How does policy change happen? It’s not easy. It takes good people to take a stand and apply consistent pressure to fix a problem.
Making a difference is possible. We’ve seen it time and time again – a group of organized and dedicated advocates can make a lasting change for the better. Over the last 12 years, Stand Arizona has brought together parents, educators, and other organizations to drive improved education systems for children in Arizona.
With the 2022 legislative session in full swing, we wanted to bring you into the fold, show you what policy areas we are working on, and invite you to take action! There are several bills this session that will impact teachers, students, and families across our state.
Here are our top policy priorities this year:
Debt Free Justice
Young people deserve a fresh start in life.
For so many, getting their life back on track after leaving the juvenile court system is nearly impossible due to a current problem – juvenile court administrative fees.
Right now, Arizona families are using payday loans and high-interest credit cards to pay for these fees, which turns into crippling debt that stays with them for years. Some youth even decline representation by a public defender because they worry that the fees could cause financial strain on their families.
The pressure is too much. If the debt has not been paid before the youth turns 18, they can’t have their record cleared for a fresh start as an adult. Clearly, the system is not working for young people.
Over the last 2 years, Stand AZ has been working in partnership with the Berkley Law Center and a coalition of criminal justice advocacy organizations to raise awareness and pass legislation addressing this issue.
This year, Rep Walter Blackman introduced HB 2033, legislation that would help young people avoid falling into the cycle of debt and poverty for mistakes they made during childhood – by ending juvenile court administrative fees.
There has been a big wave of support for this effort from Arizona voters. With the help of partners and volunteers, we have sent action alerts to constituents, promoted the effort on social media, sent over 2,500 messages to legislative leaders, and had over 600 individuals sign in to support HB 2033 in committee hearings.
HB 2033 has passed the House Judiciary and House Appropriations Committees, and the bill will be heard on the House floor for a vote very soon!
If you would like to be involved in the effort or know someone that has been personally impacted by juvenile court administrative fees, we invite you to join the Debt Free Justice effort TODAY!
Restoring Arizona’s Commitment to funding education
Arizona has been facing an education crisis for some time now.
Right now, teacher pay is among the lowest in the nation, class size is the highest in the nation, and the student to counselor ratio is the worst in the nation, with an average of 900 students for every counselor.
Voters are fed up with legislators failing to address these issues.
In 2020, 1.7 million Arizona voters took matters into their own hands and passed Prop 208 – a historic initiative that would raise nearly a billion dollars annually in K-12 education funding.
However, over the last year and a half, legislative leaders and Governor Ducey were determined to kill Prop 208 and deny voters the revenue for schools that they passed at the ballot box.
Meanwhile, Arizona has an expected budget surplus of $1 billion ongoing and over $2 billion in one-time money that legislators will have to decide what to do with.
A legislative commitment to education means that this surplus money must go towards fully funding K-12 education, including teacher pay and other teacher recruitment and retention measures, more school counselors, classified staff pay (such as bus drivers, instructional aides, etc.), and strengthening Career and Technical Education.
There’s also been a lot of conversation about the Annual Expenditure Limit. This is a ceiling on school spending that is set in law which creates havoc with school budgets. We appreciate the commitment of the legislature to address it for this year, but we can’t ignore the long-term implications: Arizona will never get off the bottom of the school funding list if we permanently fix this cap.
A Word about Toxic Politics
During this session, we have seen several examples of how bad policy and blatant racism are leading to the most toxic atmosphere we have ever seen at the legislature. Here’s just one recent example:
Fearmongers and conspiracy theorists are being emboldened by legislation that sounds like it came straight out of an Orwell novel. From requiring teachers to post all plans and materials they intend to use for the year, to fining them for discussing certain topics, politicizing education is tearing us apart. One example of a problematic bill is HB 2112, recently passed by the House of Representatives. This bill would punish teachers for discussing the underlying issues of race and ethnicity in our society. Now, this bill is headed to the Senate.
Efforts to ban the teaching of honest history are pushing more teachers toward leaving the classroom.
A recent national survey showed how the public-school teacher crisis is getting worse – 3 in 10 public school teachers are considering leaving the profession at the end of this school year. This is happening as new censorship laws are being passed by legislatures across the country – and which bar teachers from discussing topics of race, gender, and sexuality.
These efforts to silence teachers are alarming to parents that would rather we be spending our time addressing their child’s ability to recover from the pandemic. They trust teachers to teach history in a fair and accurate manner, and to ensure that students learn from the mistakes of our past so we aren’t doomed to repeat them.
We have connected hundreds of voters to their legislators to demand that they oppose like this. So far, over 2,500 messages have been sent to legislators about HB 2112.
Yazmin Castro, an amazing 9th Grader in Phoenix, puts it best:
“Honest conversations about our country’s past and present are the best way to heal, foster understanding and create the future all students deserve. For the sake of students, teachers, and the future, we cannot remain silent.”
Read Yazmin’s full story on the Stand AZ blog. Also, you can learn more and join the effort to stop censorship in schools.
This is an important year for our policy priorities.
One thing we know for sure is that we can’t do this alone. Add your name here if you would like to join our efforts at the Arizona legislature!