Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Ducey says no more voucher expansion "for now"

The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) reports that After signing ESA bill, Ducey vows no more school voucher expansion measures for now.

For now.

Gov. Doug Ducey today said lifting an enrollment cap that will be imposed as a school voucher program expands is “not even a consideration.”

At least not at this time.

Ducey signed a bill on April 6 expanding Empowerment Scholarship Accounts to all children. The program, which would give students about $4,400 a year on average to attend a private school instead of a public one, is currently limited to disabled students, students residing in tribal areas, foster children, children of military families and kids in failing schools.

Under SB1431, any pupil will be eligible for a voucher, though growth will be capped at 0.5 percent of the state’s student population, or about 5,500 new students per year, which translates to approximately 30,000 spots by 2022.

Also under the bill, the ESA enrollment level in 2022 will become the hard cap going forward.

An amendment from Republican Sen. Bob Worsley of Mesa added the cap. Supporters said the amendment was necessary to get the approval of majorities in both the House and Senate.

Ducey said today he signed the bill because of Worsley’s amendment, which he called a compromise and a fiscally responsible route to expanding school choice.

“There is not going to be any bill that comes up on expansion. We are going to see how this bill works, and then I imagine there will be improvements and reforms along the way,” Ducey said.

Before Ducey could even sign the bill last week, the Goldwater Institute, a major force behind school choice expansion, sent an email to its funders saying there is more work to be done on the cap.

“We will get it lifted,” said Darcy Olsen, the Goldwater Institute’s CEO.

Worsley told Capitol Media Services earlier this week that it was “deplorable” for the Goldwater Institute to say it wants the cap lifted.

Over the next six years, the program will be an “experiment” in school choice to see what happens with the voucher program, Worsley said.

Earlier this week, Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato wouldn’t say whether Ducey is committed to keeping the cap in place, saying he hadn’t heard of any plans to get rid of it.

“You’re talking about a hypothetical in a hypothetical Legislature in a hypothetical future,” Scarpinato said. “It would not have passed without those amendments. There’s a lot of things people want. But part of the policymaking process is the art of the possible. And this was the possible.”

More vouchers, more money laundered from public ed funds. That is what Ducey apparently had in mind when he promised that Prop 123 was the first step. Beware: the Goldwater Institute is planning Step 3.

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