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Two years ago, the voters of Arizona overwhelmingly rejected an expansion of vouchers, by 65% to 35%. The pro-voucher side was funded by Charles Koch, Betsy DeVos, and other enemies of public schools. The voters said a resounding NO to voucher expansion!
Yet, this week the Arizona Legislature passed legislation to expand vouchers, approving what the voters rejected. Apparently, the word “democracy” is not in the Republican legislators’ dictionary. The voters expressed their will in no uncertain terms. The legislators ignored them.
The Arizona Senate approved a massive expansion of Arizona’s school voucher program Monday, just two years after voters decisively repealed a similar expansion of school vouchers to all students.
The Senate passed the bill on a 16-14 party-line vote, with all 16 Republicans voting for the measure. It will now be sent to the House of Representatives.
Empowerment Scholarship Accounts allow parents eligible to take funds from public schools and spend them on private school. The bill would expand the program, which currently serves only 9,700 students, making it available to an exponentially larger group.
Bill sponsors contend the voucher expansion will benefit only low-income students from so-called Title I schools, which receive funding for disadvantaged students to close educational gaps.
But SB 1452 would also allow any student who lives in the boundary of a Title I school to be eligible for an empowerment scholarship account. The students would merely have to attend the school and would not need to be low-income themselves to qualify.
More than 1,300 of the 2,000 district schools in Arizona — about 65% — are Title I schools, and even wealthy districts include some Title I schools.
The proposal from Glendale Republican Sen. Paul Boyer, SB1452, would make all children attending schools with a high percentage of low-income families or who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches eligible for the state’s voucher program. The program allows parents to take state funding and pay for religious or other private education and education costs.
If the Republican-controlled House also approves the measure and it is signed by Gov. Doug Ducey, a school choice supporter, about 800,000 of Arizona’s 1.1 million K-12 students would qualify to use state money to attend private schools, up from about 256,000 currently. Despite the current eligibility, only about 9,700 children currently use state vouchers to pay for private or home schooling costs.
So, of the 256,000 students eligible for vouchers, only 9,700 use them. That’s less than 4% who want vouchers.
Dare I mention yet again that there is a sizable body of evidence showing that kids who leave public schools to use vouchers are set back in their academic achievement?