By Corinne Murdock |
While gathering signatures for a ballot initiative overturning Arizona’s universal school choice, Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ) activists informed passersby erroneously that the state doesn’t review school choice expenditures until participants leave the program. These claims were exposed by one of those passersby, Stewardship Pro founder Grant Botma, who later posted an audio recording of the activists’ remarks online.
The signature gatherers also claimed that the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program gives participants a “debit card” with $20,000. Under the universal expansion, children likely receive about $6,500 each: less than a third of the amount SOSAZ was claiming.
“They give you a debit card with $20,000 for you to use. They do have you do, like, an expense report, but they don’t really review it until you leave the program,” stated the SOSAZ woman.
The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) requires program members to submit expense reports on a quarterly basis in order to maintain eligibility. If ADE wasn’t reviewing these expenditure reports until the program member leaves, that would be due to Superintendent Kathy Hoffman’s oversight.
Hoffman is a vocal opponent of the ESA Program and supporter of the SOSAZ ballot initiative. Hoffman, who is up for reelection this November, echoed SOSAZ’s claim in a July tweet that the ESA Program she oversees has “zero accountability.”
Although Hoffman and SOSAZ call Arizona’s school choice funds “vouchers,” they are actually education scholarship accounts. Vouchers are education funds for use at private schools only. The ESA Program universal funds may be applied to a variety of education-related things on top of private schooling, such as: tutoring, supplemental curriculum, online learning programs or courses, standardized testing fees, and community college.
In other clips, SOSAZ signature gatherers expanded on their claim that the state exerted no oversight of the school choice funds. They also issued the outdated claim that the ESA Program issues Bank of America prepaid debit cards. The ESA Program transitioned to ClassWallet in 2019.
“No transparency,” said a woman. “They give you a card from Bank of America[.]”
One of the signature gatherers then asserted that the main reason to defund the universal school choice program was to ensure that private schools don’t benefit from funds formerly slated for public education.
“Basically it will keep a billion dollars in public education and away from the private schools,” stated one of the women.
The $1 billion estimate wasn’t an official estimate discussed by the state legislature. Rather, it came from SOSAZ.
In advancing the narrative that the ESA Program recipients lack oversight, the activists claimed that they could run a Prenda home microschool out of their house with multiple dangers present, like an unfenced pool and a child molester. Prenda is a tuition-free K-8 microschool program, comparable to outsourced homeschooling or the old one-room schoolhouses.
“Not hypothetical. True. Prenda home microschools: they do not do any investigations on the facilities, the people involved,” said a woman. “It’s in my living room. I’ve got a pool that isn’t fenced, and I’ve got a creepy uncle that’s a child molester.”
The women also claimed that private school families who applied for ESA Program funds didn’t actually need the funds. Approximately 75 percent of the first 6,500 universal ESA Program applicants had no prior enrollment in public schools.
“It’s just putting the money into their pockets when they don’t super need it,” said one of the women.
School choice proponents criticized the SOSAZ claims as lies, and asked for an official investigation into the legality of their speech. One Scottsdale father, Kevin Gemeroy, tweeted his concerns.
“When you lie about money to induce payments, that’s fraud. When you lie about money in exchange for signatures, what crime is that, exactly?” wrote Gemeroy.