$2 Million in Awards Granted to Six Arizona Education Providers to Expand Parental Choice as ESAs Move Forward

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) and Janine Yass, the founder of the Yass Prize, revealed Tuesday the winners of the STOP for Arizona Education Awards, a program that is granting a total of $2 million to six of the state’s education providers with the best-developed plan to meet the demands of the rising numbers of parents eager to make use of Arizona’s new Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs).

The awards are presented following an announcement, from the office of Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D), of results of a campaign by an anti-parental choice group that attempted a referendum to repeal HB 2853, the ESA law.

Hobbs, who is also the Democrat gubernatorial candidate, sent a message last week to Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ), stating her office “has completed the statutorily prescribed review on enough sheets and signatures to determine that the number of petition signatures eligible for verification will fail to meet the constitutional minimum of 118,823 signatures.”

According to Hobbs’ office, SOSAZ initially filed “a reported estimate of 10,200 petition sheets containing an estimated 141,714 signatures.”

As Fox News reported, the Goldwater Institute and the Center for Arizona Policy Action challenged the claim of SOSAZ after a ballot count, asserting the group only submitted 88,866 signatures.

Consequently, the referendum “will not qualify for the 2024 General Election ballot,” Hobbs’ office stated.

Ducey and other supporters of the ESA law urged Hobbs to halt the freeze on the program that could benefit over one million K-12 students in Arizona. The state’s veto referendum allows the secretary of state to block a law if its adversaries collect a sufficient number of signatures that represent five percent of the voter turnout in the most recent gubernatorial election. In this case, that number was 118,823.

SOSAZ posted to social media its concession regarding its failed campaign, calling the ESA law “a devastating blow” to Arizona’s government schools.

“The universal ESA voucher scheme passed by the R-controlled #AZLeg & Gov. Ducey has gone into effect despite our network’s herculean effort to stop it in its tracks,” the group stated.

The law expands ESAs to all children in grades K-12, who would meet the criteria to receive over $6,500 per year for any education setting or service, including private school, homeschooling, “learning pods,” and tutoring.

SOSAZ took the position of teachers’ unions that ESAs are an attempt to redirect taxpayer funds from government schools, rather than one to empower parents.

Meanwhile, Ducey celebrated the Yass Foundation’s “STOP” awards to six education entities in Arizona.

“What a great day for this group of Arizona educators and advocates,” said Governor Doug Ducey (R). “We’re proud of each and every one of these and of all the great schools, innovators, stakeholders and everyone else that puts our children first. Thank you Yass Prize for all that you do and for coming here to our great state, we truly appreciate you.”

The Yass Prize was established last year “to honor and advance the work of education providers who delivered a best-in-class experience during the Covid pandemic,” its website states.

The Yass Foundation’s “STOP” awards refer to four “core principles that are at the heart of the Foundation’s mission because they have the power to drive educational change for every child,” the foundation says, noting the acronym stands for:

  • “Sustainable” – can be funded independently by using public programs that fund education settings, regardless of sector
  • “Transformational” – uses innovative approaches using updated technologies
  • “Outstanding” – has been demonstrated to be successful
  • “Permissionless” – free to exist without regulatory bodies

Yass noted in the press announcement regarding the awards the Foundation had “initially pledged $500,000 for the Ducey Prize and $100,000 for each of the five other STOP for Arizona Awards.”

“[W]e were so excited by the plans we read that we decided to double it, to accelerate the work of these stellar educators and innovators,” she added, however.

“Governor Ducey has set a new standard for the entire nation,” Yass said. “We created this award to honor his and all of Arizona’s efforts to expand access to exceptional education opportunities for students.”

The Ducey Prize for $1 million was awarded to Science Prep Academy of Phoenix “for its capacity to open at least another five micro school locations and increase capacity to 800 students throughout metro Phoenix,” a press release states. “Science Prep helps neurodivergent students transition into adulthood and the workforce in outstanding and transformational ways.”

Prizes of $200,000 were also awarded to five other education entities, each of which are described in the press statement as “expanding in critical areas of the state to meet demand, or helping parents find the opportunities that are available to them”:

  • St. Mary-Basha Catholic School, an elementary school in the greater Chandler area is educating with a tech focus including the school’s maker space and a Robotics team that enriches their core programs.
  • Kino Learning Center, a private microschool with individualized learning pods located in Tucson is planning to double the number of students they serve.
  • Our Lady of the Lake Catholic School, located in Lake Havasu City, is creating new teacher training partnerships to be able to serve all families on their waitlist in their expansive, rural community.
  • St. John the Evangelist Catholic School, serving over 420 K-8th students in Tucson is planning to develop an online faith-based blended learning environment for the entire Diocese of Tucson, doubling students served.
  • Love Your School, a statewide support organization that helps parents to find the right schools so that all families can take advantage of the education opportunity in Arizona. With this award, Love Your School plans on placing 50,000 students in the school of their choice by 2025.

Jeanne Allen, CEO of the Center for Education Reform, which oversees the Yass Prize and STOP Awards Initiative, said many other education providers are also successfully teaching students.

“The education providers honored today are but a fraction of those doing the hard work of reaching and teaching the students entrusted to them, no matter what the challenges,” Allen said in a statement. “They endured during the pandemic and continue to offer student-centered learning environments that not only serve their students but impacts their entire communities.”

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Susan Berry, PhD, is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Doug Ducey” by Doug Ducey.



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