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March 11, 2014

Host: Ted Simons

AZ Giving & Leading: Florence Crittenton of Arizona

  |   Video
  • Founded in 1896, Florence Crittenton is Arizona’s oldest social services agency. Florence Crittenton provides shelter, counseling, social support and education to nearly 1,200 girls and their families. The young women and girls served by Florence Crittenton have suffered from poverty, abuse, neglect, crime and homelessness. Florence Crittenton CEO Dr. Kellie Warren will discuss her agency’s programs.
  • Dr. Kellie Warren - CEO, Florence Crittenton of Arizona
Category: Giving/Leading   |   Keywords: giving, leading, florence, crittenton, arizona, social support,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of Arizona giving and leading looks at a social service organization founded more than 100 years ago, the Arizona chapter of Florence Crittenton helps girls and women recovering from unbelievable number of life challenges. Thanks for joining us.

Ted Simons: What is Florence Crittenton of Arizona?

Kellie Warren: Florence Crittenton was established 118 years ago as one of our social service agencies. The founder, Charles Crittenton, after he lost his daughter to a childhood disease went around the country opening Florence Crittenton type agencies in her honor. Really looking at empowering and supporting women so those lost and fallen women of the world, these agencies were to help them recover and support them, more specifically to Arizona for unwed mothers. The Crittenton Agency, it provided a lot of services for those types.

Ted Simons: It sounds like unwed mothers was the initial focus. The mission seems to have changed because the world has changed quite a bit.

Kellie Warren: We're about safety, hope and opportunity, providing that to every girl whose life we touch. We keep a pulse on what the community needs and align our services appropriately.

Ted Simons: Talk about the ever changing needs.

Kellie Warren: Today we have a lot of girls who have suffered abuse, neglect, are in need of substance abuse, mental health services. There are teen pregnancies going on and girls that need safe and shelter for their child and appropriate programs so they can work on self-sufficiency, life skills, education is vital. So whatever girls need today we try to be responsive to that.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask regarding how many women and girls are served annually, and a that number changed? Obviously it's increased. The state has increased. In terms of reporting and being able to understand that Florence Crittenton is there, I would imagine that would be an uptick in numbers as well.

Kellie Warren: My job is to get the word out. We service around 1,200 young people in anyone given year. We have more capacity. We want to make sure people understand that we are about the support and empowerment of girls and women and their children, and we want to make sure that people understand that there are services out there.

Ted Simons: Talk about some of the services, everything from counseling and medical to education.

Kellie Warren: Right. We have a therapeutic group home on campus where we have about 40 girls living from 90 to 120 days on average. The girls are between the ages of 10 to 18, so they come in to receive a holistic care of services including individual, therapy group and family therapy, education, medical needs are met. We provide a safe environment and we try to set up treatment plans based on their needs.

Ted Simons: The girls leadership academy of Arizona. What is that?

Kellie Warren: It's our school. It's the first single gender public school that focuses on college preparation. We offer rigorous curriculum and try to empower girls to achieve careers in math, science, engineering, and some of those careers that are not always presented to girls.

Ted Simons: Sounds like everything to a certain degree involves transitional living. Going from this to that.

Kellie Warren: Right. We also have a transitional living program where individuals 17 and ½ to 21 have the opportunity to reside in our apartment or duplex with their children. A lot of these girls are transitioning out of foster care and may not have a family to go to. Some could be on their way to becoming homeless and we're trying to disrupt that and provide a safe, affordable housing. While in our program they really work on life skills, self-sufficiency and parenting skills if they have children. We're also in the community I wanted to add that. We actually go into homes, institutions, other group homes where kids might reside and provide life skills, self-sufficiency as well.

Ted Simons: I know you had a major fund-raiser, a luncheon, Teaming Up for Girls. Elizabeth Smart the keynote speaker.

Kellie Warren: She was awesome. I think her message provided hope and inspiration not only to our girls who attended but to the audience as a whole. She was an example of someone who had overcome a tragic situation and used that to empower others to go beyond tragic situations and to achieve whatever they think their purpose is.

Ted Simons: Was resilience a message here? It seems as well you don't want to say, oh, accept it and move on, but at some point you do have to move on.

Kellie Warren: One key thing I think she said that resonated with our girls was don't allow the people who have hurt you to have that much power over your life. The best way that you can get those individuals back is to achieve, walk with your head up. Go on with life. Smile a little. So I think the message for the girls was despite what you've been through, you still have a promising future. You still have purpose in life. Brush it off. Get up and move forward. I think Florence Crittenton attempts to send that message but it's nothing like having someone as an example that really looks like the girls sharing that same message.

Ted Simons: What kind of response did you get after her address?

Kellie Warren: Oh, it was amazing. What I really appreciated was that she spent time with the girls before she went on the stage. So the girls were in the Green room and she came in. She allowed them to ask any questions that they might have. Girls wanted to know specifically what happened and how is she surviving and what did the perpetrator do. They had those kinds of questions. Elizabeth was brave enough to be honest about her experience and share it with them. I think that was the most remarkable part of her visit here.

Ted Simons: That sounds like -- what's next on the agenda?

Kellie Warren: I want more girls to know about our opportunities. I want more volunteers to come and support us. We have great volunteers. We have probably 700 on record, 250 to 300 that help every year. But we have a great cause. We're not able to do it alone so we need community partnerships and we need the world to spread the word that there is an agency that helps girls, that empowers and supports girls and helps them achieve their full potential.

Ted Simons: As far as challenges, I know getting the word out, getting folks involved, are there other challenges? Are there things you wake up and go, that's going to be a tough one. We have to move in that direction now.

Kellie Warren: I think the girls come with a complexity of needs. We want to provide them the best services in a holistic array of services if you will. With that comes cost. We're not able to meet our budget based on the funding that we receive. So we really need the support of the community to help deliver those services so we can remove girls from those frightening situations and help them move on to reach their full potential.

Ted Simons: Did you see funding concerns escalate during the recession?

Kellie Warren: Most definitely. The need is still there. It's our responsibility as a community to take care of the girls and their children. We don't want funding issues or the economy to stop the great work. I think Florence Crittenton has lasted this long because the community has partnered with us to achieve our full potential.

Ted Simons: Last question, very quickly, working as you do, CEO of Florence Crittenton, has to be a good feeling.

Kellie Warren: I absolutely love It. I go in every day, when I have stressful times I walk the grounds and the girls, the glimmer in their eyes helps me past it.

Ted Simons: Great job, continued success.

Kellie Warren: Thanks for having me.

Voucher Expansion

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  • A bill has been proposed that would expand Arizona’s voucher system to pay for private schools and make it available to 73 percent of the state’s students. The bill’s sponsor, Representative Debbie Lesko, will discuss her bill with Representative Eric Meyer, who opposes it.
  • Debbie Lesko - Representative, Arizona
  • Eric Meyer - Representative, Arizona
Category: Education   |   Keywords: education, government, students, voucher, expansion, bill,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Good evening. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Tonight, a debate on a bill making nearly three-quarters of Arizona students eligible for vouchers that give public money to pay for private schools. Here now is representative Debbie Lesko, who sponsored the bill, and representative Eric Meyer, opposed to the legislation. Good to have you both here.

Debbie Lesko: thank you for having us.

Ted Simons: what does SB 1237 do?

Debbie Lesko: My bill is HB 2291, but they are called empowerment scholarship accounts. The goal for my legislation is to improve education. To me it doesn't matter where that education takes place, I just want to improve education. My children chose to go and I chose for my children to go to the traditional public schools. Not all children can learn in the same type of environment, so this is an alternative, a good option and a good way to improve education and provide choice.

Ted Simons: A good way to improve education. Valid?

Eric Meyer: Well, no. There's no evidence of that. In fact, we're taking potentially with this expansion 880,000 kids can potentially leave the public schools out of the 1.1 million, take a voucher worth 5,400 and leave the system with absolutely no accountability. We have no idea how the schools that these kids are going to are going to perform. And we have in some case no, sir idea how those dollars are being spent. So we have worked very hard to create standards for the state, and we hold our public schools both district and charter accountable for educating our kids to those standards. There's none of that with these dollars.

Ted Simons: Accountability has been a concern among critics.

Debbie Lesko: I think that is an invalid argument. I just disagree with representative Meyer. Right now universities seek out home schoolers, and home schoolers are not required to have testing. Yes, their grades do very well. They have a low rate of dropping out in the universities. Same with private schools. Private schools in fact 95% of all private schools have testing that they publish to the parents. Of course the main accountability that we want is the parents. The parents should have a choice of where to send the child. I also disagree with representative Meyer on that there's no cases that show improvement of education. Totally inaccurate. In fact if representative Meyer was in the committee hearings he would hear personally from parents that have used these empowerment scholarship accounts and how their child has flourished with the ability to use their money for -- because not all children learn the same way. Not all children do well in public school. So that's why this gives them another alternative. It saves the state money or saves taxpayer money because on average, there are about $5,400in ESA scholarships whereas we spend, what, $8,800 for a typical public school student.

Ted Simons: Respond, please, to the idea of performance and the fact that some kids home schooled, private schooled, otherwise, do very well.

Eric Meyer: Some do but not all. We're talking about taking potentially 880,000 kids and exposing them to an experiment. So that may work, but there's -- there are anecdotal cases. I was in committee. A few parents testified who had special needs kids and their circumstances had improved. But our public schools, we're starving our public schools. Representative Lesko has voted for over $3 billion in cuts to our district schools. Now it does cost the state money. The fact is that the way the Department of Education is funding these, the base level of funding for these accounts is higher than the district level of funding for our schools by about $1,400. So we're now telling parents that they can leave and it's only parents with means that are going to be able to take advantage of these vouchers. Most private schools don't just cost $5,400 to go to. They cost $15,000 and you need to be able to drive your child there. What we're doing with her bill is allowing those parents with means to take our tax dollars that were going into our district schools and leave with them. At taxpayer expense.

Ted Simons: Respond, please.

Debbie Lesko: There's a couple of things I want to say. One is that I have been very involved in my kids' public schools. I have been the fund raising chairman. I have been in the PTA, the booster club. I support public schools. I supported increased funding last year. I support increasing funding for traditional public schools this year. So the last thing that I would do is try to hurt public schools. My kids go to public schools. So I'm not going to hurt something my kids go to. This thing about 880,000 kids, you have to understand there's a cap on the empowerment scholarship account, which is one half of 1% of all of the public school students. So if the public schools are that afraid of competition with one half of one half percent I think they have bigger things to worry about. The other thing I want to talk about is --

Eric Meyer: The cap expires in 2019. Is that not correct?

Debbie Lesko: That is correct.

Eric Meyer: So there will be no cap.

Debbie Lesko: We're in now 2014. That's five years away.

Eric Meyer: Time goes by quickly.

Debbie Lesko: It's one half of 1% of all public school students. That comes out to about 5,000 students a year. Even if we expanded it to every single student in the entire state, it is still capped at about 5,400.
Eric Meyer: Till 2019.

Debbie Lesko: That's five years away.

Eric Meyer: Too soon for me.

Ted Simons: You said the last thing you want to do is hurt public schools yet everyone associated with public schools says it's going to hurt. Is everyone wrong?

Debbie Lesko: You know, the organizations associated with public schools, I understand their opposition. They are trying to protect their public schools. I mean, it's just like if you owned a business you try to protect your business. You don't want any competition. But Arizona has led the way in school choice. The sky has not fallen. Public schools are still getting about $8,800 per student. Do I wish it was more? Of course. But we just went through a huge recession so you know as well as I do that we had to cut funding for education and just about everything else to balance the budget.

Eric Meyer: Just on the 8,800 number, different schools get different amounts of money. The ESA accounts are costing us 13,500 on average per student because the kids you're including special needs kids. When you include that 8,800 for districts let's be honest about ESA. Those are the facts. And we are hurting our district schools. You're absolutely right. We have the most choice and competition in the country but we have not invested in our schools. We have continued to cut education. I was on the Scottsdale School Board for eight years. Every one but one year we made cuts.

Ted Simons: Bottom line is whatever it is, call it any name you want, give it initials, any bill, house or Senate bill you want, if it helps kids get a better education, why not try it?

Eric Meyer: We don't know that it does and there's no -- I have had an amendment to put testing into these accounts and you know that you think that's a hostile amendment and you wouldn't let it on your bill. If it does, let's see if it works. Let's see if the kids meet the same standards that our kids in our district schools meet and make sure we're preparing them for college and the work force. That's the goal. That's what we're doing in our district and charter schools.

Ted Simons: You mentioned Arizona is a leader in choice and has been for years.

Debbie Lesko: We have.

Debbie Lesko: Why aren't our schools any better?

Debbie Lesko: You know, I think our students, some of our students that have experienced choice are doing better. I really do. Kids that are -- on the house lawn today we met with kids that are going to online taking advantage of online schooling. Some of those kids said they really enjoy it because if they can figure out a problem online, they can proceed to the next step, whereas in the traditional public school they told me I had talked to kids that said that if a student that wasn't understanding the problem they would have to stay working on that. This is about choice. It's about giving parents choice, students choice. My goal again is to improve education. To me it doesn't matter where it takes place.

Ted Simons: Quickly, again, if choice has been such a mantra, a focus and Arizona is a leader in choice after all of these years, instead of focusing on public schools we focused on choice to a certain degree, why couldn't schools and students doing better?

Debbie Lesko: I think in some case there are. I put my son in for two years in basis charter school. They are doing an excellent job. Recruiters came to eighth grade to recruit kids in eighth grade when they graduate from 12th grade these kids are excelling. Choice is have very good thing.

Ted Simons: Conversely if public schools are the answer and we need to put more resources into them why do so many people see public education as a failure?

Eric Meyer: I don't know who all those people are. We all got here, our democracy came out of the public education system. We guarantee every child that comes to our school house doors an education. So I would argue that we haven't failed. But what's happened in the past 10 to 20 years here in Arizona is we have stopped investing in our kids. From the time I graduated from chaparral high school to now we have cut funding significantly. If you look at our test scores, our class size, our dropout rate, they have all gone up as we have cut that funding. I would argue that if we want results we need to invest in our teachers and our leaders on our campuses and our children so that they can be successful.

Ted Simons: All right, I think we'll stop it there. Good to have you both here.

Debbie Lesko: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us.

Eric Meyer: Hope it was lively enough.

Ted Simons: It was lively enough.