This is an open letter to Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria. My name is Jeff Fortney. I live in Cave Creek. Since 2004 I have been a public school teacher, teaching students to help them progress toward becoming good members of our Arizona society. I gave up a very good paying job to take this career. Some things are just too important to ignore when they call.
So, that brings me to this letter. Since you initiated the bill to expand the voucher system here in Arizona, I have been working with the Save our Schools Arizona group to get it put on the ballot next year.
All the pretty buzzwords – mostly “choice” and “freedom” and “parent-initiative” are just that, pretty words with very little meaning behind them. This is a bad bill backed by bad people for bad purposes. The fact that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Gov. Doug Ducey (and his Koch Brothers money) support it shows how bad this is.
Since I’ve been out circulating petitions to get signatures, I’ve talked to hundreds of people. This has been the way I spent my summer. People have talked to us at events, community colleges and libraries. And they sign the petition. Some of them want lots of information. Some already know about SB1431. Some hear the words voucher or DeVos and grab that pen and start signing.
A few have said no. They support the bill. They support private schools. They support choice. That’s their prerogative. I don’t strong-arm anyone. But, Ms. Lesko, the majority of the people I have come in contact with absolutely hate this bill. They know the state of public education in Arizona and they are disgusted and horrified. They do not see this bill as providing choice. They see money going from special interest groups (ALEC) to politicians. They see money draining from an already starving public school system. They see families that won’t be able to come up with the difference between the voucher allotment and the cost of a really good private school. They see families in rural areas with no school choice and no transportation. They see the unfairness of this bill. Senator Jeff Flake tweeted during the Betsy DeVos confirmation hearing, “You had me at choice.” Pretty pathetic. Most of the public chooses public school. They want their money to not get diverted from public school. The public knows there is no choice for too many families.
So, I’ve recently heard that instead of watching the SOS Arizona movement and the universal hatred from the SB1431 bill and realizing that something else needs to be done, you are considering doubling down and doing some nefarious play where you repeal the bill and then resubmit it again so that these peoples’ efforts are for naught. To what end? To show you are more powerful? To continue getting dark money thrown your way? To capitulate to Doug Ducey? You are an elected official of the state of Arizona. It seems to me that this means “reading” your constituents and addressing their needs, concerns and desires. It seems that there should be some listening done by the legislators rather than plowing full-steam ahead with an, “Oh yeah? Well, I’ll show YOU who’s boss!” attitude.
Ms. Lesko, as a public school teacher, as a citizen of Arizona, as a volunteer petition circulator for SOS Arizona, I implore you to reconsider this whole voucher bill. People hate it for a variety of different reasons: draining funds from public schools, little to no accountability, fraud and misuse of the current system; fiscal responsibility of knowing where their taxes are going. And on and on.
Now is not the time to revamp efforts to cram a noxious bill down the throats of the people. Now is the time to look at this system and ask serious questions about school funding, school choice, and responsible accountability. All children deserve a good education. That is a right the government should provide. The government should be looking out for these children, not their own war chests and special interest donations.
One last thing. The people from SOS Arizona are not your enemy. Your desire to “catch” them doing something wrong – like getting signatures on public school property – comes off as vindictive and petty. We are supporters of good, public schools. If you really care about the future of Arizona’s children, this should not be a fight. The picture you are giving doesn’t show a concerned representative. We should all be tugging on the same end of the rope to help Arizona’s children.
Jeff Fortney has been teaching special education in Arizona since 2004.
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.