by David Safier
People don't like vouchers. Voucher initiatives have been voted down every time they've been presented to voters. Arizona's two voucher programs, Tuition Tax Credits and Education Savings Accounts, were passed by our conservative state legislature, and that's true in other states as well.
Big money conservatives like vouchers, so they keep pumping more money into the idea. Here's the latest. The Walton Family Foundation — the WalMart fortune — is putting $6 million into the Alliance for School Choice, a pro-voucher lobbying group working in Arizona and a bunch of other states, doubling the group's budget. For the Waltons, $6 million barely counts as lunch money. Their foundation is one of the financial pillars of the conservative "education reform" movement, and many, many millions more go into supporting charter schools as well as efforts to promote vouchers.
Let's connect a few dots. The head of Alliance for School Choice is headed by Betsy DeVos of the Amway fortune. She also founded the American Federation for Children (AFC), a conservative pro-charter/voucher/privatization organization. The AFC is joined at the hip to Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), a PAC that works to elect Dems in Democratic-heavy districts who support the privatization agenda, including vouchers. DFER opened a branch in Arizona this spring and along with the AFC has thrown its support behind three Democratic legislators: Sen. Barbara McGuire (LD-8), Rep. Mark Cardenas (LD-19) and the recently appointed Sen. Carlyle Begay (LD-7).
How close are these three Democrats aligned with the conservative "education reform" agenda? McGuire's allegiance is a slam dunk. She changed her vote on SB1363, an expansion of the Education Savings Accounts, from No to Yes last legislative session, giving the bill the one vote it needed to pass. Cardenas was originally listed on the Arizona DFER board, but he had his name removed and swears he's on the same education page as most Democrats. We'll learn more about where he stands this legislative session. And Begay was listed in a DFER press release as "a member of the DFER-AZ advisory board," but he's not listed on the website. Even if the press release was incorrect, it demonstrates DFER support for Begay. Like Cardenas, we'll learn more about Begay's ideas about education come next legislative session.