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Save Our Schools Arizona
Weekly Education Report

56th Legislature, 2nd General Session
Volume 6, Issue 20• Week of May 20, 2024

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🔥 AZ District Superintendent Speaks Out 🔥

This week, 12 News’ Joe Dana interviewed Dr. Curt Finch, Superintendent of the Deer Valley Unified School District in north Phoenix. Dr. Finch didn’t hold back — and we are here for it. Here’s our breakdown:

Misinformation about K-12 Schools: Dr. Finch blames misinformation on cable news and social media for eroding trust in Arizona’s public school system. He says voters have a false impression of public schools and he accuses Republican legislative leaders of choosing to believe “false narratives” while making critical decisions: “I’ve never been in an environment like this before, where it’s so politically driven and there is so much misinformation.”

“They’re out to destroy public ed”: Dr. Finch says these manufactured culture wars are damaging public trust. He points to anti-public school protestors descending on school board meetings, saying, “What I watch on my cable channel is not necessarily what is happening in the local school district. Before you drink that Kool-Aid, you need to go find out if that’s in your school.” 

Dr. Finch points to an example in his district, saying he asked a school board member who publicly complained about “Critical Race Theory” to find an example in a district school of a controversial CRT teaching. After several months, the board member found nothing, to which Dr. Finch says: “It didn’t matter. It’s all about creating doubt in the public. That’s all these critics are doing. They’re out to destroy public ed.”

[Related: Read this great article on a school board member from Texas who ran on a far-right, anti-public ed platform — and then denounced it after finding zero evidence that students were being indoctrinated by the district’s curriculum.]

Misinformation is hurting students: Dr. Finch says districts face more pressure than ever to cover funding gaps through local bonds and overrides. He worries that animosity against public schools has been driven by misinformation about what’s being taught in classrooms, and has led voters in DVUSD’s boundaries to reject two proposals to extend bond and override funding measures — even though the district has a history of passing most of them.

False narrative around misspending: Dr. Finch also points to myths around mismanagement of school funding. The reality is that Arizona schools are doing more with less, spending 10-11% of their budgets on administrative costs (50% of the national average). 

Lawmakers ignore school leaders’ concerns about funding levels, Dr. Finch asserts: “They aren’t interested in the facts. They aren’t interested in the data. They like to just keep repeating the storyline, the one they believe in.”

Dr. Finch says the “school choice” mantra is deceptive: After passing universal ESA vouchers nearly two years ago, Republican lawmakers have repeatedly defended ESA vouchers as promoting “school choice” and have falsely claimed they save the state money. In reality, as 12 News has reported, in most scenarios a student obtaining an ESA voucher results in an added cost to the state’s annual budget — a 100% cost if the student didn’t previously attend a public school.

Dr. Finch echoes the criticism from other public school advocates who allege state leaders are giving ESA voucher recipients priority over public school districts regarding policy decisions.

“Everyone knows if you can walk and chew gum at the same time you can open up a charter school, private school or ESA microschool. They don’t face the same restrictions or regulations,” Dr. Finch said. “Meanwhile we have to go door-to-door to our neighbors, to our constituents, to get them to pass a bond or override so we can stay competitive.”

Sign our petition TODAY to tell lawmakers you demand ESA voucher reform NOW: bit.ly/voucher-petition

May 6 Wekly Ed Report

Sign our NEW online petition to urge Gov. Hobbs & AZ lawmakers to reform vouchers in this year’s budget. A budget without voucher reform is no budget at all. 

Actions You Can Take

🚫 Contact your lawmakers and ask them to oppose HCR2060. Both the Senate and the House plan to vote on this measure this week.

🔥Love our new billboard near the AZ Capitol? Help us put up a few more by donating at sosarizona.org/donate

It’s really ticking off all of the right people 😉

📧 Use our quick email tool to urge your lawmakers to reform and rein in out-of-control ESA vouchers! bit.ly/VoucherReform

☎️ Call your lawmakers to tell them to reform and rein in out-of-control ESA vouchers! Here’s the Senate, here’s the House!

Voucher Watch

National attention continues to turn to Arizona’s disastrous universal voucher program. This week, Josh Cowen, a Professor of Education Policy at Michigan State University, wrote an article previewing some of the themes from his new book, The Privateers: How Billionaires Created a Culture War and Sold School Vouchers, which will be released this fall (presales are available at Changing Hands Books!). 

Cowen outlined four ways that voucher programs defund public schools, and of course, Arizona’s universal program is heavily featured:

# 1: Voucher funding primarily goes to students already enrolled in private schooling.

The vast majority of universal vouchers  — upwards of 75% in Arizona — go to students who were already enrolled in and paying for private schooling on their own dime. These vouchers represent an entirely new cost to the state and a massive drain on state budgets. In Arizona, we estimate that up to $500 million in voucher costs are an entirely new cost to the state this year, even as the state faces a $650 million shortfall for the same fiscal year. The simple truth is that states can’t afford two separate education systems, which further digs a chasm between haves and have-nots.

# 2: Districts still need to shoulder the same fixed costs if students disenroll.

While the impact on state budgets is clearly devastating, individual districts are harmed even further. Vouchers are not causing a mass exodus of students from public to private schools, yet districts fall into financial distress when slight enrollment declines drain massive amounts of funding from their coffers. Voucher pushers like to talk about average costs per child to push the myth of “the money follows the child,” failing to mention that district costs are fixed — meaning they must pay the same price for air conditioning, buses, counselors, and so much more regardless of whether 500 students are enrolled or 20 students leave with a voucher and 480 students stay. 

# 3: Districts must take on additional costs to support voucher students.

Because voucher schools are not required to provide special education services, public schools are forced to provide additional support to voucher students — despite not receiving any state funding for that student. In Arizona, districts like Deer Valley have reported spending over half a million dollars on special needs evaluations for private school students. Chandler Unified reports that they provided more than double the evaluations for private school students this school year than in previous years.

# 4: Voucher funding precludes critical investment in public schools.
Even putting aside the direct cost to state budgets and school districts, the massive cost of universal vouchers also prevents states from making vitally needed investments in their public schools. In 2023, Michigan became the seventh state in the US to implement a universal school meal program, which will cost the state roughly $160 million a year. That is less than a third of what a voucher scheme backed by Betsy DeVos would have cost had it not been voted down by their state legislature. We are seeing these exact impacts here in Arizona: our state could afford teacher pay raises, all-day kindergarten, and universal school meals.without the massive drain of vouchers

Cowen’s main takeaway: the only “competition” caused by universal vouchers is a competition for desperately needed funding, not for academic superiority. 

Our takeaway: Arizona can’t afford to continue the welfare-for-the-wealthy universal voucher program. We should be investing in our public schools like Michigan, providing the necessary resources for our students and their teachers to succeed. Instead, we’re staring down the barrel of potential budget cuts to essential state services so Republican lawmakers can continue to give their campaign donors a discount on the private school tuition they were already paying. 

Arizona kids and educators deserve so much better. 

Upcoming Events

Connect, Educate, Engage — Igniting Change for a Better Future!

Save Our Schools Arizona and a wide coalition of partner organizations are excited to invite you to a day of action on Saturday, June 8th, at the Pima County Action Summit! Learn from expert presenters, hear from inspiring speakers, connect with passionate community members, and discover how to champion the issues that matter to you most effectively. You’ll leave with all the tools you need to make an impact in 2024 and beyond!

Pima County Action Summit

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Tucson High Magnet School – 9:00 am – 4:00 pm

Register Here!

Running for school board and need support? Join SOSAZ and our partners for a 4-part training series available in May and June!

School Board Candidate Training Series

See all upcoming training dates and REGISTER HERE

Public School Proud Weekly Virtual Phonebanks

Join us to connect with voters at our Public School Proud Phonebanks every Tuesday from 5:30-7:00 pm – this is a great chance to start making a difference to elect a Public School Proud legislature this November! 

Next one: Tuesday, May 21 from 5:30 – 7:00 pm — Register here!

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Volunteer Outreach Weekly Virtual Phonebanks

Call SOSAZ volunteers to tell them about important events and help them engage in ways to help flip the Legislature! We have a lot of fun, join us!

Next one: Thursday, May 23 from 5:30 – 7:00 pm — Register here!

Upcoming Events

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 Vance Nilsson from Gilbert High School on breaking the national high school record in the 300-meter hurdles. Even more impressive, Vance was the first US prep athlete to break 35 seconds in this event. Way to go, Vance! We can’t wait to see you at the Olympics one day!

🥚 Students from Gavilan Peak Elementary in Deer Valley put their engineering skills to the test in the school's exciting egg drop challenge. Young scientists used their physics knowledge to design creative contraptions to protect their delicate cargo from a high fall.

DeMiguel Elementary School in Flagstaff held their first-ever Space Week, an opportunity for their students to learn about the wonders of space up close. Students started the week with a tour of Walker Observatory led by a former teacher at DeMiguel, where students had the opportunity to look through a telescope and see a mass coronal ejection from the sun. 🚀🌞

As the Legislature Turns

Legislative session shambles on (Monday marks Day 134 of what is ideally a 100-day session), and progress on a state budget appears to have ground to a complete halt. All the attention is currently focused on a pair of recently introduced unnecessary and harmful ballot measures designed to pander to the extreme right. 

This past week, Senate Republicans considered a sweeping striker to HCR2056, which asks voters to restrict their own early voting ability and limit mail-in ballot returns. Last week’s striker to HCR2060 (asking voters to allow local police to arrest “suspected” migrants, effectively enabling racial profiling) is stalled in the Senate after Ken Bennett (R-1) said he couldn’t support the measure without significant changes. Although legislative rules prohibit lawmakers from introducing or hearing new legislation at this stage in session, those rules were waived by the Republican majority to force in these measures. 

Republicans are reportedly crafting amendments and plan to take up both measures again when they reconvene on Wednesday, May 22. The House won’t take action until June 4; it has adjourned until then because several Republicans are taking vacations. Both measures must also pass the House in order to bypass Gov. Hobbs and progress to our November ballots. 

Make no mistake: These new ballot referrals carry the potential for vast harm. They also appear designed to score political points rather than solve actual problems. This is not even remotely what our legislature should be focusing on. 

Republican lawmakers have long ago lost sight of what Arizona voters expect of them: fiscal responsibility, which means balancing a budget that’s been dragged $1.8 billion underwater by the twin punches of unaccountable universal ESA vouchers and Ducey’s “flat” tax (tax cuts for the wealthy). Making progress on legislators’ only constitutionally mandated responsibility means they must tackle meaningful ESA voucher reform this year. There is simply no other option that does not also mean huge cuts to public services that Arizonans depend on. 

Contact your own lawmakers and make it clear you expect them to fight for a responsibly balanced budget that includes meaningful ESA voucher reform. If you’ve already contacted them, please do so again. Our quick email tool makes it easy to urge your lawmakers to reform and rein in out-of-control ESA vouchers: bit.ly/VoucherReform

Veto Watch

This week, Governor Hobbs vetoed the following SOSAZ-opposed legislation: 

HB2095, sponsored by Barbara Parker (R-10), would have expanded the school tuition organization (STO) voucher program to students in foster care. STO vouchers 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 $2.6 billion in funding. Meanwhile, our state’s public schools remain 49th nationwide for per-pupil funding. Gov. Hobbs vetoed a similar bill last year. Vetoed 5/17. 

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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