Video: SB 1452 expands vouchers, diverts money for teacher pay - AZEdNews
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Video: SB 1452 expands vouchers, diverts money for teacher pay


Students At Garfield Elementary In Phoenix Eating Their Meals. Photo By Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

The Senate Education Committee gave a due pass recommendation Tuesday evening along party lines on revisions to Arizona’s vouchers that would expand eligibility to students who attend Title I schools and take part in the federal free- or reduced-price lunch program, which is about 70% of Arizona students.

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.

Senate Bill 1452, sponsored by Sen. Paul Boyer, would also divert Classroom Site Fund money from teachers’ pay and local funding for schools to students’ Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, or vouchers.

Public education advocates, including Arizona School Boards Association and Save Our Schools Arizona, are opposed to SB 1452.

#Legislative Legit: SB 1452 ESA vouchers expansion

“This would allow Kindergartners who’ve never enrolled in school before to receive an ESA, which is essentially going to allow for the large ballooning of enrollment, because the original theory was that only students who switch from public school to private school would receive an ESA, a voucher,” said Chris Kotterman, director of governmental relations for Arizona School Boards Association.

“Letting Kindergartners in without having attended public school pretty much negates the entire argument that it saves money, because we’re not requiring funding for public school first,” Kotterman said.

Leigh Jensen, governmental relations associate for ASBA, said, “It also changes the requirement that a student be enrolled in a public school for 100 days before they’re eligible for an ESA and knocks that down to in addition to prospective Kindergarten students like Chris said, it knocks that down to just 30 days so that pretty much eliminates that argument as well that it’s for a student who tried a public school and it wasn’t quite working out for whatever their educational needs are.”

“I think that most people can agree that 30 days in any school environment is not enough to figure out if that environment’s really a good fit for a students or not,” Jensen said.

“We’re most concerned about the fact it wants to use tax dollars that are approved by voters for very specific purposes in totally different and unauthorized ways,” said Dawn Penich-Thacker, spokesperson for Save Our Schools Arizona in an interview with AZEdNews.

Prop. 301 and Prop. 208 both asked voters to approve tax dollars for specific, well-defined, and fully audited purposes like teacher pay and classroom-site support, Penich-Thacker said.

“This bill takes those dollars and wants to use them for completely different purposes, not even close in nature to what voters approved – that is a total violation of the will of voters, plain and simple,” Penich-Thacker said. “It also goes against voters who overwhelmingly rejected more private school vouchers via Prop. 305.”

“Those things, plus the fact it makes an already discriminatory, poorly managed and expensive privatization scheme a lot bigger and even more unaccountable, is why we so strongly oppose it,” Penich -Thacker said.

Click here to email the Senate Education Committee to vote NO on SB 1452

Senate Bill 1452, will be discussed in the Senate Education Committee meeting which starts at 2 p.m. today. Watch it live here.

SB 1452 would also require taxpayers in 60 Arizona school districts that do not receive state aid to continue to pay for students who have left the district and require the payment of sales tax dollars for teacher pay to voucher accounts.

Arizona Capitol Television: Senate Education Committee discusses SB 1452

SB 1452 also would allow Kindergarteners who have never been in public schools to be eligible for ESAs, and shorten the time that students must attend a public school before they’re eligible for a voucher from 100 days to 30 days.

In addition the bill would also provide paid commuter passes for students’ travel between home and private school, something that is not available to students who use open enrollment to attend a public school other than the one closest to them or to students who attend charter schools.

SB 1452 would also allow parents or guardians 30 days to pay back the account for ineligible expenses

Sen. Boyer said his proposal responds to parents’ concerns that many public schools are not providing in=person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They’re flipping mad right now and they’re pulling their kids out of schools, whether to home school or send them to charter schools that are open,” Boyer said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Or if they can afford it, to private schools.”

Sen. Boyer’s SB 1452 is supported by the Goldwater Institute, Center for Arizona Policy and Arizona Catholic Conference.

Public education advocates say the bill takes away money to fund public schools and teachers’ salaries, as well as reduced the chances an ESA can be revoked if funds aren’t used as required.

“Every dollar taken from public schools to subsidize private school tuition and personal expenses is a dollar not available to the public school for its educators’ salaries,” Penich-Thacker said to AZEdNews. “This bill is literally reaching into public school teachers’ pockets and stealing funds the voters of Arizona decided they should have.”

Save Our Schools Arizona is concerned about SB1452’s provision that requires local taxpayers to continue to pay for students who leave the district.

“We believe this funding scheme is meant to first, hide from taxpayers the true cost of private school subsidies, and second, to punish public schools and the taxpayers who support them.,” Penich-Thacker said.

SB 1452 would also allow parents or guardians 30 days to pay back ineligible expenses.

“The program is already notorious for misuse and fraud; this just lowers what minimal safeguards and requirements taxpayers had that our tax dollars aren’t being used to finance vacations and personal goodies,” Penich-Thacker said.

Related articles:
Save Our Schools initiative would limit ESA expansion, require return of unused voucher money
Supt. Hoffman asks Legislators to release full ESA administration funding
ESA expansion would cost state more money
After six years, ESA program still vexed by financial accountability
Academic accountability: How do ESAs measure up?
Court ruling impacts Invest in Ed, Save Our Schools initiatives qualifying for ballot
On Tax Day, Legislators vote to reduce corporate tax credits that fund private school scholarships
What are Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts?

The bill had its second reading in the Arizona Senate on Thursday, Jan. 28.

Video: SB 1452 expands vouchers, diverts money for teacher pay Senate-Education-Committee-Meeting-1-1024x575
Senate Education Committee meeting on Feb. 2, 2021. Photo courtesy Arizona Capitol Television.

2:08 p.m. – Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Paul Boyer called the Senate Education Committee meeting to order and noted that testimony will be limited to three minutes for speakers and that only four speakers will be allowed for each side for each bill to get through all the bills on the agenda.

He also noted that SB 1452 would be the last item discussed on the agenda.

Then Supt. of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman delivered her State of Education Address online from the Arizona Department of Education.

“When I stood before you last year, I had no idea of the challenges awaiting us. In a few short weeks, our world, our expectations, and our daily routines changed drastically,” Supt. Hoffman said.

“As I stand before you this year, I am compelled to make clear that these hardships have been felt more deeply by our students than by any other segment of our society, and that we as educators, parents and community members have a duty to support them in every way possible,” Supt. Hoffman said. 

Video: SB 1452 expands vouchers, diverts money for teacher pay Supt-Kathy-Hoffman-State-of-Education-2--1024x580
Supt. of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman gives her State of Education address to the Senate Education Committee on Feb. 2, 2021. Photo courtesy Arizona Capitol Television

“To start, predictable, sustainable funding would allow our schools and districts to plan their budgets to hire and fairly compensate every professional their students need, from principals to physics teachers. Last election, the voters made it clear that they share this vision when they passed Prop 208 to supplement our current funding levels,” Supt Hoffman said.

“And while I strongly support Governor Ducey’s much needed budget proposals around early literacy, one-time grant funding simply doesn’t cut it for staffing our schools. When we use a patchwork approach to funding our schools, our students lose out,” Supt. Hoffman said. 

Click here to read a transcript of Supt. Hoffman’s State of Education address.

“To take us in the right direction, bills like Senator Marsh’s SB1227 will provide a needed evaluation on the impact of overcrowded classrooms. I am thrilled to see another passionate educator join the state legislature, and I urge you to support this bill,” Supt. Hoffman said.

“And common-sense policies like paid family leave would provide educators with a long-overdue system of support. In times of sickness, we care for each other by ensuring that we can take time off and still make ends meet. Those assurances are important not just for our educator workforce, but for all workers, which is why I urge you to support Senator Quezada’s bill – SB1756 – to offer this support to families and businesses across the state,” Supt. Hoffman said.

During the two periods that our state became the national hotspot for COVD-19, the Arizona Department of Education provided federal recovery funds to the Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA, Supt. Hoffman said.

“This helped them provide extended hours and a safe learning environment for the children of essential workers and families in need. Their efforts supported our schools – and the parents working tirelessly on the frontlines of this virus,” Supt. Hoffman said.

“But those were one-time dollars intended for relief and recovery – and access to childcare and pre-school was essential even before the pandemic. That’s why bills like Representative Sierra’s HB2015, which provides sustainable funding for pre-k programs, are vital as we look toward the future of what we want to provide our families in this state. I was pleased to see the House Education Committee advance that bill, and I urge you to pass it in the Senate as well,” Supt. Hoffman said.  

“Community investments like these are essential to lifting up the communities most impacted by COVID-19 – which are disproportionately home to families of color,” Supt. Hoffman said.

Supt. Hoffman said, “In some of the most difficult moments of the last year, our students and educators have shown us how they can transform their communities for the better – especially when they are equipped with the resources and supports to do so.”

“That is why I am more concerned than ever before that we provide our schools with equitable, sustainable funding. Our schools can be the backbone of our state’s recovery from this virus. In fact, they must be.”

3:19 p.m. – The Senate Education Committee gave a due pass recommendation to Senate Bill 1174, which would appropriate $2 million in FY 2022 from the state general fund to the Arizona Commerce Authority to match the monies distributed by educational stipends for high school, college, and university students and grades one through twelve in Arizona who participate in a STEM
internships
.

Senate Bill 1376, that would requires the State Board of Education to adopt a course of study and competency requirements for all health education instruction to include mental health instruction or another course, also received a due pass recommendation by the Senate Education Committee.

The Senate Education Committee also gave a due pass recommendation to Senate Bill 1179, which would allows a career and technical education district or a district or charter school that is part of a CTED to include students in grades 9-12 and the school year immediately following graduation in the calculation of student count or Average Daily Membership (ADM) and specifies that funding can be provided for no more than four years for the same student.

4:02 p.m. – The Senate Education Committee gave a due pass recommendation to Senate Bill 1295, which would establish the Advanced Placement (AP) Course Access, Participation and Success Program within the Arizona Department of Education (ADE), outline goals for the program, increase the number of schools offering AP courses, increase student participation and success in AP courses, and eliminate or reduce AP exam fees and costs for low-income students.

Senate Bill 1302, which would allows a student in an approved career and technical education program provided by a satellite campus, centralized campus or leased centralized campus to generate an ADM for instruction received during any day of the week and at any time between July 1st and June 30th of each fiscal year, also received a due pass recommendation from the Senate Education Committee.

The Senate Education Committee gave a due pass recommendation to Senate Bill 1311, which would exempt career and technical education districts from receiving assignment of a letter grade in the Arizona Department of Education’s Annual Achievement Profiles.

Senate Bill 1342, which would appropriate $2 million from the state general fund in Fiscal Year 2021-2022 to Maricopa County Community College District for their achieving a college education program and that $500,000 of the monies appropriated in subsection A of this section be used for students in the program who are enrolled in career and technical education courses, also received a due pass recommendation from the Senate Education Committee.

4:18 p.m. – The Senate Education Committee is hearing Senate Bill 1452 right now.

An amendment to the bill by Sen. Christine Marsh adds a Proposition 108 clause to the bill that requires a 2/3 vote in the House and the Senate to affirm the bill.

Another amendment by Sen. Boyer removes the establishment of a FY 2022 base level from the bill and makes clarifying and conforming changes regarding student eligibility, letter grade assignments and funding modifications and decreases the amount of time the Arizona Department of Education has to process applications from 45 days to 30 days and requires the Joint Legislative Budget Committee to revise the per-pupil amount from the Classroom Site Fund from FY 2022 on include ESA students within 10 days of the effective date.

Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales asked if the bill levies a new primary property tax.

Video: SB 1452 expands vouchers, diverts money for teacher pay Sen-GonzalesPNG-1024x570
Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales asks questions about SB 1452 during the Senate Education Committee,

The levy established is for districts that don’t meet the income amount to qualify for basic state aid,a Senate staffer responded.

“It’s around 6 to 7 percent of districts that fall into this category,” the Senate staffer said.

Then Senate Education Chair Sen. Paul Boyer played a video about school choice as a civil rights issue.

“Parents have the fundamental right to direct the education of their child,” Chair Boyer said. “Arizona has a great school choice system in place, but it’s only a choice if it’s funded. It’s only a choice if the student has acces to the school. It’s only a choice if they’re not stuck on a wait list for years and years and told year after year after year, just wait when we’re fully funded it will get better. Well, folks, we’re tired of waiting.”

“Students, especially minority students in high poverty areas have been hit the hardest,” Chair Boyer said. “Experts have said minority students are 12 to 16 months behind their white peers. Senate Bill 1452 will help with that.”

“The three greatest challenges, as far as I see it, that these high-poverty families face is the digital divide, working parent issues and single-parent households,” Chair Boyer said.

“According to an Urban Institute survey from May, 75% of low-income parents reported not being able to work from home,” Chair Boyer said. “Low-income parents were more likely to have difficulty arranging childcare than higher-income parents.”

“It’s cruel to tell a child you’re stuck in your failing school and we’re going to fight you at every step along the way to make sure that you never leave,” Chair. Boyer said. “No child should have to hear that. Every child should have the opportunity to attend the school of his or her choice. Senate Bill 1452 is the program that will allow students to do that.”

Sen. Gonzales said, “I agree completely with all the facts that you stated,” but “it seems like your bill is really addressing the education of low-income children, so why not have a cap on these, because it seems to me that the way it is currently written your bill that it really is written so that a lot of people who have the means to send their child to another school can gain the taxpayer money in order to send their child to a private school.”

“If this is to help low-income children, why are we allowing these students to access both the STO accounts and the ESA, voucher accounts, at the same time,” Sen. Gonzales asked.

Sen. Gonzales then said anyone attending a Title I school can apply for these ESAs, not just low-income students that qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch.

“This bill is targeted at the low-income student not the low-income school,” Sen. Boyer said.

Sen. Christine Marsh asked what would stop a person from enrolling in a Title I school for 30 days then withdrawing to qualify for an ESA.

“This is for all practical purposes a universal voucher, not geared specifically at our low-income kids, because of the way it’s written here with the schools themselves that are included,” Sen. Marsh said.

Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai said “This is an issue that keeps coming around, and for some reason I feel like Native Americans, people of color, rural people, people that are poor, that this is being targeted for them, and I just want to let you know what my experience with Indian education is.”

Native American students were sent to Indian Schools here in Phoenix and across the country in a bid to exterminate our culture and assimilate students into American society, Sen. Peshlakai said..

“Our right to education was earned by our Native American veterans – the Navajo Code Talkers the Hopi Code Talkers,” Sen. Peshlakai said.

“Public education meaning that we’re being taught the way the white man taught his kids, that was to us equality,” Sen. Peshlakai said.

“So when you start off a committee with a video about the civil rights era, when John Lewis was beaten on that bridge with Martin Luther King, and then when the video ends you say shame on those that want to stop the educating of the poor and the people of color, that is offensive,” Sen. Peshlakai.

“I don’t know if I’m the only one that caught that, but I hope there’s a lot of children and teachers watching this, administrators and government officials that that is the most offensive way to start a committee meeting,” Sen. Peshlakai said.

“When we’re told, as a person who is a Native American, as a person who is a minority, as a person who has been attacked on so many levels, I know that the only time politicians are interested in the poor and the people of color and the minorities is when there is money to be made somewhere in the processes,” Sen. Peshlakai said.

Then Sen. Peshlakai asked why there is no Prop. 108 clause on this bill about raising new taxes.

“We’re going to address that with the Marsh amendment,” Sen. Boyer said. “This is not increasing taxes or revenues.”

Matt Beienburg, director of education policy for the Goldwater Institute, said they believe that as the ESA program serves more students the dollars that it saves should go to those individual students Empowerment Scholarship Accounts instead of remaining with public schools at large.

Video: SB 1452 expands vouchers, diverts money for teacher pay Goldwater-Institute-Matt-1024x574
Matt Beienburg with the Goldwater Institute.

“The provisions in this bill would help close the gap for low-income students and put any form of public or private education within reach,” Beienburg said.

Sen. Gonzales asked what the Goldwater Institute has done in these communities of impoverished students such as South Phoenix to advertise what you’re doing today so these students can benefit from this program.

Beinburg said more than 100 students from the Roosevelt School District have received a better education from this program.

“I can guarantee you that the students you say this will benefit have not heard of this program and cannot afford to leave their schools,” Sen. Gonzales said.

“This bill will drain hundreds of thousands of dollars from the schools of the kids that are going to be left behind,” Sen. Gonzales said.

Sen. Peshlakai asked Beienburg how many of these students take part in homeschooling, how many of these private schools no accreditation from or accountability to the state, and how many are in these elite private schools with accountability.

“How many of these students are doing great, and how do you determine that,” Sen. Peshlakai asked Beienburg.

Video: SB 1452 expands vouchers, diverts money for teacher pay Sen-Peshlaki-and-Sen-Marsh
Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, top left, and Sen. Christine Marsh, top right during the discussion of SB 1452 on Fed. 2, 2021. Arizona Capitol Television

Sen. Marsh asked if Beienburg if he had an idea of the percentage of taxpayers who will be paying for students to receive education outside their communities.

Beienburg said there are 70 smaller school districts that do not receive state general fund money to support their schools and they would be impacted by Senate Bill 1452.

“When students in those school districts go to the ESA program, that is an entire savings for those taxpayers,” Beienburg said. “This would essentially keep this to be consistent that those taxpayers will in the same way that they were locally supporting students in their school district will continue to support the local students in their community.”

Sen. Marsh said those would be new taxes for those people and asked how many people would with this tax now be paying for schooling for kids outside their own areas.

That provision of the bill would affect 70 smaller Arizona school districts and affect eight to 10 percent of students across the state, Beienburg said.

“The issue of us not funding public schools properly is one of the biggest issues of why our students in public schools are not doing as well as those studemts who go to a private school,” Sen Gonzales said.

Sen. Nancy Barto asked how COVID-19 has impacted the need for more ESAs.

“Disadvantaged communities have been especially hard hit by COVID, not having access necessarily to internet connections as a lot of public schools have transitioned to hybrid or online learning,” Beinburg said.

Many families have taken part in homeschooling since the pandemic, and’ “we believe they should have the uspport to continue those options,” Beinburg said.

At this point, the video and audio feed stopped and has the video feed has showen “Stand By” for more than an hour on this reporters’ access to the video feed.

8:20 p.m. – The Senate Education Committee gave Senate Bill 1452 a due pass recommendation as amended with a vote of 5 ayes to 3 nays.