Arizona has some of the best district schools, public charter schools, and private schools in the country. I celebrate our education choices because it should be up to each family how to best educate their child. But as those options are made available to Arizona students, I work even harder to hold them accountable for the tax dollars they receive.
Recently, Arizona schools have made news – and not for the right reasons. We have public schools abusing procurement code and charter schools rewarding CEOs with huge payments.
The events of last few months have made one thing abundantly clear:
Our work isn’t done.
This year we passed legislation to give the State Charter School Board authority to shut down charter schools for operational and financial mismanagement. So what’s next?
Here are steps to provide more accountability, transparency, and solutions to protect our tax dollars in all public schools without eliminating critical school choice options:
- Reform Legislative conflict of interest laws
We can’t have legislators voting on bills that directly impact them or their family finances. Period.
Our Legislature is part-time, which means many lawmakers run or work for an Arizona business. What that also means is that many of the votes we take in some way may benefit elected officials. Our current conflict rules are too ambiguous and easy to circumvent and, unfortunately, we’ve seen both parties take advantage of their position to positively benefit their bank accounts. If you stand to make money off a vote, or a legislative change directly helps a member, they should have to recuse themselves. This issue is larger than education and will impact members on many matters, but we should be voting to protect the best interests of our constituents, not our own pocketbooks.
- Protect against executives getting rich on our tax dollars
Charter schools are different by definition than district schools. Parents have a choice on where to send their child, and we should respect and protect it, but we can’t allow operators and executives to take exorbitant bonuses. Successful charter schools and the owners who take financial risks to start their own schools shouldn’t be punished or lose their incentive to succeed, but they also shouldn’t abuse tax dollars to become multimillionaires as in several recent cases.
- Improve transparency for school finances
Every parent, student, teacher, administrator, and Arizona resident should have ready access to see where and how their tax dollars are applied, what teachers are being paid, and what percentage is going to administration. Transparency has to apply to both district and charter schools – wherever a tax dollar is spent. Boards must have a higher fiscal duty required in statute. And the nepotism, that is allowed on charter school boards, must end if they expect to receive state dollars.
- Close loopholes in procurement practices
Whether you’re bidding a building or contracting air conditioning repair, the process should be transparent and apply equally to charter and district schools. It isn’t right if a charter operator can hand pick a service provider and a district school has to participate in a lengthy procurement process. We’ve seen bad actors in both arenas, from district schools, such Scottsdale Unified, to charter operators. Many have the best interest of our kids in mind, but we need to weed out those that are enriching themselves (or family and friends) on the back of our education system.
- Reform STO’s (School Tuition Organizations)
We have to stop the automatic 20% annual growth in the corporate STO program, which is diverting taxpayer dollars away from public education to private schools at an exponential and damaging rate. There is absolutely no oversight for how the money is spent, and 10% of those dollars are swept off the top going to the STO operators with no accountability to the taxpayers.
As a leader in education policy at the Capitol, I’m committed to creating a framework that ensures our dollars are invested in our classrooms, educating our students, and supporting our teachers.
We made significant investments in our schools last session:
- Passed a 20% teacher pay raise;
- Renewed Prop 301, providing $640 million for schools; and
- Invested more than $10 million for counselors.
Now, I’m working hard to find sustainable options for school funding. I’m committed to increasing oversight and transparency so every dollar, in all of our schools, benefits teachers and improves student outcomes.
I won’t stop fighting to protect Arizona families and stand up for our schools.
We’ve made huge strides to improve quality education for all Arizona families and I will not quit until we provide equal opportunity for each and every child, transparency for tax payers, and accountability in our schools.