Saturday, February 27, 2016

Empowerment Scholarships for All? Arizona taxpayers would empower the rich to get richer.

Let's not kid ourselves. Two bills in the legislature provide for vouchers for all: Republican Rep. Justin Olson’s HB2482 is a mirror bill to Republican Sen. Debbie Lesko’s SB1279. These vouchers on steroids bills do two things: (1) they enable transfers of public tax dollars to private, often religious, schools, and (2) they provide a taxpayer-funded benefit to those families who can already afford to pay for a quality private school. David Safier at Tucson Weekly/The Range explains.

... let's just look at the majority of children who don't need any special assistance. Let's estimate their ESAs are $4,000 a year and see what that will buy on the private school market. It won't pay most private elementary school tuitions, and it won't come close to paying most private high school tuitions. You can find schools whose tuition is in that ballpark, but the institutions have to scrimp on staff and services unless they're heavily subsidized. Really, the only reason to send a child to one of those low tuition schools is to get a religious education. Over 70 percent of Arizona's private schools are religiously affiliated—the percentage is similar around the country—and the schools with rock bottom prices aren't known for providing a quality education in non-religious subjects.

If parents want to send their children to what most people would consider a quality private school, one they might expect to provide a better education than a district school or charter, they're probably going to have to kick in a substantial amount of tuition money on their own, then they'll have to pay for textbooks, general supplies and other "extras." That means the people who will benefit most from the ESA money are upper middle class or upper class parents who can already afford the schools or come close. And benefit they would! They'd get a $4,000 scholarship to the expensive private school of their choice, courtesy of the taxpayer. As a bonus, they wouldn't have to worry about their children rubbing elbows with the riff raff, even those with ESAs. Lower income kids couldn't afford the school even with a $4,000 ESA boost, and if they could figure out a way to scrape the money together, well, remember, private schools can pick and choose which students they enroll, so it wouldn't be hard to figure out ways to exclude members of the great unwashed even if they somehow had the money.

The people who will benefit most from ESAs are people who can already afford private school or are only a few thousand dollars short of affording it, which should be a surprise to no one who has even a nodding acquaintance with Republican priorities. All those upper income folks have to do is put their children in public school for a hundred days, and they're golden through high school graduation.

Status: the AZ Senate passed SB 1279 along party lines. HB 2482 is still "retained on calendar" pending the GOPlin effort to scrape up more votes for it.

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