Governor Doug Ducey told Arizona voters last year that Prop. 123, which ended the inflation adjustment funding lawsuit by Arizona school districts, was only the “first step” towards better public education funding. For more than a year, Arizona’s have been waiting to learn what the next step is.
It turns out, everyone was played by the Governor with Prop. 123. The governor’s next step is to support the privatization of public education funded by taxpayer dollars — a direct violation of two provisions of the Arizona Constitution — by supporting the “vouchers for all” bill that was pulled before the Prop. 123 Special Election last year, and is now back again this year.
The Arizona Republic reports, Private-school vouchers appear headed to vote with Gov. Ducey’s backing:
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey is conducting a behind-the-scenes lobbying effort, pressing lawmakers to pass legislation that would expand school vouchers to all Arizona students, according to several people involved in or familiar with recent meetings.
The governor, who has avoided taking a public stance on a proposed full expansion of the divisive Empowerment Scholarship Account program, has discussed the plan with lawmakers in his Capitol office in recent days. The meetings are expected to continue Thursday, when the legislation is scheduled for votes in the state Senate and House of Representatives.
The governor’s lobbying push comes as Republican lawmakers negotiate possible changes to the legislation that, as drafted, would allow all 1.1 million Arizona public students to use public money for private school, homeschooling expenses and other educational services and items.
Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, told The Arizona Republic on Wednesday that she met with Ducey and one of his staffers Wednesday to discuss the legislation. Cobb has been critical of plans to expand ESAs and won re-election despite efforts to defeat her by the pro-voucher American Federation for Children, a non-profit previously chaired by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
“One of the issues that I’ve always had is that we don’t have the same accountability for the ESAs that we have for public schools and the charter schools,” she said, noting talk of amending the plan in ways that might address her concerns. “His (Ducey’s) message is similar to my message: He’s always had concerns with some of these things,” but with proposed changes “he feels a little bit more strongly that this is not just a straight-up ESA bill and expansion — that it actually gets some accountability.”
‘Making a very strong play’
One person familiar with a meeting the governor held this week said Ducey is “definitely trying to persuade House members now.”
Neil Giuliano, president and CEO of Greater Phoenix Leadership, said his conversations with lawmakers and lobbyists indicate the governor has made a push for ESA expansion during the past week and “certainly in the past 24 hours or so.” Greater Phoenix Leadership opposes ESA expansion without similar growth to funding for public schools.
“It’s clear the governor is making a very strong play,” Giuliano said. “That seems obvious to everyone. … Legislators, lobbyists, anyone involved in education issues is fully aware this is something the governor wants to make happen.”
A spokesman for the governor would not discuss the meetings, nor would he describe the governor’s stance on the ESA legislation. In an email, Patrick Ptak wrote, “The governor regularly meets with legislators on a variety of issues. His top priority remains passing a budget.”
Ducey has tried to position himself as an advocate for both school-choice and public schools.
ESAs allow parents to take 90 percent of tax money that would otherwise go directly to their local public schools and put it toward private-school tuition, homeschooling tutoring and other programs. Passed in 2011 as a program only for disabled children, the Legislature has continued to expand it, including to children in failing schools and others.
Currently the program is capped at 5,500 students, but the bills being considered in the Senate and House of Representatives would make ESAs available to all public-school students in four years along with any child entering kindergarten in a private school.
Critics oppose expansion
Critics argue the program is largely used by more-affluent families to subsidize their private-school tuition bills, while proponents counter that it allows parents more options to educate their children.
A Republic analysis found that counter to its characterization as a benefit to lower-income students in poor-performing schools, the program funding is largely used by students abandoning higher-performing districts in more-affluent areas.
Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, said she had not met with Ducey but expected to on Thursday, depending on the House of Representative’s floor schedule. Udall, who opposes ESA expansion, said she was not told the subject of the meeting, but said, “I’m sure it’s about ESAs.”
She added, “There has been a lot of talk about them, and them going to the floor very soon, and that’s what people have been called up about.”
Udall said expanding the program to all 1.1. million public students is fiscally unsustainable, and she views it as “an entitlement program, and I don’t want to expand it when we’re not fully funding public schools.”
Reps. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, and Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction, have histories of opposing expansion of the ESA program.
Coleman said he had not met with the governor and said it’s likely because “they pretty well know I don’t support the ESA program.”
He says he’s not against school choice, but added, “We’re funding some choices better than other choices.”
The Arizona Constitution prohibits state funding to private and parochial schools:
Article 2, Section 12: “No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise, or instruction, or to the support of any religious establishment.”
Article 11, Section 7: “No sectarian instruction shall be imparted in any school or state educational institution that may be established under this Constitution, and no religious or political test or qualification shall ever be required as a condition of admission into any public educational institution of the state, as teacher, student, or pupil;”
In Cain v. Horne (Cain II), 220 Ariz. 77, 202 P.3d 1178 (2009), the Arizona Supreme Court struck down the legislature’s previous attempt at a “vouchers for all” program as unconstitutional.
And yet, our lawless Tea-Publican legislature and governor are prepared to enact another unconstitutional “vouchers for all” bill. And they will use your taxpayer dollars to defend their lawless action in court.
UPDATE: The Republic’s Laurie Roberts has more. Ducey turns up heat for vouchers:
The push to expand school vouchers has officially gone into overdrive.
Gov. Doug Ducey is now twisting arms in an effort to muscle through Senate Bill 1431. A handful of moderate House Republican holdouts were summoned to his office on Wednesday. And what do you know? Both the House and Senate have scheduled a vote on the bill today.
Meanwhile, two lobbyists pushing hard for this bill – the Center for Arizona Policy’s Cathi Herrod and Sydney Hay of American Federation for Children – are also beating the bushes for votes. (AFC is a “dark money” group that spent more than a quarter of a million dollars on campaigns to get certain legislators elected last year.)
Several sources tell me the bill will squeak through the Senate, that Sen. Bob Worsley has agreed to support it in exchange for several changes. Worsley, like the governor’s office, hasn’t returned any of my calls to talk about it.
Look for the bill to come up for a vote in the Senate as early as Thursday, when it’ll be amended to add a cap on the number of vouchers that can be offered and several other concessions needed to get Worsley’s vote.
But the bill is still believed to be several votes shy of passage in the House. Probably because it isn’t – and has never been – about giving vouchers to poor kids in failing schools. It’s about boosting parochial schools and subsidizing the private school tuition of kids in the suburbs.
Will they or won’t they go along with this plan to divert more money into private and religious schools at the expense of public schools?
Here are the legislators to watch:
Rep. Heather Carter of Cave Creek
Rep. Doug Coleman of Apache Junction
Rep. Todd Clodfelter of Tucson
Rep. Regina Cobb of Kingman
Rep. Drew John of Safford
Rep. Maria Syms of Paradise Valley.
Rep. Michelle Udall of Mesa
You know what to do: call your state representatives and senator now and tell them to oppose this unconstitutional bill.