I have warned you for months now that the “vouchers for all” bill would be back in this legislative session, and sure enough . . .
Howard Fischer reports, Arizona proposal would expand ‘vouchers’ for private, parochial schools:
State lawmakers are making a new attempt to provide taxpayer-provided dollars to all 1.1 million students in Arizona schools to help their parents pay to instead send them to private and parochial schools.
The proposal by Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, would dramatically expand what has been a small program now reserved for students with special needs and those in failing schools. It would create what amounts to a universal “voucher” (aka “vouchers for all”) of state funds that could be used to pay tuition and fees at other (private and parochial) schools.
Now, this is the point where Howie should point out that this is unconstitutional, but nowhere in his report does he even mention this critical fact. Bad Howie!
The Arizona Constitution prohibits state funding to private and parochial schools:
Article 2, Section 12: “No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise, or instruction, or to the support of any religious establishment.”
Article 11, Section 7: “No sectarian instruction shall be imparted in any school or state educational institution that may be established under this Constitution, and no religious or political test or qualification shall ever be required as a condition of admission into any public educational institution of the state, as teacher, student, or pupil;”
Sydney Hay, lobbyist for the American Federation for Children, which pushes such programs nationwide, said it’s not really a voucher, as parents are free to instead use the dollars to purchase services for their children, including specific classes and tutors. But these essentially have to be parents who home-school their children, as the funding is not available to anyone who attends a traditional public or charter school.
And the system would be set up so that if parents have state money left over they can bank that, even setting it aside for a child’s college education.
Lesko pointed out existing law caps these vouchers at 0.5 percent of all students, a figure that comes out to about 5,500 students. But that cap self-destructs in 2020 — about the same time as Lesko’s four-year phase-in of vouchers for all would take effect. Lesko was noncommittal about supporting a new cap at that time.
So the privatization of public education, in violation of the Arizona Constitution, would be a fait accompli by 2020.
Lesko’s legislation is the latest effort to expand what started out as a small program in 2011 to help parents of children with disabilities. It provides the equivalent of 90 percent of what would be state aid to send a similar child to a public school. Since that time, lawmakers have extended the program to any child in a public school rated “D” or “F” by the state Board of Education.
A similar measure faltered last year …
Only for P.R. reasons, because it would not have looked good for the legislature to be giving public dollars to private and parochial schools at the same time that Governor Ducey was selling his bogus Prop. 123 to voters in a special election last May. It was a timing issue. “Just come back in January,” which is exactly what has occurred.
This year could be different. Gov. Doug Ducey has pronounced himself a strong supporter of “school choice,” and is scheduled to appear Thursday at a School Choice Week celebration at the Capitol.
Also, Lesko has added a sweetener of sorts to this year’s version: Schools would be required to test students who are attending with vouchers and report the results to the parents. But Lesko said she does not believe it is necessary for private and parochial schools to report the test results to the public, even though taxpayers are funding the education.
Chris Kotterman, lobbyist for the Arizona School Boards Association, said none of that makes the idea more acceptable.
“The private schools are a parent’s choice and they’re a legitimate choice,” he said. “But the state has an obligation to fully and adequately fund its primary mission, which is the free public schooling of all the students. [See Constitutional provisions above.] And we’re not doing that right now,” he said, with teachers “leaving in droves” and buildings and buses in disrepair.
Kotterman said the state should not be diverting dollars away from public schools.
Kotterman is making a veiled reference to the School Facilities Board, which provides maintenance support for schools. The Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, which won an historic ruling in Roosevelt Elem. School Dist. v. Bishop, 179 Ariz. 233, 877 P.2nd 806 (1994) voiding the state’s school financing scheme, is weighing whether to challenge the system as again being so out of balance to be unconstitutional. The lawsuit could occur this year.
Lesko pegged the average voucher at $5,200 for students without special needs. Using that figure, Lesko said that’s still cheaper than the more than $9,529 it costs to educate the average public-school student.
But Kotterman said that figure is misleading because it also includes local and federal funds as well as bonds and overrides.
He said all schools depend to some degree on locally raised revenues. And that means many schools get less than that full state-aid formula.
Put in its most extreme example, he said, the state provides no student aid for Cave Creek schools, since that district raises more than enough from local revenues. But if a student moves from a Cave Creek school to a private or parochial school, the state is now on the hook for voucher money it never was obligated to pay before.
There is the parallel question of whether there would be any long-term savings to the state.
Lesko said her legislation qualifies only those who are “switchers,” meaning they came from a public school. But she acknowledged a family that already intended to send a child to a private school could qualify for a voucher simply by sending the child to a public-school kindergarten for one year.
The bottom line, said Lesko, is school choice.
This is just right-wing code for “privatization of government schools.”
The Republic’s Laurie Roberts writes, Push is on to divert (even more) public money to private schools in Arizona:
The GOP-led Legislature has long schemed for ways to divert money to private schools in the name of parental choice but ran into trouble in 2009 when the state Supreme Court declared Arizona’s voucher program an unconstitutional use of public funds on private or religious schools.
Thus was born the Empowerment Scholarship Account (read: another voucher program). Basically, the state loads tax money onto a debit card and hands it to you, the parent, to spend as you wish provided it’s used to educate your child, either now or post high school.
The program started in 2011 for disabled students. Then it was expanded to the children of the military and to foster children. Then to certain kindergarteners and to children who live in school districts that received a D or F rating from the state.
And now … to any student, if Lesko prevails.
And she will.
What Laurie Roberts leaves out is what happened after the Arizona Supreme Court declared the voucher program unconstitutional, and the Goldwater Institute devised the Empowerment Scholarship Account scheme. I posted about it at the time. Arizona Courts disregard the Constitution, authorize the privatization of public education (excerpt):
Because this sophisticated scheme to fleece Arizona taxpayers is set up for individuals to access an account — a “pass-through” to the private education corporations that financially benefit — the Arizona Court of Appeals accepted the Goldwater Institute’s legal legerdemain that this somehow is not really a direct taxpayer subsidy, in Niehaus v. Huppenthal, No. 12-042 (Ariz. App. Ct., Div. One Oct. 1, 2013) (.pdf).
The appellate court distinguished Cain v. Horne (Cain II), 220 Ariz. 77, 202 P.3d 1178 (2009), in which Arizona’s Supreme Court struck down the legislature’s previous attempt at a voucher program. Under that law, state funds were issued by check to a parent who had selected a private school, and the parent was required to restrictively endorse the check to the private school. Interpreting Cain II, the Neihaus appellate court said the voucher program was struck down “because, essentially, the voucher programs transferred state funds directly from the state treasury to private schools…. In the programs disapproved in Cain II, the state was paying money directly to the institutions; although the payment first went to parents, they then went ineluctably to private schools.” The appellate court found that the holding in Cain II did not render the ESA program unconstitutional because “unlike in Cain II, in which every dollar of the voucher program was earmarked for private schools, none of the ESA funds are preordained for a particular destination.”
See discussion at Arizona Court of Appeals upholds private school scholarship.
Taking advantage of a Friday news dump, the Arizona Supreme Court yesterday declined to review the Court of Appeals decision. The Arizona Supreme Court has effectively endorsed the Goldwater Institute’s legal legerdemain to effectively render two constitutional provisions null and void Sub Silentio.
The Arizona Supreme Court has made a momentous decision to judicially amend the Arizona Constitution to authorize the privatization of public education — the power to amend the Constitution is a power reserved exclusively to the voters — removing this decision from a vote of the people, and without any opinion explaining or justifying its momentous decision. This is a major scandal.
For the GOP-friendly media in Arizona, not so much. The media largely ignored the significance of this decision.
Now that Governor Ducey’s Arizona Supreme Court court packing scheme has been completed, it’s possible that a similar decision could result with Lesko’s new bill.
The question is whether a “vouchers for all” bill is a bridge too far for the Arizona Supreme Court, as I have outlined it above. Is the court willing to go so far as to judicially amend the Arizona Constitution without a public vote? Will the court follow its Cain v. Horne (Cain II), 220 Ariz. 77, 202 P.3d 1178 (2009) decision, or will it follow the Court of Appeals decision it endorsed without an opinion in Niehaus v. Huppenthal, No. 12-042 (Ariz. App. Ct., Div. One Oct. 1, 2013)?
Laurie Roberts adds:
While I’m asking questions, does anybody really believe that poor kids will be able to use ESAs to attend private schools?
The average ESA for a child without special needs is $4,000 to $5,000 or 90 percent of what the state pays to send a similar child to a public school. (Assuming the state pays anything. Many well-to-do districts get no state aid but the state still would have to supply ESAs for kids in those districts.)
Supporters will tell you that ESA expansion is all about helping the poor escape their lousy schools. But an Arizona Republic investigation last year found that most children attending private schools with taxpayer-supplied ESAs are leaving high-performing public schools in wealthy districts.
Our leaders haven’t yet explained how a poor kid with an ESA worth $5,000 will be able to attend private schools that can cost up to twice that or more, when tuition and transportation are taken into account.
That’s because ESAs really aren’t about helping the poor.
And our Legislature really isn’t about improving the schools that are attended by 1.1 million Arizona children.
You know, the public ones?