The Arizona Republic recommends a “no” vote on Prop. 305, the citizens referendum on the “vouchers on steroids” bill passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Ducey, but then blocked by the activism of the citizens of this state. Prop. 305 won’t solve Arizona’s school voucher debate. Here’s what it will do:
Looks are deceiving when it comes to Proposition 305.
But you don’t have to be confused.
The measure amounts to asking voters if Arizona should expand a program that allows parents to take public funding intended to educate their children in K-12 public schools and use it for private school tuition or other educational options.
What does a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote mean?
In 2017, lawmakers and Gov. Doug Ducey approved expanding the voucher program to any K-12 student.
The expansion was put on hold because a public-school advocacy group used an option in the state Constitution to require a public vote before it could go into effect.
The group, Save Our Schools, gathered enough signatures to refer the matter to the voters.
A “no” vote on Prop. 305 represents a rejection of this expansion, maintaining the limited voucher program. A “yes” vote allows the expansion to become law.
What are arguments against the cap?
Arizona is considered a leader in school choice, and the ESA program is championed by school choice advocates. But some are concerned because if Prop. 305 passes, participation in the program would be capped at 30,000 – a number built into the voucher expansion law.
It was probably not intended to be a permanent cap. [It definitely was not, it is a Trojan horse.]
With the GOP-majority Legislature strongly in support of school choice, it’s a good bet that cap would have been raised as soon as it was reached. It would have been easy to do.
But Prop. 305 changes things. If the measure is approved by voters, it will come under the Voter Protection Act, a 1998 state constitutional amendment that says lawmakers can only change a voter-approved ballot measure by a three-fourths vote in both the state House and Senate.
That’s a high bar. It means the number of vouchers essentially would be capped for good at what some consider too low a number. Arizona has about 1.1 million K-12 students in publicly funded schools.
Are there arguments for the cap?
But voucher opponents also have reason to think twice about how to vote.
If voters reject Prop. 305, the law goes away. So does the cap.
If there is a GOP-majority in the Legislature and Ducey wins re-election, a new voucher expansion is likely – and this one might not have a cap. [Solid reasons to elect a Democratic governor and legislature to prevent these evil GOP bastards from violating the Arizona Constitution again.]
This concerns some opponents of vouchers for whom a permanent low cap is preferable to some future no-cap legislation.
Will it hurt public schools?
Opponents of expanding the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts say even the current limited program siphons money that is desperately needed in Arizona’s public schools.
Traditional district public schools remain the choice of most parents, while Arizona’s robust charter school movement offers a wide range of alternative choices to parents and children.
What’s more, vouchers can be seen as an unseemly mixing of church and state because private-school vouchers funded with public tax money can be used to send children to private religious schools.
But Arizona courts have said the voucher program is constitutional because it allows parents to decide how to spend the money. [The courts shamefully made a political decision, not the legally correct decision. Arizona Courts disregard the Constitution, authorize the privatization of public education. The decision should be overturned.]
What about how the money is spent?
Supporters of vouchers say it should be up to taxpaying Arizonans to decide where to spend dollars earmarked for educating their children.
Allowing parents to spend that money as they like gives them an important level of control over their children’s schools. It adds a further element of competition to the school choice mix, and can facilitate special services that would be otherwise unavailable.
In addition to the philosophical differences, there are concerns about the lack of accountability in how voucher money is spent.
Investigations by The Republic also have found publicly funded vouchers are disproportionately used by students leaving wealthier and higher-performing school districts, which suggests that taxpayers are subsidizing private school for families that would afford it on their own.
These concerns should be fully addressed before expanding the program.
So, what’s the best choice?
The philosophical debate over vouchers is far from over. This proposition will not settle it.
When lawmakers were considering the expansion in 2017, The Arizona Republiceditorial board said the current limited voucher program was a valuable part of the school choice mix, but expansion should wait until public schools were made whole after severe recession-era cuts.
Some progress has been made toward putting money back into schools. But public schools still lack necessary resources. Expanding vouchers is still premature.
A strong public education system represents a common good.
A “no” vote on Prop. 305 would send a clear message to lawmakers that the public wants to see public schools properly funded before the limited voucher program is expanded.
Voting “no” is the best choice.