Last November, Arizona voters, sparked by the Hoffman and Schipara Campaigns and Red for Ed and Save our Schools Movements, sent the Republican Party a message with regards to education.
Their policies with regards to schools do not work and have no appeal with most voters.
• Elected the first Democrat in 20 years, Kathy Hoffman, to be the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
• Elected pro-education oriented Democrats to the State Legislature making the State House the closest division between the two parties since the 1960s
• Repudiated the ultra-reactionary and anti-science views of Hoffman’s predecessor Diane Douglas.
• Gathered enough signatures to put Invest in Ed on the ballot that would have increased taxes on upper-income earners to help fully fund public schools. Only a Ducey packed Arizona State Supreme Court stopped the measure from appearing on the ballot on Election Day.
. • Secured the passing of Proposition 305, which halted the expansion of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (Vouchers).
Despite these developments, Republicans in the State Legislature, perhaps realizing they are on borrowed time until the next elections in 2020 are trying to enact measures from their education wish list that voters clearly did not want them to concentrate on. One of these wishlist items is vouchers.
Republican State Senators in the Senate Education Committee passed two bills through committee that dealt with vouchers. The first (SB 1395) states that students who live in an attendance area where there is a D or F school are eligible to receive an Empowerment Scholarship to a private school of their choice. Note the language. It does not say students who attend a D or F school which is already provided for in current law. It now proposes for students who live in the attendance area of a school that is not performing at a minimal average level. This seems to be an attempt by legislators to give a quasi tax cut to the more affluent families in these attendance areas by making them eligible to receive these vouchers.
The second bill (SB 1320) would transfer oversight of the Voucher program from the State Department of Public Instruction (led by a Democrat) to the State Treasury (led by Republicans). What does Kimberly Yee know about overseeing an education program? Who on the Treasury staff? This is a poorly conceived idea that should not pass the legislature.
When asked to comment on these Republican proposals, Superintendent of Public Instruction Hoffman stated “I oppose both SB1320 and SB1395. Similar proposals were rejected overwhelmingly by voters in November, and I believe their voices should guide our work regarding the ESA program. We have established a bipartisan ESA task force to make recommendations on how to best manage the ESA program so it serves students and families effectively. We’re committed to getting this right and are working to do just that.”
The link to more information on the bipartisan task force is below.
Voters sent a message last November. They want both parties to work on improving our schools so our students will prosper and succeed in society after they graduate. They do not want conservatives revisiting reactionary solutions that offer additional options for school choice that allows affluent families to receive “scholarships” (tax cuts) in public dollars that they can send their children to the private religious education school of their choice.
It is also especially ironic that Republicans are pursuing legislative measures (Kelly Townsends HB 2015 bill for example) that punish public school teachers for “espousing” political and religious views (that rule is already memorialized in all public school human resource policies, including charters, that is a not for profit) while advancing proposals that allow families to divert public funds through Empowerment Scholarships Accounts to private schools that are allowed to openly broadcast their religious or political orientations. Conservative hypocrisy knows no bounds.
There are many options to choose from for families with our public schools. There is open enrollment within and between traditional school districts. There are many reputable charter schools that serve children well. Children with disabilities and who attend a school that is currently designated a D or F can receive an Empowerment Scholarship (Voucher). There are plenty of choices for Arizona families to choose from. There is no need to expand vouchers and shift public money to private schools. Republicans need to get off the voucher bandwagon.