Political observers cannot get enough of Arizona Governor Doug Ducey on conservative and social media.

Since July 7, 2022, Mr. Ducey cannot stop touting the Universal Voucher Expansion Law that he signed ten days after the end of the Arizona Legislative Session.

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Saying “this is a monumental moment for all of Arizona’s students. Our kids will no longer be locked in underperforming schools. Today, we’re unlocking a whole new world of opportunity for them and their parents,” Mr. Ducey left out a lot of fine print.

This includes:

  1. This legislation defies the will of the Arizona voters who have already voted down an earlier version of voucher expansion. That should not be surprising considering Mr. Ducey, the Republicans at the Arizona State Legislature, and their appointed cronies on the State Supreme Court did everything in their power to defy the people by crippling the funding for Proposition 208-Invest in Ed.
  2. This law is not about choice. If it was, children could go to any private school of their choice and not have to pay one dime. The way the law is written, private schools can still pick and choose whomever they want to admit and charge tuition above the $7,000 scholarship. This legislation is nothing more than a tax cut for the Governor and Republican’s plutocratic cronies who are looking for ways not to use their money to pay for their child’s private school tuition and open for-profit schools to line their pockets.
  3. There is no accountability mechanism for these private schools to show academic or ethical excellence. What parent, other than the ones that already have their children enrolled in that school, would want to send their child to an educational institution if they do not know how the students fare on any academic assessments or rubrics.
  4. With no accountability protocols, this creates an opportunity for extremist-xenophobic-homophobic-white nationalist-MAGA groups to develop their own little Hitler Youth Academies to indoctrinate impressionable minors. Turning Points USA is one such organization that has expressed an interest in taking advantage of this voucher expansion should it become law.

This legislation, designed to financially assist the well-to-do and enable the fringiest of the fringe will only harm the financial stability of traditional and charter public schools as millions may be potentially drained from their coffers and shifted to these institutions that have no incentive to perform and behave to the public’s expectations.

To stop this Universal Voucher train wreck, many pro-education organizations led by Save Our Schools Arizona have launched a petition signing drive to collect approximately 200,000 ballot signatures by September 15, 2022, to stop this educationally regressive law from going into effect and referring the issue to voters to decide in the 2024 elections.

Save Our Schools Executive Director Beth Lewis

Save Our Schools Arizona Executive Director Beth Lewis graciously took the time to respond to questions about the effort to stop the Universal Voucher Law from going into effect.

The questions and her responses are below.

1) With regards to accountability, please tell the reader at least two reasons SOS Arizona is helping to lead the drive to stop voucher expansion in Arizona. 

 “Save Our Schools Arizona launched the repeal of HB2853 (Universal Voucher Expansion) in order to prevent the dismantling of public education. Universal ESA voucher expansion makes private school vouchers eligible to all Arizona children – a 400% increase in eligibility. This removes priority status from students with special needs who use the current ESA voucher program and will siphon at least $1 billion from AZ K-12 public schools every single year. This is a 20% cut to schools, which cannot be withstood by our local schools. Teachers will be laid off, class sizes will grow, and schools will ultimately be forced to close, resulting in fewer neighborhood options for Arizona families. 

 Nothing in this universal voucher expansion promotes accountability. In fact, any modicum of academic accountability was stripped from the bill as an 11th-hour amendment. Nothing in this bill prevents bad actors from setting up shop in a strip mall, taking $7,000 per student, and closing up shop. Nothing in this bill requires safety standards or inspections, teacher credentials or background checks, or teaching to state standards.”

SOS State Outreach Director Nicky Indicavitch with volunteers.

2) When some supporters of vouchers claim that you are against school choice, what are at least two ways you would refute that claim?

 “Arizona already has robust school choice. From magnet schools to district options to charter options, Arizona families tend to have more choices than they know what to do with. But the public funds used to run these schools come with transparency and accountability to taxpayers – that’s what’s lacking from the universal ESA voucher program. 

 What’s worse – when it comes to voucher schools, school choice really means “the school’s choice.” Private schools are legally able to discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, sexual orientation and identity, and more. Family after family has told me they’ve received a voucher, but no school will accept their child. Public schools are public for a reason – they accept all children and meet them where they are.”

3) In your opinion, are vouchers about true choice or mostly about tax cuts for people that already enroll their children in private schools? Please explain. 

“Vouchers are not a true “choice” because voucher schools are the ones doing the choosing. Currently, 50,000 students are enrolled in private schools across Arizona. If every child currently in private school took the $7,000 voucher, AZ public schools would take a $350 million cut without even losing a student. It’s not about school choice – it’s about entitlements for the wealthy.”

4) Voters in 2018 already rejected a voucher expansion program advanced by Governor Ducey and the Republicans in the State Legislature. What does that, along with their efforts to cripple Invest in Ed, tell you and your supporters about what they think about the will of the people? Please explain. 

“Governor Ducey and the Republican majority lawmakers in the Arizona legislature have defied the will of Arizona voters by passing universal vouchers after voters overwhelmingly rejected the program in 2018. Now, they’re threatening future funding for schools if we don’t let them have their pet voucher program. They have declared war on public schools — and Arizona voters need to understand that reality and vote better on Nov 8, 2022.”

Volunteers gathered signatures at Changing Hands Books Store, Tempe Arizona. From SOS Arizona.

5) Please describe the extent of the network SOS Arizona has organized across the state to gather the required signatures to put this referendum on the 2024 ballot. 

“Our network of volunteers and the networks of our pro-public education allies have jumped to the challenge. We distributed 8,000 petitions in the first 10 days. We are well ahead of any other referendum or initiative effort I’ve ever seen – part of this is a testament to all of the planning and organizing that’s gone into this, but Arizona voters are stomping mad that their votes continue to be ignored and they’re ready to stand up and fight back.”

6) How many more signatures above and beyond the required amount will you aim to collect? 

 “We will aim for around 190,000 valid signatures – around 70,000 more than the 118,823 required valid signatures.”

7) What do you say to legislators like David Livingston who have vowed a war on public schools if you get the signatures needed to go on the 2024 ballot? Please explain. 

“Senator Livingston and his Republican colleagues have already declared war on public schools. They’ve done so repeatedly by defunding our schools, passing bills to silence and punish teachers and students, and spewing hate speech about educators for years. Passing universal vouchers is a death knell for public schools, and they know it. That’s why we are intent on stopping universal vouchers in their tracks.”

8) Is your organization also considering a referendum drive to repeal the Aggregate Expenditure Limit? Please advise. 

“The intent is to elect a pro-public education Legislature & Governor, who will refuse to play political games with issues like the Aggregate Expenditure Limit.”

9) Is there anything else not covered in the first eight questions that you would like the readers to know? Please advise.

 “Something that’s really important is the opposition really wants everybody to think that this is about like nice little home schools and they’re not going to build 600 Brophy’s, but what is happening is they’re building Turning Point USA Academies and Tipping Point Academies, all of these new extremist indoctrination schools that are popping up that are really Maga, Christian Nationalist Extremist Academies. And if we’re going to be sending four or five million dollars of taxpayer funds to each of these campuses to underwrite the extremist indoctrination of our children, I mean, that’s not what anybody wants. Most of Arizona’s voters do not want that.

We need to do our job to reveal their real agenda to Arizona voters.

 The fringe extremist right often accuses public schools and other public institutions of smoke signaling or telegraphing exactly what’s coming from their side. So, they accuse public schools of being indoctrination camps when the reality is they are literally setting up indoctrination camps and they want Arizona taxpayers to pay for it.

Charlie Kirk, at Turning Point, USA, for example, are hateful bigots who spread transphobic, homophobic ideology, and racist ideology. I don’t think many Arizona taxpayers want their dollars going to that.”

House Representative Greg Stanton with SOS Arizona Volunteers

The deadline to sign petitions to stop the Universal Voucher Expansion from becoming law is September 15, 2022.

Please click on the below social media sites to find the location near you if you would like to sign the petition.

Find more information here: teamsosarizona.com, including petition hubs, FAQs, training, and more.
Sign up to volunteer here bit.ly/SVEvolunteer and follow the campaign at www.facebook.com/SaveOurSchoolsArizona/ or on Twitter at @arizona_sos

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