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Save Our Schools Arizona
Weekly Education Report

56th Legislature, 2nd General Session
Volume 6, Issue 11• Week of March 18, 2024

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Horne’s Hollow Heroics

This week, Superintendent Horne gave his second annual State of Education speech to the Arizona Legislature. Horne tried to paint himself as a hero over teacher retention, teacher pay raises and academic performance, despite having done nothing to improve these issues during his year in office. 

Damaging policy pushes. Horne claimed that his number one priority is improving academics, but his draconian policies completely ignore what research says will actually help our students. Countless studies show that graduation exit exams have no impact on student achievement, yet Supt. Horne continues to push the discredited concept. There’s a mountain of evidence that dual-language immersion benefits students, but Horne continues to threaten schools that employ these innovative programs. It appears Horne is stuck in an obsolete understanding of education that has not evolved since before he left the Department of Education in 2011 — and it was outdated even then. 

Disingenuous attacks on districts. Horne attacked school districts with the tired trope of “bloated administrative costs,” arguing in a funding “hunger games” that districts must cut administrative overhead in order to fund raises for mental health providers. This was quickly fact-checked by Joe Dana at 12 News, who reported that Arizona spends only $573 per pupil on administrative costs, $450 less than the national average.

No solutions for voucher fraud. Horne’s speech was most notable for what he didn’t discuss. Horne mentioned no initiatives to cut down on fraud in his ESA voucher division. While ex-boyfriends and credit unions report instances of fraud to Attorney General Mayes, Supt Horne continues to resist any attempts to implement reforms to make the ESA voucher system more accountable and transparent to taxpayers. 

No mention of the ESA voucher drain.  Despite spending the last year crusading on culture war issues and pushing ESA vouchers at every possible opportunity, he pointed everywhere but at the real culprit — ESA vouchers — to try to explain away the tax dollar drain on Arizona’s public schools. Meanwhile, these taxpayer coupons for the wealthy are set to siphon nearly $1 billion away from chronically underfunded public schools this year. 

What has Horne accomplished? Let’s break down Supt. Horne’s actual accomplishments during his first year in office: 

None of these initiatives were mentioned in his State of Education, because Horne knows that Arizona voters truly care about increasing funding to our public schools and supporting our educators. Instead of painting himself a superhero, Supt Horne could be fulfilling his actual duties to properly fund and champion public schools. 

Tell lawmakers that Arizona voters don’t want a budget without major ESA voucher reform today at: bit.ly/VoucherReform 

2024 Election Updates

🚨 URGENT! All hands on deck! Several new, pro-public education candidates for the Arizona state legislature have stepped up to run for critical seats — and they need your help to qualify for the ballot in just 2 weeks!

All candidates for the Arizona state legislature must submit their signatures by Monday, April 1st (no fooling!) in order to qualify for the ballot. We cannot elect a pro-public education legislature without having enough candidates on the ballot. Please follow the directions below and share with friends and neighbors in your area.  

Sign online using the E-Qual system here: CLICK HERE. You’ll need your driver’s license or Voter ID number, and it only takes a few minutes of your time. Here are a list of key candidates who have just filed or need more signatures (find your local LD here):

LD4: Karen Gresham for House

LD13: Sharon Lee Winters for Senate, Nicholas Gonzalez and Brandy Reese for House

LD16: Stacey Seaman for Senate 

LD17: John McLean for Senate

LD26: Quanta Crews for House
LD27: Deb Howard for House 

There are great legislative candidates to sign for across the state!

If you have more time: Plenty of other candidates need your help as well: Corporation Commission, Board of Supervisors, County Attorney, County Superintendent, and more. Take 10-15 minutes to sign them all!

Actions You Can Take

💻 Use Request to Speak on the following bills:

☎️ Call your House representatives and ask them to oppose SCR1041. 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

Voucher Watch

🎉 Idaho kills voucher bill: Despite major pushes by Betsy DeVos-backed American Federation for Children and many other voucher lobbying groups, Idaho’s House Education Committee has rejected a $50 million voucher bill

This voucher scheme is a tax credit like Arizona’s STO voucher program, which funnels funding to private schools. Lawmakers on the panel noted the negative fiscal impacts vouchers have had on Arizona schools, as well as the fact that most families using vouchers in Arizona had always chosen private schools. States around the country are waking up to the fact that vouchers are simply subsidies for higher-income families who’ve always chosen private school — the “school’s choice,” NOT “school choice” as the voucher lobbyists argue. 

We’re proud to have played a small role in this victory, as our director Beth Lewis traveled to Boise in January to share the cautionary tale of Arizona’s devastating voucher program with lawmakers and school leaders. We’re glad they listened! 

K-12 Spotlight

🎉 Some positive news: a rule change from the federal USDA earlier this school year has taken effect, granting free meals to thousands of Arizona students.

Previously, public schools where at least 40% of the student population met the poverty threshold could provide no-cost breakfast and lunch to all of their students. Following the USDA rule change, that threshold has been lowered to 25%. That means up to 3,000 Arizona students no longer need to worry about whether they’ll have something to eat at lunchtime. 

To give an example of the impact this will have, more than half of the schools in Mesa Public Schools now qualify for universal free breakfast and lunch for all students. Kirk Thomas, the principal of Mesa High School, said it best: “For us to know kids can come get a breakfast and lunch, really takes that worry and that personal need off their plate and focus on what they’re here for, which is academics.” 

We hope that one day this program can be expanded to all schools so that no Arizona student ever has to worry about their next meal. We are grateful to President Biden’s administration for making this critical change for Arizona kids!

As the Legislature Turns

As of this writing, out of the 1,759 bills introduced this session, just 9 bills have found their way up to the governor’s desk, far fewer than usual for this point in the year. This, along with the lack of progress on the legislature’s one constitutionally mandated duty — a budget — points to Republican-majority lawmakers’ failure to accomplish their most basic duties. 

Rather than honor voters’ clear mandate that they work together with their counterparts across the aisle, Republican lawmakers are doubling down on a “my way or the highway” attitude. This year alone, they’ve advanced over 100 culture-war ballot measures in an attempt to circumvent the governor’s input and potential veto. 

From kneecapping the prosaic processes of rulemaking and budgeting, to advancing conspiracy theory-driven measures like bans on “discriminating” against gun manufacturers and forcing Arizonans to eat bugs, Arizona lawmakers are creating a ballot crammed to bursting with nonsense. Election officials say we may end up with a two- or even three-card ballot because of it.

Meanwhile, the same lawmakers who are voting for these proposals are abdicating their most basic responsibility by allowing Arizona’s fraud-riddled, extravagantly expensive ESA voucher boondoggle to run away with over $800 million in taxpayer funding meant for public schools. Our state’s more than 1 million public school children are paying the price. 

Arizonans are heartily sick of this arrogant, obtuse stonewalling from people who are supposed to be public servants. Republicans may lose control of the legislature for it — something that has not happened in over 50 years. 

Would you like to see a pro-public education legislature in 2025? See the “2024 Election Updates” section of this report for how you can help!

Upcoming Events

We are so excited to hear from newly appointed legislators – Reps. Jevin Hodge, Sarah Ligouri, Charles Lucking, Dr. Elda Luna Najera and Betty Villegas! Join us Sunday, March 17 at 6:00 pm.

March Statewide Volunteer Huddle! 

Virtual — Sunday, March 17 at 6pm

Register HERE

The Maricopa Action Summit is 3 weeks away! Join SOSAZ and many incredible partner organizations on Saturday, April 6th for a FREE and fun-filled day with opportunities to attend a variety of classes, connect with organizations, hear from panelists and elected officials and make connections with other advocates!

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!

A HUGE congratulations to Cord Jefferson, a graduate of Dorado High School in the Amphitheater Public Schools, for winning the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay! American Fiction was also nominated for Best Picture — an incredible accomplishment for a debut director. We are so excited to see what Cord does next, as is his former district, who shared: “We are so proud of Cord as a Dorado Alum, and so inspired by where our students can go beyond high school!”

Woodard Junior High School students had the opportunity to visit the Yuma Southwest Contractors Association’s “Career & Trade Experience,” where they were able to explore some of the possible industry paths they could take after college. “Woodard…Where Career Aspirations Matter!”

Congrats to the Villa de Paz and Copper King Elementary School Robotics teams for their incredible performance at the VEX IQ Robotics Middle School Arizona State Championship. The Advanced Legos Team from Copper King finished 7th place overall, while the Villa De Pax Dust Devil Dashers brought home the Judges Award. These young engineers have bright futures ahead!

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

SB1151, sponsored by Anthony Kern (R-27), permits Arizona schools to post copies or excerpts of the Ten Commandments, or read the material aloud to their students. Right now, all public schools are prohibited from including religious or partisan materials in instruction. Lawsuits over the obvious First Amendment violation will be directed at school districts, which will then have to defend themselves and foot the bill for that. Scheduled for House Education Committee, Tuesday. 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.

SB1583, sponsored by Justine Wadsack (R-17), would require each public school in Arizona to give parents an overview of the ESA voucher program, including award amount and approved expenses; a list of charter schools located a “reasonable distance” from the school; and several pages of information on “Arizona’s school choice options” for the parent to sign. The school would be required to keep a copy of the signed disclosure in the student’s file and to assist any parent who wants to switch schools after reading the pamphlet. Scheduled for House Education Committee, Tuesday. 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 House Municipal Oversight & Elections 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 Senate Education Committee, Wednesday. 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 Senate Judiciary Committee, Thursday. OPPOSE.

HB2481, sponsored by Barbara Parker (R-10), would strip the requirement that the state legislature take public comment before passing laws. This severely limits civic engagement at the legislature and is entirely undemocratic. Scheduled for Senate Government Committee, Thursday. OPPOSE. 

HB2484, sponsored by Barbara Parker (R-10), would require district and charter schools (but not voucher-funded private schools) to prominently post on their websites whether they have a registered nurse. If they don’t, they must either post the health credentials of each person who provides health care services to students, or post that uncredentialed individuals provide health care. Scheduled for Senate Education Committee, Wednesday. 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 (for House bills) and representatives (for Senate bills) to ask them to oppose.

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 Rules Committee, Monday. 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 Rules Committee, Monday. 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 Rules Committee, Monday. 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 Rules Committee, Monday. OPPOSE. 

SB1473, sponsored by Anthony Kern (R-27), would force state agencies to repay 1% of their annual budget in fines for every 30 days they are late in filing audit reports. The bill appears to be driven by a misplaced belief that public schools are wasteful and lazy. In committee, Kern stated that school boards are misusing and abusing taxpayer funds, that agencies are “thumbing their nose” at audit enforcement, and “if we take away some of their budget, that will light a fire under their rear end.” Yanking funds from Arizona’s chronically underfunded state agencies will only worsen their ability to file on-time reports. New to report. 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.

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