Erik Twist, Charter School Headmaster, Blasts Education Funding Initiative, Prop 204, in E-mail to Parents

Erik Twist, the headmaster of a Phoenix charter school, blasted an e-mail to school parents outlining the reasons to vote against Proposition 204, an initiative estimated to generate about $1 billion a year mostly for education funding -- including for charter schools.

It's causing a stir among some parents.

Arizona law prohibits school officials from using "school district or charter school personnel, equipment, materials, buildings or other resources for the purpose of influencing the outcomes of elections."

Twist, headmaster of Archway Classical Academy Veritas near 56th Street and Thomas Road, apparently wrote the e-mail at school, around noon on Friday, October 12, and then had Ami Hosack, the school's office manager, send it to everyone in the school's contact list.

Voters will consider on November 6 whether to approve the initiative, which prohibits state lawmakers from further cutting education funding and permanently extends the one-cent sales tax voters overwhelmingly approved in 2010. That tax is set to expire in 2013.

Twist describes in his message to parents how Prop 204 would "throw taxpayer money indiscriminately" into the flawed education system, and fund "everything from education to special interests."

Daniel Scoggin, the chief executive officer for Great Hearts Academies, the non-profit network of public charter schools that includes Archway Veritas, says that Twist was speaking on behalf of himself, not Great Hearts.

But Scoggin also adds that Twist was responding to many questions he had received from parents about the school-funding initiative. And Twist did end his message to parents with this official title -- headmaster.

Some parents are angry that Twist used his position -- and school resources, such as the parents' e-mail list -- in an attempt to persuade them to vote against education-funding measure.

Sources tell New Times that some parents plan to file complaints against Twist with the Attorney General's Office. We've got a call in to the AG's Office to confirm whether that's happened.

In his e-mail, Twist dismisses the at least $800 million for education funding in the proposition, and instead mentions unnamed "special interest" groups that will benefit from the money. And, he complains "poorly performing schools are treated the same as successful schools ... [rewarding] equal dollars to both kinds of schools, regardless of performance."

Ann-Eve Pederson, chair of the pro-Prop 204 campaign, says that 12 percent of money set aside for K-12 education is only released if school performance shows improvement in measure such as graduation rates, third graders reading at appropriate levels and test scores.

In response to Twist's criticism that "poorly performing schools" get "equal dollars," Pederson says it is important to note that many of the "failing schools" are located in challenged parts of the state -- on Native American lands, inner cities and other areas with stark poverty.

"The idea that we would defund education in the areas that need it most doesn't make sense," she says. "Sometimes schools that are struggling need additional support to be successful."

It might seem odd that an official from a charter school system -- which receives 80 percent of its funding from public money and asks parents to help bridge the 20 percent gap by contributing at least $1,200 per student -- would politick against a measure to protect education funding from further cuts at the state legislature and extend a popular education tax.

But Twist isn't just any headmaster.

  Twist is chairman of the board for Arizona Right to Life, which describes itself as the "oldest, largest and strongest pro-life organization in the State of Arizona."

And Arizona Right to Life, along with uber-conservative Center for Arizona Policy, publicly opposes the proposition based on speculation money from this fund might be funneled to "abortion providers" and "subsidize an industry that ends lives of preborn children."

Twist doesn't mention the theory of abortion funding in his e-mail to parents, but he states on Center for Arizona Policy's website that "Prop 204 truly a Trojan horse. What's being sold as an education proposal is actually a $1 billion permanent sales tax increase that could be used to finance abortion providers under the guise of funding 'basic needs.'"

Opponents, including Twist, maintain that Prop 204 contains "vague and ill-defined language" that might/could/maybe/possibly be "exploited by a pro-abortion governor" and "allow up to $100 million of taxpayer dollars to be given to abortion providers annually."

The word "abortion" is not mentioned at all in the 15-page ballot initiative.

What the measure actually says is that the money may be given to state agencies or private non-profits that "provide services for the basic needs of children, families and vulnerable adults" who live in poverty.

The potential law describes "basic needs" as those services that prevent hunger, homelessness, and family and domestic violence and providing child care and other community and social services that lead to family stability and self-sufficiency."

Even when reporter Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services (in an October 9 article published in the East Valley Tribune) got Cathi Herrod, head of Center for Arizona Policy, to acknowledge that "none of the funds could actually finance elective abortions ... Herrod said any money that goes to Planned Parenthood for any purpose frees up other cash -- cash that can be used for abortions."

Twist says in his e-mail that while Prop 204 "purports to address the important issue of school funding ... goes about it exactly the wrong way."

Citing his experience as an educator and his "consultation with people knowledgeable about this process," he cites that the "measure throws taxpayer money indiscriminately into our current education system, without tying those funds" to education reform.

"Nothing about this prevents reforms," Pederson counters. "There are [education] reforms that are ongoing now. And we're saying let's ensure that we have a level of funding that the legislature can't touch so educators can have the resources they need."

She says that the funding will also provide the resources that school districts and charter schools need to measure up to the higher standards.

She gives an example of Arizona being among 46 states that signed on to participate in a national assessment of student performance that involves students taking a test online -- but some schools don't have the computer technology they need to make that happen.

There is also a new rating system for schools that not only takes into account overall average student performance, but also requires school officials raise the scores of their lowest performing students.

"That requires resources," Pederson says, which can include giving extra instruction to certain students, smaller classroom sizes and other programs to boost learning.

She says that lawmakers cut $1 billion from education over the past five years, which makes the passage of Prop 204 critical.

And despite opponents charging that there is no accountability built into the measure, Pederson points to money in the program to create a database system that can accurately track students, teachers, principals and school performance.

According to the initiative, the largest share of the money -- $500 million -- is specifically set aside for initiative such as helping school districts and charter schools to comply with increased accountability requirements, establish new evaluation systems that tie as much as 50 percent of teachers and principals' evaluation scores to their students' academic performance, provide school accountability and improvement plans for failing schools and to improve the reading proficiency of students by the end of third grade.

She said that but for the opposition leading a completely misleading campaign, Prop 204 would enjoy the same level of support that the initial one-cent sales tax for education (Prop 100) received in 2010.

"I've never seen this level of misinformation," she says.

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