UGH! Right on the heels of my last post about why school vouchers are a bad idea, comes the Arizona Supreme Court ruling yesterday that private-school vouchers are legal. Okay, so there goes my belief that we had at least one sane decision making body in Phoenix! In fact, they ruled without comment, refusing to override a Court of Appeals decision which said empowerment scholarship accounts “do not run afoul of a state constitutional provision that bars public funds from being used to subsidize private and parochial schools since parents decide where the money goes, not state officials.
This logic reminds me of another disastrous Supreme Court (the real one) decision that rule corporations are people and allowed unprecedented influence in our electoral system by the über-wealthy. I mean really? Because parents decide where the money goes, my tax dollars can be used to pay for private or parochial schools? What happened to separation of church and state? Why even the Arizona constitution states it is illegal to use tax dollars for religious worship or instruction. In his ruling, appellate Judge Jon Thompson said nothing in the program amounts to the state providing funds for religious worship or instruction. He wrote: “The ESA students are pursuing a basic secondary education consistent with state standards, they are not pursuing a course of religious study.” Wow! That’s an amazing leap of faith (no pun intended) since lawmakers have continually fought any attempt to attach any kind of accountability to the ESAs and private and parochial schools already aren’t held to the same kind of accountability and transparency requirements as public schools. That’s like the US Supreme Court’s statement about Citizens United that they had no reason to believe declaring corporations people would adversely affect elections.
This latest court ruling now clears the way for legislation currently working its way through the full House that would boost eligibility to 800,000 students in Arizona. This, despite the fact that the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) said this plan would cost more than the current budget ($12.5 million by 2019) for education because vouchers would be available to kindergartners who might otherwise have attended private schools anyway at parental expense.
I am livid! Why does a parent’s right to choose override my right to ensure my tax dollars are well spent and produce the right results? As a school board member, I am directly engaged in governance at the local level. Our Board meetings are open to the public and their comment is encouraged. Together, in a spirit of transparency and cooperation, we work to ensure our student’s best interests are paramount. When a child attends a private or parochial school on my taxpayer dime, I won’t know what he or she is being taught, how well he or she learned it, or what percentage of my money actually went directly to their education. In that the funding can also be used for curriculum, testing, tutors (without any certification), special needs services or therapies, or even seed money for college, there is zero accountability for ensuring the public’s interests are represented in ensuring a well-educated electorate. That is why the Arizona School Boards Association has strongly opposed vouchers and fought this court battle.
This is a bad decision which will produce bad results. It will most certainly do what proponents are intending for it to do – accelerate the death of our public schools, at the very least, accentuating a two-tiered system of haves and have-nots. And that, I believe, will lead to the eventual liquidation of our democracy. Don’t believe me? Just sit back, do nothing and watch the destruction.