by David Safier
Republicans love widows and orphans funds. What better way to pass conservative legislation than to have it serve the least fortunate? "How dare you oppose services for those poor, neglected [fill in the blank]!" Then, once the legislation is passed and the elephant's trunk has slipped under the tent flap, the rest of the pachyderm's body inches inside the tent, expanding the legislation to serve the people they really care about. Hint: it's not the widows and orphans they really care about.
Our Republican lege passed the Goldwater Institute-created Education Empowerment Accounts (also called Education Savings Accounts) in 2011. If you want a play-by-play accounting of the bill, you can read my 2011 post about it. The basic idea is, the state sets up voucher-like accounts for children which their parents can spend for a variety of educational purposes — private school, tutoring, educational materials and so on. What they don't spend one year rolls over to the next. Anything left unspent when the child graduates can be used for college tuition. It's the first of its kind in the country and possibly the most dangerous form of school voucher legislation I've seen.
Originally the bill was limited to students with learning disabilities and foster children. Then it was expanded to include children attending schools with state grades of D or F. In this next legislative session, Rep. Debbie Lesko, holding hands with G.I.'s ed guy, Jonathan Butcher, will push a bill to make the vouchers available to every child in Arizona. (FYI: Butcher is also co-chair of ALEC's Education Task Force.)
I don't know if the bill has been written, but based on Howie Fischer's article, here's one of the many negative outcomes we'll see from the legislation. Every child currently enrolled in private school and every child being home schooled will be elegible for the money. This could happen right away, or it could be phased in over a number of years. The money will come from the state's already bottom-of-the-barrel state funding for education unless the lege decides to create a separate pot of money for these kids, which is unlikely. That's about 60,000 private school students and over 22,000 home schoolers who will get taxpayer dollars for the first time, meaning our ed dollars will go to about 9% more students. In other words, state funding for public (district and charter) education will drop by about 9%. There's much more nasty stuff going on here, but free money to students already in private schools or being home schooled is enough for now.