As poet Amanda Gorman so eloquently put it on Inauguration Day this year, the power to bring light to this world lies within every one of us.

That’s why I’ve introduced HB2824 to invest in Adult Education in Arizona and why I hope you’ll use your power to help me get it heard in the House Education Committee.

Currently, over 700,000 working-age Arizonans still need a high school diploma (and COVID is likely greatly expanding that number). Without an education, low wage workers are the ones being hit hardest by the pandemic – losing their jobs and with it their ability to keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables.

They need a way to lift themselves out of poverty, employers need a strong, qualified workforce, and we all benefit when more people are contributing to our economy. Education is the key.

That’s why the Arizona Dept of Education issues grants to 25 providers of Adult Education across the state, including seven community colleges which offer programs that allow adults to earn their GED and at the same time, work toward an Industry Credential and/or Associate’s degree. They also provide wrap-around services to help meet the diverse needs of adult learners. It has a 74.8% success rate and educates 13,000 students per year.

However, there’s been no increase in funding since 1997, and so there is a month’s long waiting list. Arizona is also at risk of losing federal matching funds if we don’t increase our own investment. My bill, HB2824 calls for a $5 million appropriation, which a fiscal impact statement shows will provide a huge return on our investment in the form of $38.8 million in additional revenue for the state.

This fiscally responsible, successful program would cost the state hundreds per student, while a different bill currently under consideration to allow a private vendor to open a charter school for adults would cost $6700 per student. We can spend millions to educate a few hundred students per year, or for the same amount, educate thousands in an already successful program.

 

Education Update

This week a number of bills will be heard in the State Senate that would once again drain more money from our public district and charter schools. I’ve provided a link to the Save Our Schools newsletter where you can learn more about those specific bills and what you can do. You’ll find it at the end of this article.

Meanwhile, here’s my position on ESA’s/Vouchers:
Our state has a constitutional as well as moral obligation to provide every child with a quality public education. It’s also in our own best interest. So, I supported the original intent of ESA’s to provide for children with extraordinary needs for which public schools are not adequately funded.

However, I strongly OPPOSE the EXPANSION of ESA’s/Vouchers. That’s because some legislators have hijacked ESA/vouchers for their own agenda: to undercut our public schools and privatize education.

Despite those efforts, the families of almost 90% of Arizona’s children still choose public schools for many reasons. They provide a vital center for our communities, important electives and extracurricular activities that build well-rounded people, and a great education from well-qualified, caring teachers.

Because our legislature has diverted so many millions of our tax dollars to private schools, we now face a severe teacher shortage, crumbling buildings, and inadequate resources.

That’s why voters passed Prop 208 – to better fund our schools and incentivize teachers to stay in Arizona. But as fast as Arizonans’ vote to put money into the bucket for public schools, legislators continue to drill holes in the bottom, draining as many of our tax dollars as they can to private schools. They’re doing it again this coming week.

I will oppose bills that would expand ESA vouchers, and I hope you will, too. We must invest in public schools so that we we can ensure that every student gets the quality education they deserve. Check out the Save Our Schools Weekly Education Report to learn about this week’s bills and how you can make a difference by contacting your legislators.

 

Arizonans are struggling. So, many people were rightfully alarmed last week to hear Gov Ducey advocate for a $1.2 BILLION PERMANENT TAX CUT in our budget.

That kind of cut, during a pandemic, no less, would hamstring our state for years to come.

Every business person knows that when you want to grow a company, you invest in it. So, like any business – or family, for that matter, our state needs revenue to be sustainable. By permanently cutting taxes, we’re hobbling ourselves from being able to provide the services that citizens expect – and deserve.

If we want to grow Arizona we’re going to have to have revenue for the goods and services we provide that make Arizona a better place for all of us.

Local businesses need help right now to stay afloat until more folks feel safe enough to go out and our economy stabilizes.

Hard-working people who have lost their jobs need a more effective unemployment insurance program that will help them keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. The maximum unemployment check is an inadequate $240 per week, and the current system penalizes people for taking even a low-paying job.

Too many people are facing eviction, and at the very least it’s a public health necessity to help keep them at home, so we must provide funding for rent and mortgages, extend the eviction moratorium for renters, and streamline the application process.

Parents, students, and teachers need to be able to return to schools that are safe and supplied with reliable resources we can count on to prepare the educated workforce we need to drive a strong economy.

These and other challenges deserve our attention and investment. At a time when the rich keep getting richer, and the working people and struggling families keep losing ground, we must make smart investments in our people to make sure we can all get through this crisis and thrive.

Call or email the Governor’s office to tell him Arizona doesn’t need more tax cuts. Like any business or family, we need to invest in our state’s people so that all of us can grow and thrive. ‭(602) 542-4331 or Engage@az.gov.

As David Lujan of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress points out, “The AZ legislature has cut taxes every year but two since 1990, and the impact is clear: a steady decline in state revenue since ’90 and a steady decline in state investments for things like public education, universities, child care and housing supports. Arizona doesn’t need more tax cuts.”

 

As of Tuesday, Jan 19 at 9 am, Arizonans age 65 and older will be able to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine. To schedule an appointment at State Farm Stadium or multiple other vaccination sites create an account here. You can also call 211 for more information. I hear it’s best to call or use the site first thing in the morning. To learn more about COVID-19 vaccines and vaccinations, check the County Health Department’s site here.

If you are getting a message that no appointments – or vaccines are currently available, here is why: there are only two locations in the state offering vaccine to individuals 65-74 years old. I know it’s really frustrating. The problem is with the federal government and the distribution to the states. My advisors suggest checking back every few days. When the state is told how much will be in their next shipment (approximately 7-10 days before it arrives), they will open new appointments in the system.

Focus on Education

The new legislative session has begun, and I’m honored to represent you on both the Education and Appropriations committees.  The good news is that the passage of Prop 208 will  provide a  long and much-needed sustainable increase in our investment in students.The bad news is that it will take about a year before schools see that additional funding (and there will still be many holes).

In the meantime, because of COVID, school attendance has dropped significantly. Since districts receive funding based on daily attendance, they are losing millions of dollars, which threatens their ability to renew contracts for hundreds of teachers this spring. The last thing we need is more unemployed people, especially teachers who are already in such short supply.

Bills I’m Drafting

Stability Funding: School Superintendents have told me that their number one priority is to know their funding for next school year is secure. So I’m working on a bill that will allow districts to use their attendance numbers from any of the past three years, giving them the security they need during this uncertain time to retain those teachers who are so vital to addressing the Covid-related learning loss.

Special Education: Arizona has also long neglected the needs of special education students. I’m working on a bill that will more appropriately fund those programs.

Adult Education: Arizona has over 100,000 adults without a high school diploma, and the pandemic will likely increase that number. For our state’s economy to thrive,  Achieve 60 Arizona, a non-partisan group of business leaders and educators, projects that Arizona needs  60% of its residents to have  a two year post-secondary credential by 2030. So, I’m proposing a bill that will allow more adults to complete their GED’s AND at the same time, earn an industry certification or AA degree through our community colleges. It’s a smart investment that will benefit all of us.

What You Can Do Right Now

This Tuesday’s (Jan 19) Education Committee agenda includes important opportunities to improve the lives of students and families in Arizona. If you have a Request to Speak account, please use it Now to urge a YES vote on the following bills in particular. If not, email members of the committee. You can find our names here and email addresses use this pattern of first initial, last name as in Jschwiebert@azleg.gov.  We meet at 2 pm on Tuesday, and you can watch the live proceedings here.

HB 2015, Rep Sierra’s bill would restore funding for quality preschool education for low income families. It’s a wise investment in not only our children, but for our economic future as well.

HB2137, Rep Pawlik’s bill on dyslexia screening. It was one of the recommendations of a study committee to identify and help address the needs of students showing signs of dyslexia.

HCR 2005 Rep Fillmore’s bill to repeal Arizona’s English Only requirement for English Language Learners will allow districts to use research-based instruction models that work best for their students.

HB2124 Rep Udall’s CTED Anytime Anywhere bill that allows career education districts to receive funding for learning in their programs not just during traditional school hours, but also, whenever instruction works within their communities.

HB2123 Rep Udall’s bill to provide 4th year funding to students in CTED programs will allow students to complete their work.

 

Please stay informed and be involved. A great way to do that is to sign up for The Legislature Weekly and learn to use the Request to Speak (RTS)program. Now more than ever, we need you to use the power of your words to help heal our beloved state and country and move us forward.

Civic Engagement Beyond Voting (CEBV), a small group of women working to empower Arizona’s citizens to exercise their voices at the state level, will help you get setup with an RTS account, and send you The Legislature Weekly which will let you know what is happening at the legislature, what bills will be discussed the next week, and how you can make your voice heard on the issues important to you.

One of those ways is to use the Request to Speak (RTS) program from the comfort of your own couch by sending a message to legislators from your computer.  Use this link to sign up. 

Use this Zoom link to sign up for a virtual RTS training (every Thursday in January, 5:30-6:30 pm)

And you can find other trainings and information by “Following” and “Liking”their Facebook page here.

 

Yesterday morning, I was prepared to send you a hopefully inspiring message about the new year and the start of our new state legislative session that begins on Monday. Then we all witnessed the stunning siege on our nation’s capitol.

As a newly elected State Representative, I’m focused on making our state the best place it can be for all Arizonans, but this unprecedented event has demanded the attention of all of us.

It’s hard to know what to say. Like you, I never thought I’d see this kind of violent uprising or hear a reporter say that mobs have breached the Capitol here in our own country, here in America, the pillar of democracy.

This is a dark time. Many leaders yesterday condemned the violent mobs for this unprecedented attack on our country. But we need to go beyond that. We must confront the truth that words have power. They can be used to inspire – or to incite, just as the president-elect said.

Our democracy demands that we share a commitment to the truth that every citizen’s vote matters. When national or state leaders repeatedly make baseless claims that this was a fraudulent election, they incite violence. When they paint themselves as victims and abuse their power by falsely demonizing whole groups of other Americans as enemies, they generate hate and fear.

As someone said today, you can’t strike a match to light a fire and then when it’s raging yell at the fire to stop. Yesterday’s events made the power of speech very clear. Words have consequences that can be hard to extinguish.

So often, we feel powerless against the forces that seek to consume us. But as a friend reminded me last night, we are NOT powerless. In fact, each of us is a point of light with the potential to use our power to illuminate, heal, and find the common good.

We face so many truly serious challenges right now here in our own state: a pandemic that continues to take too many lives, hardworking neighbors who have lost their jobs, businesses that are on the brink of bankruptcy, healthcare and housing we can’t afford, students who need the great education that will allow them to thrive. These and so many other issues are all daunting right now, but there’s nothing we haven’t been able to do when we work together.

I’m not talking about just elected leaders. I’m talking about all of us. Each of us shines a light that makes a difference in our families, work, and community.

And here’s the part about the new legislative session. We begin on Monday. So, it’s a vital time for us to use our power to work for our common good right here at home, as well as for our nation.