Alicia Williams: An educator who can post up


Alicia Williams is often mistaken for a kindergarten teacher.

And sure, she’s put some serious thought into going that route one day, but she actually got her start in Arizona’s education system teaching middle school social studies.

“And if you can teach middle school, you can do anything,” she said.

Williams may not have entirely believed that herself before joining the State Board of Education, but now, she’s the executive director at 32.

Cap Times Q&AIt sounds like you progressed pretty quickly. What do you think put you on that trajectory?

I truly believe you meet people at the right time to push you into your next role or job or life event. … I didn’t know why someone would pick me for this job. Policy and politics and government is not my background. I’m a teacher. I’m an administrator. … When Carol Schmidt resigned last year, I didn’t apply. Like it was open for about a month, and I didn’t apply right away. And really, it was a lot of soul-searching, like could I do this job knowing the stresses that come with it. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared when they announced my name or when I knew the board was going to vote on my hiring. I was petrified. But I go back to my college basketball days. There’s always going to be someone who thinks you can’t do it, so prove them wrong.

The board noted you are a young leader in education. It seems that there are a lot of young leaders emerging in education. Do you identify with that trend?

I’m not a political person. I tend to be like straight down the middle, and ultimately, my goal is always what’s best for kids. But I think that we’ve seen a national trend with women taking higher positions in government, and I think it’s cool. I’m interested to see how the young people shake things up, not just women but the men, too, who are young and have fresh ideas. My role’s a little bit different, so my opinions sometimes don’t matter because it’s about the board. I’m a servant of the board, and I take that very seriously.

Your previous work for the board involved disciplining teachers. What was that like?

There’s no teacher oath, but you pledge to protect your students. You would do anything for your students. That’s like your mini family for 45 minutes before the bell rings. So sometimes when teachers cross those lines, it’s very difficult to read and understand. Look at an extreme case when the board votes to revoke a certificate. Yes, that teacher’s losing their livelihood, but at the same time, we’re protecting students from something terrible happening again. You want to ensure that you’re looking at the act that was done… but then also allowing that person to come to talk about what happened.

Do you ever find yourself thinking about teaching again?

All the time. … Member Jill Broussard invited me to go to a high school, and they were having their homecoming pep rally. Just to see all those high school kids, it was just so cool. At the end of the day, it’s really important for me and also for my staff to go to schools and to listen to the administrators and teachers and remember why we do this. That whole place was loud and they were cheering and the freshmen were going after the seniors, and it was just phenomenal. You kind of forget that when you’re out of the classroom. And as much as I love high schoolers, I love kindergartners, too. They’re learning new things every day, and it reminds you how fun learning can be when you sit with a group of 5-year-olds. They always ask the darndest questions. Usually, it’s when I’m reading a book and they ask a crazy question about the illustration. Like I don’t know why the dinosaur is purple. He ate a lot of grapes that day.

I miss just being able to go into a classroom and experience love. Even if I had to just give a kid detention–still happy to see you. Or walking into a cafeteria filled with kids, and they’re stoked to see you, telling you about their corn dogs.

You mentioned you played college basketball.

I remember in my senior year, I knew that whatever I did, my siblings would eventually follow. If I made good choices, my siblings would. But I didn’t know how I would pay for college, so I was thinking about joining the military. I went to a recruiter and all that stuff, and a week later, I got a call from the University of Mount Union. They wanted me to come play basketball for them. D-3 schools don’t give you full rides, so I was still working a lot at the grocery store and I did the team’s laundry. … I am very blessed.

Do you play anymore?

I do. I will go to the gym and shoot hoops. And I am great–ok, that’s a little boastful. I’m decent. … I cannot play a pickup game, and this is why. I’m always the only female on the basketball court. If a gentleman comes up to me and says they have nine players, will I be their tenth, I’ll be like, “Sure.” But in my mind, I am classically trained, which is a funny thing to say. It was a full-time job in college, so there are certain things in my mind that I cannot turn off. I know how to play. When I play pickup, sometimes pickup doesn’t follow the rules, and I get very frustrated with that. Plus, they do not pass me the ball!

I specifically remember this one time. I’m very tall. I’m a very big person. And I was a center. And I know how to post up. And I know how to do a hook shot. And I know how to make a layup. This guy who was probably 5’7” was guarding me. I’m posting him up, and they would not pass me the ball. I’m like, “Give me the ball. I will hip-check him, and I will score.” And I remember some random guy came in and started yelling at my teammate to pass me the ball. This is why I don’t play pickup. They just assume I don’t know how to play. … But I know how to move people out of the way.

Annette Reichman: School leader relearns to listen

Annette Reichman smiles next to a piece of art created by an Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and Blind student in Tucson. The piece features the American Sign Language sign for "I love you." PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Annette Reichman smiles next to a piece of art created by an Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and Blind student in Tucson. The piece features the American Sign Language sign for “I love you.” PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Annette Reichman seriously considered dropping out of high school.

She went to a school with 200 students from kindergarten through high school, and she was different.

And in that small farming community, she said, being different was not a good thing.

She was identified with a hearing loss at 6, which she said was late in the game, and was given cochlear implants. She also had vision limitations, all at a time when children begin to notice their differences and form cliques.

She said she didn’t have friends and was frequently bullied.

But that changed when she first found peers at a state school for students who were visually impaired and later attended Gallaudet College for the deaf and hard of hearing – now Gallaudet University – in Washington D.C., where she would later work for the United States Department of Education.

Now, Reichman serves as the superintendent for the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind.

“I really believe our children can be doing a lot better academically, socially and emotionally,” she said. “That was a challenge that I decided I wanted to take on.”

Cap Times Q&ATell me about your own experience with hearing impairment.

IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) did not come into being until 1975. I was 15 years old at that point, so all of those things we take for granted today were not in place back then. … By the time I got into high school, I knew pretty quickly I was going to become deaf. I decided I needed to learn sign language, and that’s when I learned about Gallaudet College. And I went from a western Nebraska farming community to Washington D.C., which was a tremendous change for a 19-year-old. And I stayed at Gallaudet. Most freshmen, if you don’t have adequate support, it’s really hard to get past the first year, especially for students who are first-generation college students. My parents had not gone to college, didn’t know how to support me. But at Gallaudet, I learned sign language, stuck it out for four years, got my bachelor’s degree and then came to the University of Arizona for my graduate degree.

I did become deaf at the age of 21, and for the next 30 years, I used sign language interpreters for most of my meetings. If I would be in a meeting with three, four or five people, I would have an interpreter to access professional meetings and different activities. And then, in 2011, I decided it’s time to try cochlear implants and became hard of hearing again essentially.

Do you prefer the implant?

I love it. I’ve found myself listening to music that I’d not listened to in 30, 35 years, which means I’m listening to the 70s, early 80s, relearning what I used to hear back then. It’s kind of like riding a bicycle. If you don’t do it for a long time, you never forget, but it gets rusty. You have to practice. It took six months with the first implant for me to relearn how to listen to the spoken language. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Can you describe that experience?

It was about a month after my first cochlear implant. I went into work. I was in the kitchen, putting my lunch away in the refrigerator, and a co-worker came in. She said something to me, and I responded. But I was looking at her, lip-reading her as I’ve been doing all my life. And then I turned my back to her, and I heard her say, “You have a good day, Annette.” I understood that without having to look at her and lip-read. So, it was that sense of – I heard that! … I was literally relearning how to listen.

What’s one thing you think people who haven’t had that experience misunderstand about people who are deaf?

That we are unique like everyone else, and we’re not homogenous. There are a lot of differences between us, but the most common assumption is, “I’ve met this one deaf person, and I know what everyone else is like.” And that’s not true.

There’s a positive and a negative to that. The positive piece is that once an individual feels comfortable with me, they’re more likely to feel comfortable with other individuals. … Then there’s sort of the halo effect. When that halo effect occurs, it means either I’m heroic or I’m a token. And neither one is positive. It really just perpetuates stereotypes and discriminatory behavior. And that to me – I’m not frustrated by it so much as I’ve become a little bit sad that I still, after 40, 50 years, have to address certain stereotypes.

Your own experiences seem to highlight the importance of reaching students early. Tell me about the Early Childhood and Family Education program.

The program really is about working with the parents or the grandparents or whomever is taking care of that child and teaching the parents to create a home environment that is accessible. … A simple example of that is if you have a child who is blind, they hear the vacuum cleaner running. But if they don’t see it, that sound has no meaning to that child. The parent has to learn how to explicitly teach the child who is blind to come over to the vacuum cleaner, to touch it, to feel it, have it running back and forth and explain what the vacuum cleaner is doing. … For a child who is deaf and hard of hearing, it really is all about access to language.

Have you had an experience with a family that really stuck with you?

There was a mother with an eight-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter. This mother had just separated from her husband, had just moved into this apartment. The apartment was in disarray. The son had just woken up. He had missed the bus to go to school, and the daughter was crawling around on the floor. She had cochlear implants, but the external piece had broken and had been broken for a couple of months. … And what really impressed me with this particular teacher was that despite the obvious frustration of that girl not getting access to any language in the way she needed, the teacher did not show any negative emotions. She praised what little was being done and really tried to support the mother.

Auditor: Laws need to change for effective charter school scrutiny

Lindsey Perry
Lindsey Perry

If lawmakers want quality audits of Arizona charter schools, they have to change the laws governing how charters operate, the state’s top auditor said.

Arizona Auditor General Lindsey Perry, who was appointed to the post in April, told lawmakers on the Joint Legislative Audit Committee on September 20 that calls for her office to audit Arizona’s 546 charter schools are missing one key component.

“Regardless of where you stand on the charter schools, having the Auditor General’s Office … reviewing oversight and compliance is not the solution,” Perry said. “I think that it’s part of the solution, but it’s not the only solution. I think there have to be fundamental changes to the charter school laws that would allow our oversight to be impactful.”

For example, school districts operate under strict procurement codes, while most charters do not. Roughly 95 percent of charter operators apply for and are granted exemptions from state procurement codes by the Board of Charter Schools, freeing them from undergoing steps like a competitive bidding process for purchasing and contracts.

And while all school districts and charters regularly report their finances, districts use a uniform financial reporting system, known as USFR, and are backed up by a 29-page questionnaire to vet the audit process. Charters have their own unique reporting process.

Chuck Essigs, a lobbyist for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, said it’s not as robust, and that’s not good enough for the more than 180,000 students attending charters.

That’s roughly 17 percent of the state’s student population.

Perry wasn’t critical of the way charters are audited now. But in the committee hearing, she made it clear that an audit by her office of the information now available about charter schools wouldn’t be as revealing as district school audits.

“The very things that we would be providing information on, that I think the public is interested in, charters are exempt from,” Perry said. “So to throw all this money at a whole new division (to audit charters), I don’t feel like we could provide a lot of value.”

The Auditor General’s Office used to oversee charters, but that role was transferred to the Arizona State Board of Charter Schools in 1999. If Perry’s office were to have that oversight again, then it would take more manpower.

The Auditor General’s Office is already strapped for time while conducting performance audits of all the state’s 236 school districts, and they can only conduct about 12 to 15 of those audits annually, Perry said. Arizona’s school districts are also audited annually by independent firms, which conduct financial audits of each school district.

Similarly, Arizona charter schools, which are privately-owned schools financed with public monies, are required to undergo annual audits.

There are distinctions. The Auditor General’s Office must approve contracts school districts agree to with independent auditors, and their reports are sent directly to the Auditor General’s Office and the Department of Education.

Charter school auditors report to charter holders. Their contracts are not approved by the State Board of Charter Schools. And the audits are handed over to the charter schools, which then provide them to the state board.

Lawmakers like Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, have sponsored bills that would require the Auditor General’s Office to conduct performance audits and monitor charter schools in the same manner it monitors school districts. And recently, Republicans like Sen. Kate Brophy McGee of Phoenix have echoed some of those calls for greater transparency among charters.

In fact, Bradley proposed bills that, accompanying the call for oversight from the auditor general, would hold charter schools to the same standards as district schools, as Perry suggested would be a necessary policy change.

That includes a bill to require charters to adhere to the same competitive public bidding process as school districts, removing the Charter School Board’s authority to exempt schools from those procurement rules, and calls for audits to dive deeper into the pay of administrators or owners of charter schools.

Some Republican senators and representatives balked at changing those laws, arguing instead that the lax restrictions placed on charters are part of what make them a success.

Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said that stricter financial reporting requirements could be a burden on small charter schools, and even suggested loosening the restrictions placed on district schools, rather than clamping down on charters.

Some procurement rules are probably unnecessary and were born simply out of local officials seeking political cover, Kavanagh said. Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, said that while there are some “bad operators” among charters, “removing some of those procurement rules would allow (district) schools to maybe make better choices.”

Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, said such a suggestion ignores the history of abuse that led to those procurement rules being adopted in the first place.

“Things happened and procedures came out of embezzlement and other bad things that happened,” Worsley said in committee.

Kathy Senseman
Kathy Senseman

Kathy Senseman, president of the State Board for Charter Schools, told the Arizona Capitol Times that while there’s room for improvement in the way the board audits and oversees charter operators and schools, there’s no need for the auditor general to get involved.

The audits schools contract out for themselves, combined with site visits conducted by board staff to verify the information being reported about charter schools, has provided plenty of information to reveal bad actors among the state’s hundreds of charter schools, Senseman said.

Sometimes it’s difficult to move as quickly as the board wishes it could to take action, she said.

For example, Senseman noted that the Discovery Creemos Academy, which abruptly closed in the middle of the school year in February, was under investigation for months before it closed. Officials were scheduled to conduct an on-site audit of the school’s student population on the same day the school closed, a maneuver Senseman said she suspected was designed to avoid the obvious red flags that would have been revealed.

“All these schools you read about in the paper, we know” something is wrong, Senseman said.

She said while there are problems, “I don’t think it’s a matter of not capturing the information or not having access to information.”

The nature of charter school operations – though they’re funded through public monies, they’re privately run businesses – also means the board is often captive to other government entities responsible for civil or criminal investigations of wrongdoing, Senseman said. It wouldn’t take a legislative change for the Charter School Board to work more fluidly and closely with officials from the Attorney General’s Office or the Department of Education, Senseman said.

She said she would like the board to beef up its audit team, and has asked the Governor’s Office for the funding in the board’s fiscal 2020 budget request.

The request for eight new staffers would include four new education program managers, who would be responsible for visiting charter schools and reviewing the schools’ academic and operational performance. Another four employees would help audit charters’ financial records.

Behind the Ballot: Down-ballot drama


Tracy Livingston, a Republican candidate for superintendent of public instruction, greets voters at the Arizona Capitol Times’ Meet the Candidates event on Aug. 1. Livingston has been embraced by many in her party as the GOP’s best hope at keeping the office red. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

The race for superintendent of public instruction has historically struggled to garner voters’ attention and donors’ dollars.

And this election cycle is proving no different even with the energy that erupted from Red for Ed earlier this year.

But in allowing that old attitude to take hold, the GOP is failing to capitalize on the moment, and that could cost Republicans the office responsible for implementing education policy and distributing billions in school funding.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes.

Music in this episode included “Creative Minds,” “Funky Element” and “Energy” by Bensound.

Both sides of voucher war prepare for battles after vote

Stacks of voters' signatures were delivered to the Arizona Secretary of State's Office on Aug. 8 after Save Our Schools Arizona collected more than 110,000 signatures in three months. If it survives legal challenges, the referendum will appear on the 2018 general election ballot as Proposition 305. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Stacks of voters’ signatures were delivered to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office on Aug. 8, 2018, after Save Our Schools Arizona collected more than 110,000 signatures in three months. If it survives legal challenges, the referendum will appear on the 2018 general election ballot as Proposition 305. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Opponents of Proposition 305 may soon cry victory over its defeat, but the fight over school choice and Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts will not end in November.

The American Federation for Children is officially a “no” on Prop. 305 despite the group’s pro-school choice stance, and Americans for Prosperity won’t be organizing support for the ballot measure.

A no vote will mean the Republican-controlled Legislature’s 2017 expansion of the ESA program will not stand, while a yes vote means it will.

But the group responsible for sending the ESA expansion to the ballot, Save Our Schools Arizona, is not taking the vote for granted, nor preparing to wind down after November.

SOS Arizona spokeswoman Dawn Penich-Thacker said the dwindling support for Prop. 305 does not signal a change of heart by pro-voucher groups. Rather it tells her that they are willing to take a loss this time and try again during the 2019 legislative session.

So she wants to send a message in the November 6 general election – that even Arizona, a school choice pioneer, will reject the expansion of school vouchers.

“We don’t just want Prop. 305 to lose. We want it to go down in flames,” she said.

Arizona’s empowerment scholarship account program pays parents or guardians 90 percent of the money that would have gone to a student’s public school. The money can be spent on private school tuition, tutoring and home-school curriculum. The program began in 2011 for only special needs students and has grown to allow an array of students, such as ones from failing schools and children whose parents are in the military.

The Legislature in 2017 expanded the program to allow for all Arizona students to be eligible, but capped the program’s enrollment at about 30,000 by the 2022-2023 school year.  

The fate of Prop. 305 may be mere speculation at this point, but that isn’t stopping advocates and opponents from contemplating what should come next.

Penich-Thacker said SOS Arizona has discussed ideas for an education funding mechanism that could rally bipartisan support.

That mechanism would have to ensure the funding it generates is not then drained by programs like ESAs, though.

“Coming up with a great education funding mechanism is all fine and well,” she said. “But if we’re going to be poking holes in that bucket and draining it right out through unregulated ESAs and STOs, what’s it for?”

She said SOS Arizona has also had preliminary conversations about possibly running or supporting a bill to address accountability and what they see as other shortcomings of the ESA program.

But Penich-Thacker knows they’re not the only ones likely preparing for another shot.

“This is one battle that they’re willing to lose because they’ll be back in January with a different bill number but with the same goal of unregulated, universal ESA voucher expansion,” she said.

There is hope for a compromise, but she’s not so sure if the pro-voucher crowd is on the same page.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said he does not see the point of declaring a position on Prop. 305.

He said there will always be a robust conversation around school choice at the Legislature, and ESAs are part of that no matter what happens with Prop. 305.

He has expressed trepidation over the expansion as written before, particularly because the law and it’s cap of 30,000 students would be protected under the Voter Protection Act. But he can see both sides of the dilemma for school choice advocates like himself.

In the future, he said more consideration could be given to specific carve outs for certain student populations or which enrollment cap may be more “legitimate.”

Candidates for top education office have concerns about charter schools

Kathy Hoffman and Frank Riggs
Kathy Hoffman and Frank Riggs

Charter schools, insufficient public school funding and Proposition 305 were some of the topics in the first debate in the race for state superintendent of public instruction.

Republican Frank Riggs and Democrat Kathy Hoffman met at the forum hosted by the Arizona Association of School Business Officials on September 12.

Here is some of what they had to say.

The candidates’ responses have been edited for length. You can view the entirety of AASBO’s September 12 meeting here

Attorney General Mark Brnovich is now asking lawmakers to hold charter schools more accountable for how they spend their money. Should the Auditor General’ Office be authorized to take a more active role in looking into charter school expenditures?

Hoffman: I see charter schools as another school community that we need to make sure is being run well, that children’s needs are being met, that teachers’ needs are being met. And I’ve seen cases when there have been issues with this. … I look forward to continuing to learn more about what we can do to improve this. And I do think that charter schools need to be held accountable, especially when there’s a lot of money at stake. … And I do believe that it is the auditor’s responsibility to do that. That all circles back to fiscal responsibility. … I think that we need to look at it more globally and make sure that all of our students have what they need. But I do believe that charter schools have a place here in Arizona.

Riggs: No charter school should be chartered, no charter school charter should be extended unless there are a majority of disinterested individuals on that charter holding governing board. I’m talking about independent members on the governing board who are not related in any fashion, family, business or otherwise, with the founder and operator of the charter school. Number two, all of those individuals need to go through formal training in nonprofit and charter school governance, including their legal and fiduciary responsibilities. They must acknowledge in writing those responsibilities, including their duty to very carefully examine any related party transaction. And I intend to push for the state board of charter schools to implement that policy on day one, and if they don’t, I’ll be up at the Legislature.

Special education students require specialized programs and services as mandated by state and federal law. What should the state be doing to make sure the required services are provided and that funding is available to do so?

Riggs: The federally mandated share is inadequate. … It’s like so many federal programs where the cost-burden shifts over time to state and local education agencies, so what’s a federal law then becomes an underfunded federal mandate. … I just had a meeting with the new superintendent of Mesa Unified School District, Dr. Conley… and she told me something that stunned me, I mean stopped me dead in my tracks. She said, “I just want you to know, Frank, we’re preparing for the children of opioid-addicted parents who will be entering into our schools.” … We’re going to have to redouble what we’re doing for these students and for special ed across the board.

Hoffman: These are our most vulnerable and marginalized children in our schools, and they absolutely need highly trained teachers and providers with that special education training. Last year, actually the year before, the Legislature passed a law that said that any certified teacher can provide special education services. This was very alarming to me because the special education teachers and providers go through extensive education and training. It’s also an issue of attracting teachers to the profession. … If we want to be attracting highly qualified, passionate teachers to the profession, we need to treat them with the respect that they deserve and make sure that they have competitive pay.

Arizona leads the nation when it comes to providing students educational options other than traditional school districts. Should the state continue to expand programs like charter schools, empowerment scholarship accounts and private school tax credits?

Hoffman: We should not be expanding the ESAs and vouchers because our schools are so severely underfunded… and to take funds out of our public schools to fund private school tuitions – private schools only make up about 3 percent of Arizona schools. We need to make sure that all of our students, all of our public schools have the funding they need to be successful. And I know that on average these vouchers are about $5,000, but a private school tuition is on average about $15,000. So it doesn’t cover the tuition for a low-income family. It serves people who can already afford a private school tuition. It doesn’t provide more options in a neighborhood where there are no options available. … We need to solve our public school funding crisis before we take more funds out.

Riggs: I think parents have a fundamental right and responsibility to choose and direct their child’s education. … But with respect to Prop. 305, as a longtime school choice advocate, I’m a no on Prop. 305. … And I’m very concerned about the origin of the scholarship tuition tax credit program, and without calling out any particular legislators, I’m just going to say this: We absolutely have to have tight financial conflict-of-interest laws in our state that simply say that… if you, a family member, a business contact or associate stand to derive a financial benefit, you cannot author, you cannot sponsor, you cannot debate, you cannot vote on that legislation. And if you refuse to disclose your conflict of interest and recuse yourself, you would be subject to sanctions by the legislative body or legal action.

Cut out politics, make public health priority

Dear Editor:

Sadly, Arizona schools will not be able to open on time due to the spreading pandemic. Once again, over a million Arizona students will be short changed.  Are you aware, approximately 30% of Arizona’s youth do not have access to internet or Wi Fi capabilities?

A good education is the only tool to succeeding in the future.  By postponing the opening of schools, students not only lose out being in an educational environment but they lose out interacting with classmates, which is an integral part of their learning process.  It is unfortunate that SELFISH men and women have helped to create this horrific situation. Government leaders have voted against many bills to improve Arizona’s educational system. Now, they have refused to take the advice of doctors and scientists who, from the beginning, recommended continuous washing of hands, wearing masks, sheltering in place, and not gathering in large groups.  The results from ignoring scientific warnings is a metastasizing virus. When will ignorance give way to the educated?   Cut out the politics and make the health and safety of your family, friends, and neighbors your number one priority.

Joanie Rose


Education board rebuffs Christian-centric academic standards

State schools chief Diane Douglas details Monday why she wants education standards crafted by a Christian college to have to be used in Arizona schools. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
State schools chief Diane Douglas details Monday why she wants education standards crafted by a Christian college to have to be used in Arizona schools. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

The state Board of Education on Oct. 22 rebuffed a bid by schools chief Diane Douglas to adopt standards for Arizona’s public schools crafted by a Christian college.

But whether schools can use the standards crafted by Hillsdale College remains an open question.

Several board members said it might be appropriate to have that as an option for schools that choose not to follow the standards that the board adopted for history, social studies and science by a 6-4 vote. Jared Taylor, one of the dissents, said he hopes to revisit the issue at future board meetings.

What is clear is that the new standards incorporate some last-minute changes proposed by the Arizona Science Teachers Association. The most notable change includes a clear statement that “the unity and diversity of organism, living and extinct, is the result of evolution.”

Sara Torres, the group’s executive director, said these standards will “protect teachers of science from being put in a position of teaching non-scientific ideas.”

After the vote, Douglas insisted she is not against the teaching of evolution. And Douglas said she even is willing to concede that “science, to some degree, has proven adaptation of species.” Where she parts company is taking the next steps.

“Show me where any scientist has proven or replicated that life came from non-living matter or that, in the example we see in the museums, that man evolved from an ape,” Douglas said.

“There’s no proof to that,” she continued. “Let’s teach our children all those different things and let them study them.”

The process of revising the standards started two years ago. But it came into sharper focus after some revisions, some initiated by Douglas and her aides.

What they prepared to present to the board last month proved unacceptable to the science teachers.

The science teachers sought – and got – restoration of language that says students should be asked to analyze geoscience data and results from global climate models “to make evidence-based predictions of the current rate and scale of global or regional climate change.” And they wanted students to be able to construct an evidence-based explanation for how the availability of natural resources and changes in climate have influenced human activity.

They specifically convinced the board to adopt the language about evolution.

Douglas, for her part, said her objections went beyond any specific change. She argued that the standards the board adopted are, in effect, just minor modifications of what has been going on for decades, a system that she said is failing Arizona students.

For example, she said 56 percent of third graders cannot read or write at grade level. And 47 percent cannot do basic arithmetic.

And she said that 60 percent of students entering the Maricopa community colleges need remedial classes.

“Hillsdale are the best standards for our students if – and that’s a big if – giving them the education to which they are entitled, which, I define as for success post K-12 and as citizens of our great state and nation, is more than just lip service,” Douglas, who is also a member of the board, argued to others on the panel.

But the Hillsdale proposal came under scrutiny at least in part amid concerns that they are not so much standards as actual curriculum of what is to be taught. And then there is the emphasis on Judeo-Christian teachings, far more than in current state standards in teaching comparative religions.

For example, under the concept of lasting ideas from ancient civilizations, the standards mention the idea of a “covenant” between God and man, and “important stories” like creation and the calling of Abraham. That continues into the New Testament with stories on the baptism of Jesus, walking on water and the resurrection.

Douglas bemoaned the proposal as just another in a long line of so-called “reforms” that are “just more fads, gimmicks and tricks, with lots of testing added on for good measure.” And then, she said there has been “inadequate” input from parents and the community.

“They should be telling us what they expect and what they need for their children’s education and not being told what will be put upon them,” she said.

That lack of community input also bothered Patricia Welborn, another board member, though she wondered aloud if more could be done. She was one of the four votes against the new standards.

Taylor, the chief executive of Heritage Academy, a charter school, had more specific objections to making these standards mandatory. One, he said, was the failure to provide “age-appropriate” content to students in kindergarten through third grade.

“You ask them to do a lot of conceptual work,” he said. “And their brains aren’t ready for it.”

Taylor said schools should be free to adopt either the standards approved by the board on Monday or the Hillsdale standards, which were developed for charter schools.

Rana Singh Sodhi asks members of the state Board of Education to expand its requirements to teach religion to include Sikhs, saying that ignorance resulted in the death of his brother, Balbi, following the 2001 terrorist attacks. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Rana Singh Sodhi asks members of the state Board of Education to expand its requirements to teach religion to include Sikhs, saying that ignorance resulted in the death of his brother, Balbi, following the 2001 terrorist attacks. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Not all of Monday’s debate surrounded issues of science or even teaching history.

A group from the Sikh community urged board members to ensure that its own faith is taught to students when they learn about world religions.

Rana Singh Sodhi reminded board members how his brother, Balbi, was killed at his Mesa gas station and convenience store four days after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks by someone who apparently decided that he must be a Muslim terrorist because he wore a turban.

“If we can save one person’s life through education, even, I think it is worth it,” he said.

The board took no action on the request.

GOP lawmaker: Not ‘enough white kids to go around’ in Arizona schools

Rep. David Stringer (Capitol Media Services 2017 file photo by Howard Fischer)
Rep. David Stringer (Capitol Media Services 2017 file photo by Howard Fischer)

A Republican lawmaker said his comment that “there aren’t enough white kids to go around” in Arizona’s minority-laden public schools was an attempt at an honest discussion on race.

Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, said today he wants people to hear his full speech rather than the 51-second snippet making the rounds on social media, so he plans to re-post the entire 17-minute video in which he also says immigration is “politically destabilizing” and “presents an existential threat”

He said while his comments were well received by people at the June 11 meeting of the Yavapai Republican Men’s Forum’s, the video recording of his speech was later taken down after he received heat from teachers who felt that his remarks were racist.

Tempe City Councilman David Schapira, a Democrat running for Superintendent of Public Instruction, posted the 51-second excerpt with Stringer’s remarks on immigration on Twitter.

“Sixty percent of public school children in the state of Arizona today are minorities. That complicates racial integration because there aren’t enough white kids to go around,” Stringer said on the video.

Stringer’s GOP seatmates Rep. Noel Campbell and Sen. Karen Fann also spoke at the event.

“If we don’t do something about immigration very, very soon, the demographics of our country will be irrevocably changed and we will be a very different country and we will not be the country you were born into,” Stringer said.

Stringer told the Arizona Capitol Times that the lawmakers, who represent Legislative District 1, were invited to speak at the group’s legislative wrap-up event. He said he spoke about criminal justice, education and touched on his accomplishments during the 2018 session, but wanted to end on immigration, an important topic he said needs to be broached regardless of how difficult the conversation may be.

The freshman lawmaker said his campaign manager live streamed his comments and the video was posted to his campaign Facebook page, which he said he doesn’t manage.  

Stringer said his intent wasn’t to make a racially charged statement and while he apologized to anyone he offended with his comments, he said pointing out that 60 percent of students in Arizona’s public school are children of color is “not a racist comment, it’s a statement of fact.”

“I maybe touched a third rail of politics but what I said is accurate,” he said. “Anybody that talks about this in this way is shut down and called a racist. I’m speaking the truth. Diversity may be a great thing, there might be a lot of advantages, I’m not arguing against diversity at all, but no country can be demographically transformed without any political or social consequences.”

He said the country’s high level of immigration over a short period of time has “gotten out of hand.” He said so many people have immigrated to the United States in the last few decades that there hasn’t been enough time for people to assimilate, which can be costly, has led to unrest, and has led to changes in the country’s cultural and social identity.

“This is unprecedented in world history. We kind of take it for granted because we see it all around us. But it is unprecedented for one society to demographically change in such a short amount of time,” he said.

ProgressNow Arizona, a Democratic advocacy group, denounced Stringer’s comments. The organization’s co-director, Josselyn Berry, said his comments embody Republicans’ “true colors,” and she described the Republican party as the party of “radicalism, xenophobia, and frankly, racism.”

“Stringer’s racist and paranoid comments that we must protect the white race or America will be taken over are dangerous, fear mongering and hateful,” Berry said in a statement. “That he thinks it’s acceptable to attack children in our schools is despicable and he should be ashamed. It should go without saying that all children deserve an education, regardless of their skin color.”

Still, Stringer said while his comments may have made some uncomfortable, it’s a conversation that needs to be had.

“Race is a difficult issue we have not yet resolved in this country and we should be able to have an honest conversation without being called out as a racist,” he said.

High rate of Indian students denied school vouchers

Jar for coinsThe Arizona Department of Education and a school choice advocacy group place blame on each other for the dismal acceptance rate among Indian children who apply for school vouchers.

Students living within the boundaries of Indian reservations are eligible for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, or vouchers, which allow qualified students to use public money to attend a private or parochial school, yet a high percentage have been denied in the last two school years.

According to data from the Arizona Department of Education, 99 of 233 applications for students living on reservations, or about 43 percent, were denied for the 2017-2018 school year. Of those, 58 students were rejected because they had not attended a public school for the first 100 days of the prior school year.

Another 24 applications were denied because they simply were not complete; 11 were missing a birth certificate or signatures; two students were not eligible to attend kindergarten when they applied; two did not reside within the reservation boundaries; and two more did not provide proof of residency.

In an email to the Arizona Capitol Times, ADE spokesman Stefan Swiat said the department tries to “get the best information possible in [parents’] hands” to understand eligibility requirements before they apply for their children.

In particular, he pointed to the high number of students denied for not meeting a public school enrollment requirement.

The department’s website does lay out specific requirements for different groups of qualified students. For students on reservations, the requirements include attendance at a state district or charter school for the first 100 days of the prior school year. Alternatively, those students could have received scholarships from a School Tuition Organization, or STO.

“It’s unfortunate for the students and the parents that such a high percentage of denials are being issued for an eligibility requirement that is clearly outlined in the application,” Swiat said.

The assumption being that some families may have been wrongly informed or even misled about their eligibility.

Advocates who have worked with families on reservations reject that notion.

Kim Martinez
Kim Martinez

Kim Martinez, spokeswoman for the American Federation for Children, said the state Department of Education should have a special set of procedures when working with tribal families lest they slip through the cracks. The American Federation for Children has been a staunch supporter of the expansion of ESAs and school choice in Arizona.

Martinez said the department’s ESA office has incorrectly denied families or issued denials based on small errors that could have been corrected. Rather, families may just give up.

“They cannot take a systemic approach with these families,” she said. “After receiving a denial letter, that understandably causes the tribal parent to give up and stop pursuing an ESA.”

A similar trend is developing among the applications for the 2018-2019 school year.

Not all of those applications have been processed yet, but the department did provide tallies for those that have.

As of August 7, a determination had not been made for 130 of 213 applications received for students living on reservations. Of those that were resolved, 55 were approved, and 24 were denied – that’s a denial rate of about 30 percent.

The remaining four applications were simply closed. According to ADE’s parent handbook, an account may be closed upon request, because an application for renewal was not received on time, because a student exited the program upon turning 18 or completing the 12th grade, or because the student was removed from the ESA program.

Swiat did not immediately return requests for an update on the applications that have been processed.

Hoffman victorious in schools chief Democratic primary

Democratic candidate for superintendent of public instruction Kathy Hoffman chats with Republican candidate Frank Riggs during the Arizona Capitol Times' Meet the Candidates event. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Democratic candidate for superintendent of public instruction Kathy Hoffman chats with Republican candidate Frank Riggs during the Arizona Capitol Times’ Meet the Candidates event. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Kathy Hoffman shocked political observers across the state during the Aug. 28 primary as she pulled off a victory in the Democratic primary race for Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Hoffman came out ahead with a slim lead over challenger David Schapira in early ballot returns, and held it through the night. It is currently unclear who she will face in the Nov. 6 general election as the Republican primary is still too close to call.

In a text shared by Hoffman’s spokeswoman Emily Brent, Schapira congratulated Hoffman.

“Looks good for you so far,” he wrote, according to the message shared with the Arizona Capitol Times. “Congratulations! We’ll talk tomorrow.”

Speaking briefly to the Capitol Times from her watch party, Hoffman described her excitement at seeing a green checkmark beside her name, indicating a win called by a local TV station. She said she was elated and honored to continue to the general election.

As a speech therapist in Arizona public schools, Hoffman has appealed to the post-Red for Ed enthusiasm on the left. Her former campaign manager, Noah Karvelis, led that movement, and she stood behind the teachers, frequently rallying with them at the Capitol.

Schapira did too, a fact that speaks to what has been one of the most significant challenges in the Democratic primary race: distinguishing one candidate from the other.

Hoffman and Schapira held many of the same beliefs about Arizona’s public education system and efforts to increase school funding, including through the Invest in Education Act initiative seeking to raise taxes to pump up dollars for public education. Instead, they focused largely on the differences in their backgrounds – Hoffman with her greater experience in the classroom, and Schapira with his time in a variety of administrative and elected positions.

Hoffman’s frontlines message appears to have won the day, but she still faces a tough road ahead as a Democrat seeking statewide office.

A Republican has held the seat for more than 20 years. But with the momentum of the Red for Ed movement still fueling the conversation around education in Arizona, political observers foresee a competitive general election contest for the seat.

Superintendent of Public Instruction By The Numbers


415,434 votes cast

Kathy Hoffman 53 percent

David Schapira 47 percent


486,978 votes cast

Diane Douglas 21.49 percent

Bob Branch 21.79 percent

Frank Riggs 21.94 percent

Jonathan Gelbart 14.77 percent

Tracy Livingston 20.02 percent

K-12 to get boost from agency budget cuts under Ducey plan

Gov. Doug Ducey
Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Gov. Doug Ducey wants agencies to reduce their budgets next year and put any savings toward K-12 public education.

Ducey’s new chief operating officer, Gilbert Davidson, kicked off his time in the gubernatorial administration with a challenge for agency directors.

Davidson, formerly the town manager of Marana, presented the budget-cutting initiative at a meeting with all state agency heads on Tuesday.

In an email after Tuesday’s meeting, Davidson asked directors to detail any potential savings, ways to change their operations, regulations or cultural practices getting in the way of their business, or potential for combining with other agencies to save money and increase capabilities.

But, Davidson noted, current staffers need not worry. Any layoffs or other impacts to state employees, like pay reductions, are off the table, he said.

“This exercise should be focused on operational savings and streamlining in a way that continues to value the work of our employees,” he wrote.

Instead of forcing agencies to cut a certain percentage of spending across the board, Davidson said the goal is to be more strategic and work with the agencies to find savings in ways that won’t affect key areas.

“We need to protect vital services, especially in public safety, child safety and social services,” he wrote.

He called on agencies to submit a list of cost reductions to the governor’s budget office by December 5.

Ducey increased funding for K-12 education above inflation in last year’s budget, but many criticized the final budget’s 1 percent pay raise, followed by another 1 percent raise in the coming year, as paltry and impermanent.

Teachers and education advocacy groups have repeatedly criticized Ducey for claiming to support education while not fully addressing the state’s low teacher pay and ongoing teacher shortage.

Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said the governor’s office is still working on the budget proposal and could not say what the overall number for K-12 education beyond inflation will be. But Scarpinato said he expects the savings from agencies to be in the “tens of millions.”

“The governor thinks that there is room for savings within state government, including in the governor’s office. He has long believed that we could find savings in state government, and those dollars would be better utilized in other areas, particularly K-12 education,” Scarpinato said.

Some examples of cost savings could be staffing reductions through attrition and retirements, renegotiating contracts, reducing fleet vehicles and their usage, ending leases and moving agencies back to the Capitol complex, Scarpinato said.

A lot of times, people view reductions in state spending as a bad thing, Scarpinato said, but the governor’s office sees reducing agency spending as a good way to put taxpayer money toward a better use in K-12 education.

Joe Thomas, the head of teachers union Arizona Education Association, said it’s great the governor is looking for additional funding for education. One straightforward way to do so would be increasing revenues through new taxes or rolling back tax cuts, Thomas said, both of which the Republican governor has been averse to.

And the state could find more money by hiring more auditors in the Department of Revenue, which would boost the tax money the state brings in, Thomas suggested.

The ultimate solution to the state’s teacher crisis isn’t slicing up agency budgets, Thomas said, but he believes the Ducey administration understands the problem is bigger than that.

“We’re looking for a big lift. Arizona needs a moonshot,” Thomas said. “Selling paper clips in one department to fund classrooms … it’ll be interesting to see how much money they can find.”

Newcomer sheds doubts to win Democratic schools chief primary

Democratic candidate for superintendent of public instruction Kathy Hoffman chats with Republican candidate Frank Riggs during the Arizona Capitol Times' Meet the Candidates event. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Democratic nominee for superintendent of public instruction Kathy Hoffman chats with Republican nominee Frank Riggs during the Arizona Capitol Times’ Meet the Candidates event. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Nothing can capture the feeling Kathy Hoffman had when she knew she was victorious quite like a photo tweeted shortly before 10 on primary election night.

The photo by KJZZ reporter Mariana Dale shows Hoffman with a wide smile on her face, head slightly back, eyes closed and one hand mid-motion like she might be bringing it to clutch her chest.

She had won the Democratic nomination for superintendent of public instruction. The final tally would put her ahead of her challenger, David Schapira, by nearly 22,000 votes.

Her Republican opponent in the November 6 general election is former California Congressman Frank Riggs, who won the GOP primary by a razor-thin margin and beat the incumbent, Diane Douglas.

Hoffman is a political novice as has been pointed out throughout her campaign. But her experience as a speech therapist gave her a boost during an election cycle that has seen widespread success for others like her, she said.

Her victory surprised political observers who had anticipated a slim margin but not one that would ultimately lean in her favor.

And she does not fault those people for their shock. She felt it, too.

“In the beginning, I definitely was not sure that I was qualified to run, and I had no confidence that I could win,” she said. “But fortunately, I had a lot of support… and I saw very quickly that my message was resonating.”

She said she matched Schapira’s name recognition with a focused ground game, going to festivals and traveling to far-flung locations across the state to connect with voters. And she emphasized her bilingualism, doing interviews in Spanish and focusing on issues important to the Latino community.

Hoffman and Schapira may have been equally passionate about their fight for public education, but she communicated the message in a more personal way, she said.

She was able to draw from her own experiences in public school classrooms and give the political stumping an intimate touch.

She also drew strength from this year’s Red for Ed movement, the roots of which are evident in that same photo from primary night.

To the right of the frame, her former campaign manager and Arizona Educators United organizer Noah Karvelis is seen cupping his hands over his mouth as he yells out in celebration.

Karvelis ultimately had to step away as Hoffman’s campaign manager because of the movement he began, but that didn’t stop her from appearing as a staunch supporter from day one.

She often appeared alongside red-clad protestors and appealed to calls for an educator to lead the state Department of Education at last.

Schapira also tried to play the role of an educator, harkening back to his short time teaching and the administrative roles he held. But he was better known for his time as a state legislator and Tempe City Council member. He was cast not only as the legislator versus the educator but also as a bully – Hoffman launched an ad in which two unidentified women alleged Schapira had been an aggressive administrator who was unable to control his temper.

Hoffman said she spoke to Schapira the evening after her victory. He had actually texted her congratulations at the moment that photo was taken.

The message seemed early and caught her off guard, she said.

She could only compare it to an experience from high school, when she qualified for the national swimming championship in one event. She said she was flown all the way across the country to swim just 50 yards.

That’s how her primary win felt, she said. You have this thing that is such a big deal, but really, it’s just a small moment in time.

She’ll have to prove herself again in November against Republican Frank Riggs if she wants to hold onto that feeling.

Pay raise puts slight dent in Arizona teacher shortage


Nearly one in four teaching vacancies that school districts had this year remain unfilled four weeks into the academic year.

The new report by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association found that the 178 school districts and charter schools who responded to the survey reported they needed to fill 6,227 slots this school year.

Districts have tried to make up the difference by putting people who do not meet standard teaching requirements in front of classrooms. That includes those who are in a teacher intern program and those who have emergency teaching certificates, people who lack any actual training in how to teach but have some professional background in the subject like math or physics.

But these are not long-term solutions, with these certificates valid for just one year and available only three times to any individual.

Other slots were filled by those whose certification has not yet been approved.

All those alternative methods managed to produce nearly 2,980 people in classrooms.

Yet even with that, schools still reported they have 1,547 positions where there are just no teachers to be had.

The largest share of these vacancies are currently being “filled” with long-term substitutes. But schools also have gotten creative, forcing existing teachers to take on additional classes, putting more children into classes than districts determine is suitable, and creating multi-grade classrooms.

Complicating the problem, according to the report, is that 300 teachers who they were counting on already have resigned this year, with another 109 that didn’t even report to work on the first day of school. And 54 simply abandoned their jobs.

Justin Wing, the association’s immediate past president, said there is one bright spot in the numbers in comparison to the three prior years it has conducted the survey: The number of vacancies to be filled actually is down from the nearly 7,000 at the same time last year.

What’s likely behind that, he said, is money.

Legislation approved earlier this year provided enough for what would be the equivalent of an immediate 9 percent increase in salaries.

The exact amount each teacher got varies, with how to divide up the cash left to individual school boards. While some provided across-the-board increases, others front-loaded starting salaries to attract more teachers while others came up with different formulas.

But Wing said what the survey showed — and what he found in his own Washington Elementary School District in Phoenix — is that the salary boost improved year-over-year retention.

“I had teachers who planned on retiring at the end of the year going, ‘Wait a minute. Never mind,’ ” he said, saying this is the first large increase many across the state have had in some time.

“Seven years in a row they didn’t have an increase at all,” Wing said of his own district.

Staying on longer does more than mean additional take-home dollars. A higher ending salary also can boost pension benefits.

Still, those teachers eventually will retire. The question that remains, Wing said, is whether the salary hike — including a pair of 5 percent pay increases in each of the next two years — is enough to finally turn the situation around.

It starts, he said, with “that hole we’ve dug ourselves into” for the past few years.

Recruiting more teachers with higher salaries, Wing said, will take time.

“It takes four years before you graduate with a College of Ed degree,” he said. That, Wing said, means it will take incoming college freshmen to decide now they want to pursue teaching, perhaps with the promise of higher pay than the nearly bottom-of-the-barrel average wages that Arizona has provided until now.

And that still leaves the question whether salaries alone are enough to attract more into the profession. He said there has been a decline in the number of students seeking education degrees at Arizona universities.

Only if there is a boost in enrollment, Wing said, will the state know that it is finally doing what’s necessary to deal with the perennial shortage of qualified teachers. And even then, he said, success will be measured by whether there is competition among applicants for available jobs.

“Just like any business, you have an opening, you don’t want one applicant,” Wing said. “You want multiple applicants if you want to hire the best fit, the best quality individuals.”

That’s not the case now.

“I’ve had 10 openings since mid-July,” he said, with six of these still yet to be filled — and “from zero to one applicant” for each job.

State schools chief Diane Douglas said the latest numbers are not a surprise.

“Unfortunately, the results of this annual survey again underscore the struggles our schools are facing as a result of the continuing teacher shortage in Arizona,” she said.

Douglas, who advocated for pay hikes long before Gov. Doug Ducey came up with his pay hike plan,  said money is only part of the solution. She said the state needs other ways to attract people to the profession.

One of those, she said, is the Troops to Teachers program aimed at helping current and former members of the military begin careers in education. Douglas’ agency got a $735,000 grant earlier this year for staff for that program.

Douglas also said a new online certification portal will help reduce delays in getting teachers the proper paperwork to enter the classroom.

Gubernatorial press aide Daniel Ruiz cited the improvement in the retention rate among teachers as proof that Ducey’s programs, including the pay hike, are working. As to the issue of getting more people into the profession at the front end, he said the governor has been pushing programs, including a “teaching academy” that gives some education students free tuition and alternate pathways into the classroom beside the traditional university teacher-training programs.

Wing said there are issues beyond pay that deter people from going into teaching or staying in the profession. But here, too, money is an issue.

For example, there is the question of class size. Recent studies have shown Arizona has more students per teacher than just about any other state in the country.

But as Wing said, that is unlikely to improve until there are more people willing to enter the profession — and stay there.

Plan in place to fix millions in misallocated school funds

In this Nov. 16, 2017, photo, Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas addresses about 50 school district and charter school representatives at her department's annual MEGA Conference on programs and services for low-income students. In October, the Arizona Department of Education revealed it had misallocated millions in Title I funding, federal dollars for the state's most economically disadvantaged kids. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
In this Nov. 16, 2017, photo, Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas addresses about 50 school district and charter school representatives at her department’s annual MEGA Conference on programs and services for low-income students. In October, the Arizona Department of Education revealed it had misallocated millions in Title I funding, federal dollars for the state’s most economically disadvantaged kids. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Nine months after the Arizona Department of Education notified schools it had misallocated millions in funding for special education programs, the federal government has approved a plan to correct the error.

A plan to remedy similar issues with Title I allocations has also been drafted but will not be finalized until at least next week during a phone call with state representatives.

In October, the department sent a letter to school districts and charter schools stating $15.2 million in Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, funding had been under-allocated. A 2015 audit by the federal Office of Special Education Programs, or OSEP, also found that $14.3 million was over-allocated, and about 400 charter and district schools were affected.

Now, according to a response from OSEP sent to the state on July 3, the state Department of Education can use set aside funds to make those schools whole.

Set aside funds are carried over from year to year. For example, if a charter school closes in fiscal year 2015, the dollars that would have gone to that school would have instead been set side to make up for unexpected costs, like misallocations.

The department is expected to have fully resolved the issue by fiscal year 2022.

Since October, the department’s position has been that it intended to hold schools “harmless” for the error, meaning districts and charters that received too much funding would not be asked to return the over-allocated funds, and that schools that were shorted would be made whole.

But according to the federal response, representatives from ADE indicated the state did not have the money to repay the schools and asked for the requirement to be waived.

ADE spokesman Stefan Swiat described that request as a “ploy” to extend the timeframe in which the department would repay the schools.

Swiat said ADE was initially given just two to three years to make the shorted schools whole, so the department suggested waiving that requirement knowing that wouldn’t be an option.

Instead, the feds adjusted the timeline, allowing five years by which the state had to repay schools.

That solution may minimize harm for schools impacted by the IDEA error, but Swiat conceded it could also make the state more vulnerable to unforeseen challenges in the future.

“It is a hardship because… this money didn’t come out of thin air,” he said. “We had to strip ourselves of the money that we normally put toward technical assistance, monitoring and professional development. That money would be for us at the state to use, and we’re just passing that along.”

Douglas told the Arizona Capitol Times she doesn’t like to play the “what-if game” and speculate about what the department may lose out on in the years to come.

“We just have to fix this,” she said.

Story continues after document. (The IDEA allocation error is addressed on pages 9-13.)

ARIZONA IDEA Resolution (Text)

Title I solution in the works

The U.S. Department of Education has also drafted a proposal for how to correct a similar error that led to tens of millions in misallocated Title I dollars.

That money is distributed to schools serving the state’s most economically disadvantaged children.

Beginning in fiscal year 2014 under former Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal and carrying over into fiscal years 2015, 2016 and 2017, more than 400 district and charter schools received inaccurate Title I allocations.

And while ADE is working with the federal government toward a solution that would not cause further harm, some uncertainty remains.

A draft proposal from the U.S. Department of Education suggested there may be “downward adjustments” in Title I grants to schools that previously received over-allocations.

However, Swiat said that is not the case.

The letter goes on to say the state may determine it has unneeded school improvement funds and choose to re-allocate those dollars to schools that would otherwise see a decline in their allocations.

In other words, it’s a shell game. The feds understand the state will determine those school improvement funds are unneeded and distribute them to schools.

School improvement funds are Title I dollars set aside for the lowest performing schools, the bottom 5 percent.

In addition to misallocating Title I funds to the schools between fiscal years 2014 and 2017, ADE essentially shorted its School Improvement Fund more than $20 million. Rather than first going through that fund, Swiat explained last year, the money went directly to the schools.

According to the current plan, the Title I issue must be rectified by the 2021-2022 school year.

If the problem is not “fully corrected” by then or if the state department fails to comply with the agreement as currently laid out, the state may face some serious consequences.

According to the draft plan, U.S. Department of Education may revoke the state department’s authority to use Title I funds to resolve the issue and may even go on to take additional actions, like recovering non-federal funds in the amount of the misallocations.

Swiat said state representatives will have a call with federal representatives on August 7 to finalize the plan for Title I.

Arizona MOA 07 23 18 (Text)

Private enterprise in education is no bogeyman


We don’t have government-run grocery stores, clothing outlets, coffee shops, automobile retailers, or smartphone stores. Each day we buy most of the goods and services we use from private sellers – entrepreneurs and enterprises that make the things we need and want. We often take this process of voluntary exchange for granted, not appreciating how valuable it is to have such magnificent choice and variety available to us every day, in most areas of our lives.

But when it comes to education, the assortment of options available to most families is alarmingly limited. The vast majority of children in the U.S. attend a government-run school, assigned to them based on their zip code. It is like being told that we must buy our bread from the one assigned market nearby, or our shoes from the government-run shoe factory in our neighborhood. We couldn’t imagine such restrictions on food and clothing and other human necessities, but many of us routinely tolerate – even champion – restricting education choice.

Kerry McDonald
Kerry McDonald

Fortunately, the people of Arizona recognize that education, like food and clothing, is too important to be left to government providers alone. The state is a pioneer in education choice, enacting the first education savings account program in the country, as well as a variety of tax-credit scholarship programs that give children access to expanded education options. The number of Arizona children attending charter schools has also continued to climb over the years to nearly 200,000 students in over 500 schools, offering more choice beyond a district assignment.

This robust climate of educational freedom has led to a surge of innovation and entrepreneurship. Visionary parents and enterprising educators recognize mounting parent demand for more educational options, and build new learning models to satisfy that demand. Each model has its own features and its own approach, and Arizona parents can increasingly select the one that is the best fit for their child and family. A free and open education market is the best mechanism to meet the diverse preferences and needs of a pluralistic society.

Entrepreneurs are the ones who drive educational innovation to meet these diverse preferences and needs. They create possibilities that don’t exist or they improve upon existing offerings to add value. Arizona entrepreneur, Kelly Smith, built the fast-growing network of Prenda micro-schools after feeling that the education his eight-year-old son and others were getting was more focused on coercion than on autonomy and self-determination. An MIT graduate who sold his software company in 2013, Smith launched Prenda with seven kids in his home in January 2018. Today, there are 80 Prenda micro-schools throughout Arizona, serving about 550 children in grades K-8.

At $5,000 per student per year, Prenda micro-schools are a fraction of the cost of many other private options and about half the cost of the Arizona average per pupil expenditure. Most Prenda students receive access to educational funding through one of the state’s education choice mechanisms or through the Sequoia Choice charter program that supports distance learning models. In addition to costing less than traditional schooling, private alternatives like Prenda are much leaner, less bureaucratic, and more directly accountable to parents, who can leave if they are not satisfied. Liability concerns and operating costs are also shifted to private entities and out of the public domain, thus relieving taxpayers of these additional financial burdens.

Tom Bogle launched a Prenda school in his Maricopa home earlier this year. A former public high school teacher, Bogle left the classroom after five years of teaching because he thought that the rigid structure and standardization of mass schooling wasn’t good for young people. “There is a level of emotional damage that that kind of structure has on students,” says Bogle. “It doesn’t prepare them for the future and actually damages their ability to prepare themselves for the future.” Bogle ended up homeschooling his own children with a self-directed approach. He became increasingly interested in alternative education models and teamed up with Prenda to help more students, as well as teachers. “Prenda is creating opportunities for teachers who hate the system they work in to get out and feel good about what they are doing again, to feel good about helping kids,” says Bogle.

By opening up the education marketplace and relying less on government provision of education, Arizona is leading the way in creating more and better education opportunities for young people through entrepreneurship and innovation.

Kerry McDonald is a senior education fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute. She is the author of Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom.

Public education advocates bemoan school money still not enough

Education issues captured much of the attention this legislative session, but public school advocates say they’re disappointed with the outcome.

It’s hard to argue the budget doesn’t focus on education when much of the new spending focuses on K-12 or university education initiatives. The fiscal year 2018 budget adds $163 million above inflation funding to schools.

Of the new K-12 funding, the biggest chunk, $38 million, went toward a performance pay program that critics say rewards wealthy schools that are already doing well. And, while Gov. Doug Ducey suggested a 0.4 percent pay increase for teachers for the next five years, the final budget included a 1 percent pay raise this fiscal year, followed by a promised 1 percent pay raise next year.

But for public education advocates, the spending wasn’t enough to alter the state’s school systems in any big way, and the money wasn’t prioritized in the right way.

Timothy Ogle
Timothy Ogle

“We missed a great opportunity to really help the teacher crisis,” said Timothy Ogle, director of the Arizona School Boards Association.

A 2 percent raise over two years won’t do enough to keep teachers in the classroom, critics say, which will continue an ongoing teacher shortage that left thousands of kids without a full-time teacher this year.

The low teacher-pay increase accompanied an expansion of the state’s voucher system that allows kids to use public money to attend private schools and a bill that dismantled the teacher certification system.

As a whole, Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas said, the Legislature and governor favored private education and the wealthy instead of addressing the teacher shortage. The Legislature didn’t markedly improve the situation for teachers, but instead instituted multiple “trial balloons” for new, untested programs like performance pay, Thomas said.

“It was a swing and a miss entirely,” he said.

Ducey said he takes the criticisms from public education proponents to heart and agrees the state still isn’t doing enough to fund schools.

“If you looked at a word cloud of my State of the States or inaugurals or even my town hall visits around the state, you would see that I’m spending an overwhelming majority of my time on K-12 education,” Ducey said. “So I agree with them — they need more and we need more and I intend to provide more.”

But Ducey called the teacher certification overhaul the most underrated bill he signed this year and said it will allow “people with a lot of talent and experience” to come into Arizona classrooms and impart their wisdom to kids, despite their lack of formal teacher training.

School choice remains a priority for the Ducey administration as well, indicated in Ducey’s push for a universal voucher system that goes further than any other state in the nation. Enrollment in the program is capped for a few years, but public school advocates say it’s the first step toward upending public education. There’s already a referendum underway to repeal the expansion.

Ducey said parents know what’s best for their kids and should be able to decide if that means a neighborhood school or a private school.

“I want to be able to provide a public education to our public, and I think our agenda’s done that as good as anyone in the country,” he said.

The ongoing drumbeat for more money for public schools and teacher pay irked some lawmakers throughout the long, slow legislative session.

Sen. Sylvia Allen
Sen. Sylvia Allen

Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, took to the pages of The Arizona Republic, asking “when is it ever enough?” She highlighted the state spends more than half of its entire budget on education. And, she said, voters have said in the past they don’t want to increase taxes, so it’s unclear where they expect the state to get money to fund schools while addressing other needs like crumbling infrastructure and public safety.

“I understand as legislators we’re an easy target, but also please realize that we work hard every day to improve education in Arizona,” Allen wrote.

Others said the blame for low teacher pay fell on local school boards, who could have used money from last year’s Proposition 123 to give raises.

Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, speaks at a press conference calling for increased public school funding on April 13. (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)
Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, speaks at a press conference calling for increased public school funding on April 13. (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)

Thomas called the comments uninformed and disrespectful of teachers, and said lawmakers were taking no responsibility for their role in funding schools.

“They’ve dropped the ball on this for a decade, that’s why they keep hearing it,” Thomas said.

Still, what adequately funding schools looks like is an open question, Ogle said. But it’s clear to many that the idea doesn’t rest in gimmicks or ballot propositions and should instead fall on lawmakers to find a “dedicated, sustainable revenue stream” to support public education, Ogle said.

Riggs squeaks out victory in SPI Republican primary

Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas chats with a constituent's son at the Arizona Capitol Times' Meet the Candidates event on Aug. 1. Douglas is seeking re-election this year, but she faces four Republican challengers in the August primary. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas chats with a constituent’s son at the Arizona Capitol Times’ Meet the Candidates event on Aug. 1. Douglas is seeking re-election this year, but she faces four Republican challengers in the August primary. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

With five Republican contenders dividing the vote, the GOP primary race for Superintendent of Public Instruction ended in a tight victory for Frank Riggs.

Final results as of September 5 show that Frank Riggs took a lead of less than one percentage point over the runner up, Bob Branch. Just 359 votes separated the two candidates.

Incumbent Diane Douglas trailed closely behind Branch. Only 3,498 votes separated her and Riggs. The race for the Democratic nomination wasn’t as competitive; Kathy Hoffman beat David Schapira by nearly 22,000 votes.

With both Riggs and Branch receiving just shy of 22 percent of the vote, it appears Arizonans looking for a change were unable to rally behind just one alternative to the incumbent, who herself won about 21 percent of the vote. Additionally, Tracy Livingston garnered another 20 percent, and Jonathan Gelbart rounded out the pack with just shy of 15 percent.

Douglas never quite escaped criticism after clashing with Gov. Doug Ducey early in her first term over the firing of two State Board of Education employees, and she has continued to irk many in the state, even in her own party, over the years. Most recently, she offended public school teachers after criticizing the Red for Ed movement’s decision to strike and suggesting teachers’ certifications may be at risk because of it.

Still, political observers had speculated she would benefit from sheer name recognition in a crowded Republican field.

Riggs will now face off against Hoffman in the Nov. 6 general election.


Superintendent of Public Instruction By The Numbers


570,927 votes cast

Diane Douglas 21.22 percent

Bob Branch 21.77 percent

Frank Riggs 21.84 percent

Jonathan Gelbart 14.94 percent

Tracy Livingston 20.23 percent


484,748 votes cast

Kathy Hoffman 52 percent

David Schapira 48 percent

Rural Republican proposes tax increase for public education

Sen. Sylvia Allen (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)
Sen. Sylvia Allen (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Republican Sen. Sylvia Allen wants voters to approve a sales tax hike to boost funding for K-12 schools and higher education.

Voters already approved the 0.6-cent sales tax for education in 2000, a levy that generated more than $700 million in the previous fiscal year. Allen, a Snowflake Republican, wants voters to boost that tax by 0.4 cents, up to a full penny once the original tax expires in 2021.

Doing so would generate a total of nearly $1.1 billion annually, dollars earmarked for education spending.

“As chair of the Senate Education Committee, my vision is for a revenue stream that allows everyone to participate, supports local control and provides long-term funding for Arizona’s classrooms, university students and community colleges,” Allen wrote in an Arizona Republic op-ed announcing her proposal.

“Most importantly, it is a revenue stream that is passed by Arizona voters at the ballot box,” she added.

That means the tax would be voter protected. Measures approved at the ballot cannot be altered by Arizona lawmakers, except by a three-fourths majority vote, a rarity in Arizona politics on issues as controversial as taxation.

It’s also a rarity that a conservative lawmakers such as Allen, who like most in the Republican Party have expressed opposition to new or higher taxes, would propose a tax hike at all.

Chuck Essigs, a lobbyist for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, said it’s a sign the debate on school funding has shifted. Instead of arguing over whether new revenues are needed for education, now the debate is over how much and what the impact could be.

“Now, we’re talking about, is this increase something that can really change how K-12 operates? It changes the focus of the discussion to what’s the best way of doing it,” Essigs said.

If voters agree to boost the tax, there are some strings attached. Allen’s proposal would simplify the way Proposition 301, the original sales tax as approved by voters nearly two decades ago, earmarks dollars for education.

Gone would be the 10 separate funding requirements for how those dollars must be spent. Allen’s proposal consolidates those “buckets” into three distribution streams: One for K-12 schools, which would receive 73 percent of the revenues; one for universities, who’d be due 22 percent of the revenues; and another for community colleges and tribal schools, which receive the remaining 5 percent.

That doesn’t mean the areas of need addressed by certain “buckets” would go unfunded. Instead, Allen wants to give local school districts the authority to spend money as needed on school safety, accountability efforts, and school resource officers.

Those dollars could also be spent on full-day kindergarten programs, according to Allen’s proposal, all under new spending authorities within the Classroom Site Fund.

For K-12 schools, Allen estimates a penny tax would generate $800 million. That’s roughly $260 million more than the amount now earmarked for K-12 schools through Prop. 301, according to legislative budget estimates.

Arizona’s three public universities would receive roughly $250 million, with the dollars earmarked for making in-state tuition as close to free as possible in accordance with the Arizona Constitution. That’s a steep funding boost over the roughly $80 million the universities now receive to cover technology and research expenses.

The remaining 5 percent, or $50 million, would be split. Community colleges would receive 90 percent, or roughly $40 million, while 10 percent, or $10 million, would go to tribes operating community colleges or workforce development programs.

The timing is ripe for such a proposal, Allen wrote, thanks to Arizona’s “steadily improved” economy. But it’s also a necessary alternative to tax hikes such as the levy imposed by the Invest in Ed initiative, a failed ballot measure that sought to raise income taxes to better fund K-12 schools, Allen wrote.

That measure was barred from the ballot after the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in August that the proposal’s language didn’t accurately represent the new tax burden on certain taxpayers.

Allen wrote she’s confident that Invest in Ed’s backers will return in 2020 with “a more accurately worded, yet equally flawed proposal” that would damage Arizona’s economy.

“By increasing the 0.6 cent to a full penny, we provide an increase to education, yet we still protect the economy and the taxpayer by not adding another new income tax on businesses,” she wrote. “This is a winning compromise.”

Allen’s plan could build on the momentum built by lawmakers in 2018, when Republicans and Democrats took a rare vote on taxes to extend the current 0.6-cent sales tax set to expire in 2021. That measure, backed by Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee and former Rep. Doug Coleman, extends the tax until 2041.

Technically, Allen’s measure would repeal the tax extension. Instead an extended tax, the new 1-cent tax would begin in 2021, when the old Prop. 301 expires.

Brophy McGee, a Phoenix Republican who’s advocated for a “new Prop. 301” in addition to the extension she helped shepard through the Legislature a year ago, said she’s also in favor of referring a Prop. 301 tax hike to voters in 2020, and thinks a penny is doable. But in meetings with education groups she’s conducted over the summer, Brophy McGee said there could be opposition to consolidating the funding “buckets” because some areas of education spending would see larger proportional increases than others. 

Nonetheless, the fact that another Republican proposed a tax hike is a welcome change at the Capitol, Brophy McGee said.

“For someone to propose an increase in a tax, which is needed, is significant,” she said. “I don’t know what we’re gonna wind up with, but it’s given me a lot of hope.”

Senate panel OKs bills fortifying ‘parental rights’

A Senate panel on Tuesday passed Republican-sponsored bills increasing parents’ power to veto school materials and get access to more information on the lives of their children.  

The bills are part of a string of legislation introduced this year by Republicans who say it increases parental rights. Democrats in both chambers opposed the bills, which passed out of the House last month and out of the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday on party lines. 

The conservative Center for Arizona Policy supports the bills while education groups such as Save Our Schools Arizona, the Arizona School Board Assocation and the Arizona Education Association oppose them. 

House Bill 2161, sponsored by Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, would ban state entities, including schools, from “interfer(ing) with or usurp(ing)” parental rights. Critical Democrats said the bill is too broad and could penalize well-intentioned teachers, coaches and librarians from making innocuous comments and suggestions such as encouraging children to try out for a sports team or apply to a college.  

Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, a teacher, said she believes the bill will scare educators away from voicing these comments to their students for fear of violating the law if a parent is upset with those ideas. 

Center for Arizona Policy President Cathi Herrod told Marsh that a lawsuit over those examples would be thrown out by any court as frivolous.  

The committee added an amendment to the legislation striking the requirement educators to report to parents anything having to do with a student’s “emotional or mental” health, which left Republicans, including Herrod, saying the bill was too watered down with amendments, and Democrats still saying the bill was too broad. 

The committee also passed House Bill 2495 from Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, banning public schools from showing students “sexually explicit material.” 

The bill’s original version banned acts of “homosexuality,” but an amendment struck the word and added language to ensure schools can still teach “classical” or “early American” literature that might have explicit content. It does not, however, define “classical” or “early American.” Marsh questioned whether books like To Kill A Mockingbird, The Color Purple or The Kite Runner would be banned from classrooms by the bill. 

Democrats were skeptical that the bill is necessary. Marsh said she’s never seen explicit materials like the ones the bill addressed being given to students.  

Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, said that just because someone doesn’t see something happening, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen.  

“Every year we have another school district or another case where a family member has brought material down to us saying somebody is using these materials,” Pace said after voting in favor of the bill.  

Superintendent of public instruction race too close to call

Kathy Hoffman and Frank Riggs
Kathy Hoffman and Frank Riggs

Early ballot results signal a long night – and possibly week – ahead for the superintendent of public instruction candidates.

As of Wednesday morning, Republican Frank Riggs had maintained a slight lead over Democrat Kathy Hoffman, most recently a former speech therapist in the Peoria school system. Riggs was ahead by less than one percentage point, giving Democrats hopes of capturing the party’s first victory for a statewide office since 2008.

And if the August primary was any indication, it could be days before the winner is declared.

Riggs’ victory over the crowded Republican primary was not made official until a week after the polls closed.

The former California congressman won the nomination by just 359 votes more than the runner up, Bob Branch, according to a final vote count announced on September 4.

Hoffman meanwhile faced off against just one Democratic challenger, David Schapira, and won nearly 22,000 votes ahead.

In many ways, they agreed on some common points.

Both sought greater oversight of charter schools, which are private operations that technically are public schools. Riggs in particular said Arizona should no longer allow these to be for-profit operations.

They also opposed Proposition 305, the measure to ratify the legislative decision to expand who is eligible for vouchers of public funds for private and parochial schools. But Riggs said he could support an expanded program if priority was given to low-income families; Hoffman said there would be less demand for vouchers if the state properly funded its public school system but said she would not eliminate the existing vouchers available to certain students.

Riggs, however, said he opposed a plan – no longer on the ballot – to raise income taxes on the state’s most wealthy to fund education. Hoffman said the state’s schools needed the $690 million that would have raised.

Hoffman also supported the Red for Ed movement and the strike earlier this year by teachers, saying that was necessary to get public attention for the fact that state aid for education has not kept pace with inflation. Riggs said while the movement had admirable goals it quickly became co-opted as a way of supporting Democrats.


Superintendent of public instruction by the numbers

Early votes


Frank Riggs 50.2 percent


Kathy Hoffman 49.8 percent

Supreme Court to release full Invest in Ed opinion Friday

The Arizona Supreme Court from left are Robert Brutinel, John Lopez, John Pelander, Scott Bales, Andrew Gould, Clint Bolick, Ann Scott Timmer.
The Arizona Supreme Court from left are Robert Brutinel, John Lopez, John Pelander, Scott Bales, Andrew Gould, Clint Bolick, Ann Scott Timmer.

The Arizona Supreme Court is poised to release its full opinion on striking the Invest in Education Act from the ballot on Friday.

The full decision, which will lay out how each justice voted and detail arguments they made for and against allowing the initiative to go on the ballot, comes out nearly two months after the court booted Invest in Education from the ballot.

Justices were split on the decision, but the full opinion will make clear which justices sided which way.

A brief order put out by the court on Aug. 29 indicated a majority of the justices ruled Invest in Education’s description of its proposed tax hike was inadequate and could create “a significant danger of confusion or unfairness.”

The citizens initiative would have boosted taxes on Arizona’s top earners in order to better fund K-12 education.

Release of the full opinion will also shed light on whether Gov. Doug Ducey’s campaign may have had any inside information on the decision before the general public.

Ducey’s campaign purported to know the vote split shortly after the court released its decision on Aug. 29, causing the governor’s opponents to allege collusion and corruption between the Supreme Court and the executive branch.

Invest in Education supporters also blamed Ducey’s 2016 expansion of the Supreme Court from five to seven judges for keeping the citizens initiative off the ballot. But without knowing how the justices sided on the ruling, it was impossible to know what role, if any, the expanded court played in the downfall of the Invest in Education initiative.

Surrogate parents for students with special needs lacking statewide

More volunteers are being sought to advocate for students with special education needs who have no one in their lives to see that those needs are being met.

Surrogate parents appointed by the Arizona Department of Education are given educational rights over children in need of special education services when their parents’ rights have been severed or are no longer in their lives.

The surrogates typically have some background in working with special education students. They are responsible for signing off on testing to determine if services are necessary, reviewing required individualized education programs for students already receiving services and ensuring that those services are in fact being provided.

Stefanie Sharkey, the department’s surrogate parent program coordinator, said many of the students with surrogate parents come from group homes, and they need someone to represent them through the process as mandated by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

She said the state has only 86 surrogate parents available to serve 468 children currently using the program. But the number of students is growing.

Sharkey said there has been a rise in students who need a surrogate parent, and she anticipates that trend will continue. While the department strives to limit each surrogate’s caseload to six students, she said some have had to take on more.

Meanwhile, the department has struggled to find adequate volunteers in some regions of the state, especially in rural communities.

Cochise County has only one education surrogate. Yavapai County, the fourth largest in the state, has just six.

They’re better off than others, though. Apache, Gila, Graham, Greenlee, La Paz, Mohave, Navajo, Santa Cruz and Yuma counties don’t have any surrogates living within their boundaries.

Sharkey said she has turned to other districts and charter schools to find new recruits, but “no bites yet.” In the meantime, a surrogate in another county would be asked to advocate for a student in an underserved area telephonically or via Skype.

She noted rural communities haven’t produced a significant need for surrogates, but that may not be the case as more children become wards of the state.

In those cases, surrogate parents do not meet face-to-face with the children they are advocating for, and that can be problematic.

On top of the stresses of no longer having a parental figure in their lives and having disabilities that require special services, these children are being assigned surrogates who they’ve never met. Sharkey said in-person interactions at least allow them the opportunity to get to know their advocates. But over the phone or even via video chat, Sharkey said they likely lose that connection.

“It’s just another adult making decisions for them and about them,” she said via email.

Susan Barenholtz stands beside Ory, one of the first young men she advocated for as a surrogate parent. (Photo courtesy of Susan Barenholtz)
Susan Barenholtz stands beside Ory, one of the first young men she advocated for as a surrogate parent. (Photo courtesy of Susan Barenholtz)

Surrogate parent Susan Barenholtz said in-person interactions are “critical” with these children.

By the time they get to group homes, she said, they often don’t have any family left in their life. Barenholtz meets with her students as often as she can to prove she won’t just be another disappointment.

Even then, the road to their trust can be long.

“These kids will not warm up to you for a long, long time because they’ve been hurt so much and they don’t trust anybody,” she said. “They have dozens and dozens of adults revolving around their lives. Every day, it’s a new thing. Another adult comes in, and they don’t trust anything.”

Barenholtz has been a surrogate parent on and off since 2000, and she currently advocates for three young boys.

She sees one student monthly, and her time with him has demonstrated the importance of making that personal connection.

She said he has made significant progress at school, having transferred for a time to a campus tailored to his emotional disability. Now, he’s back at his “home school” where he’s excited to attend homecoming and getting more involved with extracurricular activities.

On Christmas, Barenholtz took him to dinner and a movie. He hugged her goodbye later – it was a big deal.

Barenholtz is one of 50 surrogates in Maricopa County, where many of the program’s student reside.

Derald Cox serves children in Coconino County, which has far fewer surrogates available. He’s one of four, and he was specifically asked to volunteer after another surrogate left the program.

Cox said he is not currently advocating for any students, but he has had eight cases in the past four years.

He said the kids sometimes think he’s there to do little more than sign off on paperwork. And they’re not always wrong.

But after 20 years of public education experience, including 10 years teaching special education students, Cox said he often knows better than others what questions need to be asked.

Sharkey said the legal responsibility to appoint education surrogates falls to schools.

But it takes knowledgeable surrogates like Cox to then follow through and be the “responsible, concerned” parent that is otherwise not in the kid’s life.

You can get more information about the surrogate parent program and apply to be a volunteer here

The Breakdown, Episode 13: Good – not great – times at the Capitol


Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Gov. Doug Ducey has had a rough time in the last few weeks, but some insiders argue that’s just the nature of the political cycle as he campaigns for another term in his office.

A lot is riding on how he finishes out the legislative session, and his school safety plan may be paramount. Ducey’s office says the National Rifle Association is behind his proposal, but that’s yet to be seen.

And all the while, public school teachers continue to contemplate a strike. But the ultimate effectiveness of that move will depend on what the largely grassroots effort can accomplish and when.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes.

Music in this episode included “Little Idea,” “Creative Minds” and “Energy” by Bensound.

Voices of the Red for Ed movement

(Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
A crowd of red-clad teachers, students and Red for Ed supporters could be seen from the top of a parking garage near Chase Field as they gathered there on April 26 before marching to the Arizona Capitol. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

The Arizona Educators United and Red for Ed movement drew an estimated 150,000 teachers, students and public school staff to the Capitol to demand more for education.

Those in favor of the strike were easy to spot, wearing red and carrying signs often critical of Gov. Doug Ducey and the Republican-controlled Legislature.

They came from across the Valley and beyond.

At 8 a.m. on Day 3, a school bus arrived from Nogales Unified School District, which is about three hours from the Capitol. On Day 4, indigenous educators who called themselves the Nahuacalli Educators Alliance played drums and conch shells at the foot of the historic Capitol building.

Some folks set up canopies for their schools or districts to provide shade for their colleagues as temperatures reached triple digits in the first days of the strike. And one canopy was even designated for mothers with children in tow, equipped with a diaper-changing station and power for breast pumps.

But some in the crowd did not feel represented by the demonstrators and their leaders. Others may have voted to strike, but did so still hoping it would never come to that.

Whatever their reasons for being there, these teachers, administrators and students came to the Capitol to make their voices heard.

Alison Bruening-Hamati (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Alison Bruening-Hamati (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Alison Bruening-Hamati, principal of Arredondo Elementary School, Tempe

 What has the strike meant to you?

“My son is 9, and I tear up when I think about how there are school districts that are using textbooks that are as old as he is to meet standards that were just put out last year. I hate that our kids are home, but I don’t know what other choice we had. And I don’t know anybody who went into this thinking this was going to be easy. … But I’m hopeful because that’s kind of our gig.”

When your teachers were voting on whether to walk out of your school, did you vote?

“I did. I voted to support my teachers and my staff. I have been in this fight for a long time, and I think nobody really wanted to (walk out). My staff cried. I cried. … As we put our votes in the ballot box, I thought, ‘Where is this going? Please, let’s not go there.’ But sometimes, you just have to go with what’s right.”

Patrick Thompson (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Patrick Thompson (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Patrick Thompson, math teacher at Aprende Middle School, Chandler

What has the strike meant to you?

“I feel like this movement has leadership that has an obvious conflict of interest, and in the best interest of our standing as respected teachers in this state, we owe it to ourselves to have leadership that doesn’t have such obvious political leanings. … And I think the leaders of this movement have a vested interest in not coming to an agreement before November, which you see by this (Invest in Education Act) ballot initiative. We don’t get to vote on this for seven months. We don’t see money from it until next year. … I think the plan was to keep us rallied and upset until November so we can just oust people the leadership doesn’t like.”

Why do you think it’s important to talk to people who feel differently?

“Just to have those civil dialogues. I don’t want to argue with people. I don’t want to yell at people. I don’t talk politics all that often with the teachers at my school. It just got to a point where I felt like my side wasn’t being represented.”

Ben Englader (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Ben Englader (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Ben Englander, biology teacher at Raymond S. Kellis High School, Glendale

What has the strike meant to you?

“I’m here for our students. We need more funding for our schools in general. I have 46 kids in my honors biology class. That’s a lot for a lab class. We need more supplies. We need more resources to help all these kids. … We need to keep chipping away at our agenda. But I think it’s going to come down to a vote in November and putting those issues on the ballot.”

Why did you feel a strike was necessary?

“We needed to come together as a collective group. … We can’t support our families. I have a second job. A lot of our staff does as well, and some have three jobs. … We needed to come together as a collective voice and stand strong together.”

Raquel Mamani (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Raquel Mamani (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Raquel Mamani, mother of twin fourth graders

 What has the strike meant to you?

“I’m a native Arizonan who loves my state. I’m a mother of twins. I’m a PTA mom. … It doesn’t seem like our legislators and our governor are listening, so I’ve been here supporting the teachers as they fight for quality public education. They’re fighting for all of us.”

How much longer would you be willing to have your kids out of school?

“As long as it takes to get some meaningful change. We want nothing more than to be back at school… but we understand this is a critical time in Arizona. It’s obviously greatly impacted us, but I’ve talked a lot to my children about why we’re out here. I’ve relied on my community, on my family members, on people who support us – grandparents, babysitters. … The inconvenience that we are going through is greatly outweighed by what has to happen for Arizona. We should not have our kids in underfunded classrooms. It’s time for that to stop.”

Lacey Perdomo (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Lacey Perdomo (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Lacey Perdomo, physical education teacher at Raymond S. Kellis High School

What has the strike meant to you?

“People always say, ‘You knew what you signed up for.’ I’ve been married for two and a half years. I have an 11-month-old. I have a house. I have a mortgage. I have bills. I think until you actually experience it, you don’t understand how hard it’s truly going to be. … This movement has given me a voice and has opened my eyes. … People like me didn’t realize really how bad it was.”

Why do you think it’s important to talk to people who feel differently?

“I believe in relationships and that once people can have conversations to understand instead of conversations to get their own point across, the world will be a better place.”

Marco Veloz (Photo by Carmen Forman)
Marco Veloz (Photo by Carmen Forman/Arizona Capitol Times)

Marco Veloz, former student at Coronado High School, Scottsdale

What has the strike meant to you?

“I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for my teachers, especially the ones who taught me how to speak English when I moved here. They deserve better pay. There is inflation all the time. Prices are getting higher, and they’re not getting any more money. They deserve it. That’s the bottom line. They need it. They deserve it. And we’re demanding it.”

Do you think Ducey’s 20 percent teacher pay raise by 2020 proposal was reasonable?

“We don’t want promises from the governor. We want to see action.”

Voucher bill attempts to privatize education


The current, aggressive push to expand Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) does nothing to address the systemic education challenges we face in Arizona.

It is a dangerous attack on our public education systems and our state’s economic future. As a business community, our priority is to ensure that all students have access to a top-quality school that meets students’ needs and interests.

Arizona leaders should focus on effectively funding public education and supporting innovative programs that improve academic outcomes.

The time is now. Public education is the single most powerful economic development tool we have as a state.

ESAs were originally designed to serve a small population of students – they were never meant to replace public education or to serve all students.

A full expansion of ESAs is nothing more than a boutique scheme to address a non-existent need for private school subsidies.

Jim Swanson
Jim Swanson

While being marketed as a solution for low-income students and students of color – the students whom data tells us need the most wide-scale, institutional support – SB1452 is the most offensive of the private school voucher bills proposed this session. The bill would make roughly 700,000 Arizona students eligible for ESAs – a 280% increase in a single move. This is nothing more than a bold attempt to privatize education.

There’s a lot wrong with this bill, but the worst is the fact that rather than focus on supporting low-income students of color, many of whom are already eligible, SB1452 will make many more middle- and high-income white students eligible for taxpayer-subsidized vouchers, exploiting the impoverished communities in favor of further subsidizing the tiny fraction (as few as approximately 5%) of Arizona families choosing to home-school, private and parochial schools.

John Graham
John Graham

Greater Phoenix Leadership, Southern Arizona Leadership Council and Northern Arizona Leadership Alliance, representing more than 200 CEOs across Arizona, have made it clear that they are against the expansion of vouchers in Arizona and have voiced support for our public education systems, from early childhood to higher education. Business leaders and voters are like-minded – we have consistently come together for public education with a focus on equity and access. Instead of proposing unsustainable ways to make 70% of students eligible for private school vouchers, we need to make the public schools better, stronger and more successful.

What our state needs is crystal clear – an equitable, fully funded, high-quality public education system that serves all students across Arizona, no matter the zip code or income level. We have fallen too far behind and the only way we catch up – the only way we move the needle and bring Arizona to a competitive, robust and morally conscionable state – is to focus on the public education funding formula. Programs like private school vouchers have a long history of excluding and segregating our communities rather than including and supporting them. ESAs don’t get us where we need to be.

We need to put our heads together – across the business, education and political realms – and finally execute big changes to the funding formula and other mechanisms that have proven inefficient and worse, inequitable. Now is the time to focus on what moves all our students forward – working together to properly fund the schools serving 95% of Arizona students.

Jim Swanson is president and CEO of Kitchell Corporation. John Graham is chairman and CEO of Sunbelt Holdings. They chair the Greater Phoenix Leadership Education Standing Committee.


‘Project Rocket’ closes Arizona’s public schools achievement gap

Child pretend to be businessman. Smart kid in class. Imagination, idea and success concept

By Education Finance Reform Group

Education is a marathon in which every child is expected to finish the race, but they don’t have access to the same training tools before the race starts or during the race. Project Rocket is a step towards addressing disparity in academic achievement between students from high-income families and their less affluent peers. Our experience and significant data shows that the “achievement gap” in our student population is due in large part to external factors of low socio-economic status. As you know, not all students enter school with the same preparedness and skills. Children from lower socio-economic backgrounds often enter our schools without the benefits of quality early education, sometimes with misdiagnosed or under diagnosed physical and mental disabilities, and with significant trauma related to substance abuse, domestic violence, food insecurity and violent crime in their neighborhoods.

We firmly believe that these children have the potential to succeed just as their affluent peers can, but a student’s ability to make the appropriate academic gains is being hampered by the negative impacts of poverty and the lack of additional resources needed due to their circumstances.

Arizona is in the top 15 states nationally for people living in poverty. Although the poverty rate has dropped over the last few years, Arizona remains above the national average, and in our rural communities the poverty rate is even higher. If Arizona is going to move academically nationally, we must address the impact of poverty in our schools.

This program targets dollars to the neediest students with proven intervention strategies that can make a difference for these students. The idea is predicated on the premise that children who are born into and continue to live in harsh socio-economic conditions should be afforded every opportunity to succeed. That requires additional and ongoing resources and interventions to ensure academic growth and performance. These children deserve the time and attention they need to succeed, and Project Rocket is recognition of this and should be applauded and built upon.

School district superintendents from throughout the state comprise Education Finance Reform Group.