In his January 13, 2020 State of the State Address, Governor Ducey, in remarks designed to appeal to his fringe conservative base, blamed the “heavy hand of government” (otherwise known as the law) for permanently preventing families on the Navajo Reservation from using public Arizona State funds to pay for the private school (called Hilltop Christian School) tuition in New Mexico for their children.
Members of the Arizona State Legislature, working with Governor Ducey’s and Superintendent Hoffman’s offices fashioned a compromise that allowed Navajo Students to attend the New Mexico school until the end of the 2019/20 school year.
Governor Ducey, eager to further please the base he will need for a future run at a state or national office, vowed to pursue a permanent solution when he signed the compromise bill.
Enter State Senator Sylvia Allen (one of the legislators who, up until ten days ago, wanted to take sex education back to Dark Ages) and Senate Bill 1224.
This bill would permanently allow students on an Indian Reservation to use Empowerment Scholarship (voucher) funds to pay for tuition on private schools located within the reservation but up to two miles in another state.
This bill has obviously been written to permanently address the Hilltop situation.
To be fair, Senator Allen has also this last week introduced the fairly progressive Senate Bill 1060 that would if passed into law, add millions of dollars for special education services and instruction. This measure has drawn praise from Superintendent Hoffman and other education activists.
However, a potentially “slippery slope” could arise from this situation with Hilltop.
Fringe conservative school choice activists might use a permanent solution to the Hilltop Christian School situation as a starting point to relaunch other voucher expansion efforts using public state funds for private schools in and outside Arizona.
Arizona Public Funds should be used for Arizona Schools.
Empowerment Scholarships should only be utilized for their original purpose, to help children with special education in Arizona.
Dawn Penich-Thacker, the Communications Director for Save Our Schools Arizona, issued a statement in response to the introduction of SB 1224.
“Save Our Schools Arizona opposes Senate Bill 1224, which would allow the state’s tax dollar-funded private school voucher program – Empowerment Scholarship Accounts – to be used to pay for out-of-state private school tuition and personal expenses.”
“Save Our Schools Arizona believes the effort is misguided and detrimental to Arizona communities and taxpayers who want Arizona tax dollars to fund Arizona schools. No Arizona student should have to leave the state to get a great education.”
“The history of Arizona’s ESA program proves that every year sees another manufactured reason to expand the program, and this out-of-state expansion effort is no different. Since its original inception in 2011 for children with special needs, the program has been expanded every year until SOSAZ blocked their efforts starting in 2017. Nevertheless, the existing ESA voucher program costs the state of Arizona more than $110 million per year, according to the Arizona Republic. These are tax dollars redirected from Arizona district and charter schools to fund Arizona private education.”
“It is shameful that Arizona lawmakers would champion sending Arizona tax dollars out of state while Arizona schools rank near the bottom in the nation for per-student funding, teacher pay, classroom overcrowding, counselor-to-student ratio, and teacher turnover. Addressing these issues should be our lawmakers’ priority. Arizona voters do not want their tax dollars leaving Arizona to subsidize schools in California, Colorado and beyond instead of reinvesting locally so that every Arizona student can choose a high-quality education within our own borders.”
Sharon Girard, A Democratic Candidate for the State House in Legislative District Eight. wrote that:
“Arizona tax dollars should stay in Arizona. They should not be used for private out of state schools. We must fully fund Arizona public education. It is the right of each child in our state to receive an excellent education which prepares them for a successful life. This applies to every child, no matter what their circumstance. Therefore, I object to SB1224. We must keep our resources and dollars in Arizona and work to improve and fully fund educational opportunities that benefit all our children.”
Ms. Penich-Thacker and Ms. Girard are both right.
Children should not have to leave Arizona to get the education they want and deserve.
Arizona monies should be spent on Arizona schools, not out of state ones.
It is better for Arizona Legislators to fill the 12-year funding hole for public schools in Arizona rather than having families take some of that money to pay the tuition at a private religious school in another state.