Since the passage of the Anti Voucher expansion Proposition 305 Ballot Measure in 2018, the reactionary members of the Arizona State Legislature have continued to push the envelope on proposed measures to allow families to spend state taxpayer money, through Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA’s) on private (mostly religious) schools.
These fringe legislators have:
- Pushed bills to allow children to use Arizona funds in out of state private schools.
- Virtually done nothing to assist Kathy Hoffman’s Education Department in processing Empowerment Scholarship Applications.
- Called for the Voucher program (which Hoffman’s team has uncovered spending “irregularities”-abuses by some families who are using the funds meant for K-12 tuition on other expenses to be taken out of the Education Department’s jurisdiction.
The organization that spearheaded the Proposition 305 drive, Save Our Schools Arizona, has decided to launch a new ballot initiative to permanently block the legislature from expanding the voucher program beyond what has already been passed.
Issuing a statement on the new ballot initiative, the Communications Director of Save Our Schools Dawn Penich-Thacker wrote:
“Grassroots powerhouse Save Our Schools Arizona on Wednesday filed a citizens’ initiative – the Save Our Schools Act – to limit and reform the state’s infamous private school voucher program known as Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. The measure will place a cap on the program equal to 1 percent of the total Arizona student population, institute priority access for students with disabilities, and enact a number of financial accountability, transparency and tax dollar responsibility reforms.”
“Upon passage, the Save Our Schools Act will be the nation’s first direct voter action permanently limiting private school vouchers thanks to Arizona’s unique Voter Protection law.”
“The volunteer group composed of Arizona parents, business leaders, teachers, students, and retirees will run a statewide signature-gathering campaign similar to their successful referral of Proposition 305 in 2018. Then, SOSAZ was triumphant in defeating a universal private school voucher expansion by a 2-to-1 margin, with 65 percent of Arizona voters choosing not to allow more private school vouchers. Despite voters’ clear refusal to grow the program, pro-voucher lobbyists and lawmakers have put forward at least seven separate attempts to expand ESA vouchers in Arizona in less than two years.”
“The Save Our Schools Act aims to respect the will of Arizona voters by once and for all placing a reasonable limit, compassionate priority mechanism and several responsible reforms on the ESA voucher program. By succeeding, the Save Our Schools Act will permanently protect Arizona taxpayers’ investment in public education and add new accountability and oversight to the ways Arizona tax dollars are managed.”
“Petitions will be available across the state on Saturday at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe as well as other locations in Tucson, Flagstaff, Prescott and more.”
“To learn more about the Save Our Schools Act and get involved, visit YesSOSAZ.com.”
Further reporting by Rob O’Dell and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez of AZ Central revealed that the goals of the new initiative if passed, would:
- Stop the legislature from creating new categories of qualifying students that can apply for Empowerment Scholarships. There are currently six that include children who are special education and students who attend D or F schools.
- Cap scholarship enrollment levels at one percent.
- Disallow students from using state funds for out of state private school tuition.
- ” Closing the accounts of children who have graduated from high school or children with special needs who have reached the age of 22, and putting any leftover money into the “taxpayer protection fund.”
- “Preventing parents from rolling over unused money from year to year. According to a Republic records request, nine families out of the nearly 7,000 accounts had a balance of more than $100,000 in January. Fewer than 100 parents, or just over 1% of the accounts, had more than $50,000. Parents of students with disabilities can receive up to $40,000 a year.” Any unused funds would be placed in a “taxpayer protection fund.”
- “Preventing money from being transferred into college savings accounts such as Coverdell or 529 accounts. This occurred soon after the ESA program was created.”
- “Prohibiting money from being spent for college once a child has graduated from high school. College credits for children in high school would still be allowed. Records obtained by The Republic showed $232,000 has been spent on college expenses since 2017.”
Some Legislative District (LD) Democratic Candidates looking to become part of a new majority at the State Capitol in 2021 voiced their views on the new ballot initiative.
Colonel Felicia French, running to become the new State Senator in LD Six, wrote:
“Arizona’s special education funding formula is 40-years old and out of date. That formula, like overall funding for our K-12 education budget, including salaries for our educators and school support staff, no longer meets the needs of our families. It’s critical that Arizona prioritizes investments for quality public education for all our children, including funding for special education.”
“As your State Senator, I will fight to make sure ALL of Arizona’s children have access to quality academic resources, regardless of their zip code or school district, so every child is set up for success.”
LD 22 State House Candidate Kathleen Honne commented:
“The Save Our Schools Act gives Arizona voters the opportunity to ONCE AGAIN do what state lawmakers won’t, ensure tax dollars are utilized to most effectively benefit students. When elected officials refuse to work in the best interest of the citizens, the citizens must act. From its inception, this has been and continues to be the mission of Save Our Schools, with the narrow focus of protecting children and their educational future. In 2018 the people overwhelmingly expressed their desire to stop voucher expansion – not end them. The legislature hasn’t listened since then, so I suggest in addition to supporting this initiative, we replace them.”
The State Senate Candidate for LD 22 Sarah Tyree relayed:
“My understanding of the ESAs was that they were intended for children with special needs and maybe some of the more impoverished and rural communities. However, it seems to have turned into a free for all for the higher functioning families. I believe Save Our Schools is attempting to put the money and resources back to where it was originally intended and I support that and our children.”
Paul Stapleton-Smith, a candidate for one of the State House seats in LD Ten wrote:
“Regarding the SOS Initiative to limit the explosive expansion of ESA vouchers, we must recognize that public schools are under relentless attack by for-profit corporations.”
“For-profit private schools are businesses that seek to enrich their owners and shareholders at taxpayer expense. Our children become commodities that represent profits, and their education is always subordinated to the endless greed of corporations.”
“Arizona has watched billions of dollars in public school funding slashed over many years by the architects of this corporate greed. They demonize our public school teachers, attempt to break our teacher’s unions, avoiding any transparency and accountability. They divide our voters and confuse our parents with claims of a broken public school system that they have deliberately underfunded—by breaking the public schools, they then claim that private businesses will step in and do better. This is a con: The only thing that they do better is to line their pockets at the expense of our children and taxpayers.”
“We already have terrific ways to legally accommodate students with special needs, and with challenges in rural areas with our public schools, but multimillionaire for-profit private school operators would have you believe that they need special privileges, benefits, and exemptions to run their business. Nonsense.”
“Not a nickel of taxpayer money should ever go to for-profit school operators and conmen.”
“It’s time to stand up for working families, and our children and stare the privatizers in the eye and say, “No more.” The endless promotion of for-profit schools at taxpayer expense must end now.”
The Reactionary Republican members of the State Legislature and Governor’s office have stepped too far into fringe land with their attempts to appease their zealot base with voucher expansion and other measures on nonexistent voter fraud and LGBTQ discrimination.
Voters should do what they did with Proposition 305 in 2018 and overwhelmingly support the new Save Our Schools Ballot Initiative in November 2020.