To prevent ‘school vouchers for all,’ vote for Democratic legislative candidates

Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-ChandlerArizona’s most corrupt state senator, Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler), uses his position to write charter school bills to steer state funding to his Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization in order to benefit himself financially. It’s like writing checks to himself from the state treasury. Sen. Steve Yarbrough makes out like a …legislator … on tax-credit tuition program. Unbelievably, this allegedly does not violate Arizona’s ethics rules for state legislators.

Attempts to rein in Yarbrough’s gratuitous self-dealing have failed in the past. Roberts: Push to limit tuition tax credits? Yeah, that’ll happen:

The Chandler Republican is perhaps the Legislature’s biggest supporter of diverting public tax revenues into private-school tuition. In fact, he profits handsomely from the program. He’s the executive director of one of the state’s largest STOs.

In all, Yarbrough’s Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization has siphoned more than $116 million from the state treasury via individual tax-credit donations since 1998, according to the non-profit’s latest IRS filing, covering the 2013-14 school year. By law, STOs get to keep 10 percent of what they raise, to administer the program. In 2013-14, Yarbrough’s ACSTO collected roughly $17 million in tax-credit donations. That’s a sweet $1.7 million for overhead.

Of that, Yarbrough collected nearly $146,000 in compensation, according to the STO’s latest IRS filing.

But wait, there’s more.

ACSTO reported that it also paid an undisclosed amount to HY Processing to handle contributions and scholarship applications. HY is owned by Steven and Linda Yarbrough and their business partners, David and Stacy Harowitz, according to Corporation Commission records. (While he left the dollar figure blank in his 2014 filing, Yarbrough’s STO paid HY Processing $560,710 in 2013 and $426,655 the previous year.)

Yarbrough’s STO also paid $52,000 in rent … to Yarbrough, who owns the building and also rents space to another STO. IRS records indicate School Choice Arizona, an STO that doles out scholarships from corporate tax credits, paid $12,240 in rent to Yarbrough, who sits on that STO’s board.

The Republic‘s Laurie Roberts goes after Arizona’s most corrupt state senator again today. Roberts: Arizonans don’t want to fund private schools but (sadly) our leaders do:

Arizona voters don’t believe the state should be diverting public money to private schools, according to a new poll.

A whopping 63 percent of likely voters polled said they oppose using public funds to pay for private school tuition.

Which leads me to a rather crucial question on this, T-minus 14 days before the election.

Why are our leaders constantly siphoning ever-larger amounts of public money to pay for private school tuition?

How can a poor kid attend these schools?

Every year, our leaders work tirelessly to expand Empowerment Scholarship Accounts and the tax credit programs that fund student tuition organizations. This, to dramatically boost the number of students eligible to score a taxpayer-financed private education.

This they do, in the name of helping poor children escape lousy schools – because heaven forbid we pledge ourselves instead to fixing those lousy schools.

Curiously, our leaders never explain how a poor kid with a $4,000 taxpayer-provided Empowerment Scholarship Account could attend, say Xavier College Preparatory (nearly $17,000, last time I looked) or Brophy College Prep ($13,500) or Northwest Christian Academy ($6,446 to $8,745).

“All I am trying to do is give low-income students an opportunity to improve their education,” Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, explained a few years ago, as she led that year’s drive to expand ESAs.

Or put another way, it’s an opportunity to improve the bottom line of private and religious schools at the expense of already underfunded public schools.

Part of the excuse called ‘parental choice’

Why Republican leaders hate public schools is a question that confounds me, but they’ve demonstrated every year that they do.

The GOP-led Legislature has long schemed for ways to divert money to private schools in the name of parental choice. In 2009, the state Supreme Court declared the state’s voucher program an unconstitutional use of public funds for private schools.

Thus was born the Empowerment Scholarship Account. Basically, the state loads tax money onto a debit card and you, the parent, get to spend it as you wish to educate your child or even save it for college tuition.

The program started in 2011 with disabled students whose needs public schools couldn’t or wouldn’t meet. Then it was expanded to military families, foster children and kids whose schools received a D or F rating from the state. Then came certain kindergartners.

This year, our leaders tried to expand the program to all 1.1 million public-school children by 2020 [aka the “vouchers for all” bill].  But the bill died when Democrats and a few Republicans balked at further decimating public schools.

Meanwhile, they don’t have to bother with expanding the corporate tax credits that fund private student tuition organizations, which in turn dole out scholarships to private and religious schools. Our leaders built an annual automatic increase of 20 percent into the program.

An effort to rein in STOs died (naturally)

Republican Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction, this year tried to call a halt to that and to slash overhead reimbursements for the STOs that collect and dole out the cash – like the one run, just coincidentally, by Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler.

In 2007, corporate tax credits siphoned $10 million from the state budget. This year, it’s $51.6 million, according to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. By 2020, that will rise to $107 million and by 2030, $662.5 million.

Yarbrough’s Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization has siphoned more than $116 million from the state treasury via individual tax-credit donations since 1998, according to the non-profit’s 2013-14 IRS filing.

By law, STOs get to keep 10 percent of what they raise. In 2013-14, Yarbrough’s ACSTO collected roughly $17 million in tax-credit donations so that’s a sweet $1.7 million for overhead. Of that, Yarbrough collected nearly $146,000 in compensation, according to the IRS filing.

Yarbrough also scored by hiring a company he owns to process ACSTO’s contributions and scholarship applications and by locating ACSTO in a building he owns, allowing him to collect rent.

Coleman’s bill went nowhere, naturally.

And a series of similar bills by Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, weren’t even assigned to a committee to consider.

Leaders: We know best what saves cash

Our leaders assure us that the tax-credit program is a money saver for the state, given that the tuition scholarships are typically less than what the state kicks in to pay for public schools.

That, of course, assumes that all those kids getting all those scholarships would otherwise go to public schools.

And that the public wants its money to go to private schools.

According to a new Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite News poll, they don’t. More than six out of 10 likely voters oppose the practice while just 28 percent supported it. The Oct. 10-15 poll of 779 likely voters has a margin of error of 4.1 percent.

Don’t look for that overwhelming opposition to matter when the Legislature convenes in January. The American Federation for Children, a “dark money” group that supports ESA expansion, has spent $250,000 thus far to ensure the re-election of candidates who are willing to siphon public cash for private schools.

Did I mention that Election Day is just 14 days away?

I have been told that Senator Yarbrough is running for the Senate President position if the GOP maintains its majority in the Senate. That’s right, Arizona’s most corrupt state senator wants to be Senate President. Hell, why not?  Tea-Publicans previously elected the formerly most corrupt state senator, Russell Pearce, Senate President.

The Senate President leadership position determines which bills live or die in the state Senate. You can bet that the “vouchers for all” bill will be back in January with Yarbrough’s blessing.

Unfortunately, the Arizona Supreme Court green-lighted such an eventuality in 2014, something Laurie Roberts failed to mention. The Arizona Constitution has two provisions which prohibit state aid to private and parochial schools, Article 2, Section 12 and Article 11, Section 7. The Arizona Court of Appeals and the Arizona Supreme Court effectively rendered these two provisions of the Arizona Constitution null and void sub silentio in Niehaus v. Huppenthal, as I explained at the time of the decision. Arizona Courts disregard the Constitution, authorize the privatization of public education.

Of course, the Court could always reconsider, but this was a Goldwater Institute case, and guess who Governor Ducey appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court?

The only thing that can prevent Tea-Publicans from enacting a “vouchers for all” bill next year is not electing Tea-Publicans to the Arizona legislature. Where a Tea-Publican has a Democratic opponent, vote for the Democratic candidate, particularly in the state Senate. Only you can prevent this disaster.

43 responses to “To prevent ‘school vouchers for all,’ vote for Democratic legislative candidates

  1. John Huppenthal

    The public student can get an education at district schools, charter schools or private schools. Its much less expensive when we allow them to be educated at charter and private schools. Its also more effective.

    Arizona had the highest combined math and reading gains in the nation from 2011 fourth graders to 2015 8th graders (National Assessment of Educational Progress).

    • Another fact that you never wished to learn Falcon 9. The vast majority of students using public dollars to go to private schools were already in private school. Means testing? Nah, not in your legislature

      • John Huppenthal

        Steve jobs was adopted by middle class parents and ended up in a middle school plagued by gang rapes and and a social environment where students were bringingknives to school.

        Don’t tell me about means testing. Jobs parents bent to his wishes and made the intensely painful move to a richer neighborhood, the only way they could express school choice.

        Without that one students choice, apple, a 500 billion company,would never have happened. But what about all the poor and minority students left behind? The district system of education evolved from a school choice system in the early 1800s with racist and bigoted intent. Ravitch lays this all out in her wonderful books.It was explicitly designed to keep Catholics out. Go show me how many Blacks and Hispanics are in those north Scottsdale schools.

  2. Robert Francis

    I just want to say that if the main point of having a choice is to help poorer family’s children to go to better schools then so be it. Fund the entire tuition cost for them. (because you know 4k just doesn’t cover the cost) And quit playing patty cake bait and switch programs with tax payer funds. Or if your saving money to bolster the prison system because you know the demise of public education is going to take you down that path then be forth right with it and let the public know exactly what is going on.

    A law, with teeth, that prevents private individuals (especially politicians who have easy access to the cookie jar) such as the Senator here from profiting would be the moral thing to do. Corruption at it’s best, Arizona’s moniker.

    • Arizona is not the only State to have things like this going on. And it is not limited to Republican controlled Legislatures. AzBM is a good writer but he tends towards hyperbole making it always sound as if Arizona is the worst it can possibly be, no matter what subject is. The sad truth is that if you have politicians, whether democrat, Republican, Independent or whatever, you are going to have shenanigans of this sort. It is the nature of the beast…

      Bad public schools = prison? Really, Robert? I just don’t see that as an expected outcome. Too many good, decent people come out of bad public schools and never have problems with the law. Your paint brush is far too broad and does a disservice to huge numbers of good people that don’t deserve it.

  3. Senator John Kavanagh

    So if this is all legal and sanctioned by the Arizona Supreme Court, where is the corruption besides in your head?

    • Frances Perkins

      The last position for immoral conduct, “but it’s legal!” Of course if it’s not you guys could just change the conflict of interest laws to make it legal. I challenge you to ask 10 random citizens the Yarbrough scenario, with no names an ask them if it fine with them. Of course if Hillary did exactly the same you guys would be yelling for jail for her. Just like your “legal” acceptance of money from the private prison industry.

      • Senator John Kavanagh

        So Rep. Eric Meyer was corrupt when he voted for Medicaid expansion because he is a doctor. No. So Pres. Obama is 100,000 more times corrupt than me because he got that much more in donations than me. NO So Hillary is corrupt for taking all that Wall Street money. ?????? Wait. LET ME REASSESS MY POSITION.

    • It’s also *legal* to accept $3,000 from Pinnacle West, $300 from Cox, $800 from the Realtors PAC, close to $1,700 from Salt River Project, and in total, over $20,000 from PAC’s and other special interest groups, and then vote on legislation favoring those groups in the upcoming session. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not corrupt, not damaging to the integrity of the State Legislature, and doesn’t create clear conflicts of interest even when there’s no smoking gun quid pro quo.

      • Edward, there has never been, and will never be, a political system that doesn’t invite scenarios like the one descibed. The only reason democrats are not fattening their wallets in the Legistature (and I am making a HUGE assumption that they aren’t) is because they are not in charge. Give them a year running the show and they will be just as corrupt as any Republican ever has been. It is the disgusting nature of politics. Believing that politics is for the common person is a chumps dream.

        • Maybe so, but I wouldn’t be running for the legislature if I didn’t think that it was worth having and fighting for a political system that doesn’t have those sorts of scenarios and conflicts of interest.

          I dunno – maybe that makes me an idealist. Or a chump with a dream to use your parlance. Maybe it’s unrealistic to expect voters to hold their elected officials to the fire on key votes, and maybe we need to consider more radical electoral reforms than even I have been currently advocating for. I think that as long as one group or individual – be it a donor, a political party or otherwise – has total control over a long period of time, corruption will set in, but our current campaign finance system certainly isn’t helping ensure that ordinary Arizonans have a meaningful say in legislative outcomes.

          • Well, I applaud your intentions. I wouldn’t call you a chump. I would prefer the term “noble”. I wish I could say “Good Luck”, but I suspect we are opposites in our political perspectives and the competition would be too tough. ;o)

    • John! I saw that the NRA gave you an A+ rating on 2nd Amednment issues. That was good enough to ensure my vote for you. Of course, then I saw your name was the only one on the ballot, and that made double sure you got my vote! ;o)

    • Senator John Kavanagh

      All of this moralizing would sound more sincere were all of you also incensed over the Clinton Foundation.

      • Frances Perkins

        Of course they can tell you exactly where the money goes, including none to Hillary. But APS. sure won’t tell and fights like hell to make sure no one know.

    • Senator Kavanagh,
      If you are firm in your belief that this about the best way to get kids into schools of their choice that foster a better education, why are you okay with so much of the resources going to the middle man? Forget that the middle man is your colleague. If I told you that an independent group could do a job for you that will cost $25,000, would you then hire another group to do the same job for $375,000? That is EXACTLY what happened when HY Processing was formed. The increase in that one year is ABSURD.

      • Senator John Kavanagh

        10% is not a lot.

        • Senator John Kavanagh

          Check out what lawyers take from lawsuits.

          • For Sure Not Tom

            In what world is that the same thing? How do you keep getting elected with analogies like that?

            10% is not a lot? How do you keep getting elected with math skills like that?

          • I guess people don’t get elected with the skills you consider important. I think it is comparable to people being successful in business with skills you consider important.

          • For Sure Not Tom

            Kavanagh is doing the thing politicians do when they don’t want people to think things through, he’s deflecting with something that seems to be related but isn’t, hoping no one will notice.

            I’ve started two businesses myself, and work in the corporate world now, intellectual honesty is critical to success.

            I’d be dragged out of the building by security if I tried to pull what he’s doing in the corporate world.

        • Actually 10% works out to close to $12 million dollars that his STO has taken in. That is quite a bit of private education that you so dearly want. Heck, that could bus a bunch of kids over to Basis.

          Since when is a Conservative Republican so much for government handouts…even if it is “only” 10%

          • eric, would you happen to know the percentage of overhead taken out by the public schools for admin, superintendant, janitors, clerical staff, maintenance, etc., before the funding gets to the classroom?

          • For Sure Not Tom

            Yeah, schools don’t need no janitors!

            What exactly is your point?

            Do charter/private schools not have janitors? Are you saying janitors are getting rich off the public dime?

            Because I don’t know any millionaire janitors, but there are hundreds of charter school owners getting rich, and Wall Street wouldn’t be involved if there wasn’t a fat, guaranteed payday.

            And that’s not good old all American “profit” if it’s money taken under threat, it’s called vigorish.

            But we’ll blame those no good gold digging janitors for Arizona school problems.

            Troll better.

          • Comparing apples to oranges again, eh? There is no comparative position in public schools to an owner of a private school. So your purpose in comparing a janitor to an owner is just silly.

            You have me curious…you chastised eric for being a poor “troll”. You do that to me all the time. And you have done it to others, as well. I am curious who the hell appointed you as the “Master of Trolls”? Where do you get the chutzpah to constantly judge others as to what kind of troll they are? Do you have some sort of Big Book of Rules telling you how trolls should behave here? If so, please share it. I would like to be the best troll I can be.

          • Steve, the overhead for those services are for the actual schools. Administration of staff and students. Cleaning schools. Maintaining campus cleanliness and security, etc.
            The overhead for the STO’s is simply for giving tax credit dollars from the government to the student.

    • If the people of AZ don’t want their tax money going to private school vouchers, why do you and your colleagues keep pushing it every year? If public schools must show accountability, why is there no accountability for this money?
      Your cocky response, “where is the corruption besides in your head?” is really offensive. We are angry that public schools are not being funded adequately, while you try to slip in more money for private prisons with guaranteed occupancy. Keeping AZ backward is ultimately not good for anyone.

      • Senator John Kavanagh

        My comment was meant to criticize calling Yarborough corrupt, when everything he does is legal. That is irresponsible and evil. As always, nobody replies to that but all respondents change the subject or levy personal attacks against me. Finding logic and rational debate is difficult in this blog.

        • You are correct, Senator. You are not working alongside a corrupt man. You are working with someone who takes advantage of the lax ethics established by the majority that allows him to act in a self pocket stuffing way. Being good stewards of tax payer dollars does not mean you eliminate comparisons between private and public prisons. It does not mean you change laws to allow foxes like Tobin into the hen house of the CC> actions matter, sir.

  4. Shame on these Republicans including Doug Ducey that want to shut down public schools. They want to funnel money to charter and private schools. Arizona is on to you all… In a few years only Democrat’s will be running our state and raising taxes to pay for education. It will be great not having to make a ton of calls to get people to vote for bonds and overrides.

  5. Heaven forbid that parent (aka – taxpayers) should be empowered to exercize their choice and move their children to private schools and take their childs share of education tax dollars with them. The only fair thing to do is to leave the tax dollars behind and pay for the same education twice.

    • Frances Perkins

      So you advocate any “choice” should be subsidized by taxpayers? I guess reproductive choice would not enter that picture. My parents exercised “choice” in my religious school education until 12th grade. But they did not expect the taxpayers to pay for their “choice”. They paid the school taxes and supported bonds for the public school district even though they paid my tuition, which was a sacrifice. I fully support school “choice”, but the taxpayer should not have to subsidize it.

      • It’s funny! I was thinking the same thing about you liberals when I was writing that, but I didn’t say anything. I thought about capitalizing “empowerment” and “choice” in my message and making some droll comment about liberals opposing those two things when it comes to schools.

        Like your parents, my parents made every effort to send me to Catholic Jesuit Schools whenever they were available. It was a sacrifice for them, but they believed it was worth it. Our parents did not have the opportunity to utilize public school funding because it wasn’t available in our time, but I bet they would have used it had it been available. My parents were no fools and I assume yours weren’t either, so the extra money would have been a welcome relief.

      • Senator John Kavanagh

        Should people on Medicaid only be allowed to choose government hospitals and government clinics because they are spending public money? Is education less a right than healthcare?

  6. For Sure Not Tom

    If the GOTeaP folks would follow the money once in awhile, they’d worry less about their bibles and guns and more about the thieves they keep electing.

  7. Amazingly enough, the vouchers processed prior to the creation of HY cost only $25,000. Smart businessman that HY huh?

  8. Frances Perkins

    If you just launder the money enough it becomes “clean” thus we have back doors vouchers, ESAs which are really TLAs, ” taxpayer laundered accounts.” In Nevada the Supreme Court avoided the constitution question and concentrated on overturning the ESAs aka TLAs, by saying the funding stream came from current funds, at the expense of public schools, not new money. The TLAs in Nevada are currently in limbo on this point.