What’s the difference between 141,714 and 88,866? Take a few seconds to do the math, and feel free to use a calculator if you’d like.
If you answered 52,848, you’re correct! Congratulations and give yourself a pat on the back because your math skills are far superior to those of Save Our Schools (SOS) and the rest of Arizona’s teachers’ unions.
On Friday, SOS Executive Director Beth Lewis boldly proclaimed—with all the confidence in the world—that the wall of boxes she was standing in front of contained the signatures of 141,714 Arizona voters who supported a ballot initiative aimed at overturning universal Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) in Arizona. She was giddy. Her supporters cheered. SOS declared blocking universal school choice for all a “historic victory.” And corporate media jumped on the opportunity to push their narrative, accepting everything SOS said at face value.
But there was a problem. And that’s where simple math comes into play…
Save Our Schools Arizona is clearly frustrated in its mission to stop families from having the freedom of school choice. For a few months now, the group has been gathering signatures throughout Arizona for a ballot initiative aimed at overturning universal Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA). You know…the law that was passed this summer to ensure every child gets the education they deserve. The one that even some Democrats and prominent black leaders like Pastor Drew Anderson fought for. The law that actually saves taxpayers moneyand was so popular that its launch overwhelmed the Arizona Department of Education’s website!
On Sunday, Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ) Director Beth Lewis called four Arizona legislators “MAGA extremists,” accusing them of blocking their signature gathering efforts by protesting.
“They are all extremist lawmakers who are Trumpers and MAGA extremists,” said Lewis. “They are out here harassing our volunteers, surrounding 80-year-old women, calling businesses and lying, all to make sure that we don’t get to have signatures by this Friday to stop universal voucher expansion and keep public funding in public schools.”
Lewis erroneously called Arizona’s school choice funds “vouchers.” Those types of funds may only be used at private schools. Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program funds may be used for other educational opportunities, such as tutoring, supplemental curriculum, online learning programs or courses, standardized testing fees, and community college.
One of the accused lawmakers, State Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale) retorted that peaceful protest doesn’t inhibit democratic signature-gathering.
“Expressing our beliefs is the foundation of democracy, not interfering with it,” said Ugenti-Rita. “Instead of name-calling, try using substantive and persuasive facts to sell your perspective. Otherwise, you simply come off as a simpleton.”
The three other legislators accused of being MAGA extremists were State Senators Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert) and Wendy Rogers (R-Flagstaff), as well as State Representative Ben Toma (R-Peoria).
SOSAZ is attempting to gather enough signatures for their 2024 ballot initiative to overturn Arizona’s universal school choice: “Stop Voucher Expansion.” As AZ Free News reported earlier this month, SOSAZ signature gatherers were giving false information to potential signers.
Lewis didn’t deny that false information was given to signature gatherers. Instead, she took issue that someone had recorded the SOSAZ activists secretly.
Several days after the SOSAZ activists’ remarks were leaked, Lewis issued an opinion piece in the Arizona Mirror to denounce universal school choice. Lewis called school choice a “grift” and “massive cash grab” by private schools, pushing one of the contested claims of her organization’s signature gatherers that the ESA Program lacks oversight.
“Universal vouchers mean the end of public education as we know it in Arizona,” stated Lewis.
If any lack of oversight exists, that would be because of Arizona Department of Education (ADE) Superintendent Kathy Hoffman. The superintendent is a vocal opponent of the ESA Program and supporter of the SOSAZ ballot initiative. Hoffman graduated from an Oregon private school.
When signing the SOSAZ ballot initiative, Hoffman claimed that the ESA Program she oversees has “zero accountability.”
The ESA Program universalization takes effect on September 24.
In a few short weeks, around 200 children will commit to an education that tends to stand out in this day and age: a “Christian, constitutional, classical” one.
These students of the new private school, Tipping Point Academy (TPA), are just a fraction of the thousands upended or seeking alternatives following public schools’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic: a demographic projected to increase due to the state’s recent and historic universalization of its school choice program, Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs).
TPA was launched last March by Great State Alliance (GSA), a nonprofit advocating for constitutional liberty since the summer of 2020 when that organization launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
AZ Free News interviewed TPA Founder Jeremy Wood. He was unabashed about God being the core of TPA’s foundations and vision.
“We are working from the presupposition that the word of God is the roadmap for life and living,” he explained. “The Bible is God’s word and truth. It offers knowledge and wisdom and everything you need to be successful in life. Our classes are all taught from a Biblical worldview. Everything we teach is taught from that perspective. We believe that God created the world. He created science, math, astronomy, and the stars, and He made the world to work as a perfect mechanism.”
Wood clarified that core academics and God aren’t mutually exclusive. He explained that TPA operates from Christian premises rather than a secular one. Meaning: TPA offers a classical education that encompasses the likes of Socratic dialogue and natural law and excludes modern, controversial approaches like Critical Race Theory (CRT), Culturally Responsive Education (CRE), Social-Emotional Learning (SEL), and Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE). Their version of education includes approaches like “The Noah Plan,” which incorporates the Bible in every subject.
“That’s the difference: the word of God is the foundation of our instruction. That’s not separate from our academics. We’re teaching the kids all the same academics they’re learning in public schools,” said Wood. “Our curriculum isn’t vastly different. It’s more of a philosophical approach for how we apply the methodology of teaching. We apply the principled approach which is based on teaching kids on how to become learners and critical thinkers.”
Wood said that TPA initially started as a desire to provide a better education for his own children. Then, he said that he recognized that education was a frontline in defending liberty, and his desire expanded to offering a better education to his community.
“The government was forcing these shutdowns and mandates, so we decided to stand up and create a solution that was faith-based and protective of our rights to assemble, to meet without fear of needing to shut down, or implement mask policies, or some other weird draconian measures to create barriers between us,” said Wood.
According to Wood, TPA uses a mastery learning model for teaching. Students must master content in each subject, which are “set up like mini dissertations” that require students to compile their research and writing to complete a notebook, or “mini thesis.” Additionally, TPA prioritizes hands-on, project-based learning. Wood cited an example of TPA students learning to apply for a job, use functional math, develop business plans, manage a business, run sales, and market products and services through the campus cafe.
“TPA is about creating critical thinkers,” stated Wood.
Another unique aspect about TPA: they expect parental involvement, almost to the point of a requirement. Wood emphasized that fathers were the key figures that TPA prioritizes for incorporation, but noted that anyone is open to serve through work like administrative support or classroom management. Parents are required to undergo a background check, just like all TPA staff.
“We’re not going to allow you to be a non-present parent. We expect volunteering,” said Wood. “We believe it’s our duty to partner with the parents. If you’re not going to be involved in volunteering, we’ll just tell you right now we don’t think you’re a fit for our school. If we were in it for the money, we’d be telling people everything they wanted to hear to get them in the door. We’re pretty clear on our methodology to keep like-minded people in our community.”
In just over a year of its existence, TPA has already experienced pushback from the establishment educational community.
Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ) has been one of the first to target TPA. The anti-school choice organization’s director, Beth Lewis, characterized the private school as a money-grabbing scheme developed in response to the universalization of ESAs.
At $8,500 annually, TPA’s tuition falls below the average private school cost. Average tuition for private schooling in Arizona is nearly $10,300.
TPA’s enrollment ranges between 180 to 200 students, totaling between $1.5 and $1.7 million accrued from tuition. If every parent utilized the $7,000 maximum from the state’s ESA Program, that reduces tuition to $1,500 — which may be paid down for just over $100 on a monthly basis. Interested parents may also qualify for a TPA scholarship.
Wood responded that taxpayer dollars for education should be accessible to all taxpayers — regardless of their beliefs.
“Those are our taxpayer dollars as well. People are welcome to have their opinion. They don’t have to send their kids to our school,” said Wood. “We shouldn’t be discriminated against just because we want our kids to learn about our heritage, our values, our God, as well as the academics.”
Wood added that he hasn’t drawn “one penny” from his nonprofit for compensation. Rather, he said that he sacrificed his own business to launch TPA. The Wood family now lives well within their means, he says, to allow TPA to flourish.
“I think there’s the perception that we don’t want taxpayer dollars going to religion. Well, we’re taxpayers as well, so if this is what we believe we should have a right to allocate our dollars to the education of our choice,” said Wood. “I’m not doing this for a platform. I’m not doing this for fame or money. We’re just trying to create a solution for our families and families that think like us.”
From the very beginning, Wood said that the TPA team relied on God to provide. He shared that they prayed without ceasing for their ideal location where the school sits currently: the site of a former church. By the time Wood discovered the site, it was already under contract to become a multifamily residence. Yet he said they prayed, and three weeks later the property fell out of escrow. Wood then sent a letter to the property owners, explaining his reason for buying. The owners agreed, selling the property at a generous price that Wood described as “essentially the cost of the dirt.” They closed within 30 days on the deal, enabling the TPA team to prepare the location for this past school year.
“We came across a campus in the Northeast Valley, and we believed God was going to deliver this property for us. We didn’t know how,” said Wood. “It was a small, humble beginning.”
TPA’s enrollment is filling up this year but, according to Wood, the main reason that some parents say they can’t enroll their student is due to finances. He expressed hope that increasing awareness of the ESA Program expansion will remedy that issue.
Wood shared that some parents also prefer the frugality of charter schools. He touched on an issue reported by AZ Free News: since charter schools exist within the realm of public schools, they’re under stricter government regulation and susceptible to incidents that occur in public education.
“There’s a perception that they could jump to the charter school path, that there’s a little more autonomy there. People don’t understand a charter school is still a public school,” said Wood. “They’re still under the regulatory thumb of the state government in terms of health requirements. If the government starts pushing for mask or vaccine mandates, or hindering any medical freedoms, the charter schools are still going to have to comply with that.”
TPA will teach all grades, K-12, but enrollment is only open up to the 9th grade at present. The school plans to integrate its current students into high school before opening up its high school classrooms for enrollment.
TPA also launched a feeder school, or “K-prep,” enrolling under 20 children. Wood said their goal is to launch 100 schools over the next decade.