PHOENIX – Arizona voters have rejected a massive expansion of the state’s private school voucher program criticized as a move to drain money from public schools and give it to rich parents to fund their kids’ private school tuition.
Proposition 305 was placed on Tuesday’s ballot after educators collected enough signatures to block the 2017 expansion championed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.
Opponents said it would siphon hundreds of millions of dollars from already-underfunded public schools. Supporters said the expansion would give parents more school choice and boost public education accountability.
“This result sends a message to the state and the nation that Arizona supports public education, not privatization schemes that hurt our children and our communities,” Beth Lewis, co-founder of Save our Schools Arizona,said in a statement Tuesday night. “Thousands of volunteers have poured blood, sweat, and tears into this effort for nearly two years in order to protect public education from continued attacks.”
The state currently has a relatively small voucher program that lets some parents take state money and spend it on private schools.
The 2017 law expands eligibility to all students by 2022 but caps enrollment at about 30,000.
According to the Center for Arizona Policy, the “needs” required include:
- Students in foster care
- Students living on an Indian reservation
- Students in failing or underperforming school districts
- Students with a parent who is on active military duty or was killed in the line of duty
- Students with a parent who is legally blind, deaf, or hard of hearing
- Students with a sibling who is a current or former ESA recipient
Ducey and the Republican-controlled Legislature expanded the state’s voucher program last year at the urging of the Koch-connected Americans for Progress and the Betsy DeVos-created American Federation for Children.
But a group of political neophytes launched a referendum to put the new law on hold until voters could decide it.
Everybody knew that Save Our Schools Arizona – an all-volunteer effort that had no money and no experience – had no chance of getting the signatures needed to put the voucher plan on the ballot.
Until they did.
Teachers and parents canvassed the Phoenix area on Sept. 8, 2018, to ask people to vote no on Proposition 305, which would expand school vouchers. Carly Henry, The Republic | azcentral.com
During a January retreat with his billionaire benefactors in the Koch network, Ducey talked up the need to defeat the citizen referendum during and allow the law to take effect.
“This is a very real fight in my state,” Ducey told the Koch donors. “I didn’t run for governor to play small ball. I think this is an important idea.”
Vouchers aren’t really a choice for most
The problem with this important idea, of course, is that this particular form of school choice isn’t really a choice at all for most people.
Voters understood that vouchers weren’t being expanded to help poor kids escape failing schools. It was about using public money to help suburban kids escape A- and B- rated public schools.
On Tuesday, they didn’t just say no, they said ‘Oh hell, no”.
The question now, is what will Ducey – the governor who didn’t run for a second term to play small ball — do?
Will he come back in January with yet another scheme to divert more public money into private schools for the select few?
Or will he actually come up with a plan to better fund and fix what ails public schools – the ones attended by 1.1 million Arizona kids?
Voucher backers will be back
The voters have spoken. But will our leaders listen?
My guess … no.
There’s a reason why the Koch network, et al didn’t mount a spirited campaign to defend their voucher plan at the polls.
They were afraid that if Prop. 305 passed, the law would become voter protected and thus virtually impossible for the Legislature to change. Or put another way, that the 30,000-student cap – the one written into the law to get the votes to pass the bill – would become impossible to lift once opposition softened or the public’s attention turned elsewhere.
In other words, they’ll be back and I’m guessing the governor who didn’t run to play small ball will be right there with them.
JOIN THE MOVEMENT #iBELIEVE