Federal Judge Blocks Arizona Save Women’s Sports Act

Federal Judge Blocks Arizona Save Women’s Sports Act

By Daniel Stefanski |

A federal judge has issued a ruling in a case involving Arizona’s recently passed Save Women’s Sports Act.

On Thursday, Judge Jennifer Zipps, in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona, granted a preliminary injunction against SB 1165, which was signed by former Governor Doug Ducey on March 30, 2022. The law would prohibit biological males from competing in women’s and girls’ athletic events at state public schools, colleges, and universities. Judge Zipps’ order blocks the law from going into effect.

Arizona’s Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Horne, released a statement after the judge’s order, vowing to continue his fight to uphold the law. Horne said, “We will appeal this ruling. This will ultimately be decided by the United States Supreme Court, and they will rule in our favor. The Plaintiffs in this case claimed that this only involves pre-pubescent boys, but we presented peer-reviewed studies that show pre-pubescent boys have an advantage over girls in sports. The only expert presented by the Plaintiffs was a medical doctor who makes his money doing sex transition treatments on children and who has exactly zero peer-reviewed studies to support his opinion.”

One of the representatives of the plaintiffs, Justin R. Rassi from Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, lauded the judge’s ruling, writing, “The Court’s well-reasoned decision exposes the lack of any legitimate justification for this discriminatory law, which inflicts severe and irreparable harm on transgender girls like Megan and Jane. We are very happy that, as a result of this ruling, Jane and Megan will be immediately able to resume playing sports with their friends.”

Judge Zipps found that “the Arizona legislature intentionally created a classification, specifically ‘biological girls,’ that necessarily excludes transgender girls, and expressly allowed only that exclusive classification to play girls sports to the exclusion of transgender girls.” The judge wrote, “Enforcement of the Act in violation of the Equal Protection Clause in and of itself is sufficient to presume irreparable harm to justify a preliminary injunction.”

While Superintendent Horne has taken the primary lead in defending this law, he hasn’t been the only public official to take action in this case. Earlier this year, both Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen and House Speaker Ben Toma filed a Motion to Intervene in the matter. The Senate Republican’s press release highlighted that “on April 17, 2023, plaintiffs represented by a radical organization filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop the law from being enforced in Arizona,” and “Attorney General Kris Mayes is not defending the constitutionality of the law.”

At the time of their filing, Petersen said, “In the absence of the Attorney General defending Arizona’s law, we’re looking forward to fighting for the rights of female athletes across Arizona, as well as for the Court making it clear Arizona’s law protecting women and girls should be enforced.”

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.

Arizona Superintendent Will Block Grants for Schools Lacking Police Presence

Arizona Superintendent Will Block Grants for Schools Lacking Police Presence

By Corinne Murdock |

Public schools who refuse to have armed officers on campus won’t receive grant money for school safety.

In a press release last Wednesday announcing the latest round of $80 million in funding from the School Safety Grant Program, Arizona Department of Education (ADE) Superintendent Tom Horne told schools to prioritize having armed law enforcement. Otherwise, the superintendent said that ADE wouldn’t recommend the school for funding to the State Board of Education.

“Every school should have a law enforcement officer to protect students and staff, and this should be accomplished on an urgent basis,” said Horne. “Delay in implementing this goal could leave schools more vulnerable to a tragic catastrophe. Schools that currently have no armed presence yet submit grants applications that do not request an officer will not receive a recommendation from this Department to the State Board of Education.”

Under former Superintendent Kathy Hoffman, funding from the grant program could be applied to school resource officers or counselors. One of Hoffman’s main priorities during her first term and re-election campaign was to shrink the disparity between the number of students and counselors. 

Hoffman stated that her administration slashed the student-to-counselor ratio by 20 percent. However, Horne’s administration noted that school violence has increased in recent years.

The ADE cited an increase in reported incidents of school threats, real and fake weapons found on campus, and “disturbing” social media posts inferring school violence. ADE also reported numerous receiving phone calls from Phoenix-area high school teachers about fights that, in at least one instance, risked a female teacher’s safety. 

Horne noted in the ADE press release that this push for schools to have armed officers wasn’t in order to exclude other school safety measures that the program funds, such as counselors. He recalled his support for counselors as far back as 1978 during his services as a school board member, when he voted against eliminating counselors from their district.

“Schools still ought to have counselors but providing a safe school atmosphere that requires an armed presence is the first priority,” said Horne.

Horne later told ABC 15 that there wasn’t any reason why schools should refuse police protection on campuses.

“I can’t understand how anybody doesn’t understand how important it is that we be sure we don’t have any massacres in Arizona,” said Horne. “The first priority has to be the safety of the students and we don’t want a situation where 20 or 30 students are killed because no one was there to defend them.”

In a tweet, ADE posed a hypothetical, asking what a school would do if an armed “maniac” invaded a school that only had counselors and no armed officers.

Several days after ADE announced its decision on school safety grants, a 13-year-old Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District student making a “kill list” was arrested; school officials determined that the student posed a credible threat. 

State Rep. Jennifer Pawlik (D-LD13) called Horne’s decision “disappointing.” Pawlik also criticized the decision to make the announcement during National School Counselors Week.

The ACLU of Arizona asserted that school safety couldn’t be achieved with police presence on campus.

In addition to this funding, ADE is working with former Phoenix Police Department leaders to provide additional safety resources and procedures to schools.

Opposition to armed officers on campus often comes from concerns over a racial divide. Tensions heightened in one school district last year over discussions of funding school resource officers (SROs), about one month after the Uvalde school shooting. Chandler Unified School District (CUSD) Board Member Lindsay Love said that she and too many others, including children and parents, felt uncomfortable with having more police officers on campus.

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

School Choice Program Neglected Under Former Superintendent

School Choice Program Neglected Under Former Superintendent

By Corinne Murdock |

Arizona’s school choice program appears to have been undermined by neglect from former leadership, based on details of the program’s inherited state by the new administration. 

AZ Free News spoke with Christine Accurso this week about the inherited state of the ESA Program, of which Accurso is the newly appointed executive director. Accurso hit the ground running when she began working for ADE several weeks ago. She walked in to find the ESA Program, left behind by former Superintendent Kathy Hoffman, severely understaffed and drowning in nearly 171,600 unfulfilled expense requests.

Although the Arizona legislature approved 52 positions to run the ESA Program, there were only 17 on the scene when Accurso arrived. That’s less than one-third of the staff that the ESA Program was intended to have. However, Accurso expressed confidence that merely doubling the team from 17 to 34 would be enough to run the program well for the meantime. 

“We have less than half of the team we need to run this program,” said Accurso. “We will begin hiring soon and look forward to at least doubling our team to serve the families of Arizona well.”

ADE was severely understaffed despite receiving an additional $2.2 million last summer to hire 26 workers. Even with this funding, ADE undertook measures to minimize ESA Program operations. This included limiting call helpline hours to between 10 am to 2 pm. 

Accurso said that her first hire was an individual who answers parents’ calls. The ESA Program failed to have a responsive helpline under Hoffman’s administration. Last year, parents who attempted to call the program helpline were met with an automated voice rejecting their call due to “excessive call volumes” and automatically hanging up with no promise of a call back. 

These weren’t the only issues Accurso noticed. Ahead of her arrival, Accurso noted that odd expenses were given approval following Hoffman’s loss to current Superintendent Tom Horne. 

That was far from the first time that odd expenses were given approval under Hoffman’s administration. Democratic state legislators argued that the program wasted taxpayer dollars through its allowable expenses. During a House committee hearing last year, Democrats questioned why items like bouncy castles and tonal home gyms, costing thousands, were approved. Republican committee members reminded their Democratic colleagues that Hoffman, a fellow Democrat, had approved these and other questionable items as allowable expenses. 

In under three weeks, Accurso’s team approved nearly 24,700 of the unfulfilled requests after verifying the proper documentation was submitted, amounting to $22.2 million for things like private schooling, tutoring, and curriculum dating back to last November. 

If the remaining 146,900 requests run a similar average in cost to the 24,700 approved requests (around $880 each), the ADE may owe over $129.2 million. The new administration paid 1,500 tutors who’d been awaiting paychecks for months under Hoffman, as well as reimbursement owed to a “small school” who’d been forced to consider a bank loan for their expenses due to Hoffman’s administration delaying their payment. 

“We are reviewing all of the categories and our team, with ‘all hands on deck’ are getting through those as quickly as possible,” said Accurso. “These first orders were private school tuition payments and tutors of core subjects.”

Accurso noted that her team is not only working through old applications — they receive an average of about 130 new applications each day. Accurso stated that they have 949 pending applications.

“Yesterday we got around 200 applications. Right now my staff is working on a total of 990 applications from the weekend through yesterday. That’s why I’m hiring very quickly,” explained Accurso.

Accurso said that another one of her first actions was to replace the former administration’s allowable expenses list on the website with one that aligns with state statute. (The former list is archived here).

Prior to becoming ADE’s executive director, Accurso was an ESA parent burned by its poor administration. During Hoffman’s first year in office, Accurso and other parents were kept out of the program when the ADE failed to follow admission deadlines set by statute. Accurso gained national attention after her experience of spending hours each week on hold for over two months went viral. 

Current Superintendent Tom Horne said in a statement earlier this month that the ADE’s previous administration of the ESA Program was unacceptable.

“When I took office, the commitment I made is that the Arizona Department of Education is a service organization committed to raising academic outcomes and empowering parents,” said Horne. “On my first day on the job, I demonstrated my resolve to fulfill that mission. Delays and inefficiencies of this kind are unacceptable and won’t be repeated.”

The decline of the ESA Program shouldn’t elicit much surprise. Since first campaigning for the position in 2018, former Superintendent Kathy Hoffman openly criticized the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program. During her re-election campaign, Hoffman claimed that the ESA Program had “zero accountability” while signing a petition to undo universal school choice.

The ADE said that nearly 46,000 students have joined the ESA Program as of Tuesday. Despite Governor Katie Hobbs’ intention on rolling back the program, the GOP-controlled legislature has no plans to do so.

Sen. President Warren Petersen told KTAR that there wasn’t a chance that school choice would be rolled back.

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

The November Election Shows That the GOP Won the Education Debate

The November Election Shows That the GOP Won the Education Debate

By the Arizona Free Enterprise Club |

The public school system in Arizona is a complete mess. But during the past few years, it really hit a new low.

Attempts to indoctrinate children with Critical Race Theory and radical gender theory have been spreading throughout our public school districts. COVID shutdowns have wreaked havoc on students’ education—especially low-income parents and children. In the meantime, public school spending surged during COVID while teacher pay didn’t keep pace. But that didn’t stop failed teachers’ unions like Red4ED from trying to use the “low teacher pay” narrative in their attempts to push more ridiculous tax increases on taxpayers like you.

Of course, all of this is only more infuriating when you consider that the majority of Arizona students continue to fail the statewide assessment. And ACT scores for Arizona students have fallen below the standards for our state universities. That’s why the Club made it a priority to drain the public school swamp in this past November’s election. And we saw some great success…


Automatic Recount For Attorney General, Superintendent, State Representative Races

Automatic Recount For Attorney General, Superintendent, State Representative Races

By Corinne Murdock |

On Monday, the remaining outstanding ballots were counted, totaling nearly 2.6 million votes cast. Next Monday is the deadline for counties to canvass and submit results to the secretary of state’s office.

An automatic recount will occur for the attorney general, superintendent of public instruction, and state representative for District 13 races. The recount will begin after the state certifies the election on December 5. 

In the attorney general race, Kris Mayes (D) led by 510 votes over Abraham Hamadeh (R) — a .02 percent difference, well within the .5 percent required. Both Mayes and Hamadeh expressed confidence that the recount would pan out in their favor.

Hamadeh pinpointed Maricopa County’s Election Day issues as the reason for his belief that the vote counts would flip in his favor. 

In the superintendent’s race, Tom Horne (R) overcame incumbent Kathy Hoffman (D) narrowly with 50 to 49 percent of the vote, or 8,968 votes. That’s a margin of nearly .36 percent, which triggers the automatic recount. Hoffman conceded the race last week.

In the District 13 race, State Representative Jennifer Pawlik (D) is likely to secure one of the seats with 35 percent of the vote, compared to the other two contenders’ respective 32 percent. The automatic recount will likely determine which of the two Republican candidates, Liz Harris or Julie Willoughby, will earn the second seat. Harris leads by 270 votes: nearly .31 percent.

A recount doesn’t look to be in the cards for the much-contested governor’s race. Katie Hobbs (D) ended with a lead of 17,116 over Kari Lake (R): an advantage of nearly .67 percent. That’s outside the margin needed for an automatic recount. 

Lake is fundraising currently to file a lawsuit. She has refused to concede the race, citing Maricopa County’s Election Day issues such as faulty ballot printer settings resulting in widespread tabulator failures. The attorney general’s office is probing the county’s conduct for potential violation of state law. 

In the secretary of state race, Adrian Fontes (D) secured 52 percent of the vote compared to Mark Finchem (R): a margin of 120,207 votes. Incumbent Kimberly Yee (R) fended her seat as state treasurer with nearly 56 percent of the vote over Martín Quezada (D): a margin of 283,099 votes. 

Paul Marsh (R) ran uncontested as state mine inspector. Kevin Thompson (R) and Nicholas Myers (R) were elected to the two corporation commissioner seats, ousting incumbent Sandra Kennedy (D) and Lauren Kuby (D).

At the federal level, incumbent Senator Mark Kelly (D) beat Blake Masters (R) by a 125,718 vote margin: 51 to 46 percent of the vote. 

Incumbent Representatives David Schweikert (R) and Andy Biggs (R) fended off their respective challenges from Jevin Hodge (D) and Javier Garcia Ramos in the District 1 and 5 races. Schweikert pulled a 3,195 vote lead (50 to 49 percent), while Biggs pulled 62,221 more votes (56 to 37 percent).

Eli Crane (R) pulled off an upset in the District 2 race, earning 25,019 more votes than incumbent Tom O’Halleran (D): nearly 54 percent of the vote to 46 percent.

Democratic incumbent Representatives Ruben Gallego, Greg Stanton, and Raúl Grijalva fended off their respective challenges from Republicans Jeff Nelson Zink, Kelly Cooper, and Luis Pozzolo in the District 3, 4, and 7 races. Gallego led by 76,124 votes (77 to 23 percent), Stanton led by 32,420 votes (56 to 44 percent), and Grijalva led by 56,974 votes (64 to 35 percent).

Juan Ciscomani (R) prevailed over Kirsten Engel (D) in the District 6 race, earning 5,232 more votes: 50 to 49 percent of the vote.

Republican incumbent Representatives Debbie Lesko and Paul Gosar were unchallenged in their District 8 and 9 races.

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