Voucher petitions

Arizona voters refused Tuesday to ratify a bid by Gov. Doug Ducey and Republican lawmakers to allow any of the state’s 1.1 million students in public schools to get vouchers of state tax dollars to attend private and parochial schools.

Early returns showed a majority of voters want to limit the voucher program to those who already qualify for the state dollars. A vote for the measure would have removed all preconditions for students to get vouchers.

The vote on Proposition 305 followed a poorly financed campaign by proponents of “school choice” to uphold the 2017 changes in the law governing what are officially known as “empowerment scholarship accounts.” Foes of the expansion not only had more money — about $600,000 versus $54,000 for the pro-305 campaign — but also took advantage of the tailwind of the support by many Arizonans for more dollars for public education.

Vouchers were first approved in 2011 to provide alternatives for students with special physical or emotional needs that their parents said could not be met at either traditional public or charter schools.

But supporters made it clear from the start that their plan was eventually to allow any student to get public dollars for a private education.

Since then there has been a near constant expansion of eligibility, to the point where it includes foster children, children living on reservations and those attending public schools rated D or F. About 4,500 youngsters currently get the vouchers.

The original 2017 proposal would have phased in those universal vouchers.

That proved politically unacceptable. So the final legislation removed all the preconditions for getting a voucher, but with a cap of about 30,000 by 2022.

But even before the governor’s signature was fully dried, Darcy Olson, then the chief executive of the Goldwater Institute, boasted to supporters that “we will get it lifted.”

All that energized those who contend that vouchers effectively siphon money from public schools.

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