The state’s top teachers – five dedicated educators each named Arizona’s teacher of the year — aren’t the only ones who feel they got played by Gov. Doug Ducey when he expanded the state’s voucher program.
Count the president-elect of the Arizona PTA among those who feel betrayed by our self-proclaimed “education governor.”
Beth Simek, president-elect of Arizona PTA was recruited to help Ducey get Proposition 123 passed last year. For months, she worked to convince voters to divert money from the state land trust to give schools 70 percent of what they were owed in inflation funding.
Ducey called to thank her for her help
She participated with Ducey in tele-town halls and spoke at press conferences. She criss-crossed the state, campaigning for its passage, assured by Ducey that fixing public education was his priority. Her children worked the phones and social media sites.
“I promised everyone I spoke to that Gov. Ducey would make good on his word that this is only a first step in public education funding,” she wrote this week. “I put my good name and credibility and that of Arizona PTA’s on the line because I felt in my heart that our governor couldn’t lie to me, not after all the work I was doing to help him.”
When Sen. Debbie Lesko proposed expanding Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (read: vouchers) last year, Simek said Ducey personally assured her that he would kill the bill.
On her birthday, she says Ducey called to thank her for her help.
After the election, Simek stood behind the governor as he signed Prop. 123 into law. “He actually gave me one of the pens he used to sign the bill and thanked me profusely for my help,” she said. “It was a moment that I cherished with pride.”
Now, the governor won’t take her calls
These days, she’s not feeling the love so much.
Ducey’s proposed four-tenths of a percent pay raise for teachers was “a kick to the gut.” She says she tried to talk to Ducey about his plans for education after his proposed budget was released in January but suddenly, he wasn’t returning her calls.
When Lesko’s ESA bill was reintroduced, she was sure that Ducey would abide by his promise the previous year and kill the bill. .
“I tried again to call my old friend, Gov. Ducey, and found my calls still unreturned. I wrote him letters and emails and received no reply. I texted his senior aide, JP Twist, and called his senior education adviser, Dawn Wallace, and they were radio silent, too.”
As the session went on, Simek says Arizona PTA was part of the AZ Schools Now coalition that sent letters to Ducey, as well as Senate President Steve Yarbrough and House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, asking that the ESA bill be killed and that teachers get a 4 percent raise. They delivered hundreds of postcards from parents.
The response: silence.
Public-school advocates were iced out
“Not once was a single stakeholder group invited to be part of the conversation about ESA expansion amendments,” she said.
Actually, she’s wrong about that. The Goldwater Institute was there, pushing for universal vouchers. So was the Center for Arizona Policy, working to shore up Catholic schools.
Only the advocates for public education – the ones who stood shoulder to shoulder with the governor to get his Prop. 123 passed — were iced out.
Then came last week’s ESA bullet train, ripping right through the Capitol and, I might add, the hearts of those who had believed Ducey’s promises.
“Again, I found myself at the Capitol, this time standing with education leaders across the state to literally beg legislators to vote against this bill.
“I felt sick to my stomach when I watched legislators who had only just moments before confided to me that they knew that the expansion wouldn’t help the rural communities in their districts at all were suddenly flip flop and voted in favor of this bill.
Ducey drove the bus that ran over teachers
“But the ultimate betrayal came when I heard that Gov. Ducey himself was behind the arm twisting and back-room politics. This was a man who looked me in the face and promised me over and over that he would take the next steps to ensure the success of our public schools. He looked countless teachers in the face promising to make them and make education a priority.
“And when the ESA Expansion Bill passed in both the House and Senate … the reality of what just happened truly hit. Every single person who helped with Prop. 123; every voter who voted yes; every Republican who allowed his arm to get twisted; my family and me, we all got played. Not only did Gov. Ducey not keep his promises he was the one driving the bus as it ran over teachers and public schools in this state.”
Simek says ESA expansion won’t help rural Arizona. It certainly won’t help Arizona’s critical shortage of teachers – a crisis that left 120,000 students in 7,000 classrooms without a certified teacher this year.
It won’t help the fact that too many of our kids go to school in buildings that are falling apart and ride on buses that should have been retired long ago.
It won’t help with the fact that this state spends $3,300 less per student than the national average to educate our children.
Ducey likes to talk a lot about choice but Simek says he’s ignoring the choice of 85 percent of Arizona’s families who choose public schools.
“We all have been betrayed by this governor,” she wrote. “ESA expansion is a next step alright. It’s a ginormous step backward.”
-Originally published by Laurie Roberts, AZ Central on 4/13/17 at 10:45 am