Archives for category: Arizona

Republicans thrive on culture war issues, like anything to do with race, sexuality, masks, or life-saving vaccines. One of their favorites lately is the threat posed by drag queens.

Why? These issues distract their base from stuff like climate, gun violence, and economic inequality. It’s the modern-day equivalent of bread and circus, without the bread.

In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has repeatedly warned about the danger of drag queens and threatened to close down their performances. In Arizona, several GOP legislators plan to introduce legislation to limit or ban drag queen shows. Newly elected Governor Katie Hobbs has made clear that she will veto any legislation that targets drag queens. In case you don’t know, drag queens are men who dress up as women and perform. Most drag queens are gay men, but some (like Dame Edna of Broadway fame) are not. Nor were Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, who pretended to be women in the classic comedy “Some Like It Hot.”

To listen to some Republican politicians, you might think that drag queens were a dangerous threat that must be addressed sternly. This is foolishness.

They should do something that addresses real problems, like climate change, gun violence, crime, or mental health. Or their own threats to cut the funding of Social Security and Medicare. They won’t. You can be sure of that.

Drag queens don’t hurt anybody, except perhaps the men who are insecure about their masculinity.

Linda Lyon is a retired naval officer and past president of the Arizona School Boards Asociatuon, as well as her local school board. Her blog is called Restore Reason, and she writes here about the struggle to save public schools from antagonists who prefer to save money and who are antagonistic to anything that serves the public good.

She writes:

Those of you’ve who’ve been around awhile will remember lobbyist Grover Norquist, who founded Americans for Tax Reform in 1985. This was during the Reagan years, when government was seen as a drag on the free market. Norquist is probably best known for this quote in 2001: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub”

It has been obvious for many years that Arizona Republican lawmakers want to drown our district schools since the budget for K-12 education makes up almost 44% of the state budget. But then, the predominant responsibilities of the AZ state government are to provide for the public safety and public education, so…it stands to figure that education would comprise a large portion of the budget.

If you’ve listened to the AZ Republican lawmaker talking points over the last few years, you’d tend to believe that public education has been showered with funding. The truth however is quite another story. In fact, adjusting for inflation, K-12 funding per public school student hasn’t increased in 21 years and leaves us still 48th in the nation. In 2001, districts were provided $8,824 per student and now, only $8,770. The high-water mark in 2007 of $10,182 per student was under Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano. This was actually $1,412 more than in 2022.

You see, pretty much all the GOP has been doing over the last few years is to reinstate funding they took away to begin with. And to add insult to injury, they’ve been chipping away at the amount available to district schools by continuous expansion of privatization options.

Guess you’d have to be living under a rock to have missed the battle over vouchers (Empowerment Scholarship Accounts) during the past decade. ESAs were enacted in 2011 and GOP lawmakers have been steadily expanding these vouchers over the years. In 2022, (I’m really cutting to the chase here), they were finally successful in enacting a universal expansion. Not only are students no longer required to have previously attended a district school to qualify for a voucher, but there are no guardrails or cap and no transparency or accountability for private schools. And, only two months into the new law, AZ DOE had received nearly 30,000 filings for the vouchers, totaling an immediate hit to the state fund of $210M. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee only budgeted $33M for the program for the 2022-23 school year, but some now estimate the bill could approach as much as $500M.

Student Tuition Organizations (STOs) are another vehicle to poke holes in the district funding life raft. They allow tax payers to take a dollar-for-dollar reduction in their state taxes when they give to an approved STO which provides scholarship funding to children attending grades K-12 at qualified private schools in Arizona. These STOs basically serve as a pass-through for tax credit donations to private schools while keeping 10 percent for themselves. STOs have also seen tremendous expansion over the years with the individual tax credit amount now at $1,306 which is over six times that which taxpayers can give to district schools. There are also two types of tax credits corporations can take and the combined cap for those is now up to $141M.

Just introduced last week by Representative Livingston, is HB 2014 which seeks to expand the aggregate dollar amount of STO tax credits from $6M in 2021-22 to $10M in 2022-23, to $15M in 2023-24, and to $20M in 2024-25. It also would eliminate the need for recipients of a corporate, low-income scholarship to have attended a district school prior to receiving the scholarship. Keep in mind that removing the requirement to have first attended a district school prior to receiving STO or ESA monies, accommodates students already in private school or being homeschooled, at their parent’s expense. In fact, that was the case for 80% of the filings for the universal expansion last year. And, when a student taking an ESA or STO scholarship was never in a district school, there is zero reduction in cost to that district school and ultimately, taxpayers.

These schemes are chipping away at the foundation of our district (community) schools so that eventually, they can be “drowned in the bathtub”. This is not by accident, but rather, by design. There are those in the Legislature, who do not believe in equal opportunity to learn and thrive, but rather, in survival of the fittest. And, they are hell-bent on deciding who the “fittest” are. Privatizing public education primarily serves those who “have” at the expense of those who “have not”. This continued war on public education will continue to weaken our communities and our democracy as it solidifies power and influence with those at the very top.

Want to fight back? Go to SOSArizona.org.

Vouchers were originally sold as a way to “save” poor children of color from failing schools. We now know that this claim is not true. Poor kids who use vouchers typically fall behind their peers in public school. In state after state, vouchers are subsidizing students who are already enrolled in private schools and never attended public schools. The funding of vouchers takes money away from the public schools attended by most students, meaning larger classes, fewer resources.

The latest report from the Grand Canyon Institute in Arizona identifies a familiar pattern:

POLICY BRIEF

November 6, 2022

Nearly Half of Universal Voucher Applicants are from Wealthier Communities  

Total State Private School Subsidies Reach $600M 

Dave Wells, Research Director

Curt Cardine, Research Fellow

Distribution of Universal ESAs vs. Distribution of Students

Key Findings:

  • 45% of universal Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) applicants come from the wealthiest quarter of students in the state. Their  families live in zip codes where the median household income is $80,000 or more, more than 30% greater than the state’s median income. 
  • 32% of universal ESA applicants are from families with a median income less than $60,000, which comprise just over half the students in the state.
  • 80% of universal ESA applicants are not in public school, meaning these students are already attending private schools, being home schooled, or just entering schooling. At a cost of about $7,000 per voucher this equates to potential new cost to the state of $177 million.  
  • Arizona will spend more than $600 million on private school subsidies—universal ESAs and Student Tuition Organization Scholarships—in the 2022-23 school year. 
  • Only 3.5% of all applicants came from zip codes that had a district high school or 2 K-8 district schools with a D or F grade. No zip codes with a median income above $80,000 had a district high school or 2 K-8 district schools receiving a D or F grade. 
  • There will be an increased risk of fraud with lax oversight to ensure that families don’t double dip by using both ESA and STO scholarship funds. 

Universal Vouchers Primarily Benefit Wealthier Households

Now that the October 15, 2022 deadline to apply has passed, the Grand Canyon Institute (GCI) has analyzed the zip code distribution of applications for the new universal Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) voucher program that Gov. Ducey signed into law in July. GCI’s analysis finds that  the program’s primary beneficiaries are students from wealthier families, similar to its previous analysis before the deadline, and that 92.5% of those students have access to well-performing schools.

Zip codes were provided by the Arizona Dept. of Education for universal voucher applicants. The total number of universal voucher applicants numbered 31,750. From that number GCI deducted 69 that were either out of state or had left the zip code blank. This report updates an earlier GCI analysis published on  October 6. In September, GCI evaluated details of the program, including the inability to measure academic impacts of the program due to the absence of accountability measures in the legislation. Academic impacts were also part of a 2018 GCI report regarding Arizona’s private school subsidy programs.

GCI compared the distribution of applications to both the median household income as well as the distribution of K-12 students in the zip codes of applicants using data from the 2020 American Community Survey by the U.S. Bureau of the Census. 

As noted in the graphs below, about 45% of all applications come from parents or guardians residing in zip codes that have a median household income of $80,000 or more, more than 30% greater than the state’s median household income.($61,529)  These represent the wealthiest quarter of students in the state (gold and silver parts of the graphs).  This is similar to GCI’s October analysis. 

By contrast, parents or guardians in zip codes with a median household income less than $60,000 which comprise just over half the students in the state, represent not quite one-third of all applications (blue section).  This is also similar to GCI’s October analysis.

Gov. Ducey in his press release after signing the universal voucher expansion noted, “This is a monumental moment for all of Arizona’s students. Our kids will no longer be locked in under-performing schools.”  GCI examined this claim by identifying zip codes that either contained a district high school with a D or F grade OR had at least two K-8 district schools with a D or F grade.  One school with a D or F grade hardly speaks poorly for a zip code. For instance, one Kyrene District elementary school in 85284 (South Tempe) received a “D,” but that is not indicative of the very highly rated schools in that relatively affluent zip code.  Zip codes typically have many schools, so even in the D or F zip codes, most schools (district or charter) did not receive a D or F.  Consequently, GCI’s D or F zip code identifier understates school grades within those zip codes. 

GCI found only 3.5% of all applicants came from zip codes that had a high school or 2 K-8 schools with a D or F grade. No zip codes with a median income above $80,000 had a high school or 2 K-8 schools receiving a D or F grade.

These results belie the claim  that the program was primarily designed for average and lower income families.  Rather, similar to the flat tax passed by the legislature, the primary beneficiaries of this government policy are wealthier families.

Total Private School Subsidies $600 Million 

($180 Million from Universal ESAs)

Arizona has extensive subsidy programs for private schools.  Dollar-for-dollar tax credit donations to private Student Tuition Organizations amounted to $250 million in FY2021 from individuals and corporations.  In addition, the existing ESA program which serves a large number of students with disabilities was on track to cost the state at least $190 million plus administrative costs for FY2023 based on program growth. Collectively private school subsidies likely cost at least $440 million since tax credit data was less current.

Universal voucher access looks to add up to $180 million to that number taking the total cost of private school subsidies to in excess of $600 million dollars

The Arizona Department of Education reports that about 80% of universal ESA applicants are not in public school, meaning these students are already attending private schools, being home schooled, or just entering schooling. At a cost of about $7,000 per voucher this equates to a cost of $177 million.  

The remaining 20% of applicants are currently attending public district or charter schools. The voucher formula provides 90% of the state’s per pupil funding formula for charter schools plus charter additional assistance. While students moving from charters to private schools represent a net savings of about $700, vouchers to students who attended district schools represent  a net cost to the state’s general fund.  The voucher exceeds what the state is currently paying because district additional assistance is significantly less than charter additional assistance. Charter additional assistance is between $2,000 and 2,300 per pupil while district additional assistance is between $500 and $550.  The difference exceeds the 10% overall  reduction from charter payments for vouchers.  In addition, students moving from wealthier district schools cost the state even more. Under the state’s education equalization formula their districts rely primarily on local property taxes, not state funding. 

Movement from charter schools is more likely to occur, from GCI’s past analysis. However, the loss from district movement is significantly more, such that it’s likely to be an overall net cost to the state.

An unknown number of these students may already be using the STO private school scholarship program, so some parents may switch to ESAs which would reduce the net cost to the state.  Likewise, not every applicant may qualify.

The estimated total cost of up to $180 million is significantly higher than the $33.4 million projected by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee for FY2023. The 31,7500 applicants are more than five times what the Joint Legislative Budget Committee projected of about 5,800 applicants in the first year of the program. The JLBC estimate though was very rough and saw the program doubling in year two.

STO scholarship award amounts are likely to increase in order for them to stay more competitive with the universal ESAs and because the number of of STO scholarship applicants may decline. Keep in mind, STO scholarships are administered by privately-run organizations that can take up to 10% of tax credit donations to cover administrative costs. Universal ESAs represent competition for their business. Some past STO scholarship awardees may switch to the universal ESA program, which could reduce contributions to STOs  (it was common for STO donors to contribute on behalf of a particular recipient), but since the tax credit  costs contributors nothing, they may persist.  

Many of the new applicants are likely homeschooled students, which the JLBC had estimated at 38,000 who are now eligible for state funding.

Risk of Misuse Rises Significantly 

Two potential issues arise with universal vouchers that might fall under the general category of fraud-whether pursued civilly or more likely with internal enforcement-relates to violations of the ESA contract. These occur if an ESA recipient were to misspend monies or double dip by receiving an STO scholarship simultaneously in violation of the ESA contract. Since ESAs go through the Department of Education, students are well tracked. An audit process is designed to prevent misspent dollars. 

As GCI noted in September, already a number of permitted ESA expenses are questionable.  But with a wider program that expands to homeschool, such oversight may be more challenging. Parents or guardians accepting ESAs sign a contract where they also agree not to accept an STO scholarship.  However, the state does not track recipients of STO scholarships outside broad aggregate reporting to the Arizona Department of Revenue.  It has been evident for a number of years that many parents or guardians seek and receive scholarships from multiple STOs, such that in 2019-2020 about 90,000 scholarships were awarded to around 50,000 private school students who were not receiving an ESA voucher (see diagram above). While some parents or guardians may not currently be in compliance with this restriction, the narrower scope of ESA eligibility limited that opportunity. However, with universal vouchers, the potential that a parent or guardian might attempt to double dip from both the ESA and STO scholarship programs rises significantly and an effective mechanism to catch when that occurs does not appear to exist.

Download PDF of paper including footnotes.

For more information, contact: 
Dave Wells, Research Director
dwells@azgci.org, 602.595.1025, Ext. 2

The Grand Canyon Institute (GCI) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to informing and improving public policy in Arizona through evidence-based, independent, objective, nonpartisan research. GCI makes a good faith effort to ensure that findings are reliable, accurate, and based on reputable sources. While publications reflect the view of the institute, they may not reflect the view of individual members of the board.SUPPORT US

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Two women are competing to be Governor of Arizona. Katie Hobbs, the current Secretary of State, is the Democratic candidate. Kari Lake, a former talk show host, is the Republican candidate, endorsed by Trump.

The differences between them on education are stark. Hobbs would roll back the recently passed universal voucher plan. Lake is an enthusiastic supporter of charters and vouchers.

Both pledged to raise teacher pay, but Lake would tie raises to test scores.

If Lake is elected, she would impose extremist ideas that would undermine education in the state. She promises privatization and censorship. If she is elected, she will destroy public schools.

The Arizona Republic described their views:

In the coming year, Arizona schools face key challenges.

A newly minted school voucher program will steer millions of taxpayer dollars to lightly regulated private schools. A major staff shortage has left schools across the state scrambling for teachers, bus drivers and kitchen staff. Total public school spending is nearing a limit that could force massive budget cuts if the Legislature doesn’t act.

The governor has significant sway in shaping the future of education in Arizona. They can propose priorities for legislative action, choose bills to sign, call special legislative sessions, appoint members to the State Board of Education and issue executive orders.

Arizona’s candidates for governor offer voters a stark choice on education policy.

Democrat Katie Hobbs supports repealing the new universal school voucher program and putting more public dollars into public schools. Republican Kari Lake wants all education funding tied to students, not schools, which could send even more public money to private schools.

Here’s what else we know about where they would try to lead Arizona’s education system if elected.

Funding schools, public and private

At the core of Lake’s education plan is a proposal to allow families to decide where state money allocated for their children’s education will go. The funding that would typically go to their local district public school to support their children’s education could be spent at a public district school, a public charter school, a private school, or for “alternative learning arrangements, such as neighborhood pods.”

“Parents and students can mix and match the best educational opportunities available to them,” Lake said on her campaign website. “As parents, you decide where you want your kid to go to school, send them there, and their state funding will follow them. No waitlists, no applications, no hurdles or hoops to jump through, period.”

While district schools usually are expected to welcome any student zoned to the school, some charter schools reach capacity and institute waitlists. Private schools routinely require families to apply for a spot.

That “backpack funding” approach would significantly shift how public school funding works in Arizona. Currently, public schools get a mix of funding from federal, state, and local sources. State funding depends on the number of students in a school and students’ specific needs. High-performing schools can also get additional funding, and many schools qualify for grant funding or other special financial support.

The recently expanded education voucher program shifted the funding dynamic by allowing any family with a school-age child in Arizona — regardless of whether they previously attended a public school — to apply for about $7,000 in public education funding to put toward education-related endeavors, including private schools, tutors and homeschooling.

If elected, Hobbs said she would work to roll back universal vouchers.

On school funding, Hobbs said she wants to direct more of Arizona’s budget surplus, $5 billion in fiscal year 2023, to education. Right now, Arizona ranks near the bottom nationally in per-pupil spending, which educators said accounts for crumbling classrooms, outdated books and low-paid staff.

Hobbs also wants to ensure Arizona schools receive matching federal dollars for early childhood education. “To say that increased funding of schools does not result in better student success is willful ignorance of the needs of Arizona children and families,” said Hobbs’ plan.https://www.usatodaynetworkservice.com/tangstatic/html/pphx/sf-q1a2z37a5af424.min.html

Both would increase teacher pay

Both Lake and Hobbs said they want to increase the number of new teachers and retain current teachers by boosting pay. But they have different ideas about how to go about it.

Hobbs’ promises to support educators and tackle the teacher shortage are at the forefront of her platform. Among her positions are increasing educator annual salaries by an average of $14,000, expanding a state program that subsidizes tuition for college students studying education, promoting mentorship programs and ensuring teachers can access affordable healthcare.

Much of Hobbs’ plan relies on existing systems for low-cost teacher training, including the Arizona Teacher Residency at Northern Arizona University and the Arizona Teachers Academy, a scholarship program that subsidizes tuition at public, in-state higher education institutions. Hobbs said she would also work to convince the Legislature that more base funding for schools is needed.

Lake challenged the connection between more money for schools and higher student achievement. She said Arizona teachers deserve better pay, but any raises should be performance-based. She blamed stagnating teacher salaries on administrators taking ever-larger earnings. “Government-run school leaders appear to be deliberately keeping teacher pay low so they can be used as sympathetic figureheads in a quest for additional funds,” Lake said.

An Arizona Auditor General analysis of instructional spending in the 2021 fiscal year found that the percentage of money spent on instructional spending had fallen to 55.3% from its peak of 58.6% in 2004. While administrative spending is part of what districts spend their non-classroom dollars on, those costs also include food service and transportation.

Instead, Lake said she would provide bonuses for educators whose students perform well and show improvement. She would fund that through Proposition 301, an education sales tax first approved in 2000 and renewed in 2018. “We cannot trust school districts to direct allocated funds to teachers,” she said, explaining her support for performance-related raises. “I want our best teachers to be recognized and to be the highest paid in the country.”

Differences on school spending cap

The aggregate expenditure limit is a constitutional cap put in place in the 1980s on how much all Arizona district-run schools can spend. Last year, schools hit the limit, and the Legislature temporarily lifted the cap. This year, schools are on track to hit it again, and if lawmakers don’t act, school districts will collectively have to cut billions from their budgets.

Hobbs wants to eliminate the constitutional limit. “Each year our school districts are held hostage by political gamesmanship,” she said.

A constitutional fix could take various forms. The Legislature could increase the spending ceiling or exempt from the limit the money that comes in from the Proposition 301 sales tax. An end to the limit altogether would require a public referendum.

Lake did not respond to The Republic’s questions about her education plan, including a question about her position on the spending limit. In a social media statement earlier this year, Lake was critical of efforts to lift the cap. In a February tweet, as lawmakers voted on a bill to temporarily lift the spending cap, Lake encouraged her followers to vote in favor of legislators who did not support raising the aggregate expenditure limit….

Banning ideas, how to teach U.S. history

Lake wants to prohibit several ideas from being discussed in schools.

She’d like to strengthen Arizona’s ban on a college-level theory that teaches people of different races experience aspects of U.S. society differently, restrict teaching systems that aim to improve interpersonal skills and decision-making, and eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion programs. Lake said on the campaign trail that she would consider putting cameras into classrooms to keep these programs from being taught.

Lake also said she would align state standards to the Hillsdale 1776 curriculum, a history and civics program of study created by a conservative private college in Michigan that has been criticized as taking a too rosy view of the U.S. past.

In response to a question from The Republic, Hobbs’ campaign said she opposed using the Hillsdale 1776 curriculum in Arizona schools because it did not offer a comprehensive understanding of civics and history. It would “ultimately be a disservice to Arizona children,” the campaign statement said.

Hobbs’ education plan doesn’t take an explicit position on the teaching of race and history or other political questions that have riled both the Legislature and some Arizona school boards.

Lake pledged to replace the Arizona state test with the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal test that is not available for use by schools or states.

The blog Fourth Estate 48 reports on news from Arizona. The latest news is that Mark Finchem, the Republican candidate for Secretary of State, wants to abolish voting by mail. He peddles the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen, and mail-in voting was a source of fraud.

Well, Dillon Rosenblatt checked Finchem’s voting record and found that he regularly votes by mail.

The Secretary of State in every state is in charge of elections. He or she must be a person of the highest integrity and must be nonpartisan.

Rosenblatt writes:

During his Arizona PBS debate for Secretary of State, Republican nominee said he always goes to the polls to vote. He lied.

Up until this year, Mark Finchem, the conspiracy theorist, stop the steal, election denying Republican candidate for Arizona Secretary of State automatically received his ballot via the mail since he was a Libertarian in 2008.

Despite that, Finchem has been a strong advocate of ending no-excuse mail-in voting for all Arizonans which has been in place for decades and used by at least 80% of the electorate. Finchem during his debate against Democratic challenger Adrian Fontes, the former Maricopa County recorder, last month claimed he always votes at the polls. This is a lie.

In another post, Dillon Rosenblatt reported that Republican Candidate for the U.S. Senate, Blake Masters, always votes by mail. But he’s against it, like Finchem.

In last night’s Arizona Senate debate on Arizona PBS between Senator Mark Kelly, the Democrat, Blake Masters, the Republican, and Marc Victor, the Libertarian, Masters went after the state’s vote by mail system –– a system which he utilizes exclusively.

Masters at first said, “I believe in Election Day, not election season,” but his voter file shows he’s never actually voted on Election Day while he was registered to vote in Arizona.

Masters has not lived in Arizona for long, but he has always voted by mail.

Heather Cox Richardson is a historian who blogs frequently on current events. She is brilliant.

She wrote:

In Arizona, Pima County Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson has restored a law put into effect by Arizona’s Territorial legislature in 1864 and then reworked in 1901 that has been widely interpreted as a ban on all abortions except to save a woman’s life. Oddly, I know quite a bit about the 1864 Arizona Territorial legislature, and its story matters as we think about the attempt to impose its will in modern America.

In fact, the Civil War era law seems not particularly concerned with women handling their own reproductive care—it actually seems to ignore that practice entirely. The laws for this territory, chaotic and still at war in 1864, appear to reflect the need to rein in a lawless population of men.

The criminal code talks about “miscarriage” in the context of other male misbehavior. It focuses at great length on dueling, for example— making illegal not only the act of dueling (punishable by three years in jail) but also having anything to do with a duel. And then, in the section that became the law now resurrected in Arizona, the law takes on the issue of poisoning.

In that context, the context of punishing those who secretly administer poison to kill someone, it says that anyone who uses poison or instruments “with the intention to procure the miscarriage of any woman then being with child” would face two to five years in jail, “Provided, that no physician shall be affected by the last clause of this section, who in the discharge of his professional duties deems it necessary to produce the miscarriage of any woman in order to save her life.”

The next section warns against cutting out tongues or eyes, slitting noses or lips, or “rendering…useless” someone’s arm or leg.

The law that is currently interpreted to outlaw abortion care seemed designed to keep men in the chaos of the Civil War from inflicting damage on others—including pregnant women—rather than to police women’s reproductive care, which women largely handled on their own or through the help of doctors who used drugs and instruments to remove what they called dangerous blockages of women’s natural cycles in the four to five months before fetal movement became obvious.

Written to police the behavior of men, the code tells a larger story about power and control.

The Arizona Territorial legislature in 1864 had 18 men in the lower House of Representatives and 9 men in the upper house, the Council, for a total of 27 men. They met on September 26, 1864, in Prescott. The session ended about six weeks later, on November 10.

The very first thing the legislators did was to authorize the governor to appoint a commissioner to prepare a code of laws for the territory. But William T. Howell, a judge who had arrived in the territory the previous December, had already written one, which the legislature promptly accepted as a blueprint.

Although they did discuss his laws, the members later thanked Judge Howell for “preparing his excellent and able Code of Laws” and, as a mark of their appreciation, provided that the laws would officially be called “The Howell Code.” (They also paid him a handsome $2500, which was equivalent to at least 5 years’ salary for a workingman in that era.) Judge Howell wrote the territory’s criminal code essentially single-handedly.

The second thing the legislature did was to give a member of the House of Representatives a divorce from his wife.

Then they established a county road near Prescott.

Then they gave a local army surgeon a divorce from his wife.

In a total of 40 laws, the legislature incorporated a number of road companies, railway companies, ferry companies, and mining companies. They appropriated money for schools and incorporated the Arizona Historical Society.

These 27 men constructed a body of laws to bring order to the territory and to jump-start development. But their vision for the territory was a very particular one.

The legislature provided that “No black or mulatto, or Indian, Mongolian, or Asiatic, shall be permitted to [testify in court] against any white person,” thus making it impossible for them to protect their property, their families, or themselves from their white neighbors. It declared that “all marriages between a white person and a [Black person], shall…be absolutely void.”

And it defined the age of consent for sexual intercourse to be just ten years old (even if a younger child had “consented”).

So, in 1864, a legislature of 27 white men created a body of laws that discriminated against Black people and people of color and considered girls as young as 10 able to consent to sex, and they adopted a body of criminal laws written by one single man.

And in 2022, one of those laws is back in force in Arizona.

Arizona voters blocked vouchers in 2018 by a 2-1 margin. The Koch-DeVos machine came back with an even bigger voucher proposal this year. Save Our Schols Arizona, a grassroots group of volunteers once more gathered signatures to compel a state referendum to block vouchers. The billionaires hate democracy and will try to stop the referendum.

The Arizona Republic reported:

A school voucher program scheduled to become law Saturday is on hold after public-school advocates gathered enough citizen signatures to temporarily block the controversial program.

On Friday, the Save Our Schools movement submitted 141,714 signatures to the Arizona secretary of state as volunteers concluded a drive to refer the voucher program to the 2024 ballot for voters to decide.

The law, authorized by the GOP majority in the Legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, would be the first universal voucher program in the nation, using taxpayer dollars for private education efforts.

It would expand the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program to every Arizona schoolchild, providing an estimated $7,000 of taxpayer money per child for a range of educational services, from private school tuition to tutors to support for parents who opt to teach their children at home…

Raquel Mamani, an educator and parent, celebrated the petition drive, saying it puts on hold “the anti-public education, anti-parent, anti-student agenda forced into our state by extremists.”

Volunteers gathered signatures from all 15 counties in 80 days, a sign of widespread support, said Nicky Indicavitch, outreach director for Save Our Schools Arizona.

“Arizonans want top quality, fully funded public schools in every neighborhood,” she said.

This is the second time in five years public-school proponents have taken to the streets to block voucher expansion. In 2017, a similar referendum drive sent an expansion of the ESA program to ballot, where voters in 2018 rejected it by a margin of nearly 2 to 1.

Friday’s filing had echoes of the 2017 effort, but both supporters and opponents of the ESA program expect a more robust, heavily funded fight this time around.

The American Federation for Children [the DeVos organization] has signaled its support for the expanded program, and a “decline to sign” movement that tried to discourage people from signing the referendum petitions said it has proof of illegal signature efforts…

After the universal expansion passed in June, the state started taking preliminary applications. Data released last month showed 6,500 families had applied in just two weeks. Of those families, about 75% indicated they did not have a child previously in public school.

Those early findings solidified opposition from public-school advocates, who argued that the numbers showed the beneficiaries were likely people already paying private tuition and looking to cash in on a hefty state subsidy.

In Arizona, Save Our Schools Arizona and other parent groups are gathering signatures to force a referendum on the legislature’s plan to unleash a universal voucher plan. Parents and teachers overwhelmingly defeated a voucher proposal in 2018, but the salaries Koch-sponsored forces are pushing an even bigger voucher plan than before. In their proposal, every student in the state would be eligible for a voucher.

The Grand Canyon Institute has assembled the facts about the proposal. The greatest beneficiaries would be families whose children already attend private schools and parents affluent enough to pay for the cost of private high school.

Max Goshert, Assistant Research Director of the Grand Canyon Institute, writes:

Phoenix, Arizona – 2022 was a blockbuster year for Arizona policy. Along with a record budget and a billion-dollar investment in water, Arizona passed the largest private school scholarship program in the country. Previously, only families who met certain conditions, such as having a student with a disability, a parent who served in the military, a student who attended a D or F school, a student who lives on a Native American reservation, or a sibling of one of these students, could participate in the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program.

HB 2853 establishes universal eligibility for the ESA program, meaning that any student attending grades K-12 can receive a scholarship, which is estimated to average $6,966 in FY23 (certain circumstances, like disability status, can change the scholarship size). Unlike the 2017 expansion, which capped participation at 30,000 recipients, there is no limit on the number of students who can participate in the program.

Naturally, the polemic public debate resulting from the seismic shift in education has spawned a gamut of predictions on what the impact of this expansion will be. In an attempt to foster conversation that is grounded in fact, we address several questions about the ESA program by diving into the data.

How will the ESA expansion impact academic outcomes?

As with any policy that impacts education, the most important feature of the ESA expansion is how it impacts the quality of education that students receive. While the literature on the academic outcomes of participation in voucher programs is mixed, with some research reporting significant positive effects, several recent studies have found negative impacts on student achievement, especially in math, for statewide voucher programs in Ohio, Indiana, and Louisiana (Mills and Wolf, p.8). This is likely due to the rapid expansion of these voucher programs from smaller populations to the entire state, overwhelming existing private school infrastructure (p.43).

Arizona’s expansion is the largest in the country, with the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) estimating that 36,078 public school students will begin participating in the ESA program. While some families may choose to homeschool given their new ESA eligibility, most will likely elect to attend a private school. Given that there are currently 59,171 private school students, Arizona private schools will see a 39% rise in demand, a tremendous increase in a short period of time that threatens to overwhelm existing facilities. Consequentially, Arizona will likely see a similar decline in academic outcomes due to the inadequate supply of private schools.

What are the accountability requirements for ESAs?

While ESA participants are required to use a portion of the program funding in reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies, and science, there are no minimum standards of academic achievement, such as reading or math proficiency. Private schools are not required to be accountable for the academic outcomes of their students. This contrasts sharply with Louisiana’s voucher program, where private schools must apply to become voucher recipients and undergo site visits, financial audits, and health and safety assessments from the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Abdulkadiroglu et al, p. 4). Private schools must maintain eligibility by administering annual state achievement tests to voucher recipients along with financial audits.

Who benefits the most from ESA expansion?

Of the 9,710 applicants to the ESA program for SY2023, approximately 77% do not have a history of attending an Arizona public school. Effectively, these ESAs serve not to enable those attending public school to attend private school, but as a public subsidy for families that already had the means to pay for private schools or homeschooling. This is in line with a 2018 study by the Grand Canyon Institute which found that, while enrollment in the private school sector has been relatively flat, private school subsidies from Arizona’s General Fund have increased 50-fold from $3 million in SY2000 to $141 million in SY2016. As with other private school subsidies, the beneficiaries are largely those who are already attending private schools, not those attending public schools who would otherwise attend privates.

What are the limitations on ESA expenses?

ESA funding can be used to pay private school tuition, curriculum, homeschooling, and other educational expenses. The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) maintains a comprehensive list of approved spending categories and ESA allowable items. However, because state statute on allowable items is broad, parents are able to use ESA dollars for expenses with questionable educational benefit. Uptown Jungle Peoria, an indoor playground, recently attracted attention when they advertised that they would accept ESA money, an expenditure that ADE confirmed was appropriate. Parents may also use ESA dollars to purchase Lego kits, lawn darts, and croquet sets. ADE staff oversee ESA expenditures to ensure that they fall under program guidelines, yet allowable purchases that are more recreational may come at the expense of academic experience.

How much will the ESA expansion cost taxpayers?

Initial estimates from the JLBC are that taxpayers will spend $33 million in FY23, $65 million in FY24, and $125 million in FY25 from empowerment scholarships. With 77% of the 9,710 enrollees this school year coming from outside of the public system, the cost of these students will likely be around $52 million, very close to the JLBC estimate. As participation in the ESA program proliferates due to public awareness in the coming years, the burden of the program on the General Fund will rise substantially.

How will the ESA expansion impact school choice?

Arizona currently has 2,391 public schools and 448 private schools. The estimated award for FY23 of $6,966 covers the entire average cost of private elementary schools ($6,710), but only about a third of the cost of private secondary schools ($18,590). Consequentially, families will have to pay around $12,000 per student out of their own pocket once they reach high school, a financial barrier that will be too burdensome for those who rely on ESAs to pay for private school tuition. The families that experience the greatest expansion of school choice are those who are wealthy enough to pay the difference in tuition at the secondary education level.

The impact of school choice by the ESA expansion is further limited by the lack of public accountability of private schools, creating a vacuum of information on academic outcomes. With little means to determine how well private schools educate their students, parents must rely more on marketing and word-of-mouth, impairing their ability to make well-informed decisions for school choice.

HB 2853 is scheduled to go into effect on September 24 however that date could be put on hold if an initiative successfully gathers sufficient signatures to refer the issue to the November 2024 ballot.

For more information, contact:
Max Goshert, Assistant Research Director
mgoshert@azgci.org, 602.595.1025, Ext. 12

The Grand Canyon Institute (GCI) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to informing and improving public policy in Arizona through evidence-based, independent, objective, nonpartisan research. GCI makes a good faith effort to ensure that findings are reliable, accurate, and based on reputable sources. While publications reflect the view of the institute, they may not reflect the view of individual members of the board.

Beth Lewis, the director of Save Our Schools Arizona, thought that vouchers were a dead issue after 2/3 of voters rejected them in 2018.

But the Republican legislature, egged on by the usual billionaires, came back with a voucher plan even worse than the one that was defeated. They probably figured that the volunteers couldn’t muster the energy and resources to fight another round.

Beth Lewis writes:

This June, hours before adjourning their legislative session, Republican majority lawmakers delivered a massive blow to Arizonans by passing a universal voucher program that will siphon public dollars away from public schools to private schools with zero accountability to the public. Even worse, this program is significantly larger than a similar voucher program that was rejected by voters in 2018 by a margin of more than 2-1.

Make no mistake, lawmakers did not pass this bill at the urging of their constituents — who overwhelmingly support and rely on local public schools — but at the behest of special interest groups like Betsy DeVos’ American Federation for Children who aim to dismantle the public education system.

Lawmakers tried to sell these expanded vouchers as “school choice,” but we all know it has nothing to do with school choice and in fact harms the choice of the 1 million students who choose AZ’s public schools.

Republican lawmakers have long argued that universal vouchers would “free children from a broken school system.” But that argument was utterly destroyed recently when the Arizona Department of Education reportedthat 75% of families seeking new Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, which is what this voucher program is called, have never stepped foot in a public school.

And that’s just the start. Approximately 85,000 students already in private school and homeschool will become eligible for ESA vouchers overnight, potentially diverting another $600 million in funding away from public schools every year. This amounts to a 20% blow to local public schools across the board – a blow they cannot withstand. But of course, Governor Doug Ducey, DeVos and their cronies know that.

These deep dips into the school funding bucket drain the funding of the choice of 1 million AZ students who choose public schools. That’s not school choice— it’s highway robbery.

The only goal this disastrous bill accomplishes is fattening the bank accounts of special interests and for-profit operators at the expense of Arizona kids. Universal vouchers leave our taxpayer dollars ripe for fraud and abuse at the hands of extremist charlatans like Charlie Kirk and his radical Turning Point Academies (founded the same month as passage of Ducey’s voucher expansion). Using taxpayer dollars to indoctrinate children on bigotry and intolerance is not school choice – it’s dangerous.

Public funds belong in public schools where there is oversight and transparency, not in privately operated businesses with no accountability to taxpayers. There is nothing in this voucher expansion that would stop a bad actor from opening up a “private school” in a strip mall, lying to the parents, taking $7000 per child and closing up shop. Ducey’s expansion gives the state no mechanism to recover misspent or fraudulently used funds. There is zero oversight of academics, performance, curriculum, safety, or teacher credentials. And there is nothing to stop voucher schools from discriminating against students who don’t “fit” their ideology or mold. That’s not school choice – it’s indoctrination and segregation.

The entire program is a walking permission slip for future scandal, segregation, fraud and abuse. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Arizona kids sit in overcrowded school classrooms with outdated textbooks, leaking roofs, and under-resourced teachers.

Save Our Schools Arizona is working to stop this law by turning in 118,823 valid signatures on Sept. 23, so that AZ voters will have the final say on the 2024 ballot. Find locations to sign the petition at teamsosarizona.com.


Beth Lewis is a mom, public education advocate, and K-12 policy expert who fights for a fully and equitably funded school for every Arizona child. As Director of Save Our Schools Arizona, Beth works to bring parents, educators, elected officials, business leaders, and community members together in support of Arizona’s public schools, which strengthen our communities and our great state. Beth has taught elementary and middle school in Arizona for 12 years. She holds a BA from the University of Notre Dame and a Master’s in Education from ASU. Reach out to her at beth@sosarizona.org

Blake Masters is the Republican candidate opposing incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Kelly in Arizona. Masters is closely allied with misogynistic billionaire Peter Thiel.

On his campaign website, he declared that was completely opposed to abortion at any stage of pregnancy, with no exceptions. He said he was “100% pro-life.” He called Roe v. Wade a “horrible” decision.

He called for “a federal personhood law (ideally a Constitutional amendment) that recognizes that unborn babies are human beings that may not be killed.”

But then came the election in Kansas, where Republican women joined with Democrats to block an effort to remove the right to an abortion from the state constitution.

Now, reports the Arizona Republic, Masters has softened the language on his website to pretend to be a moderate on abortion. In other words, he is trying to pull a Kavanaugh, pretending that he is not what he is.

He removed the reference to being “100% pro-life.” He claims to support reasonable limits on abortion, no longer completely opposed to it. The Roe decision is now described as “bad,” not “horrible.” He now claims to support Arizona’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The Masters campaign did not immediately elaborate on the website changes. He launched a digital ad Thursday addressing abortion, in which he says, “Most people support commonsense regulation around abortion.”

Kelly has supported federal abortion rights and blasted the Supreme Court’s ruling doing away with them.

He said about the Dobbs’ decision overturning Roe v. Wade:

“Today’s decision is a giant step backward for our country. Women deserve the right to make their own decisions about abortion. It is just wrong that the next generation of women will have fewer freedoms than my grandmother did,” he said in a written statement.

“In Arizona, there are already restrictive bans on the books that will take rights away from Arizona women, without exceptions even in the case of rape or incest. I know that this decision and these laws are leaving many Arizonans frustrated and scared. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment. I am resolved to defend and protect the right of Arizona women to make their own health care decisions.”

Masters has called Kelly an extremist for defending a right that existed for nearly half a century.

As Masters tries to rewrite his own history, will the women of Arizona be fooled?