Voucher ad­vo­cates ig­nore Prop. 305 de­feat

School choice back­ers fo­cus on Leg­is­la­ture

The Arizona Republic - - Valley&state - Rob O’Dell and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez NICK OZA/THE REPUB­LIC CH­ERYL EVANS/THE REPUB­LIC

Less than a day af­ter the crown jewel of their school choice poli­cies was crushed at the bal­lot box, prom­i­nent school choice ad­vo­cates dou­bled down by call­ing for the Ari­zona Leg­is­la­ture to pro­mote school choice and vouch­ers laws.

Both the Gold­wa­ter In­sti­tute and Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion for Chil­dren is­sued state­ments back­ing school choice in the hours af­ter vot­ers re­jected by a 65-35 per­cent­age dif­fer­ence Propo­si­tion 305, a mas­sive ex­pan­sion of school vouch­ers.

The vote over­turned the Em­pow­er­ment Schol­ar­ship Ac­count ex­pan­sion that would have al­lowed all 1.1 mil­lion Ari­zona pub­lic school stu­dents to use pub­lic money to at­tend pri­vate school. The num­ber of stu­dents re­ceiv­ing the money would have been capped at 30,000.

In a state­ment to sup­port­ers, the Gold­wa­ter In­sti­tute said “the fight for school choice con­tin­ues.”

“Em­pow­er­ment Schol­ar­ship Ac­counts help fam­i­lies cre­ate a cus­tom ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence— one as unique as each child. Un­for­tu­nately, school choice op­po­nents were suc­cess­ful in deny­ing this op­tion to all Ari­zona fam­i­lies, re­gard­less of in­come,” Gold­wa­ter In­sti­tute Pres­i­dent Vic­tor Riches said in the state­ment.

“Across the coun­try, ESAs have gar­nered the sup­port of Repub­li­cans and Democrats alike be­cause they pro­vide a com­mon­sense way for fam­i­lies to help pay tu­ition, pro­vide tu­tor­ing, and pur­chase the tools they need to give their stu­dents the best chance at suc­cess in school and down the road.”

He said other states — in­clud­ing North Carolina and Florida — have fol­lowed Ari­zona and in­sti­tuted ESAs for se­lected stu­dents.

“Ari­zona has been a na­tional leader on the path to greater school choice for fam­i­lies,” Riches said. “The Gold­wa­ter In­sti­tute will con­tinue the fight to give stu­dents and their fam­i­lies a greater say in their ed­u­ca­tion in Ari­zona and across the coun­try.”

Mean­while, Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion for the Chil­dren con­grat­u­lated Repub­li­can Gov. Doug Ducey for de­feat­ing “an­ti­school choice” can­di­date Demo­crat David Gar­cia in the race for gover­nor.

“Gover­nor Ducey is a pro-ed­u­ca­tion, pro-school choice Gover­nor whose lead­er­ship has re­sulted in higher pay for teach­ers as well as more ed­u­ca­tional choice op­tions for fam­i­lies,” said the state­ment from AFC’s Ari­zona com­mu­ni­ca­tion di­rec­tor Kim Martinez. “Ducey is a staunch sup­porter of Ari­zona’s Em­pow­er­ment Schol­ar­ship Ac­count pro­gram, which helps dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren, many with spe­cial needs, ac­cess dif­fer­ent types of schools or cur­ricu­lum.”

The state­ment didn’t men­tion Prop 305. Nei­ther AFC nor Gold­wa­ter In­sti­tute re­turned calls for com­ment.

Dawn Penich-Thacker, spokes­woman for Save Our Schools Ari­zona, the group that put the voucher ex­pan­sion on the bal­lot, said she wasn’t sur­prised by the state­ments given that “pri­va­tiz­ing ed­u­ca­tion is their main pri­or­ity so they are stick­ing to their guns.”

“There couldn’t be a more clear sig­nal that they do not care what peo­ple want,” Penich-Thacker said. “Vot­ers 2-to-1 said they are not in­ter­ested in an ex­pan­sion of vouch­ers and they are right there to­day work­ing on an ex­pan­sion of vouch­ers.”

She said Save Our Schools will work to counter their ef­forts.

“What is more in­ter­est­ing is whether the elected of­fi­cials ... are go­ing to choose to rep­re­sent their con­stituents or be be­holden to spe­cial in­ter­ests,” Penich-Thacker said.

The ESA pro­gram gives par­ents 90 per­cent of the fund­ing that would have oth­er­wise gone to their lo­cal pub­lic school dis­tricts. The voucher money, loaded on debit cards, is in­tended to cover spe­cific ed­u­ca­tion ex­penses such as pri­vate- or re­li­gious-school tu­ition, home-school ex­penses and ed­u­ca­tion­re­lated ther­a­pies.

The ex­pan­sion would have made the pro­gram about six times larger — it now serves about 5,600 stu­dents at a cost of about $62 mil­lion.

With the out­come of the Prop. 305 vote, the ESA rules will stay as they are now and the cap for next year will be about 9,500 stu­dents, lim­ited to small group of stu­dents in six cat­e­gories in­clud­ing spe­cial needs and fail­ing schools rated D or F.

State Sen. Kate Bro­phy McGee, RPhoenix, who op­posed ex­pand­ing vouch­ers in re­cent years, said ESAs have “in­nu­mer­able is­sues that must be ad­dressed to con­tinue this pol­icy as is,” in­clud­ing a lack of ac­count­abil­ity and over­sight by state of­fi­cials.

“Ari­zona has one of the most ex­pan­sive ar­rays of school choice around the coun­try al­ready. We have in­equities in fund­ing that we are be­gin­ning to fix and we have fi­nance re­forms that must be ex­am­ined in ad­vance of any fur­ther ex­pan­sion of vouch­ers or ESAs,” Bro­phy McGee said.

“I value the pur­pose for which ESAs were orig­i­nally in­tended. I think the vot­ers have spo­ken and we all need to take a deep breath and step back and do some con­se­quen­tial re­forms be­fore tack­ling this,” she said.

State Sen. Kate Bro­phy McGee, R-Phoenix, who op­posed ex­pand­ing vouch­ers in re­cent years, said ESAs have “in­nu­mer­able is­sues that must be ad­dressed.”

ESAs “help fam­i­lies cre­ate a cus­tom ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence — one as unique as each child,” says Gold­wa­ter In­sti­tute Pres­i­dent Vic­tor Riches.

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