I just heard a statistic that left me reeling.
55% of Arizona babies are born into poverty.
Let that sink in, while you read the Farley Report pledge break…
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—> Again, that number is 55%. Just under 50,000 babies per year start their Arizona lives in a family that qualifies for AHCCCS, the state Medicaid program for people in poverty. 36,000 of them are born to single moms.
This is the future of our state, and they are under attack by this Legislature in multiple ways.
> First and foremost, public education is under attack like never before. Bills in both the House and Senate are aiming to eliminate more than $200 million in desegregation funds that currently fund magnet programs, tech programs, tutoring programs and much more in 20 of the state’s poorest districts.
> In addition, Senator Debbie Lesko is still pushing her bill, and a twin House bill, to give taxpayer-funded vouchers to all 1.1 million Arizona students to spend on private, religious, online, or home schools to the tune of around $5,300 a year per non-special-needs student, with virtually no accountability attached. All that money is subtracted from the public or charter school that they could have attended, leaving the kids remaining in that school struggling with fewer teachers, textbooks, and computers in larger classes with less basic maintenance. This would lead to the utter ghettoization of our public school system.
If you are located in the viewing area of Channel 8 — ASU’s PBS station — at 5:30pm tomorrow (Thursday) you can watch me live debating Senator Lesko about her bill. You can also watch it online after airtime here.
A free universal public education has a proven record of being the most effective tool at our disposal to lift people from poverty and give them what they need to power our economy. Given the increasing level of poverty in our state — and the resulting increase in incarceration, child abuse and neglect, and substance abuse that are too often associated with poverty —, we should be increasing our investment in the public education, not dismantling it.
This is not a partisan issue. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce just released a survey of 400 predominately Republican business executives who named our education system as the top challenge to doing business in Arizona. 56% of them said that the best thing the state could do to improve the business climate for their company would be to increase funding to K-12 education.
For now, the voucher bills and deseg bills are held up in the House — I hear that they currently have 34 votes opposed to both. Part of the reason for the opposition is that Governor Ducey doesn’t want to have to choose between vetoing the bills or signing them. He hints that he supports their intent, but squirms from their awkward timing — he does not want to be seen as slashing public schools at the same time that he pushes the small increase in funding that is Proposition 123.
But given his statements on “school choice”, I fear that even if these attacks fail this time around, once Prop 123 is in the rear-view mirror next session he may be ready to sign these bills despite their devastating effect on our children. Even if we win this time we must remain vigilant.
—> Attacking kids in poverty through destroying public schools is apparently not enough for the legislative majority. Yesterday, Rep. Justin Olson pushed through his bill to kick 120,000 impoverished people off of food stamps. While there was initially enough opposition to kill the bill, he convinced his Republican colleagues that he would “fix” the bill in the Senate, only leaving the portion that would spend $12 million in taxpayer money per year to add a photo to the food stamp cards. I have to think, wouldn’t that extra money be better spent on feeding more hungry people than instituting a new bureaucracy?
—> The powerful out-of-state predatory lenders that we thought we defeated when Senator Pancrazi, Senator Yee, and I killed the Flex Loan bill on February 10 in Senate Finance committee are spending lots of campaign cash trying to make friends among the legislative majority so that they resurrect their ability to offer 200% annual-interest loans to those people who get kicked off food stamps so that they can borrow money to buy food or pay their electric bill, and end up in a devastating debt spiral.
In the House on Monday, Rep. Mesnard struck onto a Sen. Kavanagh bill the same language that we had killed. Interestingly the Arizona Capitol Times now reports that Axcess Financial, the Ohio company seeking to push these predatory loans, contributed through Financial Freedom PAC $19,750 to 22 lawmakers (21 Republicans and Democrat Catherine Miranda) last November and December.
Given that Sen. Yee, in her explanation of vote killing the bill in Senate Finance, told us that last year the predatory finance companies mailed out “fancy, large, glossy mailers” to her district voters featuring legislators who voted for the flex loan bill last year “to thank them for their vote”. She was prominently not on those “thank-you” mailers. She said, “But it showed you how much cash that we are talking about and how much money these groups have to hire well-paid, high-powered lobbyists to come to advocate for the bill. I know with my vote today, I know I won’t be receiving any large glossy thank-you mailers in my district because the people I am standing with today are poor.”
I can only hope that those legislators who received those campaign contributions will follow the lead of Senator Yee, reject the predators, and stand with the poor.
After all, those 55% of babies born in poverty will grow up as Arizona citizens, and when they vote they will remember who was with them and who was against them, instead trying to make money off their plight, take away their food, and take away the public schools that give them the right to a life of freedom from want. And these babies will be the majority.
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
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