From poverty to high dropout rates, Native American kids and teens on and off reservations in Arizona often face incredible challenges, according to State Senator Carlyle Begay.
Begay, senator of District 7, grew up on the Navajo Nation and recently announced he’ll be organizing the first ever statewide Native American Youth Summit this April to address some of those issues and empower a new generation of Native Americans.
“We have the largest high school dropout rate of any racial or ethnic group; we have the lowest high school graduation rate,” Begay said. “It should be alarming.”
He’s targeting middle school and high school students from schools on and off the reservation to attend the summit, which is expected to be held at Grand Canyon University on April 30. Begay said he hopes the summit will gather young Native Americans and help them to see that they are the future of their communities.
The summit is planned in partnership with the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family and the Morning Star Youth Leadership Council, a nonprofit dedicated to Native American youth in the Phoenix area.
Begay said he wants the summit to be completely youth-led. So, the Morning Star Youth Leadership Council picked the issues that they want to discuss at the summit themselves. Those include health issues such as mental health and substance abuse issues, education and scholarships, and social issues like bullying and texting while driving, Begay said.
Begay also said the students are interested in highlighting American Indian policy.
“I think for them it was fundamentally about the importance of how far our tribal communities have come, but also the context of the different areas of policies that benefitted, or even have harmed, our tribal communities and making sure that we understand and have context of our history,” he said.
The program would allow parents to take the tax money destined for public schools and direct it to private schools
Every Arizona public-school student could get state money to attend private schools by 2020 under a vast expansion of a school-voucher program lawmakers are attempting to fast-track.
The legislation would phase in expansion of the Empowerment Scholarship Account program, which currently serves about 2,200 schoolchildren, to allow within a few years all of the state’s 1.1 million public schoolchildren to qualify.
House Appropriations Chairman Justin Olson, R-Mesa, and other supporters say the expansion would allow more parents to tailor school choices to their children’s needs. But critics argue the program is already siphoning desperately needed funds from public schools and could decimate them if it’s expanded. The program would allow parents to take the tax money that would otherwise go to their area public schools and direct it to private schools, homeschooling, therapies or college savings.
The legislation isbeing pushed in companion bills, House Bill 2482 and Senate Bill 1279, to expedite passage.
The program began five years ago to provide broader educational opportunities for children with disabilities. It has since expanded to include children whose parents are in the military, those who live on Native American reservations, siblings of program participants and those who attend low-performing schools.
The phase-in would begin next year, when any child in kindergarten through fifth grade attending public schools would qualify for the ESA program. In 2018, eligibility would expand through eighth grade, and the following year, any child through 12th grade would be eligible. Any student entering kindergarten after 2016 would be eligible for an ESA.
The program caps enrollment at about 5,500 new students each year; however, those caps expire Dec. 31, 2019, just as the program would expand to cover all public-school students in the state.
Report: Another F for Arizona schools, D for U.S.
The Senate Education Committee passed the bill on a 5-2 vote Thursday after an amendment by Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, that would have required ESA students to take statewide assessment tests was voted down.
“My attempt was to bring some accountability to this,” said Bradley, who voted against the bill. “It doesn’t take a lot of genius to see if this were to continue to proliferate, there’s going to be folks left behind.”
The House Ways and Means Committee approved the bill earlier this week in a 5-3 vote. The bill now moves to the floor of both chambers.
Prop. 123 on May 17 ballot
The latest push to expand the ESA program comes as Gov. Doug Ducey, Republicans and school-advocacy groups are campaigning for Proposition 123, which would provide a $3.5 billion infusion into the public-education system by accelerating distributions from the state’s land-trust fund. The initiative will be voted on in a May 17 special election.
Ducey is an ardent supporter of school choice and typically does not comment on legislation before it reaches his desk. If the proposal makes it to his office, it could complicate his efforts to successfully pitch Prop. 123 while straining relationships with school-choice advocates who are some of his biggest supporters.
Charter schools are considered public schools under the law, so the ESA accounts couldn’t be used to attend charters. Students could jump from a charter school to attend a private school with an ESA, however.
8 school bills Arizona parents should know about
Ramona Carrasco, a mother of three, one with Down syndrome, said the ESA program has been a lifeline for parents like her. It helped her find the best learning environment for her daughter Byanca, who has grown more independent.
“Immediately, I knew it was what I was looking for — a better education for my Byanca, better therapies,” through programs using water, music and horses, said Carrasco, who now spreads the word about the program through the American Federation for Children. “Thanks to the ESA scholarship, I now have the power and opportunity to choose my (daughter’s) right education. I believe that all parents have the right to choose what’s right for their kids.”
Julie Horwin, who is the grandmother of two private-school students, told lawmakers expansion would create a separate publicly funded school system at the expense of the one that already exists.
“This program means that we are paying for two separate school systems with public funds,” Horwin told a House committee. “It bothers me that we are using public funds to pay for private schools.”
Arizona private-school families cash in on state’s tax-credit program
Since the ESA program began in 2011, the state has paid about $36 million in taxpayer-generated funds, said Department of Education officials, who oversee the program. And as the ESA program has grown, so, too has divisiveness over how far to expand it.
About 77,000 Arizona school kids attended K-12 private schools in 2014, according to American Community Survey data from the U.S. census.
‘It’s an attack on all fronts on schools’
Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said the goal of the bill is to dismantle public education in Arizona, which he said was always the endgame in creating ESAs. He cited small-government activist Grover Norquist’s famous saying that government should shrink to the size at which it can be drowned in the bathtub.
“This is the bill that drowns our public-education system in the bathtub,” Farley said. “It’s an attack on all fronts on schools.”
Families who participate in the ESA program are given debit cards to spend the money on education-related purchases such as private-school tuition, educational therapies, homeschooling curriculum, online classes, community-college tuition and other items. Families can also set aside up to $2,000 of those funds for college each year.
Aiden Fleming, deputy director of policy development and government relations for the Department of Education, and other department officials have expressed concern over inadequate funding to oversee the program. Fleming said education officials are working with lawmakers, adding: “We will do what the Legislature says, but we will raise the alarm if we don’t have the resources to carry out the provisions of the law.”
The department’s concerns were bolstered last year after authorities, and later, a grand jury, accused a woman of misspending her son’s ESA money on electronics at Walmart.com, including a high-definition television, a smartphone and two computer tablets. The Chandler woman also spent $410 of her sons’ ESA funds at a family-planning center. A top education official said based on department research, the funds, “in the guise of using it for health care for education of the child, paid for an abortion.”
Bill sponsor Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, said the instances of fraud are small, noting that fraud occurs by employees of public schools as well. She said those who oppose school choice have been using the same talking points for 20 years — that public education would be ruined — to fight against charter schools, open enrollment and now ESAs.
Under the program, students get as little as an estimated $3,000 per year, but that amount can increase to as much as $31,000 for students with significant special needs. The average this year is $12,000, education officials said.
Several bills have been introduced that would change K-12 and higher education in Arizona. Here are some of the highlights: Michael Schennum/The Republic
Forcing school districts to compete
At a hearing Tuesday, Olson and other supporters of expansion said the legislation is an “appropriate approach” because of how difficult it is to understand rules governing who qualifies.
Supporters said the program forces public-school districts to compete to keep their students. Others made the case for broadening ESAs to help low-income families.
But opponents said the proposal could lead to the state picking up the tuition tab for kids who may already intend on going to private schools and deprive the public-school system of funds.
The Arizona School Administrators Association, represented by lobbyist Mark Barnes, opposes ESA programs without eligibility requirements in part because it would make it too difficult for schools to plan and to predict student enrollment and budgets.
20 years of school choice: How Arizona has evolved
And, he said, “I don’t see under this sort of structure, how the state does not end up paying for a portion of the tuition for students that were going to attend private school anyway.”
Barnes and others suggested families could enroll their children in kindergarten for a year, and gain eligibility for a voucher. “That, just from a fiscal perspective, concerns us.”
One exchange between Barnes and Rep. Bruce Wheeler, D-Tucson, who opposes the legislation, put a fine point on the argument.
“So, if I earn $1 million a year, I could take advantage of the ESA program,” Wheeler asked Barnes.
He responded, “I think with the way this is written, just like you could participate in Medicare as a millionaire, you could participate in this.”
TALLAHASSEE—Martin Luther King Jr. would have supported tax-credit funded scholarships that allow needy children to attend private schools. At least, his son thinks so.
“I would assume my father would support anything that lifted up and created opportunities for ‘the least of these,’” Martin Luther King III told POLITICO Florida during a recent phone interview, quoting the Bible. “I don’t think he would get caught up in the politics of it.”
The younger King, though, has waded into the complicated racial, religious and partisan politics of the controversial voucher-like program. On Tuesday, a day after the national holiday honoring his father, King will headline a Tallahassee rally promoting the program, putting himself at odds with Florida’s statewide teachers’ union as well as the state’s chapter of the NAACP.
With black and Hispanic religious leaders from around the state, King will call on the Florida Education Association to drop its lawsuit challenging the program, through which corporations get a 100 percent tax credit for donations to organizations that grant scholarships to low-income students.
National black and Hispanic education reform advocacy groups, as well as Florida-based coalitions of minority clergy, have denounced the union’s efforts to halt the scholarships. They argue the program provides opportunities for high-quality education to predominantly minority children who wouldn’t get it otherwise.
Prominent black religious leaders in the state, including those who run schools that benefit from the scholarship program, will also speak at the rally. Rev. R.B. Holmes of Tallahassee and Bishop Victor Curry of Miami, who is also former president of the Miami Dade chapter of the NAACP, will join King and other advocates at the intersection of Duval and Madison streets, near the east side of the Capitol, at 11:30 a.m.
King has been a national advocate for tax-credit scholarships since the late 1990s. But he was compelled to join the fight in Florida because he has worked with religious leaders in the state, he said.
He stressed that the debate shouldn’t be political.
He identifies as a Democrat but sometimes agrees with Republicans on certain issues, he said. While Republicans championed Florida’s voucher programs, Democrats have supported similar policies elsewhere. King specifically referenced a legislative fight over tax-credit scholarships in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has been a proponent.
“It is partisan, but it shouldn’t be. That’s part of the problem,” he said. “According to who brings an issue to the table, people will get up and support it. It shouldn’t be based on that. It should be based on whether the kids are performing or not.
“This is not the way that it works, because politics is in everything, but if we could get the politics out of it and stop looking at the politics of who is this going to hurt or help and look at what is in the best interest of kids and families, I think these issues can be addressed,” King said.
King said he disagrees with the leaders of Florida’s NAACP chapter, who oppose the scholarship program.
Adora Obi Nweze, president of the state’s NAACP chapter, said earlier this month the group objects to the fact that not all of Florida’s students have access to the opportunity.
“All children cannot go to a charter school, or they can’t have a voucher, so you’re picking and choosing,” Nweze said. “And that is a policy we can’t support.”
King said the argument “may have some merit,” but the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
“A significant number of those children happen to be children who are of color, meaning blacks, Latinos and Hispanics,” he said. “It is open to all children, but many of them are in poor families and, generally, poor families do not have the same options that others might have in our society. I think sometimes we have to balance out the equation. While this might not be available, historically, to someone who is wealthy, that person doesn’t need this kind of situation because they already have options because of their status in life.”
He said there is a “natural marriage” between the NAACP and unions, and he suspects that’s why the organization has supported FEA’s lawsuit.
The union has argued the program is unconstitutional, contending it creates a parallel and inferior system of public education, siphons resources from the traditional public schools that serve the most disadvantaged students and violates the separation of church and state.
“We’re concerned about making sure that everybody has access to a high-quality free public schools,” FEA president Joanne McCall said during a recent interview. “People can tell me all day to drop the suit, but it’s the hands of the court at this point. If they’re telling me to drop the suit, they might be a little worried about it.”
King said he supports public education and doesn’t believe his advocacy for tax-credit scholarships negates that. He wants “options” for children, he said, adding that he avoids the politicized term, “choice.”
“My view is, there is room for both,” he said. “It’s not an either-or. It should never have been framed that way. The question is, what is the best thing for the kids of our nation?
“We certainly have public schools that some will go to and do well, but we also have other options,” he said. “Some people need a targeted kind of learning. They need a different approach, like charter schools. There are virtual classrooms that some will do well in. The reality is, if there are no options, if there is just one particular standard, then someone is going to fall through the cracks, as we’ve seen.”
At one point, King likened students at traditional public schools to “a herd of cattle, running through on one pathway.”
Without educational innovation, the U.S. will struggle to compete globally, he argued.
“If our education system does not continue to improve and be enhanced and be innovative and almost be revolutionary, then we will continue to lose our place in the world,” he said.
“One of the things my dad and mom worked on throughout their lives was the eradication of poverty,” he said. “Although we have made strides as a nation, the issue is at epidemic levels now. [We need to] address this issue, starting with our children in kindergarten.”
PHOENIX — A recent poll found that the topic of education ranks among one of the highest priorities with Arizona Voters, according to the non-profit organization Expect More Arizona.
Expect More Arizona President and CEO Pearl Chang Esau said education ranked higher among the 600 surveyed state voters than the economy or immigration.
“In the past, when we have polled Arizona’s likely voters, education has typically been either No. 2 or No. 3 on the list, ranking below other things like the economy and immigration,” she said.
Education came in at 41 percent with immigration/border security at 12 percent and the economy at 10 percent. Chang Esau said the survey also asked voters about the most important issues within the topic of education.
“We also asked them what they thought were the top two issues within education, and the No. 1 issue was the need for increasing education funding,” she said. “The No. 2 issue, which ranked high across all political parties, was increasing teacher pay.”
Chang Esau said 87 percent of Arizonans strongly believe funding for Career and Technical Education programs is an important priority, she said. Those programs help students receive real-world training while preparing them for the future.
“If you just look at the data for Career and Technical Education programs, they’re graduating students at far greater rates than our state average,” she said. “In fact, in the mid-90 (percent).”
“So what we’re seeing is that voters in Arizona believe that education is important for everybody’s quality of life,” Esau said.
The survey also found 85 percent of voters support efforts to close the achievement gap, 92 percent want to focus on ensuring students have access to “great” education officials and 81 percent thing schools should have additional funding to serve low-income students.
Goldwater Institute, Foundation for Excellence in Education, Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, American Federation for Children File Supporting Brief Asking Supreme Court to Hear Case on Douglas County, Colorado School Voucher Program
Washington—Four non-profit organizations dedicated to ensuring all American children attend a school that challenges them and prepares them for the future have filed an amicus brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case that would overturn “Blaine Amendments” in state constitutions and remove the chief obstacle to school vouchers in all 50 states.
In 2011, the Douglas County, Colorado elected school board created the nation’s first school board-approved school voucher program. The program allowed all students who had been enrolled in a Douglas County public school the previous school year to apply for a tuition scholarship to attend a private school of their choice. The pilot program was capped at 500 students per year and many more families applied than were given scholarships.
The ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed suit against the program on the basis that it violated the state constitution’s “Blaine Amendment,” which blocks public funds from being given to religious institutions or schools. Even though these scholarships were given directly to parents, not to a religious school, the state Supreme Court ultimately struck the program down as a violation of the Blaine Amendment.
Blaine Amendments were inserted into many state constitutions, sometimes as a pre-condition for admittance into the union, at a time when anti-Catholic bigotry raged throughout the country. The amendments were specifically designed to prevent Catholics from using public resources to educate their children in Catholic schools.
While school vouchers have been upheld as constitutional at the federal level by the Supreme Court (Zelman v. Simmons-Harris in 2002), several state courts in addition to Colorado’s have used Blaine Amendments to strike down state-funded school voucher programs.
Supporters of the Douglas County tuition scholarship program have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case and strike down Blaine Amendments in all states. If successful, this would clear the way for school vouchers in all 50 states. Half of all states currently have school voucher programs in place.
Blaine Amendments can be found in 37 state constitutions: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming.
In their amicus brief, the Goldwater Institute, Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd), Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, and American Federation for Children ask the Supreme Court to hear the case and, ultimately, strike down the Blaine Amendments.
“The educational opportunities of millions of American schoolchildren are jeopardized by the Blaine amendments,” says Clint Bolick, the vice president of litigation at the Goldwater Institute and author of the amicus brief. “In states with robust private school choice programs, like Florida, data shows that the racial achievement gap is closing and thousands more disadvantaged students are going to college.”
“The Blaine Amendment is an archaic and ill-designed provision designed to sanction state-sponsored discrimination,” said Patricia Levesque, CEO of ExcelinEd. “Shamefully, the ACLU and others have embraced this bigoted legacy. It is with great pride that our Foundation joins this effort to preserve the individual rights and liberties of all families, regardless of income, to pursue a brighter future for their children.”
“This case could represent an important breakthrough in securing educational opportunities for children who today are trapped in failing schools,” said Julio Fuentes, the president of Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options.
“Every child deserves the opportunity to access a quality education that suits their needs,” said Kevin P. Chavous, executive counsel for the American Federation for Children. “This lawsuit challenges an outdated law rooted in bigotry. AFC is honored to work with this coalition to break down barriers to options and choice in education, and empower countless families with the ability to take control of their child’s education and reach their full potential.”
About the Goldwater Institute
The Goldwater Institute drives results by working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and strengthen the freedom guaranteed to all Americans in the constitutions of the United States and all 50 states. With the blessing of its namesake, the Goldwater Institute opened in 1988. Its early years focused on defending liberty in Barry Goldwater’s home state of Arizona. Today, the Goldwater Institute is a national leader for constitutionally limited government respected by the left and right for its adherence to principle and real world impact. No less a liberal icon than the New York Times calls the Goldwater Institute a “watchdog for conservative ideals” that plays an “outsize role” in American political life.
The Foundation for Excellence in Education is transforming education for the 21st century economy by working with lawmakers, policymakers, educators and parents to advance education reform across America. ExcelinEd is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Learn more at ExcelinEd.org.
Founded in 2001, Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options addresses the crisis in Hispanic education by providing parents with free information and resources to guide them in becoming advocates for their children. Hispanic CREO is the only national public policy Hispanic organization dedicated solely to K-12 education reform to advocate for parents and children. Hispanics are the most undereducated minority group in the United States.
About the American Federation for Children
American Federation for Children is the nation’s leading school choice advocacy organization and works in states across the country to help secure additional, high-quality educational options for families.
According to multiple sources briefed on the matter, the deal that Gov. Doug Ducey, legislative Republican leaders and school groups have reached to end a years-long lawsuit over education funding has five essential components:
-Resetting the K-12 base level funding.
-Modifying how much inflation money is paid each year.
-Implementing economic and budgetary triggers for when the inflation funding would be required.
-Implementing a version of Ducey’s proposal to increase school spending from the state land trust.
-A decade of spending largely focused on increasing teacher pay.
First, the plan would settle the lawsuit by paying out $249 million in the current fiscal year to rest the base level funding to $3,600. A court last year ruled the state owed $336 million to reset the base funding, and the Legislature this year made a partial payment of $74 million.
The deal would absolve lawmakers of the $1.3 billion that were illegally withheld from public schools between 2010 and 2013.
Second, the tentative deal would tweak the voter-approved law that requires annual inflation increases to schools of up to two percent by adding mechanisms to allow lawmakers some wiggle room in future economic downturns.
The triggers would exempt lawmakers from increasing funding for inflation if sales tax growth and employment growth are both less than one percent, and would give them the discretion to suspend increases if sales tax growth and employment growth are less than two percent.
The inflation funding requirement would also be suspended – and lawmakers would be allowed to cut education funding by same amount as the previous year’s inflation increase – if total K-12 general fund appropriations reaches 49 percent of the total general fund revenues. If K-12 appropriations reach 50 percent or more of revenues, lawmakers would be allowed to cut education funding by twice the previous year’s inflation increase.
Third, Ducey’s land trust plan would be modified to a flat 6.9 percent distribution for 10 years, as opposed to the governor’s original proposal of 10 percent for the first five years and 5 percent for the following five years. The plan would still pay out roughly $2.2 billion over the 10-year span.
Finally, the plan would commit lawmakers to additional general fund appropriations for education for the next 10 years. Under the settlement, lawmakers would agree to $50 million per year through 2020 and $75 million of additional funding from 2021 through 2026. That money would not be included in the annual calculations for inflation.
In return, plaintiffs in Cave Creek v. DeWit would agree to drop both the back payments and base funding reset portions of the lawsuit.
“The poll clearly demonstrates the support for both school choice as a concept and the specific programs parents are using so their child can learn in the best environment for their individual needs,” said Kevin Chavous, executive counsel to the American Federation for Children. “This is extremely valuable information as lawmakers address high-priority education issues in Arizona, and we believe the results show that school choice should be a major portion of the discussion.”
On Oct. 14 and 15, live interviews were conducted with 501 likely voters across the state. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4%.
School choice gives parents the right to use the tax dollars associated with their child’s K through twelve education to send their child to the public, charter, or private school which best serves their needs. Generally speaking, would you say that you have a favorable or unfavorableimpression of the concept of school choice?
The state’s School Tuition Organizations and Tuition Tax Credit program were supported by 65% of people polled.
Poll Question: As you may know, Arizona’s School Tuition Organization Scholarship Tax Credit program allows taxpayers a dollar for dollar tax credit for donations to school tuition organizations or STOs. STOs provide scholarships to children to attend the K through twelve private school of their families choosing. Would you say yousupport or oppose the STO Scholarship Tax Credit program?
Additionally, charter schools were favored by 69% of those polled as a good school choice option for students.
As Gov. Ducey and the legislature prepare for a special session to deal with education funding proposals, AFC will be releasing further polling results relevant to that discussion.
TEXAS: Every single one of this charter network’s 541 graduates from this spring is attending college this fall (except two who entered the military). Approximately 30,000 children are on a waitlist to attend these schools, which have room for only 7,000 students. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has asked state lawmakers to study private school choice programs nationwide as preparation for the upcoming legislative session.