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One of the pillars of Arizona Public Square is to value the importance that education takes in our community. We believe that a strong education system is necessary for a deliberative democracy to function. Recently, the Arizona Legislature has advanced a number of bills that could fundamentally change education in our state.

It is stated in the Arizona State Constitution,

The legislature shall enact such laws as shall provide for the establishment and maintenance of a general and uniform public school system.

There are three bills coming through the legislature that could potentially take away funding from our public school system and would fund a private voucher system. The reason these issues are coming to you as URGENT is that these bill have been fast-tracked by the legislative majority. We would like to inform you of these bills, and explain how to best become involved on these issues.

SB1174

Update: THIS BILL FAILED State Sen. Lesko (R-21) has a bill currently making its way through the legislature that would change how schools handle “desegregation funding”. According to the legislative research team, Phoenix Union and Tucson Unified (TUSD) are allowed to budget and levy an additional property tax for expenses designed to remediate alleged or proven racial discrimination. This budget authority is typically referred to as desegregation funding. This bill would require that desegregation dollars, funded by property taxes, be voter-approved.

As of 2015, Arizona ranked third from last in amount of money spent per public school student in the U.S., at a rate of $7,208 per student. Arizona has had a chronic problem with underfunded schools. As reported by the Arizona Republic, this bill could potentially take away $211 million from the two biggest school districts in the state. If the community in these school districts voted against these voluntary property taxes, the schools would lose the $211 million in funding.*

SB1431 and HB2394

UPDATE: THIS BILL PASSED AND WAS SIGNED BY GOV DUCEY. This bill, introduced by State Sen. Lesko (R-21), seeks to increase funding for private school vouchers by expanding the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program. Empowerment Scholarships enable a student to take the taxpayer money that would go to their neighborhood public school and use it to attend a private school, religious school or to be home schooled!

The ESA Program was established in 2011 to provide educational options for special needs students outside of the public school system. The ESA Program has since expanded to include a number of other groups that have been given special consideration. This bill is seeking to expand the private voucher program started by the ESA to cover all K-12 students by 2020. This is part of a nation-wide effort to privatize public education.

This bill would not levy new taxes to pay for the expanded voucher problem. This has led critics of the bill to point out that it would drain money from our already underfunded school system. Students already part of the ESA receive between $3000 and $10,000 depending on their special assistance needs. If money from public funding for education were used to finance the extension of this program, it would dramatically reduce the amount of going to public school students.

It would also be noted that a school voucher program would provide far more assistance to wealthy families than to poor or middle class families, as analyzed by the Arizona Republic. If a wealthy family was already paying for private school for their children, this program would only subsidize the cost of that expense. However, for poorer families, the subsidies provided for private schools might still not be enough to actually afford private schooling. If a family is given a $5,000 voucher for a private school that costs $8,000 or more & the fact that this private school provides no public transportation, these parents most probably will still send their children to public school. Because of this, the benefit of the program would disproportionately benefit richer families.
Proponents of this bill would argue that these problems might be worth it if students were given a choice to go to a variety of public and private schools. This would incentivize all schools to increase their performance in order to attract more students from competing schools. However, students who attend schools given a D or F ranking, indicating a failing school, are already eligible for this program. In addition, there is no guarantee in this bill that private schools are necessarily any better. A proposed amendment by State Sen. David Bradley (D-10) that would require all ESA students to take a statewide assessment was voted down in committee. This means that any standardized way of assessing student performance would have to be voluntary.

In Conclusion:

There is a real concern that this sort of bill would detract, instead of enhance, our state’s education system. Public school is a constitutional right for Arizonans, and we at Arizona Public Square believe that we should voice that opinion to our legislatures.

SADLY, THIS BILL PASSED AND WAS SIGNED BY THE GOVERNOR VERY QUICKLY. THE ONLY WAY TO MAKE SURE BILLS LIKE THIS DON’T PASS THE AZ HOUSE AND SENATE AND DON’T GET SIGNED BY AN AZ GOVERNOR, IS TO ELECT DIFFERENT PEOPLE TO POSITIONS OF LEADERSHIP!

We are asking every one of our readers to reach out via email or phone to your representative to let them know what you think! If you are not sure which lawmaker represents you on a state level, please CHECK HERE. We have also provided a link to the Arizona Legislative website with information on how to contact your State Senator and State Representative. Join with other citizens to make our voices heard!

Contact Every Member of the House Education Committee (by email or phone),
and COPY BOTH of Your Own Representatives.

Here’s the Committee