Education Update-Nov 2017

Education Update-Nov 2017

Education is one of the most important and politically charged issues in Arizona. Unfortunately, there are so many statistics being thrown around that it is often hard to know what is the truth. Because of this, I’ve put together a list of important facts backed up by their sources.

Point #1: K-12 school education receives more money than any other area in the state budget at 43% and is the largest single beneficiary of funding increases in the state year after year. (Footnote 1.)

Point #2: How money is spent matters more than how much is spent. Money needs to be spent effectively. Case in point…

Arizona students are doing better academically than neighboring states that spend more per student. (Footnote 2.)

-California spends $3,500 more per student than Arizona, but AZ students perform better academically on the National Assessment of Educational Progress than California students at every level.
-New Mexico spends $3,000 more per student than Arizona, but AZ students outperform their students academically at every level.
-Nevada spends $1,262 more per student than Arizona, but AZ students outperform their students academically at all levels except one.
-Arizona is home to 5 of the top 10 high schools in the nation.(Footnote 3.)

Point #3: Arizona has one of the fastest growing student populations in the nation. This will continue to be a strain on the state budget as growing states are always struggling to meet the needs of their growing population. Since schools get paid per student, the amount schools receive automatically grows each year along with substantial increases in other funding from the state and other sources.

Point #4: District Schools receive, on average, $9,529/student/year and Charter Schools receive, on average, $8,798/student/year. (Footnote 4.)
Point #5: Average Arizona teacher salary in 2016 = $46,384/year. (Footnote 5)

Point #6: School districts, through their elected school board members, decide how school money is spent, including how much goes toward teacher pay and how much goes to administration, not the state legislature.

Point #7: The percent of money school districts are deciding to put in the classroom continues to decline. Arizona school districts spent only 53.5% in the classroom during the 2016 school year. This is the lowest amount that went to the classroom since the Auditor General started tracking this number in 2001. (Footnote 5)

Point #8: Families in Arizona like the freedom to choose their own school and what is best for their child. In Maricopa County, nearly 50% of families chose a school other than the one geographically assigned to their child. (Footnote 6)

Point #9: Charter schools are becoming increasingly popular with parents. Charter School enrollment has grown 70% in the last 17 years.

Point #10: Private school choice options save the state money. If private school choice options like tuition tax credits and Empowerment Scholarship Accounts were taken away and these students were forced back into the public schools, the state would need to find hundreds of millions of dollars to fund the new public-school enrollment growth, including millions for extra buildings for this influx of new students.

1. Joint Legislative Budget Committee
2. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores and US Census Bureau
3. US News and World Report
4. Joint Legislative Budget Committee, includes funding from all sources
5. Arizona Auditor General Reports
6. Arizona Charter School Association

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How Can I Help You?

How Can I Help You?

How can I help you?

One of the most rewarding parts of my job is helping people. Within the last week alone, I helped a breast cancer survivor who was charged a $300 facility fee for a routine 15 minute doctor visit; I contacted the prison system for a father of a suicidal son to make sure he was receiving appropriate treatment; I contacted the Dysart School Superintendent on behalf of a father who told me his son’s teacher was assigning politically one-sided assignments in economics class; I investigated the oversight of home repair warranties thanks to a Peoria air conditioner contractor alerting me to problems; I’m reviewing state procurement rules because a Peoria manufacturer contacted me with concerns; I asked senate staff to contact an insurance company for a Sun City woman who isn’t getting the information she needs; and I helped a woman who has questions about condo association fees.

I ran for office to make a difference. When I can help people like this or when I pass legislation that helps people across the state, like my legislation to help patients settle surprise medical bills or my legislation to help school PTAs, I feel like my job is worth it.

If you need assistance with a problem, have an idea for legislation, or simply want me to write a letter to someone for a special occasion or recognition, please contact me at or 602-926-5413.

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AZ Cardinal’s player supports ESAs and School Choice

AZ Cardinal’s player supports ESAs and School Choice

It is always good to have a professional football player on my side supporting my ESA School Choice Legislation.  Watch AZ Cardinal’s player Patrick Peterson in a Video HERE

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Get the FACTS on ESAs & School Choice-SB1431

Get the FACTS on ESAs & School Choice-SB1431

GET the FACTS on ESAs: Senate Bill 1431:

1. The AZ legislature supports education no matter where it takes place. It supports district schools, charter schools, online schools, private schools and homeschooling.

2. ESAs allow parents to choose the best education for their child because all children don’t learn the same.

3. Phases in eligibility to all students over 4 years.

4. However, caps enrollment growth at ½ of 1% of the 1.1 million public students or about 5,500 students/year through 2022 and beginning in FY2023 caps ESA enrollment at the 2021-2022 school year level.

5. The parent receives 90-100% of what the school they moved from got from the state and then the parent can use that money for a list of educational options, including private school.

6. The state’s non-partisan budget committee estimates my ESA legislation will save the state general fund $1.6M in FY18, $2.9M in FY19, $3.5M in FY20, and $3.4M in FY21. These savings can be used for other state priorities, including increased funding to public schools.

7. Provides more money for low-income students. If a student’s family makes 250% of the Federal Poverty Level (about $60k for a family of 4) or below, the student receives funding at 100% of what the school they moved from receives from the state general fund. If the student’s family earns more than 250%, the student receives 90%.

8. Provides Academic Accountability: ESA students are required to take a nationally recognized norm-referenced or similar test. Private Schools that test and have at least 50 ESA students need to make available to the public the schools test results

9. Provides Fiscal Accountability:

-Requires ADE to create an ESA Open Checkbook to provide transparency on ALL expenditures.

-Requires the state treasurer to contract with a private financial management firm to manage ESA accounts.

-Creates new administrative efficiencies and guidelines to prevent fraud.

10. ESA money can be used for various educational options including online school, tutoring, and private school. Median cost for private elementary school in AZ = $5,500/year, thus families of all income levels can use ESAs.

11. ESA students in grades 1-12 need to have switched from a public school, thus students already attending a private school cannot get ESA money.

12. Students are prohibited from using both ESAs and STOs.

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Budget Prioritizes Education

Budget Prioritizes Education

Great News! The Arizona legislature passed the state budget last week.  It is structurally balanced, prioritizes education, funds other important needs, and includes a tax cut for individual taxpayers.

Here are some highlights:

  • Balanced budget with a tax cut for individuals
  • Increases funding to K-12 education by $353M
  • Provides a 2% teacher raise over 2 years in addition to any raises the school districts gave. (For example, this school year the Peoria School teachers got a 6.81% raise on-going, plus 3.18% one-time and an additional .5% from Prop 301 sales tax revenue increase)
  • Rewards high-performing schools
  • Provides $ for new school construction and repairs
  • Provides funding for local roads
  • Increases funding to the people that take care of the developmentally and physically disabled and elderly
  • Increases funding to protect the elderly from abuse
  • Increases funding to the universities
  • Provides funding to test backlogged rape kits
  • Provides funding to increase adoptions
  • Funds diversion programs for drug-users so they won’t end up in prison

Find greater details HERE

Please contact me anytime with questions, comments or input at or 602-926-5413.

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April 2017

April 2017

I’m working hard at the AZ State Capitol.  In addition to working on the state budget…here is some of the legislation I’ve sponsored:

SB1441 gives patients that have received a “surprise” medical bill from an out of network doctor a way to settle the bill. Click HERE to view an interview with me on Channel 3 TV on Your Side.

SB1431, my ESA legislation, provides another option for parents to find the best education for their child. Click HERE for a quick video.

SB1442, my pension reform legislation, will help make the Correction Officer Retirement Plan sustainable for the employees and reduce risk to the taxpayer. The current plan is 53% funded.  It is supposed to be funded at 100%.  This effort follows my success at reforming the police and fire pension plan last year.

SB1327 initiates the establishment of a Gold Star Family memorial at Wesley Bolin Plaza by the state capitol. The memorial will honor military members killed in action and their families.  Governor Ducey signed the bill into law.

Please feel free to contact me with questions or comments at or 602-926-5413.

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Lesko Legislative Update 2-19-17

Lesko Legislative Update 2-19-17

Legislative Update from Senator Debbie Lesko:

  1. K-12 EDUCATION: The amount our state is spending on public education continues to increase every year and students are making improvements in national scores.  Public schools get money from different pots.  They get money from the state general fund, property taxes including bonds and overrides, Prop. 301 sales tax, Prop. 123 (which will add $300 M this year alone), federal tax dollars, and other sources. In fact, half of our entire state general fund budget is spent on education. Funding from all sources averaged $9,500/student/year in fiscal year 2016.
  1. ESAs: While we continue to increase our support for public schools, a majority of the legislature and the governor also advocate for parental choice that allow parents to choose the best education for their child. We believe we can do both. In keeping with that belief, I am sponsoring legislation, SB1341, that will expand eligibility for the ESA program to all AZ students phased in over a four-year period. ESAs provide parents 90% of what a public school would have received for that child.  The money can be spent on a menu of educational choices including private schools. The program’s enrollment growth is capped at about 5,500 students per year and the program includes academic and fiscal accountability.
  2. SURPRISE MEDICAL BILLING: My legislation, SB1441, passed out of the Senate Finance Committee unanimously with both Republican and Democratic support.  The legislation will help patients that receive “Surprise Medical Bills” from out-of-network providers.
  3. PENSION REFORM: I am continuing my work on reforming our state’s public pension systems.  They are underfunded and unsustainable.  This year my legislation, SB1442, will help sustain and reform the Correction Officers retirement plan, which is comprised of Correction and Probation officers.
  1. As always, please contact me with any comments or suggestions. I can be reached at 602-926-5413 or
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December 2016

December 2016

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!
I wish all of you a happy, healthy and blessed 2017.

2016 was a good year at the Arizona legislature.  We increased funding for education, reformed the firefighter and police pension plan, passed legislation to grow jobs in Arizona, and focused on promoting free markets and limiting burdensome regulations.

The 2017 legislative session starts on January 9th.  I will be serving as Senate President Pro-Tempore and Appropriations Chairman.  One of my duties as the Appropriations Chairman is to help balance the state budget.

Two recent events have made balancing the state budget more challenging.  The passage of Proposition 206, which raises the minimum wage, will cost the state general fund at least $25 Million extra this year and the adverse ruling by the courts in the Hall Case against pension reforms done five years ago, will cost the state $10 Million this year alone.

When voters passed Proposition 206 I don’t know if they realized that the extra cost to increase the wages for state-funded care-givers for the elderly and disabled and for entry level school workers would have the effect of diverting money from other important priorities like raising classroom spending.  The legislature had no control over the passage of Prop. 206 and the legislature had no control over the court ruling, but it is the legislature that has to fix the problem.

So when the unexpected happens, the state has to do the same thing a family does when unexpected costs occur…we re-prioritize, figure out where we can shave off spending in some places to add it in others.  It is a challenge, but one that can be done and will be done.

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November 2016

November 2016

Thank you for re-electing me to the Arizona State Senate!  I am truly blessed to have the support of so many great people and to work at a job where I can make a positive difference in our state and nation.

Our legislative session starts on January 9th 2017.  I am honored that I have been named Senate President Pro-Tempore and Senate Appropriations Chairman.  I will also serve as chairman of the Joint Committee on Capital Review, Vice Chairman of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee and a member of the Senate Rules Committee and the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

In 2017 my priority will be to balance the state budget in a way that provides good quality services to the people in our state, but also ensures that government lives within its means.

I also plan to continue my work on pension reform. In 2016 my legislation reformed the firefighter and police pension plan, savings taxpayers’ millions.  In 2017 I plan on introducing legislation that will reform the Correction Officers Retirement Plan.

I am also working on a problem commonly referred to as “Surprise Medical Billing.”  It is not fair that a patient who has worked hard to make sure a surgery is covered by his/her insurance receives a surprise bill from an “out of network”  anesthesiologist or radiologist that the patient had no control in selecting.

Every year I have also sponsored legislation to solve a problem brought to my attention by a constituent.  If you believe there is problem that needs legislation to solve, contact me.

If you would like me to speak to your group or you want a tour of the state capitol, let me know.

Contact me anytime at or 602-926-5413.

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Nov. 8th Ballot Measures

Nov. 8th Ballot Measures

Nov. 8th Ballot Measures:

Note: None of these ballot measures were referred to the ballot by the legislature and the legislature cannot change the ballot measures with a majority vote even if there are unintended consequences with the ballot measures.

  1. Proposition 205 legalizes recreational marijuana in Arizona.  Prop 205 language and pro and con statements begin on page 16 at THIS LINK.
  2. Proposition 206 increases the minimum wage to $12/hour.  Prop 206 language and pro and con statements begin on page 58 at THIS LINK.
  3. Peoria School District $198 Million Bond will cost an avg. homeowner $203/year for the next 26 years according to the voter pamphlet (for a home valued at $250k). Most of the money will be used to build two new schools in north Peoria.  The state will fund the building of new schools when the district reaches student capacity.  The school district did not request state funding for the new schools.  The school district is not near student capacity. Three school board members voted to place this bond on the ballot and two school board members, Judy Doane and Beverly Pingerelli, voted against placing the bond on the ballot suggesting that if the approximately 2,000 students attending PUSD schools from outside the district were sent back to their home schools/districts, there may not be a need to build new schools.
  4. City of Peoria’s Prop 400 will increase sales tax to 8.5% on retail purchases, 10% on utilities, and 9.5% at Restaurants & Bars. Food tax will increase to 2%. Money is slated to be used primarily for open space, a cultural center, a recreation center and an aquatic center in north Peoria.
  5.  West-MEC’s $141 Million Bond will be  used primarily to construct and equip new and current career and technical education facilities.
  6. City of Surprise’s $63 Million Bond‘s top two expenses are for a recreation complex and an aquatic center expansion.
  7. Sun City Fire District $10 Million Bond will be used primarily for new equipment, vehicles, and a new fire station.

Governor Ducey and the state legislature work hard to fund vital state programs without raising taxes. This year local governments have placed numerous measures on the November 8th ballot that, if passed, will increase taxes.  It is important that you realize that the legislature cannot control these tax increases if the voters pass them.

I encourage you to research these ballot measures. Please contact me anytime at or 602-926-5413.

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