The Arizona House voted to expand Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (vouchers) again yesterday and just about every Representative felt compelled to explain their vote. Wait, could there have been a television reporter in the house? Why yes, there was. The votes were along party lines, and predictably, the Democrats spoke to the damage the voucher movement will continue to do to our public schools, where 84 percent of Arizona’s student still attend. Representative Hale, representing parts of the Navajo nation, spoke passionately about the unique challenges in educating children on the reservation and how taking educational funding away from them to give to areas where there are plenty of options is just wrong. On the Republican side, it was all about parental choice and that parents know best, but no discussion about increased transparency and accountability. Once again in fact, Representative Meyer’s amendment to HB2139 (a “strike everything bill”), was defeated although it merely would have ensured accountability for results when taxpayer dollars are diverted to private schools via the ESAs.
I was up at the AZ Capitol yesterday with a group of pro-public education supporters who rode the Bus4Ed sponsored by the Holt for AZ Senate Campaign. Several of the participants were dismayed at the arguments made by Republicans in support of the vouchers. One, a teacher in an accommodation school, couldn’t believe the non-sensical, hypocritical justifications made in favor of the vouchers.
Of course, the actions of the GOP in the AZ Legislature with regard to education don’t make sense only if you believe they are working to improve public education. If you are more realistic and understand the ALEC and corporate reformer driven privatization agenda for public education. One of the arguments for vouchers presented by a GOP representative was that “only 752 Arizona children were on ESAs at this time so what’s the big deal?” Well, the big deal is that we know from experience and from what is currently on the table that the end game for the AZ GOP it to make every child eligible for the vouchers. First, the expansion was for those students attending a school or district assigned a D or F grade, then all children who are eligible to attend kindergarten, then a child of a parent in the armed forces, a child who is a ward of the juvenile court, then a child who is the sibling of a current or previous voucher recipient. Then, there was the attempt to expand to all first responder’s children which eventually turned into include all those who are eligible for free or reduced lunch programs and finally, to all students in a Title 1 school. In Arizona, that number equals about 73% of our students, or about 900,000.
Vouchers are not about school choice, that’s just the smokescreen. They are about the redistribution of our taxpayer dollars to transparent, accountable, locally-led community public schools to private schools that are not accountable to anyone. It is a zero-sum game. The vast majority of private schools cost more than what the vouchers will provide and only those with means will be able to take advantage of them. Yes, that’s right. Those who don’t need the help will get it and those who are desperate for the help will just get more desperate, stuck in public schools starved for resources.