Save Our Schools Arizona
Weekly Education Report
55th Legislature, 2nd General Session
Volume 4, Issue 1 (Session Preview) • Week of January 10, 2022
What to Expect This Legislative Session
With Governor Ducey’s State of the State speech on Monday, January 10, the 2022 Arizona state legislative session begins.
Our state legislature is reelected every two years. This means that, despite recent redistricting, the makeup of this year's legislature is similar to last year’s, and your current district lines won't change until November. As you’ll remember, 2021’s highly contentious legislative session was one of the longest in state history, rife with extremist policies and gridlock. The legislature passed a budget on the very last day it had the constitutional obligation to do so (June 30).
In the wake of a wave of resignations spurred primarily by aspirations of running for higher office, this year's legislature will feature 13 newly appointed lawmakers. However, due to rules requiring replacement appointees to be of the same party as the lawmaker they replace, and continued razor-thin partisan margins, we have little reason to believe this upcoming session will be any less contentious. Republican leadership is already indicating they would rather placate the most extreme members of their party than work across the aisle. We call on them to work in bipartisan fashion, which is what best represents our state.
Save Our Schools Arizona is ready to keep you informed and involved. Your voice matters now more than ever! Click here to send an email to your lawmakers asking them to prioritize public schools. As always, if you have questions, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re glad to help!
Here’s a rundown of what we expect, what we’d like to see, and what you can do.
- A battle over massive budget cuts for schools. 2022's biggest education issue will be lifting the Aggregate Expenditure Limit, a 40-year-old spending cap that represents an oncoming tsunami for schools. This year’s school funding has already been collected, but unless lawmakers act by March 1, schools won't be able to spend it — meaning immediate 16% across-the-board cuts, forcing teacher layoffs, program cuts, even school closures. Lawmakers have waived the limit before without issue, but this year, it's turned into a politically fraught game of chicken at the cost of Arizona schoolchildren. Passing a waiver will require a two-thirds majority, but that's looking increasingly hard to come by, as some lawmakers are unnecessarily tying the cap to Prop 208 and demanding it be overturned.
- Voter-rejected ESA voucher expansions. Sen. Paul Boyer has already indicated that he will reintroduce his massive, failed ESA voucher expansion from last session. Coming only 4 years after Arizona voters overwhelmingly rejected universal ESA voucher expansion via Prop 305, this bill would expand vouchers to 70% of Arizona students. Last year, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle rejected this unaccountable, non-transparent attempt to subsidize private schools by expanding vouchers with hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars drained from public schools. We call upon the legislature to once again uphold the will of Arizona voters and reject it.
- Yanking funding from schools that don't toe lawmakers' line. Patterned after a 2016 law that targets cities and counties, HB2009 aims to punish schools that don’t obey legislative intent by withholding funding. The sponsor, Steve Kaiser (R-15), says he was inspired by some schools’ decisions to require masks on campus in accordance with CDC guidance despite the legislature’s attempt to ban them from doing so. That attempt was halted by the courts and never became law. Such a bill is nothing less than state-sponsored bullying and intimidation.
- Bills aimed to silence and threaten teachers. When the Arizona Supreme Court struck down lawmakers' attempt to ban mask mandates in November for “legislative logrolling” (stuffing unrelated policies into budget documents), they also struck down a ban on the discussion of “controversial subjects" in classrooms. We expect this legislature to reintroduce these misguided attempts to silence teachers and students, as well as to erase accurate teachings of history. Of note: in Florida, lawmakers are considering a bill that creates a “private right of action” for parents to sue schools and sweep up attorney fees. As goes Florida, Arizona is often soon to follow.
- Homeschooling at taxpayer expense. SB1051 would expand the legal definition of homeschooling to include anyone who is hired by a parent to teach a child in any location. This is a back-door way of expanding microschools, one of the newest schemes in a decades-long trend of draining taxpayer dollars out of Arizona’s public schools. Microschooling places children as young as 5 years old in groups of 5+ in a private home or facility subsidized by taxpayer dollars with no teacher, just an untrained, unlicensed and unsupervised adult. This business model is barely regulated; it involves far too many unknowns to make expansion a responsible option for our children.
- Inserting politics into school districts. SB1010, sponsored by Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, would make school board races partisan elections. This undercuts the democratic value that education is not — and should not be — a partisan enterprise. It also seeks to bring politics closer to classrooms, which is not what Arizona voters want. Local school boards, much like local city councils, should be free of partisan politics and remain responsive to the needs of their communities, not special interests. This thinly veiled attempt to prop up an extremist base does not reflect the wishes of the vast majority of Arizonans.
Arizona’s public schools are funded last in the nation. Our state needs serious, focused policy solutions (unlike those listed above) in order to move forward and remain a competitive, thriving place for families and businesses alike.
- Teacher retention and recruitment. More than anything, Arizona lacks substantive policy discussions centered around recruitment and retention of teachers and staff. Due to chronic underfunding and lack of support, Arizona teachers have been fleeing the profession (and the state) for years, with recent pandemic-related stressors exacerbating the problem. In addition, we must create pipelines to ensure that teachers and staff reflect and represent the diverse communities they serve. State policies and funding would have a significant, positive impact on these crises.
- Increases in school funding. Being last in funding nationwide means Arizona faces a critical need for the basics: teacher pay and support, special education services, building maintenance, computers and broadband, classroom resources and supplies, and so much more. This is to say nothing of the resources that students in other states take for granted, such as extracurriculars, the arts, career and technical education, and more. With a $2 billion surplus last year alone, there's no doubt Arizona has the money. The legislature needs to fulfill its constitutional obligation and invest that money in public schools.
- Support for special services and special education. Another effect of decades of underfunding is a critical need for special education services, counseling and other mental health supports, and gifted programs. Arizona’s neurodivergent students have unique needs that legally must be met, and Arizona schools need more resources and ability to hire more aides to meet the diverse needs of all of their students. Despite recent federal investments, Arizona’s student-to-counselor ratio remains the highest in the nation, meaning single counselors serving thousands of students at multiple schools, and students in need of mental health support who are unable to receive timely services because schools cannot afford (or sometimes even find) a dedicated counselor with a workable caseload.
As you can see, there is a sharp disconnect between our state lawmakers' current priorities and the actions truly needed to move our state and our public schools forward and prepare all Arizona children for their future.
Your voice matters. A simple phone call or email to your lawmaker asking them to prioritize funding for schools and responsible policies for education goes a long way.
With our easy to use, one-click email tool,
you can email your lawmakers in just a few minutes. Try it today!
Let your lawmakers know you expect serious policy discussions, not extremist politics guided by private interests that don’t have Arizona’s children's interests at heart. Tell them you reject unaccountable private school vouchers and punitive measures meant to silence teachers and students. Make it clear that you expect well-funded and well-resourced schools where educators feel supported and students feel safe.
In order for Arizona to move forward and thrive,
these critical discussions need to take place.
Find your legislative district here. Email and phone information for your representatives is here and your senator is here.
Please reach out before the session and make your voice heard.
Here are some other easy actions you can take:
- Sign up for a Community Action Team: East Valley, West Valley, Metro Phoenix, Northern Arizona, and Southern Arizona! Your local coordinators will help you with using Request to Speak and contacting your lawmakers.
- Request an SOSAZ Education Roadshow presentation HERE
- Sign up to automatically receive the SOSAZ Legislative Weekly Report HERE
- Get your #PublicSchoolProud shirt and mask HERE. Normally we ask for a $25 donation per shirt, but our 2022 Legislative Special is now $20 to cover costs and shipping. Wear Public School Proud gear to show your dedication to well-funded public education in Arizona!