Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal just weeks ago was embroiled in a scandal for doing robo-calls on behalf of the Alliance for School Choice encouraging thousands of Arizona families to use state-funded “Empowerment Scholarship Accounts” aka school vouchers to attend private schools “for free.” Huppenthal Robo-Calls for Vouchers More Extensive Than Reported.
On Friday, Huppenthal announced that he intends to interpret state law to require that all students in the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program will be funded at higher levels than traditional public school kids.
Which is interesting, because the Arizona legislature considered SB 1237 (.pdf), the bill backed by Huppenthal and his Education Department to”fix” the ESA statute’s ambiguous language on funding, but the House stripped away the language that would have funded all students in the program at the higher level. Governor Brewer signed SB 1237 on April 30, 2014.
So Huppenthal is unilaterally ruling by executive fiat, doing what the legislature expressly declined to do. This is what Tea-Publicans bitch about all the time with President Obama issuing executive orders, only in the case of the president, he actually has that executive authority — Huppenthal does not.
The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) reports, Schools chief increases voucher payments, lawsuit likely (ya think!):
Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal decided [Friday] that all students in a program that provides taxpayer dollars for private education will be funded at higher levels than traditional public school kids.
Huppenthal’s decision will spur a lawsuit from the public school establishment, which already threatened litigation over this year’s SB1237. That measure proposed to fund students in the controversial scholarship program at the level of charter school students, which is at least $1,500 more than what traditional public school students get.
Jennifer Loredo, a lobbyist for the Arizona Education Association, said the teacher’s union and the Arizona School Boards Association, which teamed up to win a lawsuit challenging the Legislature’s refusal to fund inflationary adjustments last year, have already spoken to their lawyers about Huppenthal’s conclusion.
“Here’s one more attorney’s fee the state of Arizona is going to have to pay to the AEA,” Loredo said, predicting victory in the lawsuit.
ASBA and AEA interpret the current statute to mean only students who have entered the program directly from a charter school would get the charter school amount.
But in a news release [Friday], Huppenthal said he decided “that two students on the same program should be treated equally and with uniformity, upholding Arizona’s equal protection philosophy.”
His decision means K-8 students in the empowerment scholarship account program will receive $1,515.77 more than their traditional public-school peers, and high school students will get $1,766.61 more than their counterparts. The funding is set to begin in the 2014-15 school year.
Howard Fischer adds, State to spend more on school vouchers:
Huppenthal’s announcement Friday comes despite the fact that he had asked lawmakers to spell out in statute that vouchers should be based on charter school aid, but that language the superintendent sought actually was struck from the legislation on the last night of the session.
What that means, Loredo argued, is lawmakers specifically rejected Huppenthal’s interpretation.
Chris Kotterman, lobbyist for the Department of Education, conceded his boss sought that clarification. And he acknowledged that lawmakers did not adopt his requested language.
“But they also didn’t change it and say, ‘Absolutely not, you’re not doing that,’” Kotterman said.
[What the … “You didn’t say I could, but you didn’t say I couldn’t.” This kind of situational ethics is how a lot of guys serving time in prison wound up there.]
What that did, Kotterman said, is left in place a “poorly worded statute.” And he said that, from Huppenthal’s perspective, that leaves in place what he said is his interpretation: Every voucher recipient gets the same amount of money — even if it more than what the state was paying in the first place.
Huppenthal’s action, unless overturned, undermines what had been one of the arguments about giving vouchers to students in the first place.
They were originally made available only to students with special needs. That was later expanded to any youngster attending a school rated D or F by the Department of Education, though there are fewer than 700 kids now getting vouchers and a cap in place through 2019 limits the number of new vouchers each year to less than 6,000.
* * *
Vouchers are available only to students who had been in public or charter schools. And the claim was the treasury would be shelling out only 90 percent of what would otherwise be paid in aid.
This school year, those vouchers were based on that individual student’s aid. So a youngster moving from a traditional school got 90 percent of that base state aid, a figure that generally runs anywhere from $3,500 to $5,000 depending on grade level and other factors like whether the youngster.
Students switching from charter schools got 90 percent of the base aid plus 90 percent of the additional aid paid to charter schools.
Next school year, Huppenthal intends to add in that additional aid — $1,684 to $1,963 paid to charter schools — into the formula for all students. And that means a higher cost to the treasury for students switching from traditional public schools.
* * *
Jennifer Liewer, press aide to Huppenthal, said it is not up to her boss to decide whether vouchers for students moving from public schools should cost the state more than current aid. She said that is a policy matter for the Legislature and that her boss is simply interpreting the law.
Huppenthal was not available to comment, providing only a prepared statement defending the move on the basis of what he said is fairness.
“Two students on the same program should be treated equally and with uniformity,” the statement read.
This guy is out of control. Huppenthal apparently believes he possesses the divine right of kings to rule by executive fiat. It’s time to throw this corrupt politician out of office. He’s pissing away your tax dollars on litigation to defend his indefensible action.