate private system. Arizona’s public schools are faced with devastating cuts, while taxpayers foot the nearly $1 billion ESA voucher bill. 

💰 C is for Coupons for the Rich. 75% of ESA vouchers are going to students whose families had already chosen private school options – and were already able to afford those options. Now, they’re using a voucher as a coupon to defray these costs while public schools are robbed. Data shows the majority of voucher users are from high-income zip codes. 

😡 D is for Discrimination. Did you know that private schools can pick and choose their students? Private schools can legally discriminate against students with special needs, English Language Learners, and LGBTQ+ students, families and staff. That means vouchers lead to state-funded discrimination. 

❓ E is for Extravagant, Non-Educational Purchases. Arizona’s voucher laws require zero accreditation or approval of private schools, zero curriculum requirements, zero qualifications for teachers, and zero academic testing. The only requirement to have a purchase approved is an attached “curriculum,” with no standards for what that actually means. In sum, there are no educational standards in the program. There are numerous examples of non-educational purchases, and voucher schools can teach anything they wish, with zero oversight. 

🧑‍⚖️ F is for Fraud. The past month has brought two massive indictments in ESA voucher fraud cases, totaling $687,000 in potential misuse of taxpayer funding. Because voucher laws require so little transparency and it’s so easy to set up fake tutoring companies, we expect this is just the tip of the iceberg.

🏫 G is for Gutting Public Schools. Arizona public schools are facing massive budget cuts due in large part to the nearly $1 billion hole vouchers are putting in the state’s general fund (which is used to fund public schools). Many schools are now making devastating decisions — shutting down schools, laying off teachers and staff, and more. 

This voucher scam robs Arizona students and Arizona taxpayers. While Republican lawmakers refused to hear any bills that would address any of the above in committee this legislative session, much can be done in budget negotiations. Lawmakers and Gov. Hobbs need to hear from you — and need to know that Arizona voters don’t want a budget without major ESA voucher reform. 

Tell them today at: bit.ly/VoucherReform 

Actions You Can Take

💻 Use Request to Speak on the following bills:

☎️ Call your House representatives and ask them to oppose SCR1020; call your Senator and ask them to oppose HCR2040. The legislature must not clutter the ballot with measures that would harm our state, our public schools, or the legislature’s budgeting process. 

📧 Use our quick email tool to tell your lawmakers to vote NO on the current Prop 123 renewals moving in the Legislature and to work together for a bipartisan solution: bit.ly/Prop123Fix 

📧 Use our quick email tool to urge your lawmakers to reform and rein in out-of-control ESA vouchers! 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 through March 11. Sign up here

Voucher Watch

@saveourschoolsaz 🔥 @The TN Holler 🔥 SOSAZ goes to Tennessee to tell the cautionary tale of what can and WILL go wrong if your state passes voucher expansion - fraud, abuse, and the dismantling of public schools #tennessee #tnlegislature #tnleg #socm #novouchers #teachers #teachersoftiktok #schoolchoice ♬ original sound - Save Our Schools Arizona

Tennessee: This week, SOSAZ’s Director Beth Lewis flew to Tennessee to meet with school leaders and policymakers there, and to share the cautionary tale of Arizona’s voucher program. Tennessee is facing a massive push for vouchers from the same special interests who shoved these vouchers onto Arizona. State lawmakers are dismissing concerned constituents’ fears, saying they’ll “do better than Arizona,” but their bills have no real caps on spending and almost no controls or regulations. 

🤞 Tennessee’s House and Senate bills differ widely, and the chasm between them is wide in both policy and politics. We are cheering for all of the Tennessee parents, students, educators, school leaders, and education advocates who are working hard to defeat vouchers in their state!!! 

Alabama: Bad news for public schools and students in Alabama this week, as the AL state legislature passed their governor’s CHOOSE Act, creating ESA vouchers in their state. The program is limited (for now) to $100 million per year, and the first 500 spots are prioritized for students with special needs — the same ploy used to create vouchers in Arizona. Initially, the program will be capped in favor of lower-income students, but in 2027 the program will be eligible to all students regardless of income. 

🔥 Montgomery Public Schools Superintendent Melvin Brown called the voucher program a “money pit,” saying, “Public institutions should be supported by public funds. Private institutions should not, fundamentally, and what’s happening now is a seething shift in the landscape to siphon public dollars into private entities. I think it’s also an effort to further segregate our schools, which is not humanistic. It’s not what our society should be about.”

K-12 Spotlight

50th, Again: Once again, Arizona’s school counselor-to-student ratio ranks last in the nation, with a whopping 667 students for every counselor in the state. 

This dismal average concreals a harsh reality for the Arizona schools at the bottom: 17% of AZ high schools don’t have a counselor at all. Aja DeZeeuw, a board member of the Arizona School Counselor Association, shared that in 2017, she was expected to serve as many as 1600 students. “When I got there, I was 1000% just putting out fires,” DeZeeuw said.

According to the American School Counselor Association, which compiled the ranking, the recommended student-to-counselor ratio is 250-to-1. This isn’t just an arbitrary number: when counselors have a smaller cohort of students, they are able to develop a rapport that allows them to better meet their students’ needs. 

With nearly 700 students per counselor and only 900 hours in a school year, Arizona school counselors are lucky if they can even spend an hour one-on-one with each student over the course of a year. Because Arizona has the second lowest per-pupil K-12 funding in the nation, districts simply do not have enough funding to provide for the mental health and career planning needs of their students. 

After former Superintendent Hoffman expanded the school safety grant program to include school counselors in 2019 and districts received federal COVID relief dollars, Arizona began making significant progress. While we remain last in the nation, our ratio has dropped from 848 students per counselor in 2019-20. Grants alone will not bring Arizona’s ratio to the national average; many qualified professionals balk at taking positions funded by a grant, as they offer no long-term job security. 

Worst of all, federal COVID relief dollars are now drying up, and many districts are being forced to cut back their mental health supports. To truly solve this problem, and to do justice to our students, the state legislature must increase per-pupil funding to allow our districts to attract and retain the high-quality counselors our kids deserve. 

Around the Horne

🙄 Another week, another story about Superintendent Horne’s tireless effort to do whatever he can to discredit Arizona’s public schools. This time, some public schools are fighting back!

A few weeks ago, Horne sent out a skewed questionnaire to every public school (but not private schools) with questions regarding “protecting instructional time from excessive distractions,” and whether the school “avoided Critical Race Theory” and “explicit or graphic content.”

According to Dr. Paul Tighe, executive director of Arizona School Administrators, the questions were “subjective and politically charged… What’s excessive? By whose definition? And protecting student instructional time, that’s kind of loaded. It implies that there are things in SEL that are not instructional. They’re just poorly worded.”

About one-third of Arizona schools, however, seemingly decided they were done with Horne’s nonsense and chose not to answer the misleading questions. Tolleson Union High School District Superintendent Jeremy Calles shared that leaders in his district were worried that regardless of whether they answered ‘Yes or No’ to Horne’s questions, their answer would be used against them. 

Superintendent Horne previously attempted to penalize schools for what he refers to as “inappropriate lessons,” but the State Board of Education declined to take up his charges. Since he has no authority to penalize the schools without Board approval, he has started a ‘name and shame’ campaign instead. 

Apparently the “transparency” that Horne seeks doesn’t apply to voucher-funded private schools.  He has used Arizona Department of Education resources to add private schools to the Arizona School Report Card database — with no similar questionnaire or efforts to discredit them. 

Horne’s survey is clearly just another ruse to discredit Arizona’s public schools and distract from his disastrous, fraud-filled ESA voucher program

Upcoming Events

March Statewide Volunteer Huddle! 

Meet Newly Appointed Lawmakers & Get K-12 Updates

Virtual — Sunday, March 17 at 6pm

Register HERE

So, You Want to Run for School Board? Virtual Candidate Training

Wednesday, March 13 at 5:30 pm

Register HERE

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 – 8am-4pm – Tempe High School

REGISTER HERE

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 Chris Burch, a graduate of Gilbert High School class of 2004, for graduating from NASA’s astronaut training program! She recently spoke at her alma mater to inspire the next generation of astronauts: “It wasn’t that long ago that I was sitting where you guys are sitting…. Go into every situation believing that there is a solution. Approach it with a little bit of optimism. You’ll either make it happen, or you will find a way to make it happen.”

Congratulations to all of the students on the Window Rock Unified School District DECA team for their excellent showing at the State DECA Conference! DECA prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality and management. Together, they took home two golds, four silvers, and one fourth-place finish. The team will now go on to compete at an international competition against the other 50 states, Canada, China, Germany, Poland, Guam, Mexico, Vietnam, Puerto Rico, Spain, South Korea, and Japan.

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!

Don’t forget to join us on social media. Pick your favorite(s) and join us for fun, engaging content!! This is where we post important updates, key news articles, and informative graphics and videos you can’t get anywhere else.

Bills in Committee

SB1182, sponsored by John Kavanagh (R-3), is a shower-only version of last year’s “bathroom bill” that would ban trans kids from using the showers at school that align with their gender identities. Anyone who “encounters” a trans person in a shower area could file suit against public schools. A federal court found that these policies violate the US Constitution and Title IX, so in addition to being monstrously cruel and creating harm from continued anti-trans rhetoric, this would open Arizona to a host of lawsuits at taxpayer expense. Polls show that Americans from every political ideology and age group oppose anti-trans legislation. Gov. Hobbs vetoed last year’s bill. Scheduled for House Education Committee, Tuesday. OPPOSE.

SB1187, sponsored by John Kavanagh (R-3), would require public schools in a district that has a bond or override election on the ballot to be polling places “only if other nearby appropriate government buildings are unavailable,” creating potential issues relating to child safety and available space — and voiding current exemptions. No external entity knows better for local schools than their own staff; state lawmakers should not be mandating this decision for them. Scheduled for House Municipal Oversight & Elections Committee, Wednesday. OPPOSE.

SB1286, sponsored by Jake Hoffman (R-15), would require all district schools to close on primary and general election days, and district schools (but not charter or ESA voucher-funded schools) to offer their gymnasiums as polling places. Teachers would be required to attend inservice training and banned from taking a vacation day, presumably to keep them from working the polls. Arizona and the nation are already struggling to find enough election workers; it makes no sense to legislate a ban on teachers doing their patriotic duty — to say nothing of the disruption this would cause to families. Similar to a bill from last year that Gov. Hobbs vetoed. Scheduled for House Municipal Oversight & Elections Committee, Wednesday. OPPOSE.

SB1369, sponsored by Shawnna Bolick (R-2), would require each school district and individual public school to post on its website information on students’ race, color, national origin, sex, disability, and age that is meant for the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. Schools would also have to complete a newly created survey from the Arizona Department of Education on bullying, fighting, harassment and other school safety issues, which ADE would post on their website. Public schools are already subject to many laws covering discrimination and bullying, making this an excessive overreach. Meanwhile, bills that would expand these protections to kids at ESA voucher-funded schools are going unheard. Use your comments to mention that! Scheduled for House Education Committee, Tuesday. OPPOSE.

SB1459, sponsored by John Kavanagh (R-3), would require district and charter schools to report details on student discipline to ADE, and states ADE’s belief that “the school has no reasonable justification for implementing disciplinary actions in fewer than 75%” of cases per year.” If schools don’t meet this bar, ADE can arbitrarily demote the school’s letter grade. Supt. Horne holds polarized positions on discipline and is pushing the change on the grounds that “discipline has evaporated and classrooms have become anarchic.” Scheduled for House Education Committee, Tuesday. OPPOSE. 

SCR1020, sponsored by JD Mesnard (R-13), would ask voters to amend the state Constitution to automatically extend the previous year’s state budget if lawmakers don’t pass one in time. This would remove the only real motivation for lawmakers to work together and avoid shutting down our state. Lawmakers’ only constitutional responsibility is to pass a budget by the start of the new fiscal year (no later than June 30). The same bill failed to pass last year. Scheduled for House Appropriations Committee, Wednesday. OPPOSE.

HCR2040, sponsored by Austin Smith (R-29), would ask voters to ban Arizona, its cities and counties, and its state universities and community colleges (but not voucher-funded schools or the ADE’s new PragerU partnership) from spending public funds to promote a laundry list of culture-war conspiracy theories. These include reducing meat or dairy consumption or production, eating insects, walking or biking more, taking public transit, reducing air travel, limiting the number of articles of clothing a person may buy or own, recycling water for drinking, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, limiting the increase of global temperature, producing or adopting a climate action plan, replacing private ownership, or implementing mass surveillance systems to monitor motor vehicle travel. As we’ve said before, the legislature should not be setting curriculum. Mirror bill SCR1015, Kern (R-27), awaits a final Senate vote. Scheduled for Senate Judiciary Committee, Thursday. OPPOSE.

Bills in Rules Committees

After being heard in Rules Committees on Monday, these bills will go through caucus meetings (usually on Tuesday) and then be brought to a full vote. Make calls to your senator and representatives to ask them to oppose.

SB1628, sponsored by Sine Kerr (R-25), would remove any reference to gender in Arizona law and replace it with “sex,” defined as the male or female label assigned to someone at birth. This narrow and inflexible definition of biological sex would eliminate any legal recognition of transgender people. Not only is there no evidence that transgender-friendly policies endanger anyone, transgender people face a much higher risk of violence, a risk that is elevated under restrictive policies like these. The law could also negatively impact schools’ funding sources. Title IX forbids schools from engaging in sex-based discrimination, which includes sexual orientation and gender identity; under this bill, schools could be put in the impossible position of violating state law or losing federal funding. Scheduled for House Rules Committee, Monday. OPPOSE. 

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; that 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 on world history in all American (not world) 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 Senate Rules Committee, Monday. OPPOSE.

HB2675, sponsored by Beverly Pingerelli (R-28), would replace letter grades for district and charter schools with a performance classification: meet, exceed, or fail to meet expectations. If schools are given only 3 classifications, their performance will look worse. Currently only 1% of public schools are rated F, and 93% are rated A, B or C. Letter grades are not ideal, but this could turn into a wider swath of schools “Not Meeting Expectations” without any clear idea of what exactly that means. Not to mention, private schools receiving taxpayer funds are not subject to any of these criteria. 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! 

Join Team SOSAZ!

Sign up for a Community Action Team: East Valley, West Valley & North Phoenix, Scottsdale & Paradise Valley, Central & South Phoenix, Northern Arizona, and Southern Arizona! Your local coordinators will help you with using Request to Speak and contacting your lawmakers.

Request an SOSAZ Education Roadshow presentation HERE

Sign up to automatically receive the SOSAZ Legislative Weekly Report HERE

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