Education supporters say political signs aim to confuse, rock the vote

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - It's hard not to miss the dozens of campaign signs all along Valley roads, but do you know what they really support? Educators say the red and white signs asking voters to check "Yes on Prop 305" are misleading. 

"If Prop 305 passed, it would be devastating for schools across the state," said Dawn Penich- Thacker, a Red or Ed supporter. 

"This is the lowest of the low when it gets to political dirty tricks. They are obviously trying to mimic Red For ed, support of teachers, support for public school funding when in fact Prop 305 would take money away from all those things."

Penich-Thacker says she and other educators worked hard to get Prop 305 on the ballot, giving voters a chance to repeal a decision by Governor Ducey in 2017, that would extend the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) Program, also known as the school voucher program, to all students, regardless of need. The program used to be exclusive to students with unique needs or family situations that included: 

  • Students in foster care
  • Students living on an Indian reservation
  • Students in failing or underperforming school districts
  • Students with a parent who is on active military duty or was killed in the line of duty
  • Students with a parent who is legally blind, deaf, or hard of hearing
  • Students with a sibling who is a current or former ESA recipient 

(according to the Center for Arizona Policy) 

The program gives vouchers to parents who choose to send their kids to other schools, either private, or other options, by taking money from schools that would have been used to provide that student with resources. Some supporters argue the money should follow the student, and say this gives parents more options, while helping fund their child's education. 

Jennifer Clark says her son benefited from the ESA program after they learned he suffered from learning disabilities. "It has allowed our son to get the therapy he needs," Clark said, "and we were able to find the educational approach that best meets his unique educational needs."

But Penich-Thacker says taking tax-payer money to fund other schools, only hurts public schools. She says even if some students choose to leave, the bills don't go down. If passed "teacher salaries would be frozen or decrease schools would have to close, and there would definitely be layoffs," she said. "Do we want our tax dollars to go to private schools and religious schools or do we want our tax dollars to go to public schools where 95% of Arizona students go?"

Earlier this year, Penich-Thacker and thousands of other educators walked out and lined the streets in support of increasing public school funding. She says it's hard ot see politicians using colors and language they've used to symbolize their movement, for the opposite goal.

"It's just a trick to try to take people who support teachers and support schools and trick them into voting against the things they believe in," she added. She says while parents have the right to choose, expanding the program only hinders students who it was designed to help. "Prop 305 puts those unique kids back in line with everybody else."

Here's what you need to know before hitting the polls:

Voting Yes on Prop 305 would keep the voucher extension in place, to include all students, and give parents the option to receive vouchers if they choose a different school system. 

Voting No would repeal the extension, and revert it to only include those with specific needs.

"It's just common sense, you can't take money away from something and expect it to excel," Penich-Thacker said. 

We reached out to YesforEDAZ, the committee behind the signs, and one volunteer says the color and language was likely used to link the vote to education, adding the hashtag #YesforED is a "pro-education" movement. 

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