Secretary of State Katie Hobbs Holds School Choice Funds Hostage

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs Holds School Choice Funds Hostage

By Corinne Murdock |

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.”

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Arizona Teachers Union-Backed Group May Have Fudged Ballot Initiative Numbers to Kill School Choice

Arizona Teachers Union-Backed Group May Have Fudged Ballot Initiative Numbers to Kill School Choice

By Corinne Murdock |

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. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

ASU to Host Hackathon ‘For The Social Good’, No Coding Experience Required

ASU to Host Hackathon ‘For The Social Good’, No Coding Experience Required

By Corinne Murdock |

Next month, teams from all over the world will participate in the Arizona State University (ASU) “Hacks for Humanity,” a 3-day hackathon to develop socially beneficial technical solutions — but participants don’t have to have coding knowledge to win.

Hacks for Humanity encourages non-coder participants in order to expand the creation of social justice solutions. 

The purpose of the annual hackathon is to problem-solve social justice issues locally and globally. This year, the hackathon theme challenges participants to answer whether or not people are losing their humanity, citing the contexts of social disparities, racial injustices, and the COVID-19 pandemic generally.

“An unforgiving global pandemic as the backdrop for ongoing social disparities and racial injustice nationally and globally once again draws attention to this critical question: ‘Are we losing our humanity?’” stated the page.

Hacks for Humanity encouraged any member of the public to participate. The event page specifically named activists, artists, entrepreneurs, educators, scientists, and social workers as desired participants. 

“When these diverse perspectives come together, innovation is the exciting result,” stated Hacks for Humanity. 

Participating teams must select one of three topics: aging and wellbeing, civic engagement, and environmental justice. The winning hackathon team will receive $10,000 in cash prizes and $1,000 per team member.

The annual hackathon began nearly a decade ago through Project Humanities, an ASU initiative founded in 2011 by Neal Lester focused on social justice theories such as diversity and intersectionality. Lester has defended controversial concepts like Critical Race Theory (CRT) and gender ideology

This year’s sponsors are State Farm, ASU University Technology Office, ASU Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute, JDT Family Foundation, and Jenny Norton & Bob Ramsey. Additional supporters are the Odysea Aquarium, ASU School of Social Transformation, Heard Museum, Arizona Cardinals, Desert Botanical Garden, Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix, the Nile, Tempe Boat Rentals of America, and the Phoenix Symphony.

The hackathon will take place from October 7-9, and is open to individuals aged 16 and older.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Illegal Immigrant Children Cost Arizona Public Schools Over $748 Million in 2020

Illegal Immigrant Children Cost Arizona Public Schools Over $748 Million in 2020

By Corinne Murdock |

In 2020, illegal immigrants cost Arizona public schools over $748 million — an economic burden that will likely increase due to the ongoing border crisis. 99 percent of these funds come from Arizona taxpayers’ local and state taxes, not the federal government. 

The cost estimate comes from a report released this month by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Despite the hundreds of millions poured into these limited English proficiency (LEP) programs, only 32 percent (about 23,900) of illegal immigrant students in Arizona graduate on time. 

As of 2020, there were over 74,800 LEP students. That’s just over half of a percent of the total student population at most: 1.1 million. Nationwide, that number is 5.1 million students costing taxpayers over $78 billion. 

Under President Joe Biden, there have been over 277,300 accompanied minors and unaccompanied children that crossed the border illegally. That doesn’t account for those apprehended minors within family units, nor does it account for gotaways.

The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) handles LEP students, which they refer to as English Learners (EL), through their Office of English Language Acquisition Services (OELAS). Arizona schools’ LEP programs are known as Structured English Immersion (SEI) programs. 

In May, the ADE invested $10 million of American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to train teachers for SEI programs. 

ADE Superintendent Kathy Hoffman opposes the SEI programs. Hoffman supported Arizona legislators’ efforts to repeal Proposition 203, which has required Arizona schools to educate EL students in English only since 2000, not their native language. 

American schools weren’t always required to provide taxpayer-funded public education to illegal immigrant children. That changed in 1982 when the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruled in Plyler v. Doe that illegal immigrant children were entitled to public schooling. 

The taxpayer burden of illegal immigrant education may not end with K-12 schools. Come November, voters must decide whether to approve Proposition 308, which will grant in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants so long as they’ve graduated from an Arizona high school.

The state legislature approved the resolution last year through the combined efforts of Arizona House Democrats and several House Republicans: State Representatives Michelle Udall (R-Mesa), Joel John (R-Buckeye), David Cook (R-Globe), and Joanne Osborne (R-Goodyear). 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Transgender Activist for Child Transgenderism Launching Private Phoenix High School

Transgender Activist for Child Transgenderism Launching Private Phoenix High School

By Corinne Murdock |

A Californian transgender woman on the board of an organization focused on normalizing child transgenderism plans to launch a private high school that grants college degrees in Phoenix next year.

Ella (née Daniel) Baker, the founder of Pathways Early College Academy (PECA) and board member of Gender Spectrum, also plans to have his students participate in “The Incubator”: academic and behavioral support through daily faculty check-ins that involve “tutoring, mentorship, and general guidance.” Over the past decade, there have been cases of children who grew distant from their parents and became suicidal after faculty challenged their gender identity or secretly aided in their social and physical gender transition.

It appears that Baker is establishing a Phoenix campus primarily to capitalize on the newly-universalized Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program. PECA advertises that it accepts ESA funds, noting that its tuition is $7,000 even — the exact maximum a student may receive under the universal ESA Program. However, tuition increases to $9,800 for the 2023-2024 school year.

“[PECA] is set at the expected state-funded amount so that most families can attend for free,” stated Baker.

Baker’s Gender Spectrum bio includes career highlights not mentioned by his LinkedIn. His professional networking account portrays him as, primarily, an educator: he notes that he managed several educational programs, taught and directed several programs at Maranatha High School in Pasadena, California, and taught at his alma mater, Azusa Pacific University.

However, Baker’s Gender Spectrum bio portrayed his career in education as one focused on transgender activism. He noted that his research focuses on “how institutional climates and policies impact belonging and engagement for transgender communities.” Additionally, he revealed that his education program management duties included serving on a Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) steering committee and overseeing initiatives to eliminate binary dress codes and establish gender neutral restrooms. The bio also disclosed that Baker leads transgender inclusion workshops for faith groups, schools, and businesses.

Baker also had brief stints working for mainstream media outlets: Huffington Post, PBS, and NPR. 

During his time at Maranatha High School, a Christian school, Baker was “Daniel” and proclaimed to be a Christian. He founded the Oliver Honors Institute while there, a selective Bible-based classics program (though he omitted any mention of Christianity or the Bible on his LinkedIn description of the school and institute). Although the high school fired Baker once he chose to identify as a woman publicly, Baker still contends that he is a Christian.

An organization claiming to be a Christian church, All Saints Church in Pasadena, California, held a ceremony affirming Baker’s transgender identity on Easter Weekend in 2019. 

Baker’s one other PECA colleague, Alden Kiertzner, will serve as the principal and senior director of operations at PECA.

PECA derives its college curriculum from Pathways College, whose Phoenix address is shared by Pathways in Education, a high school charter part of a network of public charter schools located in Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, and Tennessee managed by Pathways Management Group (PMG). Pathways College has another address in Pasadena, California that’s the same as the PECA address.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.