I have previously explained that opponents of Arizona’s “vouchers on steroids” bill, SB 1431, and even supporters of the “vouchers on steroids” bill are urging voters to vote no on Prop. 305, the citizens referendum on SB 1431. So we’re all agreed: No on Prop. 305 (and elect a Democratic legislature and governor).
So what’s the problem?
Apparently voters are confused by the intentionally misleading ballot measure description on the ballot. Some people think this is a scholarship fund, rather than a voucher transferring public tax dollars to private and parochial schools.
Laurie Roberts of The Republic reports Prop. 305, expanding school vouchers, could pass? I think I’m going to faint:
Somebody find me some smelling salts. A recent statewide poll shows Proposition 305 could well pass.
According to the Suffolk University/Arizona Republic poll, 41 percent of Arizona voters support diverting more tax money to private schools by expanding the state’s voucher program.
According to the poll, they like the idea of creating a two-tier system of schools: publicly subsidized private ones for the children of parents who can afford to pay the difference between what a voucher is worth and what tuition costs, and poorly funded public ones for the kids whose parents can’t.
Yep, I definitely am feeling woozy. Either that, or 41 percent of Arizona voters don’t know what the heck Prop. 305 actually does.
I’m going with that one.
More tax subsidies for private schools
Proposition 305 was put on the ballot by 100,000 Arizonans who signed petitions aimed at stopping Gov. Doug Ducey and the Legislature from expanding vouchers to all Arizona kids.
At least, to the ones who can afford to plunk down thousands more out of their own pockets to cover the cost of tuition.
The Empowerment Scholarship program, as Arizona’s voucher program is called, was created in 2011 for special -needs students not well served in the public schools. Essentially, tax money was loaded onto a debit card and given to their parents to use as they saw fit.
Then ESAs were expanded and expanded and expanded. And finally last year expanded once more, to include all 1.1 million Arizona public school children.
Enter Save Our Schools Arizona.
This group of political neophytes took on the state’s political establishment and a variety of Koch-funded groups and launched a referendum drive to temporarily freeze the universal voucher law.
Prop. 305 gives voters the final say in whether we want to spend ever-larger amounts of public money on private and parochial schools.
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. The only way to prevent “vouchers on steroids” and the privatization of public education is to vote no on Prop. 305. Then the Voter Protection Act will kick in to make it difficult to return in the next legislative session.
Now comes a poll of 500 voters, showing 41 percent say they do, with just 32 percent opposed and 27 percent undecided.
That thud you just heard? That was my face as it smacked into the floor.
There is hope.
The Republic’s Rob O’Dell talked to a couple of those voters polled. Among them was Dave Hess, a Democrat who supports public schools but told the pollster he would vote for Prop. 305 after hearing the state’s official description of the measure.
Here is what you will see on the ballot: “The law would expand eligibility for education empowerment scholarship accounts to increase the number of eligible students enrolled in kindergarten through twelfth grade, with greater funding provided for low-income students.”
Sounds like a scholarship program for low-income students, doesn’t it?
It isn’t. Poor kids in poorly performing schools already can get vouchers.
After hearing that the phrase “Empowerment Scholarship Account” is really just a fancy way of saying school vouchers, Hess was a no.
Ditto for Marina Lang, an independent.
“I don’t support vouchers,” she told O’Dell.
They weren’t the only ones confused. So were voters who support the idea of parents being able to draw on tax money to help them send their children to the private or parochial school of their choice.
Republican Cody Bayes told pollsters he’d vote no on Prop. 305 because he feared the ESA program would increase taxes.
“If there’s no tax increase, I am 100 percent for that,” he told O’Dell.
There is no tax increase. The only increase you’re likely to see if Prop. 305 passes is an increase in the number of suburban parents snagging a tax subsidy to help cover the cost of private school.
Never mind that Arizona kids already have plenty of choice through open enrollment, home schooling, charter schools, tax-funded scholarships to private schools and yes, vouchers for those who attend failing schools.
About 3,500 children now get ESAs. Most of them are suburban kids getting out of high-performing schools. If Prop. 305 passes, up to 30,000 children will qualify for an ESA by 2023, though that cap inevitably will be removed.
Proponents of privatizing public education through school vouchers openly declare that they will be back in the future with a bill to remove the caps.
Roberts concludes, “If you believe that our first obligation is to ensure that all children have access to a decent education in properly funded public schools, then send our leaders that message. Vote no” on Prop. 305.