So Much for the “Education Governor”

Linda Oyon

Cross-posted from

A couple of nights ago, I was talking with a news editor who asked me about the effect of the voucher expansion on homeschoolers. He said when he homeschooled his child, he saw it as his responsibility to bear those costs. He wondered with the new expansion, if homeschoolers would now get taxpayer dollars to teach their child at home. I told him homeschoolers were always eligible for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs), or vouchers (I prefer to call them what they really are), but their child needed to be in one of the eligible categories such as: having a disability, from a D or F rated school, living on tribal land, dependents of military, wards of the state, etc. With the latest expansion of eligibility though, all categories of children are eligible for the vouchers. He surmised it wouldn’t take long to reach that cap, given there are some 20,000 homeschooled children in Arizona.

It is difficult to find clear data about the number of homeschoolers but a general estimate is from three to four percent of the school-age population. Given that, we are looking at 30,000 to 40,0000 students in Arizona. Another source I found from 2011 quoted the number at 22,500, so in the interest of being conservative, let’s go with 25,000. To the news editor’s point, if all 25,000 estimated homeschoolers took vouchers, that would deplete Arizona’s general fund by $110 million in taxpayer dollars which are then not available for district education or other critical programs and services. And this new outlay would not be offset by any reduced costs on the part of the state since previously, parents were footing this bill. At three to four percent though, homeschoolers are just a fraction of those who could take the vouchers and run.

Fortunately, there are currently a couple of speed bumps to slow the depletion. The first one is the cap of 5,500 ESAs that may be awarded each per year. Of course, before the Governor even signed the latest expansion bill, Goldwater Institute leadership had already notified their major donors they would get the cap lifted.

The second speed bump is the by-grade phase-in of eligibility. For 2017–2018, the only additional children eligible are those who attend or are eligible to attend public schools in kindergarten (at least four but under seven years of age) or grades one, six, and nine. The following year, the law adds grades two, seven and ten to the mix. The year after than, grades three, eight, and eleven are added. Then in the 2020–2021 school year, all children who currently attend or are eligible to attend a public school in K–12 are eligible to receive a voucher.

If the Goldwater Institute is successful in removing the cap next legislative session though, (or maybe still this session in a “strike everything” bill), the floodgates will be wide open for the grades specified to be added each year. There is after all, a tremendous amount of support for that end as evidenced by Betsy DeVos’ tweet to Governor Ducey congratulating him on the eve of his signing the bill. She wrote, “A big win for students & parents in Arizona tonight with the passage of ed savings accts. I applaud Gov. @DougDucey for putting kids first.” Keep in mind that this is the same Betsy DeVos, that as the head of the American Federation for Children, oversaw an investment of over $750,000 since 2011 into Arizona legislative races for pro-school choice and voucher candidates.

We in Arizona though, know that our Governor hasn’t really put over 80 percent of our kids first. Instead, the self-acclaimed “education governor” has time and again shortchanged our kids. Like with his 2018 spending plan that would provide a 2% pay raise over five years for teachers giving them only about $182 (0.4%) more in the first year. Like with his no-details “plan” to streamline teacher certification requirements to help with the critical teacher shortage, as if less qualified teachers will help our students. Like with his plan to provide $10 million for full-day kindergarten funding at public schools where more than 90% of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Unfortunately, for district schools, the entire district must meet the 90% threshold, but for charters, only a single school. In Southern Arizona, only two districts – Nogales Unified and Santa Cruz Valley Unified – qualify. Even Sunnyside Unified School District, at 86 percent of its students on free/reduced lunch, doesn’t qualify. And, like when he negotiated a deal to pay the schools 70% of what they were owed with money that was already theirs and promised that would just be the beginning. As David Safier points out in the Tucson Weekly, the $325 million per year Prop. 123 is bringing in (again, money the schools were already owed, not a plus up), could easily be wiped out by “his latest attack on public eduation which could drain $150-$300 million” via vouchers.

The most important moral of this story is that elections do have consequences and one of those consequences is now the systemic dismantling of our system of public (district) education. You know, the system that takes all comers, the only system with locally elected governing boards who must operate in a transparent manner and are totally accountable to parents and taxpayers, and, the system which after adjusting for student poverty levels, produces better results.

The only real solution to save our district schools and the one million plus students they provide for, is to elect different lawmakers. To do that, each of us must take personal responsibility to do our part and then some. No longer can any of us leave the work to someone else. Not if we want better for our kids, our communities, and our country. As the Jewish religious leader Hillel originally said sometime around 50 BCE, “If not now, when? If not me, who?”

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Linda Lyon retired as a Colonel (Thomas) from the U.S. Air Force in 2007 at Andrews AFB, Maryland where she served as the Mission Support Group Commander (city manager) for a 20,000 person community with 2,000 people under her command. After retirement from the Air Force, she managed a $28 million logistical service contract at the Department of Energy and served as Deputy Program Manager for the $30 million SBInet contract at L-3 Communications. Since moving to Tucson in 2008, she (and her wife Holly) created and ran four annual Wingspan charity golf tournaments bringing in almost $65,000, and she served as the organization’s Director for 14 months. She also served in key positions for five AZ legislative races. Linda is in her second term as a Governing Board member for the Oracle School District, was named Advocate of the Year for 2013 by the Arizona School Board Association and in 2018, served as the Association's President. She'll be the past president in 2019 and will also be serving as the Federal Legislative Chair for the Arizona PTA.


  1. We had 2,000 students whose test scores at the end of 8th grade were lower than their test scores at the end of 3rd grade.

    You are seriously telling me that their parent’s perception of a problem and a need for a change isn’t sound?

  2. You who care about public education should work to make it competitive for the most vulnerable: the special education students, students from poverty and students of color.

    Quit trying to trap these students in a 200 hundred year old hay wagon that only works for a small percentage of them.

    But, that is obviously impossible, the current system is culturally trapped and is getting worse for the most vulnerable, not better. Just go to the NAEP website and subtract the 4th grade scores from the 8th grade scores. That difference has gone down 15% since 2000, 5% in the last four years alone.

    School choice is the cure and more school choice is a better cure.

    • If the money being pulled from public education was once again fully used just for the public schools , the students and schools would be once again in the top echelon.

    • Do you believe that vouchers will do this?

      I worry that the marginal students impacted by this will be families of solidly upper-middle class backgrounds who can afford to send their kids to private schools with a little bit of our money to supplement their means, while plenty of families will be stuck in even less-well-funded schools at the end of it.

      But I have to ask – why does the state impose increasing standards and burdens on public schools, and then exempt private and charter schools from the same? It almost sounds like our Republican legislature is setting up district schools to fail, so they can then turn around, point at said failure, and then use that as political cover to continue the privatization agenda.

      • Standards for students are a curse of democratic society. The following phrase is the most strongly polled phrase in education: “Set High Standards for student academic achievement.” A higher percentage of voters strongly agree with that statement than any other phrase you can construct for education. Believe it or not, people get what they want in elections by and large. But, many times the processes which voters demand don’t lead to the results voters expect. That’s why we are supposed to have a republic based on the conception that representatives can think more deeply than voters. Sometimes it works that way, many times it does not. Standards for children is an example of a bad policy that doesn’t take into account the complexity of the classroom.

        Academic standards are the same for both charter and district public schools. Both are required to take the test to determine whether a child has met the standard , or not. A charter school is subject to being closed based on their academic results and significant number are on the chopping block. District schools are not.

        District schools are required to hire certified teachers. Charters are not. But, when you look closely at the competitive charters almost all of them hire all certified and experienced teachers. Very few of them have the desire or resources to train teachers.

          • In three separate studies based on 1990’s data, RAND, perhaps the nations preeminent think tank, not only rated California schools dead last, but in each study, the gap between California and the 49th state was the largest gap between any two states in the nation.

            Now, using a statistical method almost identical to that of RAND, the Urban Institute ranks California 47th based on 2015 NAEP data (the same data set used by RAND). Not much of an improvement, but headed in the right direction.

            California provides capital for construction of charter schools. Big mistake. And, they are funding the chains heavily, very heavily. Another big mistake. This favoritism is central planning at its worst.

            The biggest source of school choice in Arizona since 1993, open enrollment between district public schools almost doesn’t exist in California. In Arizona, more than 35% of all students don’t attend their neighborhood school. More of that school choice is between district schools than to a charter school.

            So, California schools aren’t really as advanced in a free market mindset as their 10% charter school number would indicate. The big benefits are yet to come.

            All the screaming in your article doesn’t even bring up critical numbers. Are charter schools less expensive than district schools?
            In Arizona, charters cost the taxpayer more than $1,200 less per student than district schools.

            I get the impression that California charters are just as expensive as district schools and were designed that way.

            Your “study” is a whole lot of “pointing with alarm.” Not much else.

            20% of charters discriminate? 100% of districts discriminate.
            Some percentage of charters are run by crooks? Take a look at superintendent salaries, benefits and audit results. A much larger percentage of districts are run by crooks.

  3. We, who care about the future of public education in Arizona, must roll up our sleeves and work our butts off until November 2018. We must elect Democrats as governor and state legislators.

    Thank you Linda Lyon for keeping us on track!!

  4. What should really happen but won’t are two items.
    1. Vouchers should straight up be put on the ballot, with honest language, that the legislative majority is always whining for, but never apply to themselves, “Should taxpayer funds be used to pay for private schools with complete freedom from accountability.” Yes or No.

    2. Are you willing to pay a dedicated tax increase in State income tax, including corporate income tax, to pay for taxpayer money for private schools? Yes or No. No, this legislative majority does not have the courage (ba##s) to even try this here.
    Of course De Vos tried it in Michigan and it was soundly defeated on the ballot, despite millions spent to support it.
    In Nevada the Republican majority passed vouchers, but the legislature majority turned over, and the State Supreme Court threw out the scheme without a dedicated funding source.
    In Arizona without NEW money to fund their voucher schemes, they will take it from existing underfunded schools, streets, mental health funding and just about anything else this State really needs. I guess Ducey will take it from the State Trust Fund again? I can guarantee, no public school interest group will ever agree to any other settlement with this dishonest bunch ever again.

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