Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Vouchers for all in Arizona: The day the schooling died

The AZ Supreme Court ruled that money laundering in AZ is legal. The issue was whether vouchers could be used to pay students for attending private schools. The court thought that parental control was a sufficient safeguard. So what results is a model in which A gives money to B and B gives money to C (OK) which dodges the problem of A giving money to C (not OK). At the time, supporters of vouchers acknowledged that the foot was in the door.

Now we have a bill passed in the AZ Senate that extends vouchers to every single student in AZ. Here is more from Howard Fischer (Arizona Capitol Times reprinted on the front page of the AZ Daily Star).

The original 2011 law — the one giving vouchers to special needs students — was challenged by the Arizona Education Association as violating a state constitutional provision that bars public funds from being used for religious worship or instruction.

But the state Court of Appeals pointed out that it is the parents who decide where to spend the dollars. The judges said that makes who ultimately gets the dollars irrelevant.

Even then, proponents of that law conceded they were just trying to get their foot in the door.

Fast forward to 2016 and the action in the AZ Senate.

State senators voted Monday to do what foes have argued has been their agenda all along — allow every one of the 1.1 million students in Arizona to attend private and parochial schools with tax dollars.

The 17-13 vote starts the process of removing all the restrictions that now exist for vouchers, restrictions that to date limit enrollment in the program to no more than 5,500 students. Current law makes these “empowerment scholarship accounts” available only to students with special needs, those living on reservations and youngsters in schools rated D or F.

By the 2018 school year all restrictions would be gone. And the following year, the numerical cap on vouchers, currently 0.5 percent of all students in public schools, self-destructs.

The only restriction that would be left is that a student first has to attend a public school. But that need not be for more than 100 days. And it could be in kindergarten.

“It’s a huge step forward for school choice for our parents and students throughout the state,” said Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, the prime sponsor of SB1279.

Sen. Steve Farley had some harsh words about this vote.

This is the end of public education in Arizona,” he said, calling it “an abomination.”

Farley pointed out that the first vouchers were approved in 2011 for “a small number of kids with very specific needs

“Let’s be clear on what this is,” Farley said. “This blows that out of the water.”

He also said the timing could not be worse.

Farley pointed out the legislation comes ahead of a May 17 special election for Proposition 123. Voters are being asked to divert money already in an education trust account to make up for the fact that lawmakers failed to comply with a voter-approved law to increase state aid to public schools annually to account for inflation.

“If we think we’re going to get voters to vote on (Proposition) 123 at the same time as we’re gutting our public school system with bills like this that would devastate the public school system, I don’t know how we think we’re going to make that sale,” Farley said.

If this were Pakistan, it would be the nominally secular government paying Pakistani parents to send their kids to madrassas. But we are a nation under god so that can't be right. Right?

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