Education is a major priority of both political parties and school organizations in 2019. One organization looking to promote the interests of public schools in Arizona is Save Our Schools Arizona (SOS).
Their mission, articulated on their website (https://sosarizona.org/), is to:
• Educate communities about the value of public education
• Empower parents, teachers, and citizens to advocate for strong public schools in every community
• Advocate for responsible education policy that keeps public dollars in public schools and ensures transparency and accountability of taxpayer funds
• Collaborate with other education and community advocacy groups to achieve full funding for public schools
In pursuing their mission of advocating for public schools during 2019, SOS Communications Director Dawn Penich-Thacker relayed, in a brief interview, what policies they want the state legislators and Governor to pursue on behalf of Arizona’s students and educators.
1) What are at least three (or more) educational policy goals your organization would like to pursue in 2019?
“ We want to pursue accountability and transparency over privatized education areas like Empowerment Scholarships (ESA) and School Tuition Organizations (STO’s). We want to fight for (new education) funding and increase funding by pouring funding into the bucket without creating holes in the bucket (where the funding will disappear). We support charter school reform but will not lead the way.”
2) Is your organization going to work on a new Invest in Ed type proposition? “No, we want to be at the table when lawmakers proposals are being considered and invest in the process.”
3) With regards to education proposals from the legislature since the start of the new year, which ones do you find favorable?
“We support bipartisan STO reform like lowering administration fees so less profit for middlemen. We support charter school reform but the devil is in the details. We support corporations to donate more to public schools. We do think all the funding ideas are there yet but they (the Allen, Udall, and Brophy McGee proposals for example) are a step in the right direction but we do not take for granted that several Republicans want to put dollars in public schools.”
a) Which education proposals from the legislature do you find disagreeable?
“We disagree with the five different ESA voucher bills like the ones expanding them or moving them to the Treasury from the Department of Education. We should not take an education program out of the control of educators. Vouchers and scholarships are tax cuts for the rich because they do not cover the whole tuition of most private schools. You burn the bridge on bipartisan problem solving if you bring back something the voters voted down (last November with Proposition 305.)
4) What were your impressions of the Governor’s education comments during the State of the State and budget presentation and please give two reasons?
“ It is the most money we have seen the Governor proactively put on the table. His school safety plan has resources and counselors that are a welcome development. The teacher’s academy (at our state universities) would get more funding increases. This year we hope the legislature steps up to where the Governor is.”
5) What are your impressions of the education goals Superintendent Hoffman outlined in her inaugural address (and first speech at the Arizona Board of Education?) and please give two reasons.
“We are impressed with Superintendent Hoffman wanting transparency in her department as well as everywhere for accountability and transparency and her emphasis on teacher retention and recruitment.“
6) What are at least two (or more) circumstances Red for Ed, S.O.S. or the A.E.A. would organize or support another strike?
“Let’s not have to do that again. Let’s be productive and work together and focus on not having another need to strike.”
Fully Funding Education is more possible today than this time last year largely thanks to the efforts of education organizations like the Save our Schools (SOS), AEU/Red for Ed, and the Arizona Education Association (AEA) as well as the inspiring efforts of the Democrats who ran for Superintendent of Public Instruction: current Superintendent Kathy Hoffman and her primary opponent David Schipara. Superintendent Hoffman, in her State of Education address before the House Education Committee on February 4, 2019 commented that legislators were talking about how they would fund education instead of if they would spend on it. This is a testament to the grassroots organization of these progressive groups and the support they generated among the people who marched on the capital and lined major streets in Phoenix and Tucson causing Governor Ducey and the Republicans to rethink their positions. Hopefully, with Democratic numbers increased in the State House and in the Department of Education, legislation fully funding education and other needed reforms will finally move forward.