According to the latest ACT scoring data, the average Arizona student doesn’t achieve an ACT score recommended as a minimum by Arizona State University (ASU), Northern Arizona University (NAU), and the University of Arizona (UArizona).
On Tuesday, the ACT organization announced that the national average score for its eponymous college admissions test was the lowest it’s been in over 30 years: 19.8. However, Arizona fared worse: 18.3. The state’s students, on average, also fell below the ACT’s college readiness benchmarks.
If students go by their ACT scores, ASU requires first-year in-state applicants to have scored at least a 22 overall, while out-of-state applicants must score a 24. Both NAU and UArizona require freshmen applicants to score at least a 21 in English, 24 in math, and 20 in science.
All three universities present the ACT score as one of several possible criteria for admission, offering SAT scores, GPAs, and even certain courses taken as alternatives. During the pandemic, the three state universities made the SAT/ACT optional.
The organization noted in its state-by-state breakdown of data that the most accurate way to compare composite scores would be to compare the averages of states sharing similar percentages of graduates tested.
Even within that context, Arizona fared poorly according to the 64 percent of student scores available for review. The state with the next-highest percentage of graduates tested, Missouri (66 percent), boasted a composite score of 20.12. The state with the next-lowest percentage of graduates tested, South Dakota (58 percent), boasted a composite score of 21.42.
In a press release, ACT CEO Janet Godwin explained that this year of poor performance was the fifth consecutive year of decline: a “worrisome trend.” Godwin noted “longtime systemic failures” in the educational system, predating the pandemic, brought the nation’s students to this point.
“A return to the pre-pandemic status quo would be insufficient and a disservice to students and educators,” stated Godwin. “These systemic failures require sustained collective action and support for the academic recovery of high school students as an urgent national priority and imperative.”
Ousted Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-WY) told Arizona State University (ASU) students to fight back and stop Republican leaders from coming to Arizona to campaign for Trump-backed candidates. Cheney suggested punishments for those GOP officials, as part of her remarks during the fifth installment of the ASU McCain Institute’s series “Defending American Democracy.”
Cheney made an example of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), saying he should “know better” than coming to Arizona to campaign for Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake. Cruz attended a fundraising event for Lake on Wednesday.
Yet shortly after giving that advice, Cheney lamented that “too often, conservative views are canceled.” Cheney also advised the students to vote for Democrats even if they’re Republicans.
Shortly after her loss in August, Cheney launched a $15 million initiative through her political action committee (PAC) to defeat Trump-backed candidates.
At the opening of the ASU event, McCain Institute Executive Director Evelyn Farkus explained that Cheney was their latest guest speaker because she’s the “epitome of American political courage,” having sacrificed her political career by standing up for her values.
The McCain Institute’s first-ever Democracy Fellow, Sophia Gross, interviewed Cheney. Gross said Cheney exemplified a courage and set of values that young men and women should look up to in order to better themselves and serve their country.
The McCain Institute stated that the goal of the series is to advance citizens “beyond politics” in order to make America a city on a hill. It’s partially funded by the Knight Foundation, a left-leaning organization.
The four prior events in the “Defending American Democracy” series focused on the dangers of the decline and disappearance of local journalism, implications of verbal threats to election officials, protections for election infrastructure against cyberattacks, and plans to counteract hate.
In this event, Cheney fixed her remarks on several general topics: former President Donald Trump, January 6, and the Russo-Ukrainian War.
Cheney said that the main lesson of the January 6 invasion of the Capitol was that institutions can’t defend themselves, it takes individuals. Cheney insinuated that government institutions were the victims — not citizens. Cheney also commended those who testified before her January 6 Committee: Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates, and Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers. Richer and Gates were reportedly present at the ASU event.
“Arizona and our nation owes Rusty a debt of gratitude,” said Cheney.
Concerning the January 6 invasion of the Capitol, Cheney claimed that Trump didn’t take action to stop the trespassers. She quickly backtracked with a self-correction, noting that the former president did take action but complained that it took him “187 minutes.” Cheney stated repeatedly that Trump was attempting to destroy democracy.
“No nation can have a leader who is so derelict in his duty,” declared Cheney.
At one point, Cheney predicted that the nation was heading toward a future as similar and troublesome as the Holocaust. She issued that prediction as she relayed a recent conversation with a young woman from Wyoming whose grandparents escaped the Holocaust. That young woman reportedly expressed worry to Cheney that America would no longer be a place of refuge like it was when her grandparents escaped.
“I think that’s a very real and serious concern,” said Cheney.
Cheney also said that she’s proud of the January 6 Committee, assuring the audience that it was non-partisan. Cheney said she most respects her fellow select committee and other Democrats, especially those women on the armed service committee.
“I never imagined that I would find myself spending so much time with Democrats. I’m sure they’re surprised to be spending so much time with me as well,” said Cheney “Everybody should be represented by the people that they know are going to do the hard work.”
Cheney said that America needs to get involved in Ukraine’s war against Russia. She said that was a hallmark of patriotism. Cheney also indicated that anyone opposed to her beliefs belonged to the “Russian” wing of the Republican Party.
Toward the end of the event, Cheney opined that true patriotism meant an allegiance to a fundamental sense of human freedom, of inalienable rights from God and not the government.
“Being a patriot means first and foremost loving our country more. We can say to each other ‘we’re Democrats, we’re Republicans, but we love our country more,’ and we’ll act in accordance with that. That means you’ll put your country above politics, your political career,” said Cheney.
On Wednesday, the Department of Education (ED) announced the distribution of over $20.8 million to increase mental health oversight in Arizona schools.
The funds may be applied to a variety of mental, social, and emotional initiatives within schools. This includes school counseling, mentorships, and bullying and harassment prevention.
During a press call on Wednesday, the ED featured insight from Dr. Marty Pollio, the Jefferson County Public Schools superintendent in Louisville, Kentucky. Pollio said that the SCG funds allowed for three means of school improvement:
Identify students in need and in crisis who need mental health support like counseling;
Reduce the counselor-to-student ratio;
Train teachers on how to identify troubled students and support school personnel.
Pollio suggested that mental health professionals, such as board-certified behavioral analysts, should be deployed to classrooms to identify problematic students.
“Educators have to do more than ever,” said Pollio.
AZ Free News asked the Biden administration whether they would be providing guidelines for behavior analysis enabled by SCG funds, such as what students would be deemed problematic as Pollio suggested. The ED said they weren’t providing guidelines. Rather, the ED said that level of management would be up to the states and districts.
“[The SCG] allows states and districts to tailor their funds to each district and school,” said one of the officials.
ED Secretary Miguel Cardona asserted that teachers have been handling student behaviors on limited funding and resources, and that students behaved better with reduced disciplinary action and increased promotion of positive behavior. Cardona noted that in all, investments to improve mental health in schools through SCG total $1 billion.
“We must broaden our focus beyond physically safe learning environments,” said Cardona. “If we’re serious about equity and opportunity, we must expand our definitions of learning and growth to include mental and emotional health.”
President Joe Biden’s special assistant for education policy, Maureen Tracey-Mooney, said that the SCG funds are designed for “high impact strategies” that would ultimately impact home life, such as counseling, tutoring, mentoring, and summer learning.
Earlier this month, Cardona sent a letter to the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) notifying them of this recent investment. Cardona’s letter provides educators with suggestions and guidelines on how to implement the SCG funding.
The ADE will decide which school districts will receive the SCG funds and oversee their expenditure. However, the ED retains the authority to audit and investigate schools’ use of the SCG funds.
So many parents were trying to apply for Arizona’s expanded Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) by Friday’s first quarter deadline that the department of education’s website was overwhelmed, leading to a decision to extend the application period.
“Because we are experiencing a high volume of parents trying to apply by today’s deadline for Q1 funding, @azedschools is extending the deadline to remain eligible for retroactive Q1 funding to 10/15/22,” the department announced midday Friday.
Gov. Doug Ducey helped spread word of the extension while commenting on the tremendous popularity of the new law which now makes all 1.1 million of Arizona’s K-12 students eligible to apply for an ESA which provides about $7,000 per student, per year to assist families in tailoring a student’s education experience to best meet their needs.
The funds can be used for a variety of purposes, including private school tuition, homeschooling expenses, educational therapies, tutoring, and other expenses in exchange for not attending a public school or receiving a tuition tax credit.
More than 12,000 applications have been received by the Arizona Department of Education since the governor signed ESA expansion legislation in June. That outpaces the number of students who were utilizing the ESA program under the old law.
The new expanded eligibility was to take effect Sept. 24 with a Sept. 30 deadline to qualify for first quarter funding. The rush by families to apply this week was bolstered by publicity involving a political action committee’s failed referendum effort to waylay the ESA expansion until voters could decide in 2024 whether it should go into effect or not.
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs put the law on hold Sept. 23 based on claims by Save Our Schools Arizona that more than 141,000 referendum petition signatures had been submitted to Hobbs’ office. Of those, at least 118,823 signatures needed to be validated to keep the ESA expansion sidelined.
But in a letter dated Thursday, Hobbs’ staff officially confirmed what has been known for days – that the referendum effort failed to come anywhere close to the constitutional minimum number of signatures.
One parent said Friday’s announcement by Hobbs’ office ensures parents are now “rightly in control of their children’s future.”
Christine Accurso of Gilbert is among pro-ESA parents who questioned whether the glaringly insufficient referendum filing was simply a calculated ploy by anti-school choice politicians to freeze funding for children right in the midst of the school year.
“As a longtime ESA parent, I could not be more thrilled to see thousands of new parents benefiting from this program,” Accurso said. “It is my hope that the rest of the country can follow our lead and bring this legislation to their state, so that we can one day see all American children in the school of their parent’s choice.”
Save Our Schools Arizona issued a statement Friday putting the blame for the group’s referendum effort failure on the governor, who is one of ESA’s staunchest supporters.
“We are confident we would have succeeded had Governor Ducey not waited 10 days to sign the bill, robbing Arizona voters of crucial time to sign the petition,” according to the statement.
The group even criticized pro-ESA organizations like the Goldwater Institute for using “sophisticated software” to review the petitions, resulting in Monday’s revelation that Save Our Schools Arizona submitted only about 90,000 signatures.
For school choice advocates like Accurso, the important fact is that the ESA expansion is now in effect. The priority now is to ensure families that still want to apply become aware of the extended Oct. 15 deadline.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs chose to stall on the invalidation of a ballot initiative attempting to kill school choice, despite it not having the required number of signatures.
School choice advocates gathered outside of the State Capitol on Wednesday to protest Hobbs’ inaction. Hobbs told frustrated parents that her office would wait out the entire 20-day period offered by state law to verify the Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ) ballot initiative signatures.
Governor Doug Ducey spoke at the rally, telling Hobbs to expedite her signature verification. He also directed Arizona Department of Education (ADE) Superintendent Kathy Hoffman to take charge and free the universal school choice funds.
“Arizona is going to be a state that funds students, not systems,” said Ducey.
One Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program mother, Christine Accurso, pleaded with the media to question Hobbs’ choice. Accurso led “Decline to Sign,” the countermovement to SOSAZ’s ballot initiative.
“Help us parents of Arizona. Ask Katie Hobbs why they won’t release this,” said Accurso.
Accurso added that if a group of four moms was able to verify the signature number total in a matter of days, it shouldn’t take the secretary of state’s office nearly a month to do the same.
According to earlier reporting from this week, pro-ESA Program parents, organizations such as the American Federation for Children, and various reporters reviewed the SOSAZ signature sheets and found them far short of the claimed totals. However, Hobbs and her office took SOSAZ’s signature total claim at their word.
“Conservative Circus” radio host James Harris also spoke at the rally. He declared that Hobbs’ Republican gubernatorial opponent, Kari Lake, wouldn’t stand in the way of school choice funds for parents the way he said that Hobbs did this week.
“We don’t need more obstacles. We need liberty and we need freedom,” said Harris.
AZ Free News reached out to Hobbs’ office on Tuesday for clarification about whether their decision to accept SOSAZ’s word for their petition signature count without verification was protocol. They haven’t responded.
We also reached out to SOSAZ Director Beth Lewis; she didn’t respond to our questions, either.
Senate President Karen Fann (R-Prescott) sent a letter to Hobbs on Wednesday, informing the secretary of state that anything less than an immediate rejection of the SOSAZ ballot initiative would make Hobbs complicit in misreporting and interfering with the law.
“As our country enters into a recession, we know that every dollar is valuable to lives and livelihoods,” said Fann.
While awaiting response from Hobbs’ office, AZ Free News posed the same question to former Secretary of State Ken Bennett. Though he said he was shocked by Hobbs’ handling of the ballot initiative, he said that Hobbs’ actions weren’t in violation of any laws. Bennett explained that Hobbs’ handling of this recent initiative didn’t align with the precedent of her predecessors, including his administration.
“We just felt the integrity of the whole process was worth at least a verification of the number of sheets and the purported number of signatures on those sheets when they first turned them in when I was there,” said Bennett. “Each secretary can decide how they want to do it, but my administration felt that we at least owed the public the fact that we checked the signatures per sheet. At least we would add the total sheets and total signatures up, so we weren’t getting somebody a false receipt of what we had received from them.”
Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ), the teachers union-backed group, claimed to have turned in more signatures than they did for a ballot initiative to end Arizona’s universal school choice.
SOSAZ claimed to have just over 141,700 signatures, above the minimum requirement of over 118,800.
However, an open records request by one pro-school choice mother, Christine Accurso, revealed that a sample of the petitions yielded about 10 signatures per page, not nearly 14 as SOSAZ claimed.
Accurso leads AZ Decline to Sign, a countermovement to SOSAZ’s ballot initiative. She told AZ Free News in a statement that she wasn’t surprised by SOSAZ’s overestimation.
“I am not surprised at all that Save Our Schools lied again,” said Accurso. “Saying you are turning in 10,200 petitions when in reality it was only 8,175 is not a rounding error, it’s another way they are deceiving the public. To what end, I don’t know, but the public isn’t buying what they are selling, so I am not surprised.”
Accurso credited SOSAZ’s shortcoming to AZ Decline to Sign and its supporters. She noted that even the overestimation by SOSAZ was a number able to be overcome by school choice supporters.
“Thousands of Arizonans pushed back against their tactics this summer,” recalled Accurso. “Without our efforts, they should have easily been able to get 250k – 300k signatures, so even when they reported 142k we were thrilled because challenging that number is very doable. With the new evidence of 8,175 petitions, we are confident more than ever on how this battle ends.”
On Friday, Secretary of State (SOS) Katie Hobbs, Democratic gubernatorial candidate, accepted SOSAZ’s claims without scrutiny. Within hours of SOSAZ turning in its signatures, Hobbs announced that implementation of universal school choice would be suspended while her office reviewed their petition signatures.
Neither SOSAZ or Hobbs’ office have addressed the open records discovery. We reached out to both SOSAZ Director Beth Lewis and the secretary of state’s office for comment, but neither responded by press time.
Kevin Gemeroy, a parent involved with AZ Decline to Sign, told AZ Free News that he and other school choice advocates witnessed SOSAZ signature gatherers providing false information to petition signers for weeks about universal school choice through the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program.
“Just last weekend, I heard an SOSAZ representative tell a woman that HB2853 would ‘steal $2 billion from public schools,’ which is over $182,000 per child that applied for the universal ESAs,” stated Gemeroy. “I’m unfortunately not surprised Save Our Schools lied to the media and Secretary of State’s office on Friday, and I hope the proper authorities are alerted and take action to protect our democratic process from these lies and attacks in the future.”
The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) hasn’t addressed the open records discovery, either. However, ADE Superintendent Kathy Hoffman has made it clear that she opposes school choice programs of any kind and fully supports the SOSAZ initiative.
Arizona’s universalized ESA Program was scheduled to take effect last Saturday. However, the program remains on hold.
As of last Tuesday, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) received over 10,900 applications for the universal ESA Program.