Arizona’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.