Parents Overwhelm Dept. Of Ed Website To Apply For ESA Credit Up To $7K

Parents Overwhelm Dept. Of Ed Website To Apply For ESA Credit Up To $7K

By Terri Jo Neff |

With nearly $7,000 becoming available for every K-12 student to attend a private school or be homeschooled through the recent expansion of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs), the Arizona Department of Education’s website has been overwhelmed with parents seeking to apply.

The credit becomes available on Sept. 24 but the number of parents applying in advance has created issues for the Department of Education’s website. An advisory posted to the website this week noted “high volume” may cause users to receive an error message when trying to establish an account.  

On Saturday, Ducey took to Twitter as word spread about the tremendous interest.

The ESA expansion legislation sponsored by Rep. Ben Toma provides families of all 1.1 million of Arizona’s K-12 students the option of allocating 90 percent of state funding which would have been allocated to the student’s district or charter school and have it be available for private school tuition, home-schooling, tutoring, and other educational needs such as transportation, textbooks, and computers.

Among the permitted expenditures for homeschoolers is the cost of specialized teachers for subjects such as foreign language, art, and music.

Ducey presided over a Aug. 17 ceremonial signing of HB2853. He later said making ESAs available to all of Arizona’s K-12 students was putting “the power back in the hands of parents, who are best suited to make decisions for their children’s education.”

Jenny Clark, founder of Love Your School, attended last week’s ceremony (Ducey actually signed HB2853 on July 7). Clark says Arizona’s ESA program can be life-changing for Arizona’s students.  

“My five children have benefitted from ESAs and I can’t help but think how many kids don’t get the help they need,” Clark said. “Now, they will. Every child in Arizona will have the same opportunities and ability to get the education tailored to their needs.”

Corey A. DeAngelis of the Federation for Children was one of the stakeholders  involved in ensuring passage of HB2853, calling it “a national model” that empowers parents. He too used Twitter to comment on what the high demand on the ADE website means.

“This is why the government school monopoly fights so hard against giving families a choice,” DeAngelis wrote. “They’re terrified. They know parents want alternatives.”

Information about ESAs and eligibility can be found at https://www.azed.gov/esa

Arizona GOP Accuses ADE Superintendent Kathy Hoffman of Being a ‘Groomer’

Arizona GOP Accuses ADE Superintendent Kathy Hoffman of Being a ‘Groomer’

By Corinne Murdock |

On Wednesday, the Republican Party of Arizona accused Arizona Department of Education (ADE) Superintendent Kathy Hoffman of being a “groomer.”

A groomer is a slang term for a predatory adult who forms a special relationship with a child in order to manipulate, exploit, and abuse them. The term has increased in use with the popularity of promoting LGBTQ+ ideologies in children.

According to Google search trend data, the word “groomer” has grown steadily in popularity since 2004. Interest spiked throughout 2020, maintaining similarly-high levels in usage since then. Though, the term can also mean an individual who takes care of a dog’s fur grooming needs, and Google doesn’t distinguish those uses in search history. 

Hoffman responded to the Arizona GOP by remarking that both her GOP opponent, former superintendent and then former attorney general Tom Horne, and one of his supporters and close friends, former state representative David Stringer, have police records. Stringer resigned from the state legislature after eight sex-crime charges from 1983 came to light, in which several boys had accused Stringer of rape. Stringer was never convicted but entered five years’ supervised probation. 

“What does Tom Horne have in common with his buddy David Stringer? A police record,” wrote Hoffman.

The Arizona GOP responded, “Ok groomer.”

Under Hoffman, the ADE has a working relationship with the Phoenix chapter of the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), a controversial organization advocating for LGBTQ+ ideologies in children. Hoffman’s also supported the Arizona Trans Youth & Parent Organization (AZTYPO).

Earlier this year, Hoffman opposed bills banning transgender treatments and surgeries for minors, and banning biological males from female sports. She called lawmakers in support of the legislation “bigoted,” and “hateful.”

The most recent controversy over child sexual abuse perpetrated by legislators occurred just last year, when former Democratic state representative Tony Navarrette was arrested for molesting two teenaged boys, ages 16 and 13. He resigned shortly after his arrest.

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

Celebratory Signing Ceremony For Expansion Of ESAs to All K-12 Arizona Students

Celebratory Signing Ceremony For Expansion Of ESAs to All K-12 Arizona Students

By Terri Jo Neff |

A pep rally type celebration was held Tuesday to help promote expansion of  Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) for all K-12 students in Arizona.

“Today, we celebrate the signing of the most expansive school choice legislation in recent memory,” Ducey said during a ceremonial signing of House Bill 2853 which provides about $7,000 in education credits for every Arizona student to attend the K-12 public, private or charter school of their choice.

“Arizona is now the gold standard for educational freedom,” the governor said.

The expansion of ESAs under HB2853 was sponsored by House Majority Leader Ben Toma (R-Peoria) with the support of the Goldwater Institute. ESAs are paid out as scholarships for families to use for tuition and tutoring expenses as well as transportation, textbooks, computers, and other costs related to supporting a student’s educational needs.

ESAs served roughly 100 Arizona students back in 2011. Last year that number was 11,000. But with HB2853 now in effect, all 1.1 million students at the K-12 level.

“This reform empowers parents weary of a one-size-fits-all approach to public education to customize their children’s schooling based on their unique needs,” Goldwater Institute President and CEO Victor Riches said when the law took effect. Riches added that Arizona families “deserve the right to choose the best education option for their children, regardless of zip code.”

“States around the nation should follow Arizona’s lead and pass legislation that funds students, not systems,” he said.

Reactions to Tuesday’s signing ceremony event were very positive.

READ MORE HERE

Arizona Mother Helps Coalition Fight Teachers Union-Backed Ballot Initiative to End Universal School Choice

Arizona Mother Helps Coalition Fight Teachers Union-Backed Ballot Initiative to End Universal School Choice

By Corinne Murdock |

Christine Accurso is one mother helping a coalition of parents fight a 2024 ballot initiative to undo Arizona’s recent universalization of school choice. That group, AZ Decline to Sign, hopes to prevent Arizona families from losing access to up to $6,500 in educational funds through the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program. 

The organization behind the ballot initiative, Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ), is also made up of parents, as well as teachers and community organizers. They’re supported by the Arizona Education Association (AEA), the state’s primary teachers union. 

Accurso appeared on the “Conservative Circus” radio show to discuss the AZ Decline to Sign countermovement. She insisted that SOSAZ was shopping two major lies to Arizona voters. 

Accurso said that SOSAZ’s claim that the ESA Program universalization would take $1 billion from public schools wasn’t true for two main reasons: first, that parents choose where to apply their school choice funding, and second, that public schools still receive other taxpayer funds even if they lose out on ESA Program monies.

“They have been pushing lies to everyone to get them to sign a petition to be able to refer this to the ballot,” said Accurso. “No money leaves the public school unless the parent removes the child from the school to choose an ESA. They still get all the federal and local tax dollars — it’s just a portion of the tax dollars.”

Accurso said that the other lie was that SOSAZ represented parents’ interests.

“We elected our legislature and our governor and we asked them for this [school choice] bill as parents,” said Accurso. 

SOSAZ’s ballot initiative “Stop Voucher Expansion” which mischaracterizes Arizona’s ESA Program as “vouchers.”

Arizona’s school choice funds are education scholarship accounts. Vouchers are education funds awarded for use at private schools only, whereas education scholarship account funds may be applied to a variety of options, like tutoring.

FAQ: UNIVERSAL SCHOOL CHOICE IN ARIZONA

Arizona’s Democratic leadership has expressed support for the SOSAZ initiative. Most recently, Senator Martín Quezada (D-Glendale), also mischaracterizing Arizona’s school choice funds as “vouchers,” claimed that allowing parents to apply those funds at their discretion was a practice lacking oversight at best, and rooted in racism at worst.

The SOSAZ ballot initiative has also garnered the support of 2024 state legislative candidate and Arizona Democratic Party leader Brianna Westbrook, a gender dysphoric man previously named Mike McDanel.

The ESA Program universalization takes effect on September 24.

READ: ARIZONA’S IMPLEMENTATION PLAN FOR UNIVERSAL SCHOOL CHOICE

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

School Social Justice Program Approval Delayed After CEO, Teachers Mocked Parents In Private Facebook Group

School Social Justice Program Approval Delayed After CEO, Teachers Mocked Parents In Private Facebook Group

By Corinne Murdock |

Thursday, the Peoria Unified School District (PUSD) Governing Board delayed its decision on using BLOOM365, a violence prevention program, after parents discovered its CEO mocking them in a private teacher group she administered.

Concerned parents and community members who spoke at the governing board meeting compared BLOOM365 CEO, Donna Bartos, and the private Facebook group she administered, Peoria Drives Change, to “Mean Girls.” A Tolleson Union School District (TUSD) teacher, Melissa Girmscheid, was also one of the administrators. The Facebook group doesn’t appear to exist anymore. 

“BLOOM365” is an acronym for their slogan, “Bring Love On Others More 365 Days a Year,” with the main mission of preventing teen dating abuse. If approved, the nonprofit would provide PUSD with staff training as well as curriculum, programs, and resources on healthy friendship and relationships, youth violence prevention, student and school safety, and social, emotional, and behavioral services through this school year and the next. Funding for their outreach education comes from three state agencies: the Arizona Department of Public Safety (AZDPS), the Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS), and Governor Doug Ducey’s Office of Youth Faith and Family. 

Superintendent Jason Reynolds, who didn’t attend the meeting in person, was the one who requested initially that the board delay a decision on the item. 

AZ Free News reviewed copies of content from the Peoria Drives Change group. Bartos appears to have allowed and encouraged teachers to use the space to air their grievances against parents and children as well as share the private details of students. Bartos herself derided PUSD parents who disagreed with concepts like white privilege as “off their rockers” and “f*****g nuts.”

Bartos criticized one mother’s advocacy for her child’s education, speculating to group members that the mother’s behaviors were caused by abuse from a parent. Girmscheid mocked the parent’s testimony of abuse as “daddy issues.”

Bartos also criticized vocal parents at governing board meetings as an “angry and obnoxious mob” that spread lies. She shared that she was “quietly” working on a movement to rally voters aged 18 through 24 to reshape Peoria politics. 

“We need all Peoria taxpayers who believe religious ideology, radical politics, and exclusionary patriotism have no place on the school board or in our classrooms to band together to shut this s**t show down,” wrote Bartos.

Bartos also advocated for the school district to ignore parents if they conflict with students’ desires.

“PUSD needs to prioritize cultivating a culture of empathy, respect, and acceptance for all students over pleasing parents,” said Bartos.

PUSD governing board candidate Devon Updegraff-Day informed the board that PUSD teachers within the Peoria Drives Change group were attacking a group of 740 parents, West Valley Parents Uniting — a group of which Updegraff-Day is also a member.

One mother, Jodi Brackett, expressed her frustration with the board’s inaction. Brackett served what appeared to be court summons to the board.

Board member Rebecca Hill responded that parents’ complaints gave her “grave reservations.” She acknowledged that few students benefitted from BLOOM365, not enough to warrant the program’s continuation at PUSD.

“They have not proven to me or the public that they are a safe, trustworthy organization,” said Hill. “Either everybody benefits or we’re done with it.”

Board member and State Representative Beverly Pingerelli (R-Peoria) shared that she reviewed some of the Peoria Drives Change content, and that she would vote against approving BLOOM365.

“I don’t believe in condoning bad behavior, so I’ll be voting ‘no.’” said Pingerelli.

Board President David Sandoval, who is also a Democratic state legislature candidate, said that he spent time with site leaders that used BLOOM365 at a “much more frequent level” than them. Sandoval insisted that BLOOM365 does make an impact on students.

Sandoval said that the board needed more time to review the contents of the Facebook group and claims submitted by parents. He defended BLOOM365, saying that the wide range of dynamics among students necessitated the program’s inclusion. Sandoval advised the board members to look beyond the complaints of concerned parents by talking to other districts that use the BLOOM365 program. 

Chief Student Services Officer Carter Davidson also defended BLOOM365. Davidson insisted that students did benefit from the curriculum. He said that parents uncomfortable with their child’s exposure to BLOOM365 could opt out, per the state’s codification of HB2161.

One former educator retorted that BLOOM365 included Social Emotional Learning (SEL), which she noted was a subcategory of Critical Race Theory (CRT). She insisted that there were other, better curriculums and training programs available for students and staff.

“If you’re going to use the material that is useful to children who are high-risk, let’s find something that is not written by somebody who is participating in a hate comment as well,” said the educator. “This woman, who is the CEO of this company, participated in hate speech. So, let’s take that in consideration when we review BLOOM365.”

Brent Cobb, the third vice chairman of the LD27 Republican Party, concurred. He advised the board to reconsider BLOOM365 based on Barto’s private Facebook group activity.

“And now we have the CEO of one of these SEL corporations that is participating and allowing hate speech to occur in one of her private online groups,” said Cobb. “If you’re going to allow this type of content in our schools, you need to figure out what the substrate of what that ideology is built upon because the parents are not in the room when these courses are being taught. And us parents need to have enough faith in the integrity of the program that we don’t have to worry about the content that’s being shared with our children when we’re not in the room.”

Community concern over BLOOM365 picked up last summer, after Bartos advocated for SEL to the governing board and community but didn’t disclose her status as a district vendor.

AZ Free News reached out to PUSD for comment. Their spokesperson said that they were informed Monday of the Facebook group, but haven’t been able to access it for review. 

“We were informed today that a private Facebook group may be discussing students and staff. Since it is private, we do not have access to log-in and view the comments or discussion,” said the spokesperson. “We did speak with one parent to address concerns she had about the comments and will be having follow-up conversations to ensure that student information remains private. As we prepare to start the new school year, protecting the privacy of our student information remains critically important to us.”

Concerned parents revealed at Thursday’s board meeting that they supplied the PUSD governing board with content from the Peoria Drives Change group.

PUSD teachers are far from the first to create private Facebook groups to air their grievances about parents, children, and community members.

One such group made national headlines for its plans to hack and infiltrate parent and community groups containing ideological opponents. The group, “Anti-Racist Parents of Loudon County,” included teachers and school board members from the controversial district, Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS), as well as local officials like George Soros-backed commonwealth attorney Steve Descano. Two recall efforts are underway for Descano currently, unrelated to his membership in the Facebook group. 

LCPS has been in and out of the public eye since the pandemic began — most notably, for the coverup of a sexual assault in one of their high school’s bathrooms. Media coverage exposing that incident and subsequent issues within LCPS played an integral role in flipping Virginia’s governorship from Democratic to Republican. 

Watch PUSD’s full governing board meeting below:

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

Casa Grande JROTC Program Jeopardized Following Resignations

Casa Grande JROTC Program Jeopardized Following Resignations

By Corinne Murdock |

The Casa Grande Union High School District (CGUHSD) is facing critical staffing shortages for its Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) curriculum. A total of three JROTC instructors have resigned since the spring semester ended, with the last resignation occurring on Tuesday. Now one instructor, Gunnery Sergeant Jesus Flores, remains.

The last resignation, that of Major Rob Sherwood, was reportedly due to disagreements over new district administration policies. One Casa Grande Union High School JROTC student, commanding officer Blake Snell, explained that Sherwood found the new grading policies, which whistleblower teachers say granted failing students passing grades, to be egregious. Snell said that Sherwood wasn’t the only instructor bothered by the new policies, reporting that over 100 teachers resigned from the district.

“This is essentially rewarding kids for doing absolutely no work,” said Snell. 

CGUHSD Superintendent Anna Battle rejected the characterization of the new grading policies. 

Several hundred students participate in the district’s JROTC program; CGUHSD has two of the seven high schools with JROTC programs in the state. Concerned community members, which included student cadets and the local VFW 1677 Post, showed up to Tuesday’s governing board meeting for answers. 

State Representative Teresa Martinez (R-Oro Valley) and State Senator T.J. Shope (R-Coolidge) also showed up to support the JROTC students’ fight for their program.

Shope asserted that one of the board members — Taylor Kerby, a Democratic candidate for the State Senate — was partly to blame for the program’s jeopardization. 

Battle made it clear at the meeting that the district doesn’t plan on ending the JROTC program. The superintendent had nothing but praise for the JROTC program and its students. 

“What educator in his or her right mind would not want to support a program that implements and instills the kind of virtues, qualities, and characteristics that we have seen not only in the Casa Grande Union High School District but around the country?” asked Battle.

Battle promised that the district’s search for quality officials to serve the program was ongoing. 

Yet, district officials alluded to a disparity between the positive sentiments surrounding the JROTC program and leadership action to sustain the program. 

Vista Grande High School Principal Vance Danzy noted during the meeting that the district hasn’t found solutions to maintain the program over the last few months. Danzy shared that district officials’ meetings following the initial two JROTC instructor resignations at the end of June weren’t fruitful. 

Danzy explained that several of Battle’s proposed solutions weren’t feasible, such as transporting students between campuses. That would result in students missing classes, argued Danzy. 

“We’ve been behind the eight ball, and this is because we were informed about our instructors leaving around June 28,” said Danzy.

Board member Chuck Wright admitted that the district failed to upkeep the JROTC program properly.

“I believe we just dropped the ball, however slightly, and I’d like to apologize,” said Wright. 

According to the latest budget reports, JROTC has a $145,000 budget, leaving well over $24,700 after expenditures of $120,000 for employee salaries and benefits. 

Watch the full CGUHSD governing board meeting here:

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