Archives for category: Arizona

The far-right Goldwater Institute has filed a lawsuit claiming that the state has no right to regulate how parents spend their voucher money, the money that is paid by taxpayers. Goldwater says that if the parents misspent the money, it should be refunded to parents so they can try again. The Goldwater Institute, along with the DeVos family and Charles Koch, have sponsored efforts to expand the voucher program to cover all students in the state. They began with the “camel’s nose” under the tent, offering vouchers for students with disabilities (who abandon their federally-protected rights when they go to private schools); then added students in foster care; then added students in “failing” public schools; then students on reservations; then students from military families. They won’t be satisfied until every student in the state gets a voucher to leave public schools for a private school.

The Arizona Republic reports:

The Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank, has filed suit against the state Department of Education contending it doesn’t have the authority to enforce rules governing Arizona’s school voucher program.

The suit — which was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court and names the state attorney general as a defendant — alleges the Department of Education didn’t follow the state’s rule-making process when it created the ESA handbook, a set of rules that outlines the Empowerment Scholarship Account program. The ESA program grants parents money to send their children to private school.

The suit also contends the Department of Education does not have the authority to require that parents who have misspent ESA money reimburse the state for those funds. It is demanding the Department of Education instead put that misspent money back into parents’ accounts. 

Finally, the lawsuit claims the department has no right to make funding conditional on parents filing expense reports to document how they spent the taxpayer money. It calls the quarterly reports “cumbersome and time-consuming” and says as a result payments to participants are often late, breaching their contract and causing them to miss payments to private schools.

Under the ESA program, parents receive 90% of the state funding that would otherwise go to their local public school districts. Children in six categories, such as those with special needs, in foster care, from failing schools and others, are allowed to enroll in the program. 

The voucher money, loaded on debit cards, is intended to cover specific education expenses such as private- or religious-school tuition, home-school expenses and education-related therapies.

Dawn Penich-Thacker, spokeswoman for Save Our Schools Arizona, which has opposed expansion of the ESA program, said the suit is really about stripping power from Kathy Hoffman, the Democratic superintendent of public instruction elected in 2018.

“They (Goldwater) don’t want her having any say over it,” Penich-Thacker said. 

Parents have complained about the expense reports for years but Goldwater only now filed suit, Penich-Thacker said. 

Last year, two bills in the Arizona Legislature would have stripped oversight of the ESA program from Hoffman and given it to the Treasurer’s Office, which is overseen by Republican Kimberly Yee.

“Suddenly, this is when the school choice community is up in arms,” Penich-Thacker said. “Parents are saying this is happening since day one, but it took the election of 2018 for anything to actually become a problem.” 

The Goldwater Institute has been involved in shaping the ESA program since before the voucher program became law in 2011. 

The think tank was instrumental in writing the legislation that created the program. It was also deeply involved in the numerous expansions of the law, which were often copied from model legislation written by special interests.

It was a big backer of the universal voucher expansion that would have allowed all 1.1 million Arizona public school students to use public money to go to private school. The number of students receiving the funds would have been capped at 30,000. Voters overturned the voucher law in November 2018 by a vote of 65% to 35%.

Goldwater also has wielded an “iron-like grip level of influence” behind the scenes with the Department of Education, attempting to dictate how the program should be implemented and acting as if it retained ownership of the program.

It has not been a good year for vouchers. The research continues to show that they don’t “save poor kids from failing schools.” They are in fact more likely to cause their academic performance to decline.

Pastors for Texas Children has led the effort to block vouchers in Texas and SOS Arizona led the effort to block voucher expansion in Arizona.

Voucher advocates (Koch-funded) are coming back with new legislation for 2020, and Arizona SOS has pledged to beat them again.

There are heroes among us.

 

December 2019
PRIVATE SCHOOL VOUCHERS: AN UNSUCCESSFUL EFFORT TO OVERTURN THE WILL OF VOTERS IN ARIZONA AND GROWING SUBURBAN OPPOSITION IN TEXAS
This is the third in our series, Private School Vouchers: Analysis of 2019 State Legislative Sessions. Read the first and second parts.
In 2017, the Arizona Legislature passed, and the Republican Governor, Doug Ducey, signed, a bill expanding the state’s existing Education Savings Account (ESA) voucher program. The legislation created one of the most expansive voucher programs in the nation, opening the existing ESA voucher, first established in 2011, to all students statewide. The program had been limited to students with disabilities, several Native American Tribes, and students in “low-performing” public schools.
Shortly after the bill’s passage, public school advocates collected more than 111,000 signatures to put an initiative on the ballot to overturn the ESA voucher expansion. In November 2018, Arizonans voted against the voucher expansionby an overwhelming margin: 65% to 35%. Following the vote, Beth Lewis, co-founder of Save our Schools Arizona, the grassroots group that led the effort to collect signatures, said, ”This result sends a message to the state and the nation that Arizona supports public education, not privatization schemes that hurt our children and our communities.”
However, just a few months after the public referendum, during the 2019 legislative session, Republican lawmakers introduced a number of bills to again expand the ESA voucher program. These bills would have added new student eligibility categories, including families below a certain income threshold and students who are victims of crimes or harassment. Two of these bills passed the relevant committees but were not considered by the full House or Senate. The remaining bills were not taken up at all.
While the proposed private school voucher bills did not pass in 2019, Arizona demonstrates that public school supporters can never assume their work is done, even when the public has resoundingly spoken against privatization. A day after the defeat of the expanded voucher program at the ballot box, voucher advocates publicly redoubled their efforts to expand the ESA program.
In Texas, where a Democrat has not been elected statewide since 1994, every bill introduced in the Legislature to establish a private school voucher program has failed to become law. As in several other conservative states, a bipartisan coalition of Democrats and rural Republican legislators in Texas has consistently opposed these bills. However, unlike many of these other states, more suburban Republican legislators are joining the opposition to vouchers, preferring to focus on funding for public schools.
In the 2018 election, Democrats picked up a number of seats in the suburbs of the state’s large cities, including those previously held by several strong voucher proponents. Additionally, during primary elections, several pro-voucher legislators lost to candidates who were more supportive of public education. As the head of the Texas American Federation of Teachers, Louis Malfaro, said, “….almost categorically the Republicans who ran as friends of public education prevailed over those who said we need more school choice, we need more vouchers, so I don’t see appetite on either side of the aisle.”
During the 2019 legislative session, Republican leaders, including the governor, notably did not include private school vouchers among their education priorities. Perhaps in response to electoral losses in the suburbs and a lack of support for vouchers, legislative leaders emphasized improving the state’s public school financing system instead.
Read Parts 1 and 2.
Acknowledgements
Many thanks to Jason Unger for compiling the research and drafting this series on 2019 legislative sessions.
Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
Education Law Center
60 Park Place, Suite 300
Newark, NJ 07102
973-624-1815, ext. 24

Curtis Cardine, former superintendent of both public and charter schools, is the preeminent expert on charter schools in Arizona. He created the Grand Canyon Institute to study education issues, and it keeps a close eye on charter malfeasance.

Cardine has written two books that are well worth reading to learn about the failures of the charter industry in Arizona. He is an expert in school finance, and he demonstrates in detail how charter operators are ripping off the public.

The first was Carpetbagging America’s Public Schools.

I quote that book extensively in my own new book SLAYING GOLIATH.

Cardine’s second book, recently published, is Schooling Alone, in which he compares the atomization of society caused by school privatization, and likens its effects to sociologist Robert Putnam’s classic study of social disintegration, Bowling Alone.

Cardine recently prepared a review of Arizona charter school closures and their relation to the bond debt incurred by charters.

Read his letter to two Arizona state senators here.

Arizona is a swamp of charter corruption.

Earlier this year, the Arizona Republic won the distinguished George Polk Award for its coverage of charter school corruption.

Now star reporter Craig Harris has another blockbuster story.

He reports that the founder of a charter chain paid companies he owns or co-owns nearly $47 million in the past year. 

American Leadership Academy, an East Valley charter school chain, paid this past fiscal year at least $46.8 million to companies owned or co-owned by founder Glenn Way or his relatives, newly released financial records show. 

The payouts include more than $30 million to the management company that employs the schools’ teachers and staff, millions to another firm for operational services, and almost half a million to an apparel firm for school or athletic uniforms. Way or one of his relatives is a co-owner in all of those businesses.

In total, the payments to so-called related parties made up more than half of ALA’s annual $79 million budget.

An Arizona Republic investigation last year found that businesses owned by or tied to Way resulted in profits of about $37 million in real estate deals associated with the expansion of ALA schools, a figure Way said at the time was closer to $18 million because of other costs. 

Arizona is fortunate to have the Arizona Republic looking out for frauds and corruption because the state doesn’t care.

Arizona also has Curtis Cardine of the Grand Canyon Institute, a former superintendent of both public and charter schools. Cardine became so incensed about endemic corruption that he has studied the finances of every charter school in the state (except those that keep their book secret). He reported in a book called Carpetbagging America’s Public Schools that nearly 3/4 of the state’s charter schools do business with “related” companies, companies connected or owned by the charter owner.

The hard-right Governor Doug Ducey is a stand-in for the Koch Foundation. His elections were funded by the Koch brothers, the DeVos family, and other billionaires who hope to eliminate public education.

Parents and teachers managed to defeat their last attempt to expand vouchers by fighting for a referendum, in which vouchers were overwhelmingly rejected by voters.

Someone needs to demand accountability and transparency for charters.

Arizona is the only state that openly endorses for-profit charters. The other states ban for-profits, but allow for-profit management companies to operate nonprofit charters, which is a shell game.

 

 

When a new Secretary of State (aDemocrat in a Koch-owned State) was elected in November 2018 in Arizona, she discovered that her predecessor had signed a long-term contract with a private company to store public records.

The state’s storage facility sat empty while the private company collects millions.

One former state official described the warehouses as something out of “Indiana Jones,” with stack after stack of boxes.

A few years ago, the hulking facility just down the street from the Arizona Capitol was filled with government records, from the files of prison inmates to old meeting minutes.

Today, its three warehouses sit mostly empty.

Instead of storing records here, the state agreed in 2017 to ship each box to the warehouses of a storage and information management company, Iron Mountain.

Then-Secretary of State Michele Reagan, a Republican, touted the deal in a news release as saving money.

But her Democratic successor, Katie Hobbs, says the financial implications of the decision have been staggering. And the state appears stuck with the deal for years under a contract awarded without competition.

Hobbs published a proposed budget Thursday that calls for an infusion of funds into her office for 2020, the coming election year. She pointed to the Iron Mountain contract as a major drain on the office’s finances, describing the deal as part of what she called “severe mismanagement and irresponsible oversight of public resources” under Reagan’s administration.

Under the contract with Boston-based Iron Mountain, the price for each box is only going up. The Secretary of State’s Office says the costs of storing government records has nearly doubled from the year before the contract took effect.

At the same time, the state is paying to maintain its mostly vacant complex of warehouses, which remain government property.

The contract runs for 10 years.

In all, the records management program will cost the Secretary of State’s Office about $1.6 million this fiscal year, even considering that the state slashed the number of staff positions in records management from 11 to three after initially implementing the contract.

Meanwhile, the fees from other government agencies are expected to total $900,000.

In addition, the state pays $400,000 a year for its own empty storage facilities.

Under the contract, the price for storing each carton of documents will increase annually starting next year.

Not only do the fee schedules in the contract call for higher prices year after year, Iron Mountain could add a surcharge on the cost of each trip it makes to pick up government records if fuel prices rise over a certain level. And if the state wants to transfer the records to another company or to its own warehouses for storage, the government will have to pay for the move, too.

Do the math. The state is paying about $3 million a year to store its records. That cost is expected to rise in each year of a ten-year contract. The state saves by cutting the jobs of eight employees, who were probably making less than $100,000 a year, probably $60,000 a year, filing records.

In Arizona, this is a public-private partnership.

Guess who benefits?

Assistant U.S.  Secretary of Education Scott Stump traveled to Arizona to celebrate the success of charter schools, and he did so at a public magnet school!

This top education official insisted that Tucson’s University High is a charter school.

When he was corrected by a reporter after his news conference, he continued to insist that the public high school was a charter school.

Like his boss, Betsy DeVos, Mr. Stump is on an “Education Freedom Tour” to point out the great achievements of every school that is not a public school.

That is the U.S. Department of Education’s “back to school” message: Abandon public schools.

Never mind that Arizona has what is possibly the most corrupt charter industry in the nation (excepting Florida).

Never mind that Arizona is the only state that legally allows for-profit charters (the others ban for-profit charters but allow for-profit managers to operate nonprofit charters).

Never mind that Arizona charter law permits nepotism and conflicts of interest among members of the board and the management company.

In Arizona, corruption is legal.

Never mind that Betsy DeVos and the Koch brothers poured millions into elected Governor Doug Ducey and a rightwing legislature.

To enter University High, students must pass an entrance exam, so of course the school has high test scores.

But it is not a charter school.

It is a public school, governed by the elected Tucson school board. Unlike a private charter school, it is fully accountable and transparent to the public, not to a private board.

 

 

Read this article by E.J. Montini in the Arizona Republic to learn how the Koch-funded ALEC controls Governor Doug Ducey and the state legislature in Arizona. ALEC was behind the voucher legislation that was overturned by voters earlier this year.

He writes:

About 30 of Arizona’s Republican state lawmakers, along with Gov. Doug Ducey, attended the annual convention of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Austin, Texas, this month.

For the politicians, membership in ALEC is like joining one of those meal kit delivery services, only in this case lawmakers are presented with ready-made, easy to introduce legislation guaranteed to satisfy the special interests who came up with the political recipes, and to give regular citizens indigestion.

Earlier this year an investigation by USA Today, the Arizona Republic, and the Center for Public Integrity found that from 2010 to 2018, bills based on ALEC legislation were introduced nearly 2,900 times across all 50 states.

Arizona ranked second among states for the highest number of ALEC bills introduced and passed during those years, with more than 200 bills introduced and 57 enacted. Only Mississippi had more.

‘Chefs’ are lobbyists and executives

ALEC is the HelloFresh of politics, except what they cook up isn’t good for you. Instead the group produces ready-to-introduce legislation for politicians more interested in serving special interests and promoting their own careers than in serving their constituency

 

This is a puzzling case. One of the founders of the Starshine Academy in Arizona is being sued to egregious misuse of the school’s money.

The school was closed in 2018 because of misuse of its money.

Now the founder is in court, where she is being sued to replenish the money she misused.

But there are no criminal charges for embezzling taxpayers’ money.

Ryan W. Anderson, an attorney representing the bankruptcy trustee suing McCarty, said this case is “one of the worst” cases of inappropriate use of school funds he’s seen.

“You don’t usually see allegations of misappropriation at this level,” he said. 

Bankruptcy court documents detail suspect purchases from 2016 until early 2018, which include $3,500 to a beach hotel in Hawaii and $500 to the “home of the largest quartz crystal in North America, and Master John Douglas, a spiritual healer and clairvoyant…”

This is not a fraud case, Anderson said. Instead, the suit claims McCarty inappropriately spent money for personal use while StarShine Academy plunged further into debt. 

When asked if she would pay the funds back, the defendant said the school owed her money.

I am reminded of the case in Pennsylvania where the founder of the state’s first virtual charter school was convicted of not paying taxes on millions of dollars that he embezzled and went to jail for evading taxes. But he never faced criminal charges for embezzlement.

On the other hand, the founder of a charter school in Los Angeles was convicted and sent to prison for 30 months for using her school’s funds for personal expenses.

Beth Lewis wrote this report about the great news from Arizona, where SOS Arizona is staying strong, united, dedicated, and powerful.

SOS Arizona won NPE’s first annual Phyllis Bush Award for Grassroots Leadership, presented at the NPE conference last October in Indianapolis.

Beth Lewis writes:

We have good news from Arizona! Coming off of their huge victory in defeating Proposition 305, which would have been the nation’s largest voucher expansion, Save Our Schools Arizona took their fight to the statehouse and won several critical battles.

The grassroots powerhouse stymied all five legislative attempts to either expand access to “Empowerment Scholarship Account” (ESA) vouchers or lower oversight of the existing program.

This marks three years in a row that the national voucher lobby has been defeated by volunteer parents, teachers and retirees in AZ. It’s thanks to mounting pressure to respect voters and fund Arizona schools, as well as wide reaching efforts to educate voters about the harms of privatization. Thousands of everyday citizens called, emailed, and met with lawmakers to make their opposition clear. In the end, the voice of the people prevailed over the various local and national special interest groups trying to push these bills. Arizona, the one-time school choice proving ground, is now demonstrating to the nation how to fight and prevail against privatizers. And that’s exactly why SOSAZ needs our support – to continue prevailing and protecting public schools. Please support their incredible work by donating at sosarizona.org/donate – they are nowhere near done fighting and need massive support to continue their work!

Arizona Republicans hate public schools. Even though 85% of the children in the state attend public schools, the Republican legislators seize every opportunity to pay for alternatives to public schools.

Now they want students who enroll in out-of-state private schools to have vouchers paid for by the taxpayers of Arizona. 

Last year, the Legislature tried to make vouchers available to every student in the state, but a grassroots coalition demanded a referendum, and the voucher plan was overwhelmingly defeated by 65%-35%.

That should be a loud signal to the GOP that controls the state. But they don’t care what the voters think. They listen only to Betsy DeVos and the Koch brothers. That is who they truly serve. They are the puppet-masters. The Republican members of the Arizona legislature are the puppets. They don’t give a hoot about the voters.

Since the defeat of vouchers last November, the Republicans have introduced three bills to expand the voucher program.

They take their orders from ALEC, DeVos, her American Federation for Children, and Charles Koch and his Americans for Prosperity. Not the public. Not the voters.

For their hatred of public schools, for their contempt for democracy, I place the Republican majority of the Arizona Legislature on the Wall ofShame.