Senator McGuire Votes Against Public Education

Senator McGuire, AZ LD8, did not prove herself a friend of public education at the end of 51st Legislative Session.

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Although the Senate had initially defeated SB1363 [empowerment scholarship accounts (ESAs)], in the final hours of session on June 14, 2013, she alone brought the bill back to life by moving to reconsider the bill.  This “private school voucher expansion bill” then passed the Senate by a vote of 16 ayes – 13 nays.  Senator McGuire was the only Democrat to vote for this bill with the other 12 Democrats in  the Senate and Republican Senator Rich Crandall voting against it for the second time.

As a school board member and locally elected guardian of public education, I am concerned this bill will siphon off even more funding from our public schools.  It further expands the Arizona ESAs Program to kindergarteners and increases the amount available.[i]  Currently ESA funding per pupil is the same regardless of whether a pupil previously attended a school district or charter school.  SB1363 will increase ESA per pupil funding for former charter school pupils by adding charter school “Additional Assistance” to the ESA formula increasing ESA funding to former charter school pupils by approximately $1,600 per pupil (90% of the average “Additional Assistance” amounts defined in A.R.S. § 15-185B3) and increase total ESA costs by an estimated $100,000.[ii]

Both the Arizona Education Association (AEA) and Arizona School Board Association (ASBA) opposed the bill and are appealing a Maricopa District Judge ruling that taxpayer dollars may fund private schools.  This, after the Arizona Supreme Court found in 2009 that two similar school voucher programs violated the Arizona Constitution’s ban on aid for religious or private schools.[iii]

The 2011 law gave parents of special needs children access to public education monies and was further expanded for this school year, essentially doubling eligibility to 200,000.[iv]  Funds can be used for curriculum, testing, private school tuition, tutors, special needs services or therapies, or even seed money for college.  The program however, requires parents to waive their child’s right to a public education…a right that is guaranteed under the state constitution, in order to receive the benefits.[v]

Only 362 students in Arizona had ESAs last year, but 92 percent of ESA funds went to private schools, in many cases for children whose parents could afford the schools without the assistance. For students without special needs, the program provides from $3,000 to $3,500 a year. As this is not nearly sufficient to cover the cost of tuition to a private school (which can be as much as $10,000), the program is unlikely to benefit students from low-income families.[vi]  Last year, this voucher program took $5.2 million from public education funding. With Senator McGuire ensuring passage of SB1363, the amount could potentially increase to over $20 million and public school funding tied to enrollment will likely be reduced.[vii]

Barbara McGuire identifies herself as a “moderate Democrat who promised to work to improve state and local economies, create jobs, improve our kids’ education, address real estate recovery, growth, and quality-of-life issues.”  Her responses to an election questionnaire for State Legislature posted on AZCentral.com also bill her as a supporter of education.  When asked: “how would you change the state’s approach to spending”, she said she would “focus on making Arizona competitive by investing in education.”  When asked, “to name one state agency or program you believe gets too little money and why”, she responded: “Education. Our children are our future. Investment in that future will enable them to be competitive and successful in the global market. Without a good educated work force we risk becoming subservient to other nations.”  Finally, when asked, “would spending more money on public schools increase the quality of education in Arizona, why or why not?” she responded with “Absolutely. It must be spent in ways that create the best outcomes. Such as smaller class size, classroom resources, and dedicated well-paid teachers. Quality education is necessary to build a competitive future workforce.”[viii]

Today I am left feeling as though Senator McGuire threw public education under the bus for political expediency.  She has told me before that sometimes you have to give a little, to get a little.  This however, isn’t giving a little.  It is a fundamental move against public education in our state and against the commitment to public education she originally espoused.  I encourage the voters of LD8 to hold her accountable.

The AZ Legislature is Busy…How Will Education Fare?

Several bills on education have been introduced recently in the Arizona Legislature.  Some will help support the majority of our students (almost 90% whom are enrolled in traditional public schools.)  Some however, will only serve to support privatization of education in Arizona which will not work to the advantage of most of our students.  The description of these bills has been provided by the Arizona Education Association.  My comments follow in italics.Thomas photo med_2

HB2399 would double school districts’ bonding capacity, which would help some districts out that are able to get voters to approve the bond, but this measure would also increase the economic inequities between school districts. – As many SaddleBrooke residents know, our latest bond issue for the Oracle School District failed in 2011.

HB2425 would disband the ELL Task Force and move its assignment to the Arizona Department of Education.  This task force was originally charged with the creation of the Structured English Immersion (SEI) program to be used in all school districts and with reviewing and approving alternative SEI models submitted by school districts.

HB2530 requires students enrolled in an Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) to annually take a norm-referenced achievement test or a college admissions exam. Kudos to Rep. Heather Carter for pushing this bill forward and ensuring there is accountability in this tax-payer funded voucher program.  Unfortunately, another bill (SB1363) expands the ESA voucher program to include students who are eligible for kindergarten. – HB 2530 is supported by the AZ Education Assoc. and the AZ School Board Assoc.  It is absolutely amazing to me that not only do we not have laws that require standards and testing in AZ’s work-around to a voucher program (ESA) and home schooling, but the AZ Legislature and AZ Dept. of Education is prohibited from regulating these programs.  How then do we know the children in these programs are being properly educated?

SB1285 would require the Arizona Department of Education to mail a pamphlet to parents about non-public school options such as private schools and vouchers. The bill would cost $1.5 million annually and proposes to use federal Title 1 funding.  AEA President Andrew F. Morrill told the Arizona Republic, “The bill appears to be a marketing ploy to use public funds to increase the customer base for private schools. This is unnecessary and probably would run into some legal challenges down the road.”  The bill is ALEC’s signature legislation this year.  It was held in Senate Education committee last week and is on the agendas for the Education and Appropriations committees this week.

SB1385 would make private charter school teachers’ evaluations so they could not be released under a public records request. – How can this be in anyone’s best interest except for those who profit from the charter school’s operation?

SB1450 seeks $5 million from the general fund for Arizona’s Alternative Teacher Development Program to be awarded to a qualifying service provider, i.e. Teach for America. – Both Diane Ravitch, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education and an education policy analyst and Linda Darling-Hammond, Professor of Education at Stanford University, have criticized Teach for America (TFA) for sending inexperienced young people to teach the nation’s most vulnerable children.  In fact, a study in Arizona in 2002 held that TFA teachers had a negative impact on their students as compared to certified teachers.  Another study Darling-Hammond led with 4,400 teachers and 132,000 students concluded certified teachers consistently produced significantly higher achievement than those uncertified and TSA teacher had a negative or nonsignificant effect.