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  • Mindy Walton

Arizona Gov Edu Swamp Tries to Kill School Choice Bill

Save our Schools Arizona PAC, SOS, a teachers union aligned political action committee, has submitted a veto referendum application and is currently collecting signatures.

Teachers Unions are to be admired. They are political organizations that actually advocate for their constituents, unionized public school teachers. Republicans should take notice, as they often advocate for their political opposition. Remember, for example, Mitt Romney marching with BLM, or John Cornyn working with Democrats to restrict gun rights.

Republicans pass most expansive school voucher bill in the nation

Recently, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed House Bill 2853 which expands so called Empowerment Scholarships Accounts, ESA, to all students in Arizona. This means that every student eligible for public schooling will also be eligible to receive around $7,000 per year to pay for private school tuition, tutors, books, and other school expenses, if the parents opt the student out of public schools. This somewhat levels the playing field between government schools, that are funded by taxpayers, and private and home schools, for which those same taxpayers have to pay out of their post-tax income. The law is scheduled to take effect in September 2022.

School voucher/choice bill would be on hold via a veto referendum

Arizona law allows so called veto referendums to be put on the ballot. To do so, a number of signatures equivalent to 5% of the votes cast in the last Governorship election in the state have to be collected. This translates into 118,823 signatures required. Although it's not a totally safe bet, it's fair to assume that SOS will succeed in collecting this many signatures in person. This is because all they have to do is to set up stalls near public schools and get most public school teachers to sign. Arizona has around 61,000 public school teachers so this alone gets SOS halfway there. If spouses sign as well, it's pretty much a done deal. State and other government employees are also a demographic that SOS would be able to target relatively easily.

Worst of all in this case, if successful, HB2583 would be put on hold and would NOT go into effect as planned in September 2022. Families would NOT receive any ESA funds, children would be deprived of school choice for a better education, and teachers union run public school districts would maintain their stranglehold on children, parents and taxpayers. Veto referendums, if enough signatures are collected, put the legislation which the veto referendum targets on hold until the veto referendum is actually on the ballot. In the case of HB2583 this would most likely be in 2024.

School vouchers on the ballot in 2024?

In 2018 a ballot initiative to expand ESA eligibility to more students, at a rate of only 5,000 students per year, failed with roughly a 2:1 margin. If the veto referendum makes it to the ballot in 2024, the margin will likely be narrower. With their impressive organizational, political and monetary power, teachers unions and SOS may be favored to once again defeat school choice by having the veto referendum approved by a majority of voters.

However, since 2018, parents and taxpayers have more clearly seen the true nature of public schools, teachers unions and many public school teachers. Schools were closed, masks and vaccines mandated, children terrified and neglected. Masks are still worn on Arizona schools today. As an example, in Chandler, public school traffic wardens can regularly be seen still wearing masks, outside, while socially distanced. The Chandler Teachers Union boss, a biology teacher at Chandler High School, always appears masked when addressing the Chandler school board. A public school teacher at Hamilton High School in Chandler recently snuck vaccine status questions into a quiz in biology class.

Parents were able to witness how CUSD80 (and many other school districts) suppressed protests against mask mandates. Reports from Chandler indicate that the Chandler Unified School District, CUSD80, co-opted Chandler police to surveil parent groups. The National School Boards Associations, NSBA, went so far as to call on the DoJ to use the FBI and other federal agencies to clamp down on parents who don't want their children force masked, forced to identify as gay or trans, and forced to listen to teachers telling them that they, their parents and their country are evil and unworthy of holding political office. A draft version of of the same letter called for the mobilization of the military to clamp down on parents branded as domestic terrorists.

As parents witnesses by listening in to zoom and google online lessons of their children, radical critical race theory, CRT, and gender queer theories are guiding curriculum design and are deeply embedded in curricula. Children are being sexualized by exposure to explicit material. In a recent incidence a school board in Florida shut down a father who wanted to read from a book with such material available in the school library. The school board said that it's not allowed to read pornography in the meeting.

Drag queen story hour is just the latest in a long line of bizarre attempts to break down traditional norms. Many parents object to this because such displays are not suitable for children. Incidentally many members of the gay community privately agree with this, but mostly remain silent for fear of being labeled fascist by the trans radicals.

What to do?

Nothing can be done in terms of a competing signature drive, other than declining to sign it. Voters can put their name on the ballot measure, and in the signature line write: decline to sign. Or, they can simply decline to take part at all.

The veto referendum could be legally challenged, using exceptions codified in Arizona law, arguing for example that the school voucher bill is necessary for the running of the state given the public school closures during Covid. Children were locked out of public schools, but not most private schools, and hence it is crucial to give school vouchers to everyone so that it is easier for them to opt for a private school. Joe Biden just extended the Covid public-health emergency. Perhaps this can be put to use to challenge the legality of the veto referendum. Private schools, parents and scholarship groups could team up and put together a legal challenge along those lines.

An additional strategy would be to put another initiative on the ballot. It could again target the expansion of ESA, but perhaps be more aggressive in terms of the value of the school vouchers being handed out. This however requires a major organizational effort.

If all this fails, then private schools, parents and other people and organizations interested in education reform need to start organizing to defeat the veto referendum that will most likely be on the ballot in 2024. This means raising money, making people aware of the stakes, and getting together a winning coalition of voters that will defeat the teachers unions and help release the stranglehold they have on children and parents.



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