Parents, teachers, school superintendents, and school board members, including Arizona School Boards Association‘s Black Alliance and Hispanic-Native American Indian Caucus, as well as members of Save Our Schools Arizona urged Arizona Legislators during a news conference today to vote against Senate Bill 1452, which would expand vouchers eligibility to more than 70 percent of students in the state’s public schools.
Senate Bill 1452, sponsored by Sen. Paul Boyer, would expand voucher eligibility to students who attend Title I schools and take part in the federal free- or reduced-price lunch program, divert Classroom Site Fund money from teachers’ pay and local funding for schools to students’ Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, or vouchers.
This move to expand vouchers that use public tax dollars to fund students’ private school costs, comes just two years after Arizona voters rejected expansion of Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts by voting against Prop. 305.
“Many of our Native communities face barriers that an ESA does not help or resolve,” said Desiree Fowler, a Page Unified School District board member and past president of ASBA’s Hispanic-Native American Indian Caucus.”It’s our public schools that provide many services to our Native children that a private school never provides such as transportation, food, social workers, sports and cultural awareness. What we really need is to fund the schools our Native communities live in.”
The Senate Education Committee gave a due pass recommendation to the bill last week along party lines. Senate Bill 1452 was approved by the Senate on Monday and transmitted to the House of Representatives, but was recalled Tuesday to the Senate for the purpose of reconsideration and may be heard again this week or next week.
“Voucher expansion negatively impacts our communities because it removes funding from public school classrooms,” said Sara Wyffels, Arizona Educational Foundation‘s Teacher of the Year. “This funding is desperately needed to meet the needs of our students. Invest this funding back into our public school classrooms so that we can decrease class size and fund technology for all students.”
“Arizona students deserve access to high quality schools in their neighborhoods where they live,” said Ann O’Brien, president of Arizona School Boards Association, and a governing board member of Deer Valley Unified School District. “Not only do they deserve it, but you will hear today that’s what their families want.”
“A serious conversation about helping students begins from the premise that children be provided the tools they need in their own neighborhoods, easily accessible and without additional charges or mandates to sign away one’s rights to anti-discrimination policies, which is exactly what is required when a parent takes an ESA,” O’Brien said.
AZEdNews video: What Ann O’Brien says about vouchers
Video by Brooke Martinez/ AZEdNews
“ESA’s are merely a Band-Aid. What we really need, and quite frankly what our students deserve, is a comprehensive solution to ensure that every student has an opportunity to achieve, thrive and be successful in their own public school in their own neighborhood,” O’Brien said.
“ASBA has long stood against the expansion of vouchers in the legislature and in the courts, reflecting not only the beliefs and priorities of school board members who represent communities across the state, but also citizens of Arizona, who overwhelmingly voted down voucher expansion in 2018,” O’Brien said. “The people of Arizona have spoken.”
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How vouchers increase segregation
Save Our Schools Arizona is the organization that led the fight against the expansion of vouchers in the 2018 election.
Vouchers were invented after the landmark U.S Supreme Court Case Brown v. Board of Education, which deemed public school segregation illegal in America, said Berdetta Hodge, a Save Our Schools Arizona board member, vice president of ASBA’s Black Alliance, and a Tempe Union High School District Governing Board member.
Vouchers “defy that decision by allowing white families in the South to flee from newly integrated public schools and take their children to segregated private schools, taking most of public funding with them,” Hodge said.
“While 99 percent of us still see it as the disgraceful nature of history, the truth of it is vouchers are still here today and still serve the same purpose of segregating our schools, discriminating against families and promoting a system of haves and haves nots,” Hodge said.
AZEdNews video: Berdetta Hodge describes how ESAs affect communities of color
Video by Brooke Martinez/ AZEdNews
“Study after study in Arizona and across America show that wherever voucher programs exist, the communities and schools are more segregated by race, ethnicity, and income than any other areas,” Hodge said. “That is why ESA voucher expansions are so damaging to our kids. They claim to help the very same communities and kids they hurt the most.”
“Arizona has more school choice than any other state in the nation, including open enrollment, magnet schools, busing partners and private schools,” Hodge said. “And yet more than 10 years in existence, the number of families choosing public schools both charter and their home district is around an overwhelming 95 percent. Let me say that again. 95 percent.”
“Time and time again, Arizona voters have stated to value their plain and clear voting message that they vote yes on bonds, yes on overrides, yes on Prop. 301 and 208 most recently,” Hodge said. “And when we vote for our dollars to be invested in public schools, we’re not saying that we want to invest in private schools subsidies, we’re saying public schools.”
“Having been an advocate for families of color in Arizona for more than two decades, I know what it takes to support Black and Brown children,” Hodge said. “I know it takes fully funded public school education in their neighborhoods. Let me say that again. In their neighborhoods.”
“Schools that protect and accept the individual’s learning styles, their personal beliefs and their academic needs,” Hodge said. “Schools that provide busing, nursing, counseling, breakfast, lunch, before and after school care, financial and academic accountability of every classroom and every dollar.”
“Fighting for civil rights means making every public school and every student a winner,” Hodge said. “Not by manipulating with vouchers to create winners and losers.”
“We can do better. We must do better for our future and our children depend on it,” Hodge said.
“Vouchers are not good for our communities. They’re not good for our neighbors. They take our students away from our schools and put them far away,” said Eva Carillo Dong, president of ASBA’s Hispanic-Native American Indian Caucus and Sunnyside Unified School District governing board member. “Eventually, they have problems with transportation, but also voucher’s don’t pay for everything and it makes it difficult for our families as far as being financially able to continue with them at their schools.”
“With the vouchers it takes more and more of our funding away,” Dong said. “The funding that we used to use to have after-school programs, to have tutoring to have those kinds of things are being taken away because they are being put into vouchers instead, and the vouchers take away from entire neighborhoods.”
Why public education is a civil right
Public education is a civil right, said Devin Del Palacio, president of the National School Boards Association‘s Black Council and Tolleson Union High School District Governing Board President.
“I only wish Rep. Boyer and his colleagues treated it as such,” Del Palacio said. “I wish they were honest with parents about their intentions to de-fund public education.”
“Many parents are not aware that when they sign up for a voucher they’ve actually given away some of their federal protections,” Del Palacio said. “You see unlike private schools, public school students’ rights do not stop at our school gates.”
“Public schools exist to serve all students, no matter their socioeconomic status, race, religion, gender, orientation, or learning ability,” Del Palacio said.
AZEdNews video: Devin Del Palacio says why public education is a civil right
Video by Brooke Martinez/ AZEdNews
“In America nearly 11 million children are poor. That’s one in seven,” Del Palacio said. “That’s one in seven kids who make up nearly a third of all people living in poverty in this country. Black, Hispanic, American Indian, Alaskan Native children are also disproportionately represented among children living in poverty.”
“For example, while 14 percent of our children in the United States are Black, they make up more than 1/4 of children living below the poverty line,” Del Palacio said.
“During this pandemic, public schools have stepped up to meet the challenges of many students, Del Palacio said. “In the Tolleson Union High School District alone, we served nearly 1 million meals since August to our students, their siblings and of course their parents. Not only that, we provided laptops, hot spots, access to critical mental health services.”
“Opening the floodgates to let funding leave public schools would without a doubt create greater hardship for many students and families,” Del Palacio said. “To introduce a voucher program while many vulnerable communities are struggling with COVID-19 is flat out cruel and wrong.”
“Let us also not forget that an overwhelming majority of parents have already chosen to choose to send their kids to public schools,” Del Palacio said. “If you’re pro-choice, you should honor the choice that parents have already made and invest in public schools. You can’t say you’re for choice and turn your back on the parents who have already spoken.”
“If you truly care about the sate of education here in Arizona, then our politicians will be finding ways to give our schools the resources they need to be successful, as opposed to limiting the resources that further exacerbate the many inequities that already exist,” Del Palacio said.
Public schools support their communities
Public schools provide critically important assistance to children and families in their neighborhoods, said Tamara Durot, a parent of students in the Kyrene School District.
“I was born and raised in Arizona. I grew up in Prescott where I also grew up in a single-parent, low-income home,” Durot said. “Because of this, I qualified for assistance programs growing up. I received free- and reduced-price lunch, and when I had emergency surgery at 9, AHCCCS helped pay the bills. My college education was primarily funded through grants and state-funded scholarships. These programs allowed me to fully realize the benefits of public education available to me.”
“Because of Arizona’s investment in me, I’m now in a position where I can provide my children everything they need,” Durot said.
AZEdNews video: Tamara Durot says public schools build and support their neighborhoods
Video by Brooke Martinez/ AZEdNews
Durot said her children attend their neighborhood schools.
“Having our kids at Colina has been such a positive experience,” Durot said. “Especially over the last year, the teachers there have been flexible, gracious and the care they have for our children comes through every day.”
“So much of what creates our community starts in our schools,” Durot said. “Certainly, for me a lot of my place in the community has come through my children. My best friends are the parents of their friends. We constantly run into the P.E. teacher at Fry’s. And my kids bike through the neighborhood with their friends from school. These are the things that tie us together.”
Colina received a Title I designation, the principal told the school site council “and the funds were to go to the children that needed it most and were based on our number of students who had free- and reduced-price lunch,” Durot said.
“As a council we did an honest assessment of our school , our students, what we were doing well and where there were gaps,” Durot said. “School leadership used this information to make a plan to make sure those funds went to the students who needed it the most.”
“Now something like Senate Bill 1452 threatens to use that Title I designation against our school,” Durot said. “It gives families, even ones like mine, an incentive to pull their children to a private education, taking their funds with them.”
“It creates a circular situation. Funds are removed from schools. Schools have to do more with less. More families leave,” Durot said.
“When we undermine our neighborhood schools, we are fraying the bonds that tie us together,” Durot said. “It segregates us.”
“When politicians say they’re pro-education, but they support programs like this and other ways to pull public funds into private education, what they support is an education system where someone can make a profit off our children,” Durot said.
“As parents it is our responsibility to give our children everything they need to grow up and develop, but as members of the community you have an obligation to every single child that they are given everything they need to grow up and develop and succeed,” Durot said.
“If we dismantle public education in the name of school choice, what we’re really choosing is to leave some kids behind,” Durot said. “I think every students should have the access to public education that I had, and I think you’ll find they’re worth the investment.”
Support services for students, families
To “ensure strong and accessible education for all, regardless of students’ abilities, we need to oppose S.B. 1452,” said Ylenia Aguilar, a member of ASBA‘s Hispanic-Native American Indian Caucus and an Osborn Elementary School District Governing Board President.
“Using families of color or families living in poverty as pawns is an excuse to line the pockets of private schools,” Aguilar said.
AZEdNews video: Ylenia Aguilar says public schools provide students, families support services
Video by Brooke Martinez/ AZEdNews
School board members responsibilities include being good stewards of taxpayers’ money, Aguilar said.
“We know that private schools have no accountability and lack transparency when it comes to finances and student learning,” Aguilar said.
Public schools” serve all students regardless of where they came from, including English learners and our most vulnerable populations,” Aguilar said. “We are accountable to the community and the students’ achievement.”
“It is wrong asking our Latino families to give up the rights of their children’s’ education by taking a voucher to attend private schools where no accountability is required,” Aguilar said.
“Will private schools provide translators for families who don’t speak English?” Aguilar asked. “As a former English Learner, I know that my public education provided me the support that I needed while I was learning English. Will private schools do that? Will they provide language access to the parents who don’t speak English or who don’t understand their rights in this country?”
“Will private schools provide food for students who only eat one meal a day?” Aguilar asked. “I know that when I was a child I received most of my meals in the school system.”
“We need to focus on investing back in our communities and in our public schools,” Aguilar said. “I urge you to oppose S.B. 1452.”
Where are accountability requirements in S.B. 1452?
“The National Alliance of Black School Educators, an organization of African American and other minority educators once wrote in a white paper that educating Black and Brown students is a civil right,” said Dr. Arleen Kennedy, superintendent of Balsz School District.
“The white paper gave the rationale that the historic and documented educational underachievement of African American and other minorities is the most glaring inequity and unfilled initiative in the 20th and 21st centuries for social justice,” Kennedy said.
“S.B. 1452 proposes that education is a civil right for Title I students to have the option of what they consider to be a better education,” Dr. Kennedy said. “A chance for students to have a better learning, because of course, it is their civil rights, but those of us who truly understand what civil rights mean know that this legislation is a misnomer in itself against what it claims to want to provide.”
AZEdNews video: Dr. Arleen Kennedy asks where are accountability requirements in S.B. 1452
Video by Brooke Martinez/ AZEdNews
“So let us clarify civil rights in education. Number One, lets promote academic excellence,” Dr. Kennedy said.
“In order to promote academic excellence, public schools must be able to provide the adequate resources to ensure highly qualified teachers that lead the classroom, innovative curriculum material that enhances and engages the learning styles of minorities with respect to their cultures, traditions and values and accountable measurement instruments that support and evaluate teachers and leaders through the learning challenges students bring to school every day,” Dr. Kennedy said.
“Based on this criteria, I ask you today are private schools and other entities held accountable for the measurement to promote academic excellence?” Dr. Kennedy asked. “What are the accountability measures to ensure the promotion of academic excellence? And where are those requirements in this legislation?”
“Number Two, public schools must ensure dropout prevention and post-secondary plans, and in order to do that we do things like zero tolerance policies on dropout prevention and enriching student retention,” Dr. Kennedy said.
“We host post-secondary activities for all students regardless of their career paths so that they can have the opportunity to reach their future goals,” Dr. Kennedy said. “We provide resources for our special populations who will need adult assistance as they reach their future goals.”
“Based on this criteria, I ask you again today are our private schools and other entities held accountable for this to happen?” Dr. Kennedy asked. “What are the accountability measures to ensure that this happens? And where are those measures in this legislation?”
“Number Three. Public schools provide support for families of underachieving Title I students,” Dr. Kennedy said.
“We do it because we provide parent workshops to assist families in supporting student learning,” Dr. Kennedy said. “We provide counseling services for families, most times during the evening to support the life needs of families. We provide nutritional resources to support families beyond the school day. We generate financial support for students and families in need of basic resources that Abraham Maslow says are in the Hierarchy of Needs.”
“Based on this criteria I ask you a third time, are private schools and other entities held accountable to provide the resources I just described?” Dr. Kennedy asked. “What are the accountability measures to ensure that these things occur? And where are these requirements in this legislation?”
“I venture to bet you will not find these civil rights in private education that public school settings provide for students, embedded in receiving Title I through Title IX, by the way, services,” Dr. Kennedy said.
“Legislation often times sticks with buzzwords – Title I being one of those buzzwords – but they never flesh out the significance of the terms that they apply, and this is the case in this legislation,” Dr. Kennedy said.
“As a public school educator who often discusses how it is important to level the playing field for students of color to have better access to education, I do not think this legislation is that answer,” Dr. Kennedy said. “Do not call this a civil right, because this is not a civil act of supporting students or the whole child and it is not a right.”
“Ron Edmonds in 1970 once said, ‘We can whenever and wherever we choose educate all kids whose education is of interest to us. Let’s make education of interest to us,'” Dr. Kennedy said.
Vouchers cut funding for students’ opportunities
Then Amanda Steel, a parent of a student in Tempe Union High School District and an education advocate, spoke about how vouchers decrease funding for public education initiatives like those that have helped students with intellectual disabilities like her son.
“I’m a mother to a son who is currently in his seventh year of high school, getting ready to graduate from what is now Success University that Tempe Union has recently offered,” Steel said.
“We have seen this expansion strategy before by identifying groups that would supposedly benefit from vouchers,” Steel said. ‘Ten years ago, individuals with disabilities were the pawn that legislators used.”
As a parent of a child with special needs, who has gone through the public education system, “I’ve learned that ESA is a wonderful opportunity for a very different population,” but not students with intellectual disabilities like my son, Steel said.
AZEdNews video: Amanda Steel says ESAs reduce opportunities for students
Video by Brooke Martinez/ AZEdNews
“Currently we have had 10 years of ESA programs and our employment rate for individuals with disabilities graduating from high school still has not expanded,” Steel said.
“Honestly in the public education system we have so much work to do, but we can work on it if we have the funding to do so,” Steel said.
“I went to Tempe Union High School District three years ago and explained this is all the things that are lacking, because as I’ve grown I’ve discovered what could possibly help and benefit the students that come behind my son,” Steel said.
“I created policy teams to work on policy to benefit that. That won’t come to light if we dismantle public education,” Steel said.
Among those recommendations were access to specific curriculum, sex education and a transition program, Steel said.
“Within three years they have created a transition program, that honestly is minimally adequate but could be so much better if we could fund schools,” Steel said.
“If we continue to dismantle and take from schools, you are going to continue to not offer opportunities for programs that are already existing to grow and expand and provide opportunities for our children to become competitively employed members of society who are a part of it,” Steel said.
You send your children to school to learn, grow and become capable, Steel said.
About five years ago, Steel’s son started going to transition conferences and said he wanted to work.
“Five years later, he doesn’t have those skills. That is a consistent problem across the board. Arizona has a developmental disability program called vocational rehabilitation that is currently sitting at a 90 percent failure rate,” Steel said.
“If we continue to take away the funding that will continue to just deteriorate,” Steel said. “We will never be able to get these individuals who are highly capable of working if given the opportunity if given the proper funding and supports to allow them to expand those capabilities.”
“Now these voucher programs are trying to use students of color as another group in need, as you just heard from these speakers, that is not what is best for these families,” Steel said.
“These communities have spoken and the fact is that parents want to be served in their own public schools. That’s where the Legislature needs to put their attention,” Steel said.