Archives for category: Inequity

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, delivered the following remarks today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. She vigorously defended public schools against current efforts to destroy them. She named names. She explained the purpose of public schools, which makes them a precious part of our democratic aspirations but also a target for those who hate democracy.

Randi said:

Today, we once again grieve for families shattered by senseless gun violence. Please join me in a moment of silence for the lives lost at the Covenant School in Nashville, and for all victims of gun violence.

Today we renew our call for commonsense gun safety legislation including a ban on assault weapons. This is an epidemic that our great nation must solve.

There’s a saying: You don’t have to love everything about someone to love them. I’m sure my wife doesn’t love everything about me, but she loves me. (I, on the other hand, love everything about her.) Nothing is perfect. Banks aren’t. Congress isn’t. And neither are our public schools—not even our most well-resourced and highest-performing schools. Those of us involved in public schools work hard to strengthen them to be the best they can be. But only public schools have as their mission providing opportunity for all students. And by virtually any measure—conversations, polls, studies and elections—parents and the public overwhelmingly like public schools, value them, need them, support them—and countless Americans love them.

Public schools are more than physical structures. They are the manifestation of our civic values and ideals: The ideal that education is so important for individuals and for society that a free education must be available to all. That all young people should have opportunities to prepare for life, college, career and citizenship. That, in a pluralistic society such as the United States, people with different beliefs and backgrounds must learn to bridge differences. And that, as the founders believed, an educated citizenry is essential to protect our democracy from demagogues.

Thomas Jefferson argued general education was necessary to “enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom.” Franklin D. Roosevelt said: “The real safeguard of democracy … is education.” And Martin Luther King Jr., in accepting the United Federation of Teachers’ John Dewey Award, made clear, “Education is the road to equality and citizenship.”

When kids go to school together, they become part of a community; their families become part of a community. That community comes together at school concerts, basketball games and science fairs, and for shelter and comfort, when people are displaced by natural disasters or, far too often, at vigils for victims of gun violence. In good times and bad, public schools are cornerstones of community, of our democracy, our economy and our nation.

But some people want that cornerstone to crumble—and they’re wielding the sledgehammers.


Attacks on public education are not new. The difference today is that the attacks are intended to destroy it. To make it a battlefield, a political cudgel. After former President Trump lost re-election, Steve Bannon, his key ally, declared that their fight goes through school boards. In a speech last year, culture war operative and Governor Ron DeSantis’ appointee Christopher Rufo put it bluntly, “To get to universal school choice, you really need to operate from a premise of universal public school distrust.” To this end, he says, his side has “to be ruthless and brutal.”

And, I would add, well-funded, which it is. The DeVos, Bradley, Koch, Uihlein and Walton family foundations and others have poured many millions of dollars into anti-public education, pro-privatization groups like the American Federation for Children and EdChoice.

The Betsy DeVos wing of the school privatization movement is methodically working its plan: Starve public schools of the funds they need to succeed. Criticize them for their shortcomings. Erode trust in public schools by stoking fear and division, including attempting to pit parents against teachers. Replace them with private, religious, online and home schools. All toward their end goal of destroying public education as we know it, atomizing and balkanizing education in America, bullying the most vulnerable among us and leaving the students with the greatest needs in public schools with the most meager resources.

It’s an extremist scheme by a very vocal minority of Americans.It’s hurting our efforts to do the work we need to do, which is educating the nearly 50 million kids who attend America’s public schools. And the urgent work of helping kids recover from learning loss, sadness, depression and other effects of the pandemic.

And it’s not what parents or the public want.

Let’s start with defunding: This year alone, 29 state legislatures are considering bills to either create or expand existing voucher programs. This is on top of the 72 voucher and tax credit programs in 33 states already subsidizing private and home schooling, costing billions every year. Voucher programs are proliferating even though research shows that, on average,vouchers negatively affect achievement—the declines are worse than pandemic learning loss. In fact, vouchers have caused “some of the largest academic drops ever measured in the research record.”

Proponents of vouchers used to argue that they were a way for low-income and minority families to transfer out of low-performing schools. No longer. Today most vouchers go to families who already send their kids to private schools. And private schools are not required to follow most federal civil rights laws protecting students, so they can—and many do—discriminate, especially against LGBTQ students and students with special needs.

The universal voucher program signed by Florida Gov. DeSantis yesterday will divert $4 billion from the state’s public schools. Florida ranks 44th in the nation in per pupil spending, and 48thin average teacher salaries. DeSantis is sending taxpayers’ dollars in the wrong direction.

And then there are the culture wars. What started as fights over pandemic-era safety measures has morphed into fearmongering: False claims that elementary and secondary schools are teaching critical race theory; disgusting, unfounded claims that teachers are grooming and indoctrinating students; and pronouncements that public schools push a “woke” agenda, even though they can’t or won’t define what they mean. Banning books and bullying vulnerable children. School board meetings descending into screaming matches. This is an organized and dangerous effort to undermine public schools.

Over the last three years, legislators in 45 states proposed hundreds of laws placing public schools at the center of culture wars: laws seeking to ban books from school libraries—even books about Ruby Bridges and Anne Frank and Roberto Clemente; laws restricting what teachers can teach and students can learn—particularly about about race, gender, LGBTQ issues, current events and American history; and laws attacking kids who are transgender. Students and staff should feel welcome, safe and respected in school—but the culture wars are fueling hostility and fear.

A torrent of enacted and proposed legislation targeting even the mention of “controversial” topics—sweeping and open-ended restrictions on what can be taught—has teachers teaching on eggshells. In Florida, the Department of Education has threatened teachers and librarians with felony prosecution if they provide students with books that the state later decides are inappropriate. If Florida lawmakers have their way, colleges will no longer have diversity, equity or inclusion policies; or tenure;or academic freedom. And AP courses and the mere utterance of LGBTQ will be banned in all K-12 schools. And forget about facts. Many laws and pending bills allow any individual to sue schools and teachers for perceived violations. The intent and effect are to create a climate of fear and intimidation.

This takes a toll on the quality of education teachers can provide our students, and on the trust and connection that are so important. Shouldn’t teachers be free to talk with students who are withdrawn or in distress, and to answer students’ questions? Don’t we want students to learn both our nation’s achievements that make us proud and the failings that make us strive to do better? Isn’t that our job?

Teachers should have the freedom to teach. And students should have the freedom to learn.

These same governors who are pushing vouchers and culture wars are also trying to defund and weaken teachers unions, so educators don’t have the wherewithal to fight back against censorship, attacks on their academic freedom, threats to their livelihoods and criminal prosecution.

These attacks aren’t about protecting kids. If they were, they would be working with us to address learning loss and the youth mental health crisis. They would be working with us to take on social media companies for contributing to that crisis.

If these attacks were about protecting kids, they would be working with us to fight against the leading cause of death for American children—gun violence.

If this were about protecting kids, instead of putting LGBTQ youth at risk and banning books about Black people and by Black authors, they would give a damn about these kids’ safety and well-being, including the youth suicide crisis.

Forty-five percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicidein the last year. And the suicide rate among Black youth of all sexual orientations has been increasing as well.

This is literally a matter of life and death. These attacks on public education make it increasingly difficult to create the welcoming, safe environment that our students need and deserve.

School climate and culture

It is a fraught time in our country. The effects of COVID-19; the climate of conflict; drug abuse; gun violence; economic insecurity; and the youth mental health crisis have all taken a heavy toll. Hate crimes have surged against many Americans—Asian, Black, Latino, Jewish and Muslim Americans.

School staff report a rise in bullying, verbal altercations and physical violence among students, as well as this behavior directed at them.

I recall a teacher saying that when her students are disruptive, it’s not because they are bad; it’s because they’re sad.

So many students have experienced isolation and trauma. They need help. But there weren’t enough mental health specialists before the pandemic, and they are in critically short supply now.

The persistent demonization and disrespect of teachers—from screaming matches at school board meetings to the former secretary of state saying teachers teach “filth”—have contributed to a culture of disrespect that seeps into our schools.

I just got a report from Florida. In Flagler County, a 17-year-old student with special needs pushed a paraprofessional so hard she went airborne and was knocked unconscious. A teacher in Osceola County was monitoring students in the hallway when a student sucker-punched him. And there are others. The educators who were hurt all cited lack of staff in the schools and lack of mental health support for students as the main reasons leading to the attacks.

And this crisis will only get worse as Gov. DeSantis’ universal voucher bill kicks in. What will the loss of $4 billion do to safety in Florida’s public schools? What will that do to the quality of academics, to the condition of school buildings, to teacher pay, to staffing shortages?


Even before the pandemic, there were steep declines in teachers’ satisfaction. The percent of teachers who were “very satisfied” fell from 62 percent in 2008 to just 12 percent in 2022.

The stresses of the COVID-19 era—plus the culture wars, attacks on teachers, inadequate pay, poor teaching and learning conditions, and the threat of school shootings—have made recent years the toughest in modern times for educators.

Despite it all, teachers have thrown themselves into the mission of helping students recover academically, socially and emotionally. You heard Tamara (Simpson). I witness these acts of teaching, of nation-building, every day. Yet, according to our critics, we’re responsible for all the woes of society.

Even before the pandemic, nearly 300,000 teachers were leaving the profession each year. Now, it’s closer to 400,000.

And the teacher pipeline has collapsed as college students and career-changers choose not to go into education. How are we going to recruit and retain the staff schools need in this climate?

Our teaching profession is in crisis.

It’s in crisis because of the poor teaching and learning conditions created by inadequate funding for public schools. It’s teacher pay, which has been falling relative to other college graduates’ pay for the last 40 years. It’s giving teachers all the blame and little authority. And it’s the de-professionalization of teaching that demoralizes an already beleaguered profession.

I hear it all the time—teachers just want to teach.


IV.Strategies for Powerful Education

So where do we go from here?

The American Rescue Plan, and the programs it spawned, particularly the tutoring programs, have really helped. And we are grateful to President Joe Biden, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and the last Congress for the much-needed resources. Of course we will continue to fight this defunding of our public schools and this dividing of our communities. But we also must do better to address the learning loss and disconnection we are seeing in our young people. And we can. We can make every public school a school where parents want to send their kids, educators want to work and all students thrive.

Four strategies can help transform our schools to realize the promise and purpose of public education. Not just to overcome learning loss or get back to normal, but to truly help us prepare all children with the knowledge and skills they need for their lives, for college, for career and for citizenship. These strategiescan help us create safe and welcoming environments and bring joy back to learning. And in tandem, they have a catalytic effect. I have seen it work. But we need to do these strategies at scale—for every child and in every school. These four strategies are expanding community schools, scaling experiential learning, addressing staff shortages, and deepening the partnership between families and educators.

Community Schools

First and foremost, we need to make sure our kids are OK. That’s why we need community schools, which are hubs for neighborhoods, combining academics with extended learning opportunities, family and community events, and an infusion of medical, mental health and other social services. They are the best system I know to connect students and families to the support they need to learn, live and thrive.

A recent University of Calgary study found that youth suicide attempts increased 22 percent during the pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1 in 3 teen girls seriously considered suicide in 2021—up nearly 60 percent from a decade ago. More than 42 percent of high school students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.

What helps? The Calgary report found that “school connectedness, defined as feeling close to people at school, has a long-lasting, protective impact for adolescents well into adulthood.”

Our schools must be equipped to support and connect with students, and there is no better model for this than community schools. There is another tragic reality in the United States: Half the students in America’s public schools live in poverty. Community schools mitigate the effects of poverty by providing essential services right where students are and where families can be.

Once kids’ physical and emotional needs are met, they are ready to learn, and teachers can focus on their primary role—which is to teach.

A few weeks ago I went back to Wolfe Street Academy, a community school in Baltimore, to see how they were doing.

Ninety-six percent of the students there qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch. Since converting to a community school nearly 20 years ago, Wolfe Street has gone from the 77th-most successful elementary school in Baltimore (out of 80) to the second-most successful. And, like other community schools,when COVID-19 hit it was a matter of ramping up services, not having to start from scratch.

Students have access to medical checkups, clothing and mental health services. Families have food assistance, language support and legal aid.

And this school is fun! Wolfe Street offers a wide variety of after-school programs, including chess club, robotics club, Mexican folkloric dance, orchestra, a soccer league and more.

And, by the way, Wolfe Street is a unionized public charter school.

There are successful community schools in rural and suburban areas, as well.

The Rome (New York) Teachers Association started a community school with help from the AFT in 2016. Today itsConnected Model has spread to 14 school districts and provides everything from access to mental health services and dental care, to food packages for weekends and holidays, and prom dresses!

A recent Rand Corp. study of community schools in New York City found positive impacts on both attendance and graduation rates. In New Mexico, community schools in operation for five or more years have better-than-average student achievement growth and higher attendance rates, and employed more highly effective teachers. And Robeson High School in Philadelphia went from nearly closing to a 95 percent graduation rate after implementing the community school model.

AFT members have helped create 700 community schools across the country, and we see how they meet kids’ needs. From Kimball Elementary School in Washington, D.C., to the Oyler School in Cincinnati, to Roybal-Allard Elementary in Los Angeles. That’s why the AFT is calling for 25,000 community schools by 2025 and our call is gaining steam. California just approved another $45 million to make 1 in every 3 schools in the state a community school. And President Biden’s budget doubles federal community school investment. We need to make this happen everywhere.

Experiential Learning

Second, we can re-engage students through experiential learning, transforming their educational experiences. Why do kids skip school, or slump in the back of the classroom? They may feel unsafe or unseen. Or just uninterested. We must do better. And we can.

Of course, fundamental academic subjects are important. But so is how we teach them. Experiential learning engages students through problem-solving, critical-thinking, teamwork, and learning by doing. We need to help kids engage with the world, with ideas and with each other—not just with their devices.

Experiential learning embeds the things that make kids want to be in school: The excitement of learning that is deeply engaging, and the joy of being together, especially after the isolation of the last few years. The camaraderie and responsibility of working together on a team.

And in the age of AI and chatGPT, this type of learning is critical to being able to think and write, solve problems, apply knowledge and discern fact from fiction.

Experiential learning can be applied to any content area from math to computer science to social studies, and often weaves subjects together in powerful interdisciplinary instruction. It can be adapted to any grade level. It can take place in rural, urban and suburban schools. And it nurtures kids’ natural curiosity and creativity. That is what robotics and debate teachers do all the time. It’s what I did as an AP government teacher at Clara Barton High School. These opportunities need to be the norm not the exception.

This type of learning makes clear just how outmoded the standardized test-based accountability system is. Of course, the country needs data on how our kids are doing, but if we are talking about student success, research shows classroom grades, not tests, are the best predictor of that. And experiential learning takes the classroom to a new level.

Experiential learning is assessed by teachers in their classrooms and focuses on mastery of the skill. It can include capstone projects that allow students to research a topic they’re passionate about and present it to their teachers and peers. It can include nature-based pre-K, where youngsters learn by exploring natural surroundings while building social skills with other kids. It can include students working together to code and build robotics projects; service-learning projects to support community members; and summer learning on a farm caring for crops or animals; or reporting for and producing a neighborhood newsletter. And it can start with field trips, during and after school.

Experiential learning has long been embedded in career and technical education programs where students use their minds and their hands to learn everything from auto repair, to nursing, IT, graphic design, welding and culinary skills. CTE students learn skills that give them a head start when they go to college or start their careers. Shouldn’t every student have that opportunity?

It’s also a proven strategy. Ninety-four percent of young people who concentrate in CTE graduate from high school, and 72 percent of them go on to college.

Talk to any employer about the skills and knowledge they look for in a successful employee, be it a plumber, a nurse or a lawyer, and you’re bound to hear similarities—employees who are creative, self-starters, critical-thinkers, problem-solvers;have empathy; and can build relationships. This type of learning provides every student with more options to develop those skills and to find their passion, their purpose and their pathway to good jobs and fulfilling careers.

Carpentry students use math when they’re figuring out the right cuts to make and how the pieces will all fit together. They’re using their hands and their minds to construct something. They’re acquiring literacy, technology and writing skills in developing business plans or a website. They’re building self-confidence and public speaking skills when they explain plans and work with customers or their peers. They have a sense of pride in the finished product. When a project doesn’t turn out as expected, they have to problem-solve what went wrong and try a new approach.

On Governors Island in New York City, students attending the Harbor School pursue industry certification in specialties like marine science and oceanography. In Louisiana, the Teaching and Reaching initiative is a two-year dual enrollment program that gives high school juniors and seniors the opportunity to earn credits and get a head start on pursuing a degree in education. In Peoria, Ill., CTE programs are preparing students for green energy jobs. And the Rio Rancho, N.M., public schools partner with the local college to provide stackable microcredentials in robotics, coding and automotive technology.

President Biden’s remaking of the economy through the CHIPS and Science Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and the climate provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act will create millions of new high-paying jobs in renewable energy, broadband, semiconductors, construction, cybersecurity, transportation, small business, entrepreneurship and so much more. Then there’s healthcare and education, which have huge staffing crises right now. There are so many incredible opportunities for our young people in the job markets of today and tomorrow. They need to be ready to seize them. This dynamic new economic vision requires a dynamic new workforce vision.

We are all in, but this requires more than educators. And doing this at scale will require new approaches. We need to start by high school. We need employers to partner with us, giving students internships and apprenticeships, including paid opportunities so students who need to work can afford to participate. That’s why the AFT donated stipends for high school kids in Newark, N.J.’s Red Hawks Rising teacher pathway program. Teachers need experiential learning, too, and more externship opportunities in industry.

The potential for all of this is in our grasp, but we all need to do better on the alignment of people, preparation and professions. And it means all of us making changes. That is why we are working with the AFL-CIO, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su, and the Bloomberg Philanthropies on this work. We are reaching out to business groups large and small, as experiential learning can take place in the private sector, the public sector and nonprofits. The formula of starting by high school and identifying school-to-career pathways, including community colleges, partnering with employers, and ensuring the opportunities are paid, can be replicated everywhere.

Revive and Restore the Teaching Profession

Third, for us to meet the needs of the 50 million children in our public schools, we need to revive and restore the teaching profession. That starts with addressing the teacher and school staff shortage crisis. And taking care of the educators we still have.

We know how to solve this. At our 2022 convention, AFT members unanimously approved the report our Teacher and School Staff Shortage Task Force had been working on for seven months. That report is a blueprint with scalable solutions that every district and state in the nation can implement. But it boils down to treating educators like the professionals they are, with appropriate pay and time to prepare for classes, the chance to collaborate with colleagues, the opportunity to participate in meaningful professional development, and the authority to make day-to-day classroom decisions. And ensuring they have the conditions that help students learn like buildings in good repair, with safe ventilation and smaller class size.

The Kansas City Federation of Teachers recently negotiated a new contract, and they used the AFT staffing shortage report as their blueprint. Now, every first- and second-year teacher will be mentored by an exemplary teacher, who will be paid for serving as a mentor. The union secured the highest starting teacher salaries in the region and increases to keep teachers in the profession. They won paid family leave for any parent, making them the first district in the state having this essential family benefit. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Thank you, Jason Roberts, the KCFT president, for being with us today.

I’m really worried about the well-being of teachers and school staff. We are working with groups like Educators Thriving on strategies that address well-being. Their program has helped teachers reduce emotional exhaustion, a leading indicator of burnout. And as a union, we are providing a trauma benefit to all our members and have worked hard to reduce student debt and make the bipartisan Public Service Loan Forgiveness program work. That’s been life-changing for those who qualify. But I am asking politicians to do their part as well.

A word to politicians—rather than using educators as cannon fodder, why not work with us? Like New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who enacted a $10,000 raise for teachers in that state. And Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who signed a bipartisan education budget that will make the highest state investment in Michigan history, investing in school infrastructure, teacher recruitment, school safety and mental health resources. And Sen. Bernie Sanders and Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson, whose bills would raise teacher salaries. And New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman, who has introduced a bill to reduce federally mandated standardized tests.

Parents and Community as Partners

Fourth, the pandemic proved what we always knew: In-person learning is essential for kids, and public schools are centers of their communities.

It’s beyond obvious that the school-family connection, the parent-teacher connection, is vital to children’s success. But as others are trying to drive a wedge in that connection, we need to deepen it.

PTAs are remarkable organizations; so are so many parent groups and parent-teacher groups like Red Wine and Blue, Parents Together, MomsRising and the Campaign for Our Shared Future. And we are honored to work with them and others. But we know we need to create this muscle of working together everywhere.

That’s why the AFT created the Powerful Partnerships Institute, which supports family and community engagement. In our inaugural year, the institute has given out 27 grants to AFT locals across the country. Montana is engaging thousands of public education-supporting families and educators across the state. New Haven is working with educators, families and students on fair school funding. And you just heard a little about our partnership in Houston.

Let’s be role models for how we deal with conflicts and disagreement. During the pandemic, we met via Zoom with parent groups that often disagreed with us on COVID-19 safety measures and school closures. We heard each other out and talked things through. We need more of that in America.

Two years ago, the AFT increased our legal defense fund, so we could help if a member was put in jeopardy for teaching honest history or answering a student’s question. But in too many places, there are no unions, or educational associations, or parent groups. People feel alone and isolated. Teachers. Parents. Children.

That’s why, in conjunction with the Campaign for Our Shared Future, we are launching a new Freedom to Teach and Learn hotline for teachers, parents or students to use if they need support. It’s a place to call if you’ve been told to remove a book from the curriculum or from the library, or that there are topics that can’t be discussed in your classes, or that you cannot teach honestly and appropriately, or if politicians in your district or state are targeting vulnerable student groups to score political points. The Freedom to Teach and Learn hotline number is 888-873-7227.

These four strategies are worthy on their own. Together, they are transformative. Community schools will help young people not just recover from these punishing years and the scourge of poverty, but thrive. Experiential learning will prepare our youth with the knowledge and skills to seize the opportunities in our changing economy. To nurture and educate our young people, we need an educator workforce that is supported, respected and compensated befitting their vital role. And we need students’ circle of care—family, educators and community members—to be united in their support.


This is our agenda. But this can’t just be the work of our union or of school staff and schools alone. This is the work of a great nation—to ensure that our children’s basic human needs are met so they are ready to learn to their full potential. To exchange outmoded and test-driven ways of teaching and learning for effective and engaging approaches that excite students and prepare them to live their dreams and aspirations.

Our public schools shouldn’t be pawns for politicians’ ambitions. Or defunded and destroyed by ideologues.

We are at a crossroads: Fear and division, or hope and opportunity.

A great nation does not fear people being educated.

A great nation does not fear pluralism.

A great nation chooses freedom, democracy, equality and opportunity.

All of that starts in our public schools. We are that great nation, and we must act together—to defend, support and strengthen our public schools. And we must do that now.

Our children deserve no less.


Glenn Sacks teaches social studies at James Monroe High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District. He is one of the UTLA (United Teachers of Los Angeles) representatives for his school and also a strike captain in both 2019 and 2023. I was pleased to join the 2019 strike and walk the picket line with UTLA. Wish I could have been in L.A. for this one too.

The public schools of Los Angeles were closed this past week by a three-day strike, led by the low-wage staff represented by SEIU 99—about 30,000 workers, including bus drivers, teacher aides, custodians, cafeteria workers, gardeners, and special education assistants. The UTLA struck in support of the SEIU; UTLA’s 35,000 members include teachers, counselors, therapists, nurses and librarians.

A tentative settlement was reached after Mayor Karen Bass intervened to mediate. The SEIU was seeking a 30% wage increase, and they won it. The agreement must be approved by the membership.

Glenn Sacks reported the unions’ victory directly to me:

Friday afternoon SEIU and LAUSD reached an agreement which addresses SEIU’s central demands. The agreement includes:

• a 30% wage increase

• Retroactive pay of $4000-$8000, depending on job classification, including a $1000 bonus for all
• Increase to average annual salary from $25,000 to $33,000
• 7 hours of work guaranteed for Special Education Assistants
• Fully paid health care benefits, including family coverage, for Teacher Assistants, Community Representatives, After School Program Workers and others)

The average pay for SEIU workers went from $15.00 an hour to $22.52 an hour.

As the UTLA often says: “When we fight, we win.”

Sacks wrote this article for FOX News. Good for him for getting published in a place usually dominated by anti-union views!

I don’t blame our bosses for being surprised.

For decades Los Angeles Unified School District’s workforce has been divided into eight different unions. Our contracts expire at different times and labor law often ties our hands, so LAUSD plays us off against each other, to the detriment of all employees.

Service Employees International Union Local 99 represents 30,000 LAUSD bus drivers, teaching assistants, maintenance workers and cafeteria staff. Recently SEIU announced a three-day “Unfair Practice Charge” strike based on its well-founded accusations that LAUSD’s mistreatment of SEIU workers violates California labor law.

LAUSD probably expected that with teachers coming in to work, along with personnel brought in from LAUSD headquarters on an emergency basis, they could roll right over SEIU, as school districts often do to campus workers in similar situations.

Except this week, Los Angeles teachers said “No.”

Over half of LAUSD’s SEIU workers have children in LAUSD. Many of our students have aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins and older siblings who work at LAUSD.

There is only one way UTLA educators could keep faith with our students, their families and the workers whose labor enables us to educate our students — by honoring SEIU’s picket lines.

Our sympathy strike (aka “solidarity strike”) is very much in line with the traditions of American labor. American labor unions were built through labor solidarity, and in recent decades, unions have been undermined because union leaders have abjured sympathy strikes.

On this issue, recently one publication often critical of teachers unions unwittingly paid UTLA a complement:

“State law allows one bargaining unit to go on a sympathy strike with another union, but
Bradley Marianno, an assistant education professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said it’s ‘highly unusual,’ for a teachers union to join a walkout with non-teaching employees.

“‘They may issue statements of support, but to join in strike is a different, and relatively rare, matter.’”

SEIU has historically been a much weaker union than UTLA. Their membership is divided into many different job classifications, they are often on campus at different times, and their heavily minority, immigrant and female membership is at a much lower socioeconomic level.

Despite this, SEIU’s performance this week was remarkably strong, reflecting the raw anger of its members over low wages and LAUSD abuses, which were well-documented by the national media this week.

UTLA has its own contract battle with LAUSD, but its robust showing this week also reflects our sympathy for our SEIU colleagues and the fact that UTLA has become a strong, disciplined labor union.

LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has found himself increasingly isolated, as many key players in Los Angeles education, including Austin Beutner, LAUSD superintendent from 2018 to 2021, school board Member Kelly Gonez, who served as president of the LAUSD Board of Education from 2020 until earlier this year, and LAUSD school board President Jackie Goldberg have all made statements undermining Carvalho in his battle against SEIU.

Earlier this week dozens of CA Legislators signed a letter backing SEIU, telling Carvalho to “resolve this.”

As in 2019, many of LAUSD’s own school administrators made it clear their hearts aren’t in this battle either, with some walking early morning picket lines with us or bringing us coffee and donuts.

Carvalho, humbled by the firestorm he foolishly ignited, has pivoted, shifting from stonewalling and even mocking SEIU workers towards a humble, “I feel your pain” posture.

Some of our critics claim our strike hurts our students, yet meeting SEIU demands will improve our schools.

To pick one example among many, each day special education students are deprived of two hours of their special education assistants’ time. Why?

LAUSD keeps these paraprofessionals at only six hours a day, so they won’t be considered full-time employees. This petty chiseling at the expense of our students typifies the way LAUSD mistreats its SEIU employees.

Other critics assert that parents have turned against teachers unions. These people are kidding themselves.

Polls show LAUSD parents support educators. A Loyola Marymount University poll taken earlier this year asked “LAUSD teachers requested an increase in salary. If labor negotiations cannot reach an agreement, would you support or oppose LAUSD teachers going on strike to meet their demands?”

Among those living within LAUSD’s boundaries, 76% supported teachers. Among those aged 18-29 — people who most likely attended LAUSD schools not long ago — 88% supported teachers.

Moreover, throughout this week of picket lines and massive rallies, the public showed they were behind us with continual honking horns, raised fists and shouts of approval.

As we walk to and from rallies in our union colors, we’ve had truck drivers and firefighters walk up to us, pat us on the back, and tell us, “Good luck.”

Leaving one rally a construction worker walked up to me, shook my hand, and said, “Give ’em hell!”

We did.

Our reader Carolmalaysia received a letter from the Indiana State Teachers Association, protesting two bills to undercut public schools, teachers and librarians. She signed the petition.

1.] TAKE ACTION: Tell legislators to prioritize public schools and reject private school voucher expansion in radical state budget

All kids, no matter where they live, should be able to pursue their dreams in a great public school. However, the currently proposed radical budget increases spending on private school vouchers by 70%, while increasing traditional public school funding, where 90% of Hoosier students attend, by only 5%.

The current budget would provide more than $1 billion for wealthy families making up to $220,000 to attend private school for free, while neighborhood public schools continue to struggle to provide enough resources for students and pay hard-working educators a competitive salary.

Urge lawmakers to prioritize public education and oppose this huge expansion of unaccountable private school vouchers in the budget. Ask them to increase their commitment to public schools.


SB 12 is yet another culture war bill furthering a false narrative about our public schools. Rather than locally addressing issues over content, the bill would open teachers and librarians to criminal prosecution over educational materials. The bill would remove existing legal defenses schools and school libraries may use when locally determining educational materials. These matters will end up in litigation without administrative steps.

This bill has passed out of the Senate and is now under consideration by the House. Tell your representative to oppose SB 12.

Carl Davis, research director of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, reviews tax credits for vouchers and concludes that they are a tax avoidance scheme for the wealthy.

Key findings

• Lawmakers in several states are discussing enacting or expanding school voucher tax credits, which reimburse individuals and businesses for “donations” they make to organizations that give out vouchers for free or reduced tuition at private K-12 schools. In effect, these credits allow contributing families to opt out of paying for public education and other public services.

• New data—published here for the first time—reveal that wealthy families are overwhelmingly the ones using these credits to opt out of paying tax to public coffers. In all three states providing data, most of the credits are being claimed by families with incomes over $200,000.

• Wealthy families’ interest in these programs is being driven partly by a pair of tax shelters that can make “donating” profitable. These shelters hinge on stacking state and federal tax cuts and are being advertised in the states as a way to get a “double tax benefit” and “make money” in the process. This kind of language is a far cry from most nonprofit fundraising pitches and gives some sense of the supersized nature of the tax benefits being offered for private and religious K-12 schooling.

• Voucher tax credits are without merit and should be repealed. Short of that, states can end their use as profitable tax shelters with straightforward reforms. A national solution to this problem, however, will require action by the IRS.

One of the most disturbing recent shifts in U.S. public policy has been the renewed push to privatize the nation’s K-12 education system.[1] Originally born out of a desire to preserve school segregation and racial inequality more broadly, the so-called “school choice” movement is enjoying a resurgence as many state lawmakers look for ways to move more kids into private and religious schools.[2] That end is being hastened through the tax code in major ways. In short, school privatization proponents have managed to set up state policies that harness deficiencies in federal tax law and the self-interest of wealthy families to gin up enthusiasm for privatizing the U.S. public education system.

Voucher Tax Credits

State voucher tax credits are among the most significant tools eroding the public education system and propping up private schools. These policies are on the books in 21 states and proposals to create or expand them are being discussed this year in places like Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, South Carolina, and Texas.[3]

Voucher tax credits reimburse individuals and businesses for “donations” they make to organizations that give out vouchers for free or reduced tuition at private K-12 schools—the overwhelming majority of which are religious in nature.[4]

Unlike charitable gifts to other causes where taxpayers save less than 10 cents in state taxes for every dollar donated, these supersized incentives often give private school “donors” their full donation back. This unusual payoff scheme necessitated a whole new set of regulations from the IRS to enforce the commonsense notion that families being reimbursed for their “gifts” have not done anything genuinely charitable and should not receive federal charitable deductions.[5] Before those regulations took effect, it was common for private schools to tell wealthy families that pairing voucher credits with the federal charitable deduction was a great way to “make money.”[6]

While the IRS has taken steps to prevent taxpayers from misusing the charitable deduction in combination with these state tax credits, significant tax avoidance is still occurring through less-scrutinized channels. The fact that these programs continue to allow many high-income taxpayers to turn a profit for themselves is helping accelerate the diversion of public funding into private schools. States have the power to prevent aggressive tax avoidance through their voucher tax credits, as explained below, but many have turned a blind eye in the interest of maximizing growth in these programs.

A Subsidy for the Wealthy

Despite voucher tax credits’ charitable facade, the reality is they allow wealthy families to opt out of paying for public education and other public services, and to redirect their tax dollars to private and religious instruction instead. If a taxpayer sends $1,000 to a private school organization and receives a $1,000 state tax credit in return, the plain result of that is that the tax dollars have been rerouted away from public coffers and to private organizations instead.

We now know that wealthy families are overwhelmingly the ones using these credits to opt out of paying tax to public coffers because new data—published here for the first time—that we’ve obtained from tax agencies in three states show exactly that.

Please open the link and read the rest of this important study and analysis.

A reader named JCGrim posted an important fact about vouchers: Voucher schools are not required to comply with the federal law that protects the rights of students with disabilities.

Vouchers are a backdoor scheme to make kids with disabilities disappear. Move them off the books & into unaccountable, unstable, non-transparent places.

The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) oppose vouchers on the grounds that voucher & voucher-like programs fail to comply with IDEA’s provision of a free, appropriate, public education (FAPE).

Position on Use of Public Education Dollars to Fund
School Vouchers and Other Voucher-Type Programs
Approved July 2020 CEC opposes school vouchers and voucher-type programs for all children and youth including those with disabilities. Such programs are contrary to the best interests of all children and youth and their families, the public-school system, local communities, and taxpayers.

Here the link to the full position paper.

Click to access Public%20Funds%20-%202020.pdf

Mercedes Schneider writes here about Governor Ron DeSantis’s shameless moves to wipe out courses in K-12 and in higher education that he does not like. He is leading an audacious attack on academic freedom that has not been seen in this country since the early 1950s during the Joe McCarthy era. Then the enemy was Communism, now it is fear of those who want to investigate the roots and practices of social and political injustice.

Such people, to DeSantis, are enemies of the social order. They are WOKE, awake to inequity; they make students want to change the status quo. They cannot be tolerated. Their ideas must be eliminated. DeSantis is leading this purge, he says, to protect “freedom.” The language is Orwellian. He means to stamp out the freedom to teach and learn while boasting of his love of freedom.

In addition, he wants to transfer the power to hire new faculty from the faculty to college presidents, whom he appoints. The entire state university would become subservient to his authoritarian impulses.

Schneider describes what is happening, mostly under the radar, as DeSantis wages war on freedom of inquiry:

The current ultra-conservative education platform seeks to stifle all formal or informal discussion of diversity, equity, or inclusion in public K12 and postsecondary education, with Florida apparently leading such efforts.

Though as of yet not a formally-declared 2024 candidate, Florida governor, Ron DeSantis is in the GOP polls as an assumed and formidible GOP presidential primary candidate.

DeSantis, and the Florida legislature are working hard to exercise power over what courses or majors could exist in Florida universities, with legislative efforts to kill womens and gender studies and, as the Insider notes, “gut” a variety of majors. Meanwhile, the February 24, 2023, Tampa Bay Times reports that the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) “told school districts to produce detailed information about the programs and materials they use to address some of the state’s most hotly debated subjects.” Continuing:

In an email delivered late Tuesday, the department instructed superintendents to fill out a 34-question survey identifying titles of books and programs they have relating to sex education, social-emotional learning, culturally relevant teaching and diversity, and equity and inclusion, among other topics. It asked for specifics for student courses and employee training.

The department requested names and examples from district and charter schools.

FDOE wants the information by Monday, February 27, 2023, though it did not offer any reason.

The FDOE request came on the same day that Florida HB 999 was filed by Alex Andrade (R-Pensacola). The bill would remove faculty input from the hiring process; prohibit hiring based on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI); remove majors and minors related to Critical Race Theory, gender studies or intersectionailty.

This rewrite of the previous bill seeks to remove any mention of “politics,” including striking through statements such as, “Motivate students throughout the Florida State University to become aware of the significance of government and civic engagement at all levels and politics in general”; “Provide students with an opportunity to be politically active and civically engaged”, and “Nurture a greater awareness of and passion for public service and politics.”

DeSantis does not want to encourage students to become engaged in civic action. He wants to nurture complacence and passivity “in this best of all possible worlds.

Please open her post to read the gory details of this audacious attempt to put the governor of the state in charge of whatever is taught in his state.

What DeSantis is doing is not conservative. It is radical. It is authoritarian. He shows no respect for critical thinking or debate. He is unwilling to allow students to learn anything he does not like. His desire for control of what can be taught or learned is dangerous to democracy. He is attempting to establish a dictatorship and has a super-majority of both houses in the legislature who will give him whatever he wants.

Peter Goodman is a long-time commentator on education issues in New York City and New York State. In this post, he raises important questions: Have charter schools met the goals set when they were authorized? Should they have the right to exclude students they don’t want? Why should the city fund two competing school systems?

As you can see by the response of an editor at the pro-charter New York Post, part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, charter supporters oppose this idea and find it outrageous. What do you think?

Carol Burris is the executive director for of the Network for Public Education. in this post, which she wrote exclusively for the blog, she reveals the details of Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ plan to defund and destroy the public schools in her state.

Burris writes:

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the daughter of Baptist minister and former Governor Mike Huckabee, missed learning the 9th commandment that prohibits telling a lie. As press secretary to Donald Trump, her distortions of the truth resulted in the editor of Forbes warning corporations against hiring Sanders and other Trump “propagandists,” writing, “Forbes will assume that everything your company or firm talks about is a lie.”


Now she is the Governor of Arkansas. On her first day in office and in her response to Biden’s State of the Union, she parroted the old “education is the civil rights issue of our time” line that has been used to justify horrible policies from school closures to charter schools and vouchers. However, the disconnect between what she says and what she does quickly became apparent. On her first day in office, she issued an executive order prohibiting “indoctrination and critical race theory in schools” and another banning the term “Latinx” from being used in state documents. State authorities are investigating AP African American Studies at Little Rock Central High School, where the majority of students are Black.

If we need further proof that this self-proclaimed champion of Civil Rights is more aptly described as a champion of Civil Wrongs, look at her recently leaked ed reform plan.

Here are its features:


The Privatization of Public Education:

· Her voucher plan is a universal ESA—the plan now favored by the far-right. These plans have few rules and no family eligibility requirements. They have become Entitlement Spending Accounts–cash going into the pockets of private school families regardless of income. The leaked plan does not say how taxpayers will pay for it. But everyone will be eligible by 2025. It includes Voucher funding for homeschools. The only restrictions will apply to vendors, so those who enroll their children in those recently uncovered Neo-Nazi homeschools can find ways to cash in.

· Increased tax credits for contributions to an existing voucher program.

· Local School Boards can contract with an open-enrollment charter school or private company to run a school campus at risk of state takeover due to low performance—and if they do, they get a financial incentive.

· Establishment of a charter-school construction fund for new charters and expansion.

· Elimination of the cap on charters.

· Charter school applications no longer need to be reviewed and approved by the local school district board of directors.

· All students attending a public school can take courses and earn credit for classes not offered in their school. By the beginning of the 2025-2026 school year, students attending a public school that receives a letter grade of “C”, “D”, or “P” from the Arkansas School and District Accountability System may take their required courses (i.e. math, English, etc.) through the course choice program. Bet your bottom dollar that these courses will be online, with vendors like Stride K12 making a fortune.

Censoring and Controlling Curriculum

· K-3 literacy evaluation will be aligned with the “science of reading.”

· Before grade 5, teachers cannot provide classroom instruction on the following topics: sexually explicit materials, sexual reproduction, sexual intercourse, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

· School districts must implement an age-appropriate child sexual prevention program for grades K-12, allowing parents to preview materials and exempt their children from instruction. (I have no idea what a child sexual prevention program even is.)

· The Secretary of Education will review the Department of Education regulations, policies, materials, and communications to ensure they do not indoctrinate students with ideologies that conflict with the principle of equal protection under the law.

· No school employee or student must attend training on prohibited indoctrination or Critical Race Theory.


Harmful Policies for Students

· 3rd-grade retention based on deficits in reading proficiency.

· An accountability system for pre-school education that includes student data.

· Literacy testing three times a year for all students in K-3.

· Curriculum tracking in Grade 8.

· Community service requirements, which may, for some students, be challenging to meet.

· Mandated cops on campus.

· Career-ready pathways in partnership with local business and industry leaders” translate workforce training programs to track students into low-paying and middle-wage jobs.

Punitive Policies for Teachers


· Elimination of due process in dismissals.

· Base salaries will no longer increase by years of experience or for Master’s degrees.

· Bonuses based on VAM.

There are a few likable initiatives in her plan, such as paid maternity leave for teachers, but if she makes districts fund them even as she drains their funding with charter schools and voucher expansion, a good initiative will be one more financial pressure on already underfunded schools.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ education plan is a hodgepodge of all the awful and ineffective ideas proposed since No Child Left Behind. The fingerprints of JEB! and the Walton family are over the leaked legislation.

Despite its hodgepodge nature, one thing is clear—its ultimate intent is to destroy public education in the state by slamming a fist down on students, public schools, and their teachers while propping up a wild and largely unaccountable privatized system.




Dan Rather and Elliott Kirschner write a blog called Steady. Their voice is always thoughtful, reasonable, informed, and…steady. I think that they, like me, are old enough to remember when we believed that overt racism was ebbing and that white supremacy was dead. Our hopes have been shattered since 2016. It takes the use of critical race theory to understand why we were so naive. Here is their take on the big Education story of the day:

Photo credit: Octavio Jones

Editor’s note: this is an ironic banner in front of DeSantis. Florida is not free for those who don’t share his ideology. If you think racism exists today in Florida, you are not free to discuss it in school or college. You are free to agree with him.

Rather and Kirschner write:

Much of American history is entangled with racism and white supremacy. That is the reality of our beloved nation, no matter how much we wish it were not.

As we sit here nearly a quarter of the way through the 21st century, it is obvious that we need to have the maturity to look back to our past as well as ahead to the future. Can we do this with our eyes wide open? Will we study and learn from the lessons of history?

You can’t grapple with the truth if you hide it from view. Yes, our national narrative is an inspiring one — of freedom, rights, and new opportunities. But it is also a narrative of pain — of the bondage, rape, and murder of enslaved people. It is a story of mass death, broken treaties, and land stolen from Native people. And it is a story of persecution of the “other,” time and again.

The chasm between the noble promises of our founding documents and our historical realities continues to obstruct our national journey toward a more perfect union.

Yes, ours is a country that has facilitated exploration, innovation, and growth, but it is also one built upon families torn apart at the auction block, bodies whipped, and police dogs and fire hoses set against children.

Cities were redlined. Public schools were segregated. And despite our carefully cultivated national image as a meritocracy, throughout our history we have seen talent overlooked and our common humanity diminished on account of people’s race, religion, and sexual orientation.

The ripples of injustice continue to destabilize our society.

It shouldn’t be controversial to say any of this. But acknowledging these truths today is a political act, because it threatens the privileged narratives of those who seek to sugarcoat our past. These are men and women who serve their own ambitions by fortifying their cynical holds on power, delighting in division, feeding off fear, and applauding anger.

And that brings us to Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis.

Listing all of his efforts to leverage the power of his office to attack equity, empathy, and justice would stretch this post immeasurably. But doing so would also jeopardize the central point: DeSantis is an opportunist. He is not weighing the merits of any one campaign. Rather, he wants headlines as a culture warrior standing up to “wokeness,” a term he has eagerly redefined to suit his own purposes. It allows him to sneer at and dismiss any attempt to reckon with American injustice.

DeSantis has focused his assaults on two of our society’s most traditionally marginalized groups: Black Americans and the LGBTQ community. While these populations have thus far felt the brunt of his targeting, we need to see clearly that his rhetoric is a threat to all who care about a democratic, peaceful, empathetic, and just America. Those of us with the greatest privilege should bear a special burden in rejecting this hate.

DeSantis’s pugilism has enabled him to consolidate power in Florida. Any opposition to his toxic initiatives must contend with the uncomfortable truth that voters validated his message and style via his landslide win in November. Now DeSantis thinks he can take his show on the road with a presidential bid. That remains to be seen. Florida has been trending Republican in recent years, and success there might not translate to the current battleground states, many of which saw big Democratic wins in the midterms.

All that being said, there is a great danger to framing this struggle primarily through the lens of electoral politics. This normalizes a discourse that should be rejected by society’s mainstream. Just as the outright bigotry of the past became socially unacceptable, so too should these latest attempts at divisiveness.

It should not surprise us that DeSantis is making schools — both K-12 and college — a central target. He wants to teach a distorted view of America. He wants to make dissenting speech not only suspect but even criminal. He wants to silence the voices of his critics and of critical thinking more generally. This is a playbook that has been followed by demagogues before to very dangerous ends.

It is essential that DeSantis not be covered by the press through a false equivalence paradigm. We can debate what we should teach and how to teach it. But we can’t replace the truth, as unsavory as it may be, with sanitized narratives that suit those already in power. This is a battle for the minds of the voters of the future. This is about what kind of nation we will become.

But DeSantis primarily cares about what kind of country we are now. He wants to appeal to fear because he thinks he can mine that fear for votes. That is his game plan. And he’s not hiding it. There can be no appeasement. DeSantis has already shown that he isn’t interested in deliberations or good faith compromise. Those would disrupt his approach of means to an end.

History illustrates that hatred can be taught, but so can empathy and justice. We are on a winding journey as a nation. And we have much farther to go. But we have made progress in the face of bigots and autocrats because people had the courage to forge the inequities of our past into a more equitable future.

This history, this truth, is what scares people like DeSantis the most. But it is one that can give us hope if we are determined not to look away.

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:


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, 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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