Voucher expansion is about private school funding, not choice

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The Arizona Legislature continues its utter disregard for ordinary voters, as Senate Republicans have approved another plan to divert public funds to private schools.

This, not even four years after Arizona voters vetoed a massive school voucher expansion plan.

In fact, voters didn’t just veto the plan passed by the Legislative Assembly and signed by Governor Doug Ducey. They knocked him down, then backed up and ran over the thing, rejecting the plan by a 2-1 margin.

This has not even shaken the determination of our leaders to fund private schools in the name of “choice”.

If we offer open registration, what is the problem?

This year’s plan to siphon potentially hundreds of millions more dollars out of public pockets and into private schools is once again courtesy of Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, who believes voter opposition to school voucher expansion is so 2018.

“COVID has changed everything,” he said during Wednesday’s Senate debate on the bill. “I’ve heard from parents across the state desperate to place their children in a healthy educational environment.”

Seems to me that shouldn’t be a problem in a state that already offers open enrollment, charter schools, and even tuition tax credits, where kids can get state-funded scholarships for attend private and parochial schools.

In addition, about a quarter of the state’s 1.1 million public school students — including those who live in districts with underperforming and failing schools as well as eight other categories of children — are already eligible for a voucherknown as the Empowerment Scholarship Account.

Yet here comes Boyer with a proposal he touted as a way to get poor kids out of failing schools.

God forbid our leaders just do what it takes to fix these failing schools.

It’s not just about poor kids in failing schools

If his bill passes, 85% of children attending public schools in the state would be eligible for public funds to homeschool their children or send them to a private school.

Assuming they can afford to make up the difference between the value of a voucher and the cost of private school tuition, of course.

by Boyer Senate Bill 1657 would allow any student attending a Title I school to qualify for a voucher, as well as any student whose family qualifies for food stamps, welfare, or subsidized housing.

Also, any student who lives in a school district that due to growth needs to build a new school or any student who lives in a school district that receives more money per student than state universities do charge tuition and fees.

And any student whose parent is a police officer or firefighter. Also, children of doctors, nurses, EMTs, paramedics, and other licensed or certified medical professionals.

Also, any student who earned one of Ducey’s federally funded vouchers this year due to a class being canceled for even one day due to COVID-19.

But of course, it’s about getting poor children out of failing schools.

At least Udall demanded accountability

The bill was approved by the Senate on Wednesday in a party-line vote, with the bare minimum of 16 votes required for passage.

It is now moving through the House, where a similar bill died last year, thanks to a trio of Republicans who sided with Democrats to kill the bill.

Apparently, he’s in for another tough race this year, as it would take just one Republican to kill him.

Enter Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, who says it will not support the expansion of vouchers unless there is also mandatory testing or a requirement to ensure we get what we pay for.

“I don’t want taxpayers’ money wasted on an education that we don’t know is really an education,” Udall told Bob Christie of The Associated Press.

Good for her to demand accountability, which is sorely lacking in the current law.

And good for all lawmakers who respect the wishes of the 1.5 million voters who rejected the voucher expansion.

Those who understand that no really means no.

Contact Roberts at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @LaurieRoberts.

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