Blog - Weichert for AZ

Setting JD Mesnard Straight on Charter School Holders’ Financial Risk

“Setting JD Mesnard Straight on Charter School Holders’ Financial Risk”

 

PHOENIX, AZ- Steve Weichert, Democratic Candidate for State Senate in Legislative District 17 has called out current Speaker of the House and career politician, JD Mesnard, for his cynical defense of Arizona charter school holders and others who profit at the expense of the state’s 1.1 million public school students.

 

Last week, Mesnard was interviewed on television about the news that fellow Republican, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, was approved by the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools to transfer his for-profit charter school chain to a newly formed non-profit.

 

Farnsworth’s school, Benjamin Franklin Charter, reported a $194,241 profit in 2017 – and receives approximately $20 million a year in taxpayer funds.

 

Mesnard’s justification?

 

“Charter holders have to put themselves – their own livelihood – on the line, and charter schools can be closed,” he said.

 

“Mesnard’s justification about why this is okay – for someone to personally profit tens of millions of dollars after having taken tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money – astounds me,” said Steve Weichert, LD 17 Democratic Senate Candidate. “And it should disgust any Arizonan who stands up for public education or pays taxes in our state,” Weichert added.

 

Farnsworth will rake in between $12 million and $30 million from the deal, which will enable him to sell campuses paid for with state tax dollars to a non-profit organization. The broad range of Farnsworth’s potential payday is attributable to conflicting financial audits that his company provided to the Charter Board – discrepancies he has declined to explain.

 

Farnsworth will still retain nearly $3.8 million of "shareholder equity" in the for-profit company, and he submitted an application to manage the school’s campuses to the company’s three-person board – all of whom are close personal friends. When the sale of the campuses closes, Arizona taxpayers will essentially have paid for the same schools twice. For years, Farnsworth’s charter school has used education funding to make lease payments to LBE Investments, of which he is the sole owner.

 

“I applaud any hard-working Arizonan who pours his or her blood, sweat, tears – and money - into building a successful business,” Weichert said. But this isn’t good old American capitalism at all. Eddie Farnsworth didn’t ‘put himself on the line’. He is nothing more than a typical politician who has soaked Arizona’s taxpayers with the help of his friends – led by JD Mesnard.”

 

“They’ve literally snatched money away from our public schools – which flounder near the bottom of every state ranking – to line their own pockets,” Weichert continued. “Mesnard should be ashamed of himself for letting this happen. But it’s what we’ve come to expect from him – and that’s why LD 17 needs new leadership at the State Capitol.”

 

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2018 Education Showdown

State Senate Candidate Steve Weichert (LD-17) Relishing Opportunity to Take JD Mesnard to Task on Education

CHANDLER, AZ - Steve Weichert, Democratic candidate for Arizona’s State Senate in Legislative District 17, says he is looking forward to today's “2018 Education Showdown” debate with JD Mesnard.

“JD Mesnard has spent his entire career chipping away at support for public education in Arizona,” says Weichert. “He has a horrendous track record of reducing investments in public education, favoring private and charter schools, and eliminating financial transparency in the private and charter school system.”

“It’s no wonder his tenure in the legislature has seen Arizona’s education system drop to 45th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in the “Education Week” rankings for 2018,” Weichert continued. “When teachers put his back against the wall, he was finally forced to vote in favor of a long overdue raise. But he’s not fooling anyone.”

 

WHO: LD 17 Candidate Steve Weichert vs Incumbent J.D Mesnard

WHAT: AZ Daily Star - 2018 Education Showdown

WHEN: Tuesday, September, 18th, 2018

WHERE: Cox Communications Studio, 17602 N Black Canyon Freeway, Phoenix, 85027

               Airing on Cox Channel 4 and on Cox digital platforms

 

Mesnard’s legislative record:

  • He led the effort to kill the Invest in Ed ballot initiative, which would have raised nearly $700 million annually for public education by increasing state income taxes on Arizona’s highest earners.
  • He has continually expanded Arizona’s private school voucher program, which has diverted much-needed funds away from public schools to private and religious schools while enriching Republican colleagues and becoming the gold standard for waste, fraud, and abuse.
  • He has been a strong champion for bills that reduce visibility into charter schools’ finances.
  • He has presided over a series of annual budgets that provided big tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations while gutting public education funding.
  • He voted to lower the bar for those who are allowed to teach in Arizona classrooms.
  • He chose to ignore the Arizona Education Association’s invitation to attend AEA lobbying days at the Capitol.

Under Mesnard’s rule, Arizona’s public schools have suffered terribly:

  • Well over $1 billion cut from education funding since 2008.
  • Arizona is ranked last or near the bottom in per-student funding and teacher salaries.
  • 22% of 46,000 state teachers either do not meet basic qualifications or have less than three years' teaching experience.
  • Historic and chronic teacher shortages across the state - as of August 31, 24.8% of teacher positions were vacant, despite being several weeks into the school year.

 

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STATEMENT ON STATE SUPREME COURT RULING AGAINST INVEST IN ED BALLOT INITIATIVE

Chandler, AZ – Steve Weichert, Democratic Party Candidate for State Senate in Legislative District 17, released the following statement:
 
I’m profoundly disappointed that the Invest in Ed ballot initiative was struck down Wednesday by Governor Doug Ducey’s stacked Supreme Court. And I’m saddened that the loudest cheerleader for striking down the initiative was my opponent for State Senate in LD-17: career politician and anti-public education crusader, JD Mesnard.

 

The petition for Invest in Ed was signed by over 270,000 Arizonans – nearly double the number necessary to appear on November’s ballot. This overwhelming support was a clear indicator that citizens no longer trust our current leaders to act in the best interests of our 1.1 million public school students.  

 

The Invest in Ed initiative sought to raise more than $690 million for public education funding through a small increase in state income tax on the highest earners in our state.

 

If Invest in Ed had passed, an Arizona family earning half a million dollars a year – nearly 10 times the median household income in our state – would pay an additional $1,775 in state tax. Every penny would be used to bring our public education system into the 21st century.

 

But Mesnard and his big-money backers fought this tooth and nail, using scare tactics and fuzzy math. He forecasted doom and gloom, predicting a mass exodus of wealthy Arizonans and businesses to other states.
In fact, the opposite is true. A good public education system – adequately funded, and led by professional, fairly paid, highly motivated teachers – will attract new businesses to Arizona and set our children up for the future they deserve.

 

Mesnard calls himself an ‘educator’, which is why I’m puzzled why he would take every opportunity to hurt Arizona’s public school students in favor of big business. The only reason I can think of is that he’s beholden to deep-pocketed special interests, and has decided to put their bottom lines above of our kids’ future.

 

He and his millionaire backers knew they’d lose this fight when voters go to the polls on November 6, so they turned to Doug Ducey’s Supreme Court. Now that Invest in Ed is off the ballot, it’s even more vital that voters support pro-public education candidates like myself. Only then can we finally do what’s right for our students, parents, and our hard-working teachers.
Quite simply, JD has to go.
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SB1466

Mesnard's move to suppress the vote is another predictable move from this career politician

I just don’t get it: What does JD Mesnard have against people exercising their right to vote?

The Speaker’s latest ploy is to gut SB1466, a common-sense bill that, in its original form, aimed to make it easier for verified, legal Arizona voters to cast their ballots in November. The Bill would have allowed counties – including Maricopa County – to keep early voting centers open on the weekend before election day – giving people three more days (from Saturday to Monday) to vote.

Most counties in the state now have technology that enables them to update the voter database in real time, eliminating the need for election officials to close the centers while they reconcile those records. We all remember the massive lines and confusion at polling places in 2016. They cost former Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell her job. And we heard stories recently about congestion in voting locations for the special election in CD-08. SB1466 would have gone a long way to helping solve these kinds of challenges.

SB1466 was a rarity in our state: all 15 of County Recorders (eight Republicans and seven Democrats) supported it; the bipartisan County Supervisors Association was on board; and it was passed unanimously by the Senate and two House committees. That’s the kind of bipartisanship we need more of.

Then it hit Mesnard’s desk. He proceeded to strip out the pieces of the bill that would have made polling places more accessible to hundreds of thousands of Arizonans, while maintaining the integrity of our elections.

His reason? “There is nothing in this bill that makes it harder for people to vote.”

Sure it didn’t, Mr. Speaker – but is that really the standard we should be setting? Shouldn’t Arizona be leading the way in making it easier for every legal citizen to vote, so that the will of people is fairly represented in Washington and at the State Capitol?

Mesnard’s fixation with suppressing voters’ rights is nothing new. He was a champion of last year’s move to make it more difficult for grassroots organizations to put forward citizen initiatives, like the one that raised our minimum wage.

Now, I can understand why a career politician like the Speaker would seek every advantage to hold onto power and promote the special interests that bankroll his campaigns. But I believe we should give every verifiable legal citizen every opportunity to cast their ballot – in person or by mail, on election day or before.

JD Mesnard seems to think that’s a little too much democracy for his liking.


My Turn

Why it's time to give Arizona Sen. Steve Yarbrough the boot

This article first appeared in the Arizona Republic, on October 27, 2016.

State Sen. Steve Yarbrough’s rebuttal to Mike McClellan’s My Turn article was a fascinating read. For me, it showed the senator is afraid that voters recognize his obvious conflicts of interest and ineffective leadership, and are demanding change.

Why else would he take the time to come out of the woodwork just three weeks before the end of a campaign during which he has been virtually absent?

First, let me point out that I immediately corrected the record about my father’s military service on social media after reading Mr. McClellan’s column. And I confirmed this in a phone call with The Arizona Republic. I’m humbled that my dad, Keith Weichert, fought for our country, as have millions of other brave men and women. And as state senator, I will do everything in my power to recognize their patriotism and provide them with the services they deserve.

Now let’s set the record straight on a few policy issues.

Underpaid, really?

The senator’s joke that minimum wage would be an increase because he’s an overworked, underpaid public servant is laughable. We know Yarbrough was joking because he voted against raising the minimum wage earlier this year.

State Sen. Steve Yarbrough, who has introduced bills to expand Arizona's school tuition organization program, is also the executive director of one of the largest non-profit school tuition organizations. (Photo: Jack Kurtz/The Republic)

It’s well-documented that Yarbrough has built a lucrative personal empire that benefits from private school tax credit legislation he has aggressively championed during his 13 years as a state representative and state senator, draining well over $100 million from our public coffers since 1998. As executive director and legal counsel for the Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization (ACSTO), the past three years of available tax filings show he has received more than $400,000 in compensation.

A minimum wage worker in our state would have to work nearly 24 years to earn that much money. I doubt they’re laughing.

It is well-known that he also happens to be controlling shareholder of HY Processing LLC, which has processed ACSTO’s contributions and scholarship applications since 2005 at a cost of at least $1.2 million, according to tax filings in 20132014 and 2015. And just for good measure, Yarbrough owns the building in which both companies are located.

If you’re thinking all this smells a little fishy, don’t try telling Steve Yarbrough. He’ll tell you you’re beating a dead horse.

Voting record tells a different story

The sudden affection my opponent has shown for public education in his column is betrayed by his voting record and, incidentally, that of his pal, Rep. JD Mesnard, who has absurdly promoted his pro-education credentials in a series of recent ads. Each received dismal ratings for their support of public education from AZ Schools Now based on their votes in the state Legislature during 2015 and 2016.

Finally, Yarbrough’s article criticized Planned Parenthood’s endorsement of my candidacy. I’m proud to support Planned Parenthood’s mission, which provides services such as low-cost reproductive healthcare, cancer screening, and STD/STI testing and treatment to more than 90,000 people in Arizona.

Contrast this with Yarbrough’s  (and Mesnards’s)  vote against restoring KidsCare, which will provide healthcare to 30,000 of our poorest children. Can someone honestly claim to be pro-life if they don’t support a child’s health after it’s born? I think not.

As state senator, I pledge to invest in public education and support our most vulnerable neighbors. I’ll work tirelessly to build an Arizona that is both prosperous and compassionate.

That’s simply not Steve Yarbrough’s goal, nor his legacy. After 13 years in the state Capitol, it’s clear that his time has run its course.


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