Tea-Publican state lawmakers are plotting with outside groups (read “Kochtopus” and Betsy DeVos) on a plan that could knock Proposition 305 off the November ballot before voters can decide the fate of Arizona’s expanded school-voucher program (vouchers on steroids bill). Will Arizona Republicans ‘repeal and replace’ voucher expansion to thwart referendum?
The goal is to repeal last year’s legislation that expanded the ESA program to all 1.1 million public-school students and replace it with legislation intended to address criticisms of the expansion, according to more than a half-dozen people familiar with the wide-ranging discussions.
Sen. Bob Worsley, a Republican from Mesa (a mythical moderate Republican), has talked in broad terms over the past week with lawmakers and outside groups about new Empowerment Scholarship Account legislation but did not offer specific details to The Arizona Republic.
The “repeal and replace” idea would circumvent Arizona’s referendum process, which allows voters to try to veto a law if they gather sufficient signatures to place it on the ballot.
The “repeal and replace” idea has angered representatives of Save Our Schools Arizona, which gathered more than 100,000 signatures to refer to the ballot as Proposition 305 the ESA expansion legislation, which gives taxpayer-funded subsidies to families to use for private-school tuition. Save Our Schools Arizona representatives say they will seek a referendum to challenge any new law that expands the voucher program.
Discussion about a voucher repeal between lawmakers and outside groups comes as many teachers, parents and education officials are protesting low teacher pay and inadequate funding for the state’s public schools. A new bill could link voucher expansion to a substantial pay raise for teachers, according to a Save Our Schools Arizona leader.
The conversations have included top gubernatorial aides, sources say.
The Capitol insiders and education advocates are not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing discussions, or did not want to jeopardize those discussions by talking about them to The Republic.
Tied to a teacher pay raise?
Worsley declined Monday to discuss the talks in detail. But in texts, Worsley said he is “not pushing any outcome … simply trying to find common ground on this contentious issue.” He said, “It is unclear to me what will realistically happen with ESAs this year.”
Last year, Worsley brokered a compromise in the waning days of the session that ensured enough support from GOP lawmakers to expand the ESA program to all kids, but cap it at 30,000 students by 2022. After its passage, school-choice backers quickly said they would get the cap lifted.
Dawn Penich-Thacker, a spokeswoman for Save Our Schools Arizona, which led the campaign to refer the ESA-expansion legislation to the ballot, said several lawmakers and others at the Capitol — she declined to say whom — have approached her in recent days to talk about what a voucher repeal could look like.
Among the ideas was linking the “repeal and replace” effort to a pay increase for Arizona teachers, potentially as much as 10 percent, Penich-Thacker said.
She said her response to such overtures has been the same: If the Arizona Legislature repeals the voucher law and replaces it with another expanded version, Save Our Schools will gather signatures to refer the new law to the ballot, as well.
Critics of ESAs argue the program is part of a broader strategy to underfund the public-school system.
Save Our Schools’ referendum does not affect the current voucher program, which limits eligibility to certain students, including those with special needs, those in foster care, and those from poor-performing schools.
“No matter how they sweeten it, we will refer it to the ballot,” Penich-Thacker said.
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Senate President Steve Yarbrough, a Chandler Republican, said he is aware of the ESA discussions but not “privy” to the details.
Yarbrough said, however, it was his understanding that some have discussed linking changes to the ESA expansion to teacher pay. Regardless, Yarbrough said, “teacher raises are going to be a big, big deal. I don’t know that those are going to be linked in any fashion.”
“I think the ESA issue will stand on its own, and I think teacher pay raises stand on their own,” he said.
‘Legislature isn’t representing their interests’
Raises have also been included in discussions of the overall state budget.
Teacher-pay discussions among Republicans in the state House of Representatives so far include no specific number beyond what was approved last year, one Republican lawmaker said. Those conversations are not tied to the ESA issue.
Some House Republicans want to go above the 2 percent raise proposed this year by the governor.
The Legislature has in the past repealed laws challenged through referendums. It repealed a series of controversial election-law changes passed in 2013 after a referendum qualified for the ballot. The Legislature then enacted those changes in piecemeal fashion.
Diane Brown, executive director of the Arizona Public Interest Research Group, said getting referendums and initiatives on the ballot is “not an easy task” and the Legislature should respect the voices of citizens who do so.
The process is intended to address situations where “the Legislature isn’t representing their interests,” she said. Repealing a law so voters can’t have a say “undermines the ability of citizens to have issues they care about addressed,” she said.
Laurie Roberts of The Republic adds, Arizona leaders preparing end run on voters to save their school voucher law:
You knew this was coming.
From the moment a grassroots group of Arizona citizens had the nerve to challenge our leaders and freeze their efforts to divert more of our money to private schools, You. Knew. This. Was. Coming.
Republicans at the state Capitol are quietly talking about a plan to repeal the universal voucher program they passed last year — the one 100,000 citizens signed petitions to block and put on the November ballot — and replacing it with a new universal voucher program.
This, in order to block voters from having the final say in November on whether we want to send hundreds of millions of dollars more to private schools at a time when public schools are woefully underfunded.
Talks quietly under way
The Republic’s Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Rob O’Dell are reporting that talks are underway on how to best do an end run around our constitutional right to veto laws our leaders have imposed.
Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, who brokered the deal that allowed universal vouchers to pass last year, is apparently spearheading the sneak attack on your constitutional right to referendum.
According to the Republic report, Worsley is talking to Gov. Doug Ducey’s office, other legislators and “outside groups”, which is code for the dark-money interests who spent big bucks getting Ducey and Republican legislators elected.
The ones who want to expand Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (read: vouchers) to every child in the state. Or at least, the ones who can afford to supplement an ESA with thousands of dollars more in order to cover private school tuition.
Worsley told Wingett Sanchez and O’Dell that he is “simply trying to find common ground on this contentious issue.”
“It is unclear to me what will realistically happen with ESAs this year,” he said.
Funny, it’s crystal clear to me.
Sneak attack on your rights
Ducey, the GOP-controlled Legislature and their dark money handlers are furious that Save Our Schools Arizona managed to stop their universal voucher law by referring it to the ballot.
By repealing last year’s law, Prop. 305 goes away. Then they simply pass a new version of the same thing, requiring citizens to start over again if they want citizens to have the final say.
Which they do.
Dawn Penich-Thacker, spokeswoman for Save Our Schools Arizona, vowed to mount a new referendum if our leaders go forward with this sneak attack. She said she’s been approached about the idea of repealing the voucher law and replacing it with a voucher plan that comes with a sweetener — 10 percent pay raises for public school teachers.
Plan to buy off the teachers?
But wait. Haven’t we been told repeatedly by this governor and this Legislature that there is no money for decent pay raises for teachers?
Now suddenly there’s money for decent pay raise for teachers, as long as we agree to universal vouchers?
Here’s an alternative idea, Sen. Worsley, Gov Ducey: How about leaving the voucher law intact and allowing Arizona voters to exercise their constitutional right – their right – to decide whether they want a two-tier system of schools: public schools for the have-nots and private schools for the haves.
And since we now know that there is money available, how about you raise teacher pay by 10 percent? Because you should.
Of course, the dark money forces that increasing are buying our state’s elections won’t like it.
But here’s a chance to show you can’t be bought.
Jim Nintzel at the Tucson Weekly adds:
The effort could backfire. Last year, Save Our Schools Arizona was able to gather enough signatures to force a referendum on the voucher plan. Making them go out and do it all over again with this kind of chickenshit dirty trick will energize teachers and other public ed supporters, which will make it even easier to turn them out in November—which is the last thing that Gov. Doug Ducey needs as he runs for reelection.
Vote them out!