Zombie School Vouchers bill returns from the dead in House Education Committee today

The Arizona Republic’s E.J. Montini wrote over the weekend that “[This] anti-education scheme is the brainchild of the teacher-union-hating Goldwater Institute and the Center for Arizona Policy – the folks who brought you SB 1062.” Let’s give ‘free’ money to every taxpayer.

kill-bill-vol-1SB 1237 (.pdf), the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts bill, should become the next SB 1062 public outcry of opposition. The bill has already passed the Senate but failed in the House Education Committee. Evil never sleeps, however, and SB 1237 is back on the House Education Committee agenda for Monday at 2:00 p.m. in HHR 3.

The Arizona School Administrators submitted an “open letter to the citizens of Arizona,” calling for renewed support for public schools. More than 230 superintendents and leaders of technical and charter schools endorsed it. Reformers seek to dismantle public schools (via The Arizona Republic):

An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic. Self-government is not possible unless the citizens are educated sufficiently to enable them to exercise oversight. It is therefore imperative that the nation see to it that a suitable education be provided for all its citizens.”

Thomas Jefferson

If Thomas Jefferson were leading our country today, he would share the concern by parents, educators and leaders in schools and districts across Arizona regarding the blatant lack of support for public education.

Given his strong stance on education for all, our esteemed historian and Founding Father would use both his position of responsibility and his authority to vocalize a call to action for the future of American public education.

We, the school district leaders in Arizona, are troubled that some of our current elected and appointed state leadership seem unwilling to provide a quality education for all of Arizona’s children. Recent advocacy efforts by elected officials to grow the privatization of education in Arizona compel us to speak out.

It appears that the goal of the current education-reform movement is to move designated “tax money” out of the public sector and transfer it into private hands. This transfer of funds, known as Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, vouchers or tax credits, is designed to subsidize students to attend private schools rather than using these desperately needed funds for the public schools.

Severe budget cuts in programs, personnel and materials have become the norm in our state in recent years. The attack on public education has been disguised as a desire to improve “failing schools,” but there is a more insidious intent — to draw off taxpayer money to private sources with little or no accountability.

This wave of reform has led to a systematic campaign to convince Arizona’s citizens that our public schools are failing them. This campaign threatens to dismantle our local public schools, endanger the health of our communities and diminish decision-making at the local level all the while undermining the fabric of our democracy.

The vast majority of Arizona’s families with school-age children are invested in local public schools, funded by taxpayer dollars. In order to preserve the sentiments of Thomas Jefferson, Arizona’s public-education system must remain public. Public tax dollars should never be siphoned off to private, for-profit education entities. Our strong and vibrant public education system thrives when:

• We provide equal opportunities that are equitably funded.

• We focus on student wellness and academic fairness.

• We focus on student preparation for college and career readiness.

• We provide choices and alternatives within our public schools.

• We exercise local control in partnership with each unique community.

We are ready to stand up with education supporters to improve education in the state, and we will not stand by idly watching others try to dismantle it. Every child deserves a comprehensive, well-rounded education, and to this end, we are ready, willing and able to work with others who believe that public education is at the core of democracy and represents the achievable American Dream.

Our “suitable” public education cannot be achieved without everyone’s full support. The spirit of Thomas Jefferson gives us strength to continue our vital work on behalf of the nearly 1 million Arizona public-school students, neighborhoods and communities we serve.

The Arizona Republic, which frequently parrots the ridiculous economic theories of the Goldwater Institute, today editorialized against the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts bill, sort of. Don’t dismantle public schools yet (yet?):

Educators are a notoriously independent lot. Getting more than 230 school leaders to agree on anything is quite a feat.

So, it says something that all but eight of Arizona’s public-school superintendents endorsed a letter critical of efforts to “dismantle our local public schools, endanger the health of our communities and diminish decision-making at the local level all the while undermining the fabric of our democracy.” (Read the full letter.)

They were provoked by two developments:

• Bills in the Legislature that would drastically expand Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, which help families with private-school tuition.

• Robocalls by state schools Superintendent John Huppenthal touting those scholarships.

The calls irritated them. The legislative action frightens them.

“We have one education fund for district schools, a second for charter schools, and now this would create a third education fund for private schools. We can’t afford the two we have right now,” says Debra Duvall, executive director of Arizona School Administrators, the group behind the letter.

American education is built on a long tradition of the public, for the common good, providing schools for all children. Arizona expanded the tradition by allowing families to choose from a variety of schools, all publicly funded and accountable to taxpayers.

Advocates of the empowerment scholarships, led by the Goldwater Institute, seek to upend that tradition. They want the state to fund students, not schools. If families would rather send their children to a private, religious school, they should be able to do so with tax dollars, they say.

This is a debate worth having. Which approach do Arizonans prefer?

But no one is asking them. Instead, Goldwater and its allies are slowly pushing the camel’s nose under the tent.

They started by creating empowerment scholarships for special-needs students, children public schools have difficulty dealing with.

Few objected to such a sympathetic cause; those who did lost in court. Next, the advocates added students in poorly performing schools, another sympathetic group.

This year, they are going for it all. Companions House Bill 2291 and Senate Bill 1236 would expand eligibility to students who receive free or reduced-price lunches. Each year, the income ceiling would rise 15 percent. Eventually, every child would qualify for the scholarships. The shift away from funding schools would be complete.

Such a drastic change should not occur without ample public discussion.

Some House Republicans seem to understand this and are pumping the brakes. To keep HB 2291 alive, the leadership had to yank the bill from the Education Committee and send it to the friendlier Ways and Means Committee. It has been scheduled three times for floor action, and three times it has been postponed. That’s a clear sign arms are not twisting.

True to form, the Arizona Republic wants to “debate” this issue because they are sympathetic to the Goldwater Institute position. There is no debate — it is unconstitutional in violation of the Arizona Constitution, something the Arizona Republic’s editors always fail to mention. This bill is designed for protracted litigation to enrich the lawyers at the Goldwater Institute at the expense of Arizona taxpayers.

As the Sierra Vista Herald  headline for this story read, Superintendents to state: Enough is enough. The Herald editorialized, Our View: Getting a message through:

By a near-unanimous voice, school superintendents from throughout Arizona — representing more than 230 districts — called on the Legislature to stop its efforts to expand state support for private education.

In its “open letter to the citizens of Arizona,” the Arizona School Administrators argue that public tax dollars should not be allocated to support “for-profit education entities.”

Two bills have been introduced at the Legislature to expand the eligibility of children to receive Empowerment Scholarships, which pays parents 90 percent of the funding that would have gone to their child’s public school, to attend another school of their choice. SB1237 was knocked out by the House Education Committee earlier this month, and HB2291 has yet to be considered by the full House. The later bill, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, includes a provision that would make all students attending Title I schools eligible for Empowerment Scholarships.

That provision — and the campaign support for HB2291 by State Superintendent of Public Instruction, John Huppenthal, were the primary points of concern for Interim Superintendent Kriss Hagerl, who was on the list of 230 fellow school administrators representing Sierra Vista Unified Schools, trying to get a message through to the Legislature.

Public school costs will never go away. All the Legislature will accomplish is to add yet another state-supported education fund, ultimately increasing costs to taxpayers.

Call your state legislators. Kill this bill!

UPDATE: The bill passed out of the Education Committee 0n a 7-1 vote, with only Democratic Rep. Lisa Otondo voting “no.” Democratic Rep. Eric Meyer voted “yes” (???)  Rep. Catherine Miranda was absent.

One response to “Zombie School Vouchers bill returns from the dead in House Education Committee today

  1. Meyer explained his vote. I don’t completely buy his explanation but he did say that he opposes the idea of ESAs.

    I would have written about the bill, but the amendment adopted in the Education committee makes material changes to the program that I don’t fully understand yet.

    Somebody should talk with Meyer about it further.