Imagine you’re the parent of three lovely, school-aged children, each of whom possesses a unique set of characteristics, personality traits, and educational needs: The eldest might do best in private school. He’s sharp, he’s up for the challenge — if only you could pay for it. Your middle child has some special needs, and you’d love for her to receive the extra care she requires, but therapy is so expensive. Your youngest daughter would prefer to be home-schooled, learning subjects at different paces, but curriculum these days isn’t cheap.
Impossible? Not in Arizona.
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At least not since Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed H.B. 2853, the Empowerment Scholarship Account program, which operates like an education savings program and is now the most expansive school choice law in the nation. A form of it has been operating since 2011, but only children with special needs, about 23% of school-age children, were eligible at the beginning. Now, it applies to 100% of Arizona’s K-12 children, no qualifications necessary. Parents of children with special needs can apply for an ESA even earlier.
“Arizona has cemented itself as the No. 1 state for educational freedom,” Corey DeAngelis, a senior fellow at the American Federation for Children, told the Washington Examiner. This win is “the biggest school choice victory in U.S. history.”
In the past, conservatives often referred to school choice as a “voucher” system. This is not entirely accurate, at least for Arizona. A voucher system would be like a “coupon” that can be redeemed at a specific kind of school, such as a private school. ESAs are more like special bank accounts reserved for anything related to a child’s education. Proponents say this makes Arizona’s program superior in many ways.
“Every single family, regardless of income, will be able to take their children's taxpayer-funded education dollars to the education providers of their choosing. Arizona has figured out that education funding is meant for educating children, not for propping up and protecting a particular institution,” DeAngelis said. DeAngelis, also the executive director of the Educational Freedom Institute, has been championing Arizona’s expansive school choice program for years. He’s fond of saying that “states should fund students, not systems.”
Sponsored by Republican state Rep. Ben Toma, H.B. 2853 ensures that any parent who wants to choose a different education path for their children, one that veers from the public school the child is zoned for, for any number of reasons, can do so. Here’s how it works.
Once families apply and are accepted, the state takes 90% of what it would have used for public education and places the funds in a restricted-use bank account. Parents then can access this and use it for everything from online courses and tutoring to private school tuition and home-school curriculum. The average student receives about $7,000, and unused funds can be rolled over into the following year. All the local and federal funding stays with the local schools.
Sounds great, right? Who would balk at this? Arizona school choice advocates have discovered there are always critics.
The school choice movement in Arizona has faced opposition: A group called Save Our Schools Arizona tried to gather enough signatures to challenge the law via the ballot this November, but failed to do so.
Jenny Clark is relieved the issue didn’t make it to the ballot. All five of her children have benefited from Arizona’s ESA program. Clark liked it so much that in 2018, she founded Love Your School, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting ESAs. Believe it or not, as of June 2022, there were only 12,127 active students in the ESA program — that was before the law was expanded to include 100% of K-12 students with no previous qualifications.
One specific qualification proved to be a significant obstacle, so lawmakers removed it. In Arizona’s previous ESA program, children had to have logged 100 days of online or in-person public school. Down the road, that number decreased to 45 days. Now, children don’t have to do that at all to be considered qualified for an ESA. This prevents children from needlessly bouncing around. Since Ducey signed the expansion stripping this component and making it available to children without special needs in addition to those with, the Arizona Department of Education has received more than 23,000 new applications in the last six weeks. The program ostensibly doubled overnight. Before the expansion, it had slowly grown by about 10% per year.
Clark has chosen to use the ESAs to fund her children's home schooling. Her family purchases curriculum, books, and online programs. She uses the funds to pay for therapists and even tuition to Elon Musk’s Synthesis online enrichment program, which, for $180 monthly, helps teach children problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
Clark knows families that make a variety of choices for their children, including using the ESA to cover private school tuition. Some choose to opt out, just sending their child to a public charter school. If parents choose that route, they need not apply for an ESA since the school is already publicly funded.
She said the concept of choice is new to parents and that they may try a few things for their children.
“Sometimes, it does take time for families to figure out what works,” Clark told the Washington Examiner. “Families are usually trying to do everything they can to make sure the school they're using is a good fit. We don’t see this crazy fluctuation. Most families that get on the ESA program stay on it.”
Of course, even the basic concept of school choice is still criticized, too. Or, at the least, people are wary about it and assume this will be the end of public education as we know it. Clark tries to assuage critics. “I tell them, listen, this program is for the kids whose traditional public school environment is not working for them. You should want this. We are not going to see a mass exodus of public schools.” She’s right. Even with approximately 23,000 children in the ESA program, the numbers indicate not all families simply drop out of public school.
Jason Bedrick knows this all too well. A research fellow in the Center for Education Policy at the Heritage Foundation, he told the Washington Examiner he doesn’t think school choice is at odds with public schools but rather a “fulfillment of the promise of public education.” Education is one of the few marketplaces where choice is discouraged and competition is seen as the enemy.
But in states where there are various school choice programs — right now there are 10 states with some form of education savings accounts — the idea of choice, coupled with competition, has encouraged, some might say forced, public schools to improve. Under the pressure, they have. Bedrick writes and speaks often about how raw standardized test scores and other data show educational choice has a small but positive effect on the way public schools perform. It makes sense, thanks to the basic laws of a free market economy applied to education.
Rather than project the end of public education, Arizona’s ESA program has shown this can be a win-win for parents who keep their children in their zoned public schools and parents who take their ESA money and send them to private schools.
Bedrick hopes other states will look at Arizona, feel emboldened, and follow suit. “There is no one school that best meets the needs of all school children who live nearby. It’s time to move to a system where families have lots of options so they have the best chances of doing what's right for their kids’ learning needs.”
DeAngelis agrees. He’s already moving on to Texas and other states that are heavily considering similar programs. “School choice is on the Republican Party platform,” he said. “Arizona has the slimmest of GOP majorities. If Arizona can get it done, so can every red state.”
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER
Nicole Russell is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is a journalist in Washington, D.C., who previously worked in Republican politics in Minnesota. She is an opinion columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
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Giving families the freedom to choose is arguably at the very core of our democracy. And recently, in Arizona, democracy worked exactly as intended.
Given a choice between providing an Empowerment Scholarship Account to any family in the state who needs a better educational alternative or signing a petition to block that right, voters chose ESAs and cemented Arizona's position as a national leader in expanding educational choice. They refused to sign a petition to block this new and innovative educational legislation, and the challenge to the state's new school choice law failed .
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If you were closely following this battle or the current state of education across our country, it wouldn't surprise you to see that the efforts to block this legislation failed. The fact is that families are hungry for more choices and customization over their children’s education — not just in Arizona but nationally .
Public sentiment backs up this call: It is time for education in America to move forward. Not only did the pandemic illuminate existing inequities in our education system, but it also eroded parent trust in our educational institutions, worsened the national teacher shortage , and caused significant damage to student learning , especially for our most vulnerable children . It is no wonder that families are ready for a change and are tired of being limited by the status quo.
Although they share a border, Arizona and California could not be handling the current education crisis differently. California remains intent on preserving the traditional, one-size-fits-all education system, and, as a result, the state is losing students and staff. The Los Angeles Unified School District reported a loss of tens of thousands of students during the pandemic. Leading up to this school year, it faced 900 classrooms without teachers while trying to fill 200 bus driver positions. By the first day of school, 50,000 previously enrolled Los Angeles students simply did not show up.
California’s story shows that families are more than willing to vote with their feet, relocating to schools or communities that are more responsive to parents’ needs. But in far too many cases, only those parents who can afford it are able to pursue different options for their children. When that happens, the already too-wide gulf between the haves and have-nots in our country grows.
Arizona’s new law levels the playing field. As Gov. Doug Ducey explained , “Many of our poor kids and children of color are trapped in a failing school. It’s time to set these families free. ... Let’s think big and find more ways to get kids into the school of their parents’ choice.” By fully embracing ESAs, all families in the state now have the opportunity to decide how to spend their education resources. Any family opting for an ESA will receive about $7,000 per year to spend on approved education expenses, including everything from private school tuition to online curricula, transportation expenses, education therapies, tutoring, and even public school classes and services.
But Arizona isn’t narrowly investing in choice. It is investing in education across the board while simultaneously handing more decision-making power to families — to those who know their learners best. The state has invested $11.8 billion in K-12 education since 2015 , and this year’s budget included the most significant additional increase in K-12 education funding in the last eight years.
What’s happening in Arizona stands to benefit education in all its forms — traditional public schools, private schools, public charter schools, and homeschooling. By putting more power, and resources, in the hands of families, they are creating the conditions for innovation to take hold across the entire system. When empowering families goes hand-in-hand with increasing investments in education overall, that creates not only the incentives but also the conditions for education to evolve. With the constructive changes Arizona has made, it’s no surprise the state has seen remarkable academic growth .
Arizona’s new law places it firmly in the lead of other states regarding innovating on behalf of families and children. And you know how they did it? The lawmakers leading that state put politics aside and stopped thinking about education through the lens of partisan debate. They didn’t view prioritizing public education and increasing choice as mutually exclusive options on opposing ends of a political spectrum. They did something that is becoming far too rare — they listened to the voters. They listened to families.
More states need to follow Arizona’s lead. Yes, ESAs are an innovation worth considering, and Arizona’s law will almost certainly continue yielding benefits that are hard to ignore.
But more importantly, states need to engage families, listen to them, and trust them. There is an opportunity for more elected officials to tap into the core of our democracy. If we supply families the power to choose what they need for their child’s education, then we just may be able to pull our education system out of the past and into a brighter future.
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER
Craig Hulse is the executive director of Yes, Every Kid.
In a massive win for families, the last obstacle to universal school choice in Arizona has fallen.
Earlier this summer, Governor Doug Ducey signed legislation expanding eligibility for the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program to all K–12 students. Under the legislation, widely hailed as the gold standard for education choice, all Arizona families would be eligible to receive $7,000 per student to pay for private-school tuition, tutoring, textbooks, online courses, special-needs therapy, and more.
Naturally, a union-backed group that opposes school choice, Save Our Schools Arizona (SOS), attempted to put the ESA expansion to a vote in a ballot referendum, thereby halting the law’s implementation pending the outcome of the referendum effort.
SOS needed to gather about 119,000 signatures to secure its ballot referendum. In 2018, it successfully gathered 111,000 signatures to clear the 75,000-signature threshold for referring a similar measure to the ballot. Two weeks ago, it declared victory, claiming that it had submitted 141,714 signatures for the ESA-expansion referendum.
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But on Friday, the secretary of state’s office certified that SOS had gathered only 86,640 signatures. Not only did the group fail to meet the signature threshold, but it also gathered significantly fewer signatures than it did four years ago.
The surprising upset has left Arizona pundits and politicos asking: What happened?
The short answer: Parents beat the unions.
By all accounts, SOS should have exceeded its 2018 performance. Last time around, the organization was building itself up while also running the referendum campaign—the equivalent of building an airplane while flying it. This time, it had a fleet of airplanes from the get-go.
Relative to 2018, this time SOS had significantly more funding, more paid staff, longer lists of volunteers, and much more experience running a referendum campaign. It should have outperformed its 2018 signature numbers by a country mile.
But one other factor proved more decisive than all of SOS’s additional resources: parent power.
In the wake of the COVID pandemic’s unnecessarily long school shutdowns with their unsatisfactory “distance learning,” and amid concerns over radical politics in classrooms, parents have become much more supportive of educational-choice programs such as ESA. A RealClear Opinion poll in June found that 72 percent of Americans support educational choice, up eight percentage points from 2020. Their support was the impetus for expanding ESA eligibility to all families.
Parents have also become much more engaged with the politics of education. When they saw that special interests were attempting to thwart the ESA expansion, they took action.
Under the banner “Decline to Sign,” Arizona parents mobilized to inform voters about the benefits of educational choice and persuade them not to sign the SOS petitions.
“If SOS showed up [somewhere] to gather signatures, there was a Decline to Sign parent volunteer also there,” said Grant Botma, a father of three from Gilbert, Ariz. “The energy and effort that these pro-ESA parents put forth helped properly educate our community to limit SOS’s petition signatures.”
The Decline to Sign movement made it exceedingly difficult for SOS to gather signatures. When voters were presented with both sides of the argument, they became much less likely to sign the SOS petition than they were four years ago.
In the process, the parent protesters revealed the teachers’ unions and their allies to be paper tigers, thereby paving the way for further educational-choice expansions in other states.
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If anything, the referendum attempt attracted more parents to ESAs. Christine Emmanuel, a mother of four ESA students from Wittmann, Ariz., said she spoke to countless voters about the referendum and “about what the ESA can do for their children.” When she was done speaking with them, she said, “the only signing they wanted to do was to sign up for an Empowerment Scholarship Account.”
In just the last two months, the families of more than 12,000 children have applied for an ESA, more than doubling the number of ESA students last year. So many families tried to apply after news broke that the ESA expansion was going into effect on Friday that the Arizona Department of Education’s website crashed, prompting an extension of the application deadline until October 15.
Other states should follow Arizona’s lead by expanding educational choice to all children. Although special interests will try to push back, Arizona’s example shows that parents want what’s best for their kids and are willing to fight for it.
Politicians and special interests who stand in their way do so at their own peril.
PHOENIX — The two candidates for Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction have differing opinions on what the state is facing as its top education priority.
Kathy Hoffman, the incumbent Democrat, believes it’s hiring and retaining well-qualified teachers.
“Our number one priority is ensuring that every classroom has highly effective teachers because without their expertise, without having the best teaching practices possible, the academic achievement is not possible,” Hoffman told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show on Friday.
Hoffman’s opponent, Republican Tom Horne, wants to put more emphasis on upping testing numbers.
“We need to get the focus back on academics and get the test scores up,” Horne told The Mike Broomhead Show.
Hoffman said she’s made teacher improvements a priority since taking office in 2019.
In addition to hiring and retaining educators, Hoffman wants to continue raising salaries.
Arizona ranked No. 46 in average teacher salary in 2019-20, according to the National Education Association. The Grand Canyon State moved up two spots in 2020-21 to No. 44, with teachers making an average of $52,157 annually.
“Yes, we have been making good progress,” Hoffman said. “We do still have a severe teacher shortage in Arizona, especially for specialty areas like special education teachers, math and science, particularly in rural parts of the state, particularly where teachers can leave Arizona and make $10,000-20,000 more just by crossing state lines.”
Horne, who served as schools chief from 2003-2011, believes a shift in academic focus will help test scores.
He claims Hoffman has implemented strategies that have hurt Arizona students.
“The duty of a teacher is to teach the state standards,” Horne said. “It’s unprofessional and an abuse of their profession and of their position to teach a captive audience their political ideology.
“That’s an abuse and if I’m elected, we’re going use discipline to put a stop to that. They need to teach the academics and not push their ideology on kids.”
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Arizona came closer to the important goal of separating education and state with the defeat of a ballot challenge to a recently adopted school-choice law. In June, the state legislature voted to allow education funding to be used for whatever learning path best suits individual children, not just to support government-run institutions that fail to meet the needs of many students. Opponents pushed an initiative to block expanded education options, but ultimately fell short in their effort to gather signatures. That leaves the instantly popular program free to proceed.
Arizona first introduced Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) in 2011, originally only for children with special needs, and later expanded to encompass students in failing schools, children of military families, and those who are adopted. The new law makes the ESA program available to essentially all students in the state of Arizona, providing funding for the education of their choice, subject to broad requirements.
"An ESA consists of 90% of the state funding that would have otherwise been allocated to the school district or charter school for the qualified student (does not include federal or local funding)," notes the Arizona Department of Education. "By accepting an ESA, the student's parent or guardian is signing a contract agreeing to provide an education that includes at least the following subjects: reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies and science."
At current spending levels, "families would receive over $6,500 per year per child for private school, homeschooling, 'learning pods,' tutoring, or any other kinds of educational service that would best fit their students' needs," adds the Goldwater Institute, which has long championed ESAs.
Once made available, the expanded ESA program won immediate support. In August, the online application form warned visitors: "Due to high volume, you may receive an error message.…Please try again later."
The tidal wave of applications should be no surprise. Gallup finds that 54 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the quality of K-12 education, and only 28 percent express a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in public schools (33 percent say they have "very little" or "none").
These miserable numbers come after years of general decline, but also after growing controversy over the performance of government-controlled educational institutions. Many public schools spectacularly face-planted in response to COVID-19, resulting in serious studying and math losses among students. Disagreement over pandemic policy as well as over interpretations of history and current events have also turned classrooms into political battlegrounds. What families want is often irreconcilable, whether involving public health or curricula, resulting in a sharp partisan split over public schools.
"The percentage of Republicans having a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in public schools fell from 34% in 2020 to 20% in 2021 and 14% today," Gallup's Lydia Saad observed in July. "Since 2020, independents' confidence has declined nine percentage points to 29% and Democrats' has remained fairly high – currently 43%, versus 48% in 2020."
The obvious solution would be to stop forcing people into shared institutions where opposing preferences invariably come into conflict. Instead, parents should be able to educate their kids by their own values, and according to the particular needs of their children. People were nominally able to do that in the past, but only if they paid twice— once through taxation for government institutions they rejected and then, again, for private schools, homeschooling, or other options they actually used. Something has to supply to end classroom disputes and encourage some degree of happiness with children's schooling.
National polls tracked by the American Federation for Children finds anywhere from 63 percent to 74 percent support for giving "parents the right to use the tax dollars designated for their child's education to send their child to the public or private school which best serves their needs." A poll from February of this year specifically about education savings accounts of the sort adopted by Arizona found 77 percent of respondents supported the idea.
But even though nobody is compelled to make use of ESAs, and everybody who is satisfied with public schools is free to leave their children in the government-controlled institutions, not everybody is happy with the expanded program. Save Our Schools Arizona, a union-backed group, tried to put a challenge to school choice on the ballot in a replay of a successful tactic from 2018. Voters that year overturned ESA expansion, approving a confusingly worded measure that may have led many of them to vote the opposite of what they intended.
To get on the ballot, the group needed to gather over 118,000 signatures. But this time, a pro-ESA Decline to Sign effort worked to persuade voters to spurn petitioners. They succeeded; on September 30, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs rejected the anti-choice ballot effort, noting "our office has inspected enough petitions & signatures to confirm that the 118,823 signature minimum will not be met."
Arizona families are again free to apply for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, with the deadline extended to October 15 because of the ballot battle.
The fight for education freedom isn't over. Hobbs may have rejected the challenge to ESA expansion out of necessity, but she's the Democratic candidate for governor on a platform including opposition to school choice. Hobbs, who attended private school herself, puts forward an education plan that would restrict charter schools and that also boasts she "continues to oppose the universal expansion of school vouchers. As governor, she will work to roll back universal vouchers."
But if she wins election to office (she and Republican Kari Lake are running neck-and-neck), any attempt to roll back ESAs will result in stripping them from thousands of families already enjoying education options. As of September 30, according to the state Department of Education, Arizona families submitted over 12,100 ESA applications for the expanded program. Any reversal will elicit outrage.
Meanwhile, West Virginia's Supreme Court just cleared the way for the similar Hope Scholarship program. "The Hope Scholarship Program is an education savings account (ESA) program that will allow parents and families to utilize the state portion of their education funding to tailor an individualized learning experience that works best for them," according to the office of State Treasurer Riley Moore.
The fight for separation of education and state isn't yet won. But advocates scored an important victory in Arizona, another in West Virginia, and have momentum on their side.
PHOENIX — The Arizona Department of Education will allocate $1 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds for classroom resources, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman announced Tuesday.
All Arizona public district and charter school educators of preschool-12th grade students are eligible for grants.
Teachers can request materials such as science kits, studying comprehension games, technology and art supplies.
Additionally, ADE said it is partnering with nonprofit organization DonorsChoose to double public donations made to classrooms as long as funding lasts.
Community members can donate to classrooms online.
“Far too many teachers in Arizona dip into their bank accounts to provide basic resources for their students,” Hoffman said in a press release.
“With this investment, the Arizona Department of Education has now allocated $20 million directly to teachers to accelerate student learning after the impact of the pandemic. We’re proud to again partner with DonorsChoose and the greater Arizona community in support of our state’s students and teachers.”
ADE has allocated $20 million to 24,508 Arizona school teachers this year.
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Arizona students are finally free to pursue the best education of their choice, regardless of their family’s zip code, background or beginnings, through the nation’s most expansive school choice opportunity — the state’s now-universal Empowerment Scholarship Account program.
But perhaps even more important to those outside Arizona, the Grand Canyon State has clearly demonstrated how state lawmakers can lead, in a victory that can be replicated in any of the more than 20 states that have conservative majorities. How?
It takes only a single vote.
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Arizona emerged from the 2020 election with a 31-29 conservative majority in the state House of Representatives and a similarly narrow 16-14 majority in the state Senate. Confronted with virtually universal opposition to school choice among the left-wing minority party— and without a lieutenant governor position to break a tie — proponents of expanding the ESA program to nearly every Arizona child had not a single vote to spare to advance this legislation.
Yet, with a call to action from Gov. Doug Ducey in his State of the State address earlier this year, and with an effort spearheaded by House Majority Leader Ben Toma, Arizona turned a loss for ESAs last year into a win — translating a razor-thin margin into the widest victory for students in a generation. The Toma-sponsored legislation, passed on a party-line vote in both chambers — including, critically, the support of three self-described conservative lawmakers who had voted against an even more limited expansion of the ESA program just a year before.
This year, Arizona lawmakers succeeded in building a coalition around funding both public and private education options — investing, in tandem with the ESA expansion, nearly an additional billion dollars in public schools, including over $600 million of ongoing annual funding for public education.
Related: In Arizona’s Historic ESA Expansion, a Blueprint for Educational Freedom
The result: Every Arizona child is now eligible for a roughly $7,000 annual scholarship to put toward tutoring, private school tuition, at-home curricula and more. Any family can take the education dollars that would otherwise go to their child’s public school and use that money to pay for whatever kinds of educational service would best fit their child’s unique needs outside the traditional school system.
Yet even after the Arizona Legislature passed this monumental reform and it was signed into law, Arizona students had to clear an additional hurdle: the threat of a ballot referendum by anti-school choice activists, who sought to gather enough signatures on a petition to suspend the program and prevent parents and children from ever accessing it. But parents, advocates and allies including the Goldwater Institute fought back, and the union-aligned effort failed. Now, ESAs will be a reality for any Arizona family that wants them.
It took 10 years from the time the Goldwater Institute implemented the first ESA program in the state to arrive at universal access for every child this fall. But the decade has borne fruit in the form of a guide for other states to follow. From the parent testimonials of children already using Arizona’s program to the examples of its reach in urban and rural communities alike, other states now have ample evidence that giving families more options actually works. Indeed, citing the success of Arizona’s ESA program, West Virginia passed a nearly universal ESA program this past year — previously having virtually zero school choice options.
It should be no surprise that Arizona ranked near the top of the recent Education Freedom Report Card issued by the Heritage Foundation for its efforts, among other things, to promote school choice — including support for homeschooling, flexibility in allowing parents to choose among private, charter and district schools, and ESAs.
Now, lawmakers throughout the country must replicate Arizona’s efforts — seeing what the Grand Canyon State has been able to accomplish without a single vote to spare. The futures of too many students are at stake for them to fail. States can, and should, make sure they find that single vote of their own.
SI Eagles Today takes a closer look at the Arizona Cardinals with some questions for Donnie Druin, the publisher of SI All Cardinals
Eagles Today publisher Ed Kracz turned to Donnie Druin, the publisher of SI All Cardinals, for five questions about Sunday's opponent, the Arizona Cardinals.
The two teams will play at State Farm Stadium at 4:25 p.m. Sunday on FOX.
The Eagles are 0-4 in State Farm Stadium since it opened in 2006 ad Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury is 6-0 against NFC East teams dating back to 2019.
Here are the Questions and Answers with Druin.
Q: How is Kyler Murray dealing with expectations after the contract extension and have you seen him Boost from last year?
Donne Druin: To be quite honest, Kyler Murray hasn't really moved the needle in terms of change. The organization was in a place where they essentially tied themselves down to Kingsbury/Keim/Kyler, and Murray knew he was going to get paid over the summer. It seems more than anything he is more vocal, but his maturity and decision-making still have a way to come.
Murray is still the best quarterback this franchise has seen since Kurt Warner, and often times his play flashes the brilliance it did that won him a Heisman at Oklahoma. However, Murray is still too inconsistent in stretches he shouldn't be in, and until he's able to polish the finer things to being a passer in this league, he won't take Arizona to that next level. Paying Murray was the right (and only) choice the Cardinals had but his play thus far hasn't matched the paycheck he received.
Q: From afar, it appears the Cardinals have had trouble running the ball, why do you think that is?
Druin: The Cardinals have been very average in terms of running the football, and to be honest, it's truly a group effort when breaking down their performance. Their offensive line, which was already considered middle of the road heading into the season, has battled injuries. Their lead back James Conner, who also has begun fighting the injury bug, averages a cool 3.2 yards per carry while having double the amount of touches as the next running back.
Kyler Murray, whose biggest asset is his ability to make plays with his legs, appears to be on a leash when it comes to rushing the ball. All in all, it falls on Kliff Kingsbury to put his chess pieces in position to succeed. Part of that is not falling down early in games and going pass heavy, and the other part is simply better play-calling.
Q: Do you feel Kliff Kingsbury needs to make the playoffs this year to keep his job?
Druin: Oh man, that's the golden Topic of discussion here in the desert. Like I said already, the Cardinals have committed themselves to the trio of GM-HC-QB through 2027 with their contracts, and with that train of thought, firing Kingsbury the first year into the new extension might scare any potential candidate into taking the new job.
However, results ultimately matter, and for a team that has held so much talent and potential to completely fall apart the last two seasons, how patient is ownership willing to be? You just paid your quarterback mega money, and the careers of J.J. Watt, Zach Ertz and DeAndre Hopkins are only reaching closer to the end. I think the pressure for Kingsbury to guide his troops to the playoffs is very real, but I think the fashion or manner of how they finish will be telling.
If the Cardinals not only fail to win a playoff game but miss the postseason nonetheless, some serious conversations need to be had, but it's hard to see owner Michael Bidwill start from scratch after this year unless the team mirrors a collapse similar to last season.
Q: Who is one under-the-radar player both on offense and defense?
Druin: Offensively, I've always been a fan of receiver Antoine Wesley. His length (6-foot-4) has could be crucial for a Cardinals WR corps that is notoriously short in stature. Wesley was just activated from injured reserve, and his role for Sunday is unclear. Yet his presence, especially with Marquise Brown on the field, should provide him with plenty of opportunity to do damage deep down the field.
Defensively, it's hard not to pick outside linebacker Dennis Gardeck. Since Chandler Jones left, the Cardinals have been in search for a presence opposite of Markus Golden, and Gardeck has taken full advantage of his playing time. He's a high-motor guy who somehow stuffs the stat sheet despite not being the biggest, fastest or strongest. He's well-liked here, and for good reason.
Q: What is your final score prediction and why?
Druin: I have the Eagles winning 28-17. There's just no reason for Philadelphia to not walk into State Farm Stadium and lead the entire way, especially with how poor Arizona has played in the first quarter and at home. Offensively and defensively, Arizona is outmatched. The Eagles are simply not the Panthers, and if this is the week the Cardinals actually do get their stuff together, I'll eat crow sitting in the bird's nest in Glendale.
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Fan Nation Eagles Today and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglesmaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.