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Senator Allen responds to local paper's editorial

Given the writer of a recent editorial in the Roundup (“The enemies of public education,” April 11) accused me of being an enemy of public education and compared me to a child abuser, it should come as no surprise that I am responding to this petulant, over-the-top piece.

First of all, as my constituents know and as my record shows, I am a strong supporter of public education in Arizona. As chair of the Senate Committee on Education, I am an important voice for public education. I was a key supporter of Proposition 123, which is bringing $3.5 billion in additional funding for our public schools.

I also supported $200 million more in K-12 funding in last year’s budget, something my Democratic colleagues opposed. I’m supporting a bigger raise for public school teachers than Governor Ducey proposed. I sponsored a bill to reduce tuition for students at our public universities. I sponsored a bill this session to appropriate $600,000 for a teacher student loan program, and a bill to establish a high-quality teacher professional development pilot program.

The editorial made it clear the Roundup is most concerned about protecting the institution of public education. My colleagues and I have a different idea. We’re concerned about the education of the children in our state, wherever that classroom might be. We want our children to have the best educational opportunity, one designed for them, be it a traditional district school, a public charter, online, private school or home-school. We have to start putting the control of education choices back to our parents, instead of our institutions. Empowerment Scholarship Awards (ESAs) give back that power to our families.

There’s more wild-eyed rhetoric in the editorial that needs to be addressed. The writer says Arizona is “starving our schools” of resources and that they’re “shamefully underfunded.” Our state spends nearly 50 percent of its budget on public education. Fifty percent! Arizona taxpayers are spending $10.6 billion on K-12 education this year alone. Each year, we’re spending more and more on education, and it’s certainly not “shamefully underfunded.”

And the school choice that the writer calls “nonsense”? It’s actually saving money for taxpayers, leaving extra money in the public school system. It’s estimated to save the state more than $11 million over the four years of implementation.

What about the “damage” the writer says the ESA program will do, with students streaming out of our district schools? Well, the bill caps the number of new students receiving ESAs at 5,500 each year, for a total of around 30,000 after four years. That’s out of more than 1 million public school students. Hardly the end of public education as we know it.

So the Roundup and other critics of ESAs can focus on the institutions. I’m going to keep listening to the people, such as Tamelia Boyd from Window Rock. “ESA has given us the opportunity to put our kids in a great school, St. Michael Indian School. Because of their new school, college is now in their future. Tuition is the main reason we use [an] ESA, and without it, we as a family would not be able to afford to send our children to what we think is the best school in Arizona.”

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