Now That Social-Emotional Learning Programs Are Being Eliminated, Schools Can Prioritize What Matters: Academics

Now That Social-Emotional Learning Programs Are Being Eliminated, Schools Can Prioritize What Matters: Academics

It’s always a good day when an elected official holds to his campaign promises. And as the newly elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Horne has done just that. During his campaign, Tom said he would make it a priority to stop indoctrination like Critical Race Theory while fighting back against cancel culture and improving student performance. Last week, he took important steps to make this a reality.

Under Tom’s direction, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) has eliminated social-emotional learning (SEL) from its administration. Among his first moves, Tom has not only removed references to SEL, but he has gotten rid of other leftist initiatives from former Superintendent Kathy Hoffman like the division of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion along with sex chat rooms for minors like “Queer Chat.”

But while Tom is working hard to end the woke indoctrination of our students, he’s not stopping there. He’s actually placing a renewed focus on what our schools should be prioritizing: academics. Take the ADE’s recent annual conference for teachers, principals, and other educators, for example. Before the conference, the ADE canceled SEL presentations that had been planned under the previous administration on topics like racial trauma, creating a culture of care, and diversity and equity skills for school leaders. And what did Tom replace them with? Sessions on improving math instruction and how to improve a student’s academic performance.

That should be something we can all get behind, right? After all, data from the National Assessment of Education Progress shows that students in Arizona suffered severe learning losses in math and nominal losses in reading as a result of remote learning during COVID.

But as you might expect, the Left is already in an uproar. Believe it or not, several “education consultants” who had their presentations canceled at the ADE conference actually claimed that it would hurt students. That’s right. They think that replacing SEL training with training on how to improve academic achievement—especially in math—will be harmful to children. You can’t make this stuff up.

These so-called “education consultants” must have missed the part where the majority of Arizona’s students have been failing the statewide assessment. And they must not have been paying attention to the latest ACT scoring data, which shows that the average Arizona student doesn’t achieve an ACT score recommended as a minimum by our state universities. Or maybe they just have their own agenda.

The fact is that SEL has been receiving millions of dollars in funding right here in the state of Arizona. And plenty of our state’s school staff—like counselors—have been trained in its controversial theories and ideologies. But what has that gotten us? Learning loss and lower test scores.

It’s time to purge SEL from our schools entirely and put that money toward students and improving teacher salaries. Our children deserve a real education that gives them the best opportunity for success in the future. Thankfully, Tom Horne is proving he’s the right man for the job.

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Conservatives Must Take Action to Stop Ranked-Choice Voting in Arizona

Conservatives Must Take Action to Stop Ranked-Choice Voting in Arizona

This past November’s election in Arizona was a complete disaster. Not only did voting machines fail across Maricopa County, but many voters were suppressed and disenfranchised. Right now, we should be working toward solutions that restore voter confidence and ensure election integrity. But believe it or not, some national groups and liberal billionaires are planning to come to Arizona to run a ballot initiative that would make our elections even more complicated.

It’s called ranked-choice voting, and if you haven’t heard of it, it works a little something like this.

    • Candidates are listed on the ballot, and voters rank each candidate in order of preference.
    • If a candidate wins 50% or more of the first-preference votes, he or she is declared the winner.
    • If no one wins in the first round, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated.
    • In the next round, voters who selected the eliminated candidate as their first choice then have their vote counted for their second preference.
    • The process continues until one candidate eventually wins the majority of the adjusted votes.

Complicated? Yes. Confusing? You bet. How do you think voting machines that had enough trouble with our current system would handle this? And if you thought it took awhile to get results during this past election, can you imagine how long it would take with a ranked-choice voting system in place?

Not surprisingly, it’s primarily being pushed by Democrats to prevent Republicans from being elected, which happened last year in Alaska after the state adopted the system in 2020. Despite nearly 60 percent of votes cast for a Republican on all first-choice ballots, Democrat Mary Peltola would go on to defeat Republican Sarah Palin in a special election House race last August. This marked the first time since 1973 that a Democrat would represent Alaska in the lower chamber.

But that’s not the only problem. Ranked-choice voting has also proven itself to be unreliable.

Just look at what happened in Alameda County, California. Nearly two months after the November election, the county announced that it counted the ballots incorrectly. While most races went unaffected, it did change the outcome in an Oakland School Board race, leaving the certified winner to have to give up his seat to the third-place finisher, who actually won.

On top of all this, a ranked-choice voting system brings longer ballots, which means you can forget about voting on one ballot anymore. (You would think that this dramatic rise in the amount of paper needed would throw the Green New Deal people into a tailspin, but they don’t seem to care as long as they’re rigging the system in their favor.) It would also likely put an end to our current primary process, and it would result in ballot exhaustion. That’s right. If a voter overvotes, undervotes, or only ranks candidates who are eliminated from contention, their ballot is discarded and doesn’t count toward the end result. A study published in 2015 that reviewed four elections in Washington State and California, actually found that as a result of ballot exhaustion, the winner in all four elections received less than a majority of the total votes cast.

The supporters of this absurd process claim they want free and fair elections, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. They want to find any way they can to manipulate our election system in their favor. Now, as national groups arrive in Arizona to push ranked-choice voting in our state, it’s up to you to decline to sign their petitions. And it’s on our Republican legislature to take action to stop this system or any other similar system from being enacted in the state.

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Katie Hobbs’ Budget Is One Big Liberal Wish List

Katie Hobbs’ Budget Is One Big Liberal Wish List

The people of Arizona do not want to turn our state into the next California. But just a few weeks into her reign as governor, Katie Hobbs has made it clear—that’s exactly what she intends to do. Last week, Hobbs released her first budget plan, and it’s nothing more than a liberal wish list of big spending, extreme proposals, and corporate welfare designed to reward her special interest friends.

Her first target is education, and she wasted no time going after Arizona’s expansion of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs). Yes, the program that is so popular that it overwhelmed the Department of Education’s website immediately after launch—the one that even some Democrats have openly supported. Despite being a private schooler herself, Hobbs wants to dismantle school choice for all with a full repeal of universal ESAs. And that’s just the start.

While seeking to prohibit minority children and low-income families from choosing their K-12 school, Hobbs also wants to use your tax dollars to subsidize college tuition for illegal immigrants. On the heels of the narrow passage of Prop 308 in this November’s election, Hobbs proposed a budget of $40 million to establish a new tuition scholarship program for Deferred Action Childhood Arrival (DACA) eligible students. This means that, using your taxpayer dollars, illegal immigrants will now be paying less for college than in-state students! (But hey, at least we have Biden’s student loan forgiveness program. Oh wait…that turned out to be the complete failure we predicted it would be.)

In addition to her focus on public education spending, Hobbs’ plan contains a massive expansion of government-funded health care. It includes $463.5 million and $115.8 million in federal fund expenditure authority to utilize year three of federal funding given directly to AHCCCS and the Department of Economic Security respectively. It sets aside $257 million for AHCCCS program caseload growth and the unwinding of federal COVID-19 policies. And consistent with her view that no laws limiting abortion should exist, Hobbs put $6 million toward “family planning services.” But that’s not all.

No liberal budget is complete without bowing down at the altar of AOC’s Green New Deal. So, of course, Hobbs pledged $15 million to install more electric vehicle charging stations despite evidence that debunks their so-called “green” benefits. And along with a myriad of other “green” transit projects, she proposed using $7.5 million toward an interstate commuter rail in Phoenix. That seems like it would go well with another decision in her budget—to eliminate Arizona’s border strike force. Illegal immigration is at an all-time high, and our state has seen a stark increase in the amount of illegal immigrants apprehended with one or more prior criminal convictions. But Hobbs wants to turn a blind eye to the problem while providing illegal immigrants with easier access to Phoenix through a commuter rail. What could go wrong?

We are at a crucial moment in our state, and now is not the time to waver or give in. The Decline to Sign movement to defend school choice showed us that when we fight back, we can win. Now, Republicans need to stand united against Katie Hobbs’ radical budget. Otherwise, she’ll get her ultimate wish—that Arizona resembles our neighbors to the west.

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Republicans Should Take These Critical Next Steps on Election Integrity

Republicans Should Take These Critical Next Steps on Election Integrity

From their pulpit at press conferences, they shrugged off questions and concerns about the potential for long lines on election day and whether they would have their voting centers properly equipped. For weeks, the mainstream media blasted out to Arizonans that they are competent election officials, about to implement the “safest, most secure” election in history.

Then it all came crumbling down in what was one of the worst election days in recent history. Long lines, yes. But more importantly, critical equipment failures resulted in the complete inability to tabulate ballots at dozens of voting locations for several hours. It didn’t stop there. The issues persisted in the coming weeks for Maricopa County, who responded to requests for information with hostility. And then, we found out Pinal County (following major problems in their primary election) had miscounted hundreds of ballots, shrinking the already miniscule gap between the candidates for attorney general.

Two months later, these issues are still being litigated. But regardless of how the election contests being pursued by Kari Lake and Abe Hamadeh turn out, nothing changes the fact that Maricopa and Pinal Counties bungled the election.

Going forward, Arizona must learn from what happened, craft meaningful solutions, and focus efforts on productive goals ahead of 2024.

We Need a Legitimate Investigation into Maricopa and Pinal Counties

What happened in Maricopa and Pinal Counties is nothing short of a disaster. Internal reviews or nontransparent “audits” conducted by the counties themselves won’t cut it. We need a thorough and transparent investigation into what led to the various issues in these counties to find out what really happened. Why did so many printers malfunction the morning of the election? Why did it take more than half the day to fix them? Why were early ballots not counted before they were transported from the voting centers? These and numerous other questions demand real answers.

At this time, the state legislature is the only entity capable of sufficiently investigating the election day failures. Lawmakers may look to do it themselves, but it may make more sense to hire an independent investigator to conduct the work. An ex-prosecutor or judge would make the most sense given their experience with conducting investigations and executing subpoenas (which the legislature has the authority to do). The cloud surrounding the election offices in Maricopa and Pinal won’t be lifted until a thorough and transparent investigation is completed.

We Must Defend and Enforce New Election Integrity Laws

It’s important to remember that in the last two legislative sessions, lawmakers and the governor did enact dozens of meaningful election reforms. Just last session, two of the most critical were signed. Together these two laws will ensure only qualified, U.S. citizens are able to register to vote (HB2492) and that only eligible voters remain registered by requiring regular voter roll maintenance (HB2243). Both laws went into effect on January 1st of this year.

Unsurprisingly, the Left (including the Biden administration) has filed multiple lawsuits in federal court to stop these laws that will prevent illegals from voting and clean up the voter rolls from impacting the 2024 election. HB 2492 and HB 2243 must be staunchly defended in court, but that is not likely to happen with Democrat Kris Mayes currently occupying the office of attorney general.

Recently, the Republican National Committee successfully intervened in the case, meaning the laws, now in effect, still have some protection. But the better news is that Republicans retained their majorities in both legislative chambers. Now we need them, the individuals who passed these bills into law, to intervene in these lawsuits as well and protect their work to ensure only qualified individuals are registered and voting in our elections.

We Should Proactively Litigate to Hold Election Officials Accountable

What can’t be denied from this past election is that counties and their election officials are acting lawlessly when it comes to implementing elections. It’s not always that we need new laws or reforms to existing statutes. First and foremost, what we need is for current laws to be enforced.

The Left has been involved in proactive lawfare for years, making every election cycle more and more litigious as they sue over every commonsense reform conservatives enact. Most importantly, these liberal groups do not wait for the election to start filing lawsuits. Unlike our side, the bulk of their legal activity occurs outside of election season, seeking change through the courts while most are not paying attention.

Our side must start engaging in this fight as well, to ensure that existing laws—like maintaining chain of custody for early ballots between the voting center and central count facility, not allowing early ballots to be injected into the system at a private vendor (Runbeck), and others that were potentially ignored in 2022—are faithfully adhered to moving forward.

We Need to Continue Pushing for Good Election Integrity Policy at the Legislature

Katie Hobbs is not likely to sign any good election integrity proposals, but that doesn’t mean the legislature should stop doing its job—legislating and governing on behalf of the voters who elected them.

For example, Arizona voters are tired of the weeks-long tabulation process, with drops of new ballots here and there over the course of two or more weeks. We deserve to know, or at least have a good idea, who has won on election night. Last session, Senator J.D Mesnard tried to accomplish that with SB1362 to require counties to tabulate the early ballots of voters who appear at a voting location on election day after showing ID. The bill did pass and was signed into law, but through the process it became permissive, simply allowing the counties to offer the opportunity to voters.

This session, lawmakers should mandate it. That would provide voters more options for casting their ballots, increase the number of voters showing ID before casting a ballot, and increase confidence and transparency in the process by eliminating the possibility of those ballots being adjudicated. This would allow voters to tabulate their own ballots themselves and work toward the goal of obtaining results on election night.

Reforms like this increase both access and security, making it easy to vote and hard to cheat. It is a commonsense proposal. There are and will be others too, and Republicans should work to get them passed and on to Katie Hobbs’ desk.

Whether it’s in litigation, through the legislature exercising its oversight authority, or lawmakers crafting commonsense reforms, there is still work to be done. And there is ample opportunity for Arizona voters to have secure elections in which they have confidence in the results, regardless of the outcome.

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Arizona needs to have a unified voice promoting economic freedom and prosperity, and the Free Enterprise Club is committed to making that happen. But we can’t do it alone. We need YOU!

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As Katie Hobbs Spouts Lies About K-12 Education Spending, Republicans Must Push Back

As Katie Hobbs Spouts Lies About K-12 Education Spending, Republicans Must Push Back

For the last two years, Republicans have been winning the education debate, and Democrats are not happy. Public education has long been their baby, using it to indoctrinate children with their radical ideas all while deceiving voters into outrageous tax increases.

But after watching Republican Tom Horne win the race for Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction this November—while 19 conservatives picked up school board seats—Democrats went into a tailspin. That’s why it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Governor Katie Hobbs is willing to do whatever it takes to change the narrative, including lying to voters about K-12 education spending.

In Hobbs’s first State of the State address delivered earlier this week, she got right to work—claiming that our schools are woefully underfunded and that “investments” in our schools are long overdue. Right on cue, the liberal and anti-school choice Arizona Republic swooned over her comments. But there’s a problem: Hobbs’s assertion just isn’t true.

Funding for K-12 education in Arizona is at its highest level in state history. And the reason we know this is because there is a constitutional expenditure limit—which Hobbs couldn’t help but attack in her address. But this limit, which was approved by voters, isn’t some subjective cap that legislators can manipulate to cover up how much or how little is being spent. It’s an objective formula used by the Department of Revenue every year to determine funding levels based on student population, plus inflation, plus an additional 10% on top of that.

Do you know what that amounted to for Fiscal Year 2022? $14,326 per student. That’s the highest per pupil spending in state history! The FY 2023 budget passed last June put hundreds of millions more into the K-12 bucket! And yet, Democrats continue to push the lie that our schools are underfunded.

That’s why it’s time for Republicans to step up and forcefully push back against this narrative from the Left. It is nothing more than a ploy by Democrats to change the education debate because they know that they have been losing so badly on the issue. And that’s because for the last two years, Republicans have been focused on what matters most: parental rights, school choice, accountability, and stopping the woke indoctrination in our schools.

But Hobbs wants to turn back the clock to 2019, when the entire education debate was focused on how much money we should plow into K-12 schools while many in the GOP cowered from Red4ED and capitulated to their demands. We ended up with Prop 208 because of this failed strategy. And that would have made Arizona a high tax state had it not been for litigation pushed by the Free Enterprise Club and the Goldwater Institute challenging the constitutionality of the plan killing it once and for all.

Republicans can’t make the same mistake this time by getting pulled back into a bidding war on the education issue. Momentum is on our side, and that’s why it’s critical for the GOP to reject Hobbs’s premise that schools are underfunded while staying laser focused on the parental rights and school choice messages that will continue to lead to success on this issue.

Help Protect Freedom in Arizona by Joining Our Grassroots Network

Arizona needs to have a unified voice promoting economic freedom and prosperity, and the Free Enterprise Club is committed to making that happen. But we can’t do it alone. We need YOU!

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