Senator Sylvia Allen

Representative Bob Thorpe

Representative Brenda Barton

They represent Rim Country.

And they’ve apparently decided we don’t need free, universal public schools.

So they all three voted for vouchers — which will probably do even more damage to public schools in Arizona than our indifferent Legislature has done to this point by ensuring we have among worst-funded schools in the nation.

If they were parents of struggling children — that vote would take them from neglecting their children to outright abuse. Hard to know whether neglect or abuse does more harm to a child — but the combination is terrible.

They’ll argue that they voted for the $4,500-per-student vouchers as a way to empower parents and give lagging public schools a bracing dose of competition. They’ll argue that they want parents to have a choice, so low-income and special education students have an alternative to attending a failing public school.

Of course, that’s all nonsense — transparent, hypocritical, outrageous nonsense.

Certainly, those arguments served to insert the camel’s nose under the tent flap when the Legislature first foisted the misnamed “Empowerment Scholarships” on this state. When the Legislature first voted this terrible idea into law several years ago, lawmakers limited the vouchers to special education students who couldn’t get what they needed in public schools. That almost made sense. Then they expanded it to students in public school rated D or F, on the theory those kids should have an out. All right, that’s a superficially plausible argument. But after a couple additional senseless expansions, lawmakers have now dropped all pretenses. Granted, they left in place a cap on the total number of scholarships and the total amount per student — but they’ll likely be back next year to raise or eliminate those limits.

So, what will happen?

Our already shamefully underfunded public schools will grow more segregated as they bleed money and students. The richest, most pro-active families will move their children to private schools and our educational system will increasingly serve to harden class boundaries, rather than providing equal opportunity to all our children.

An investigation by The Arizona Republic revealed that already most of the voucher money’s going to pay private school tuition in rich neighborhoods. Lawmakers said they wanted to provide options for kids in failing schools — but actually, the rich parents are moving their children out of “A” and “B” ranked schools in wealthier neighborhoods.

That’s hardly surprising. The roughly $5,000 voucher will pay less than half of the tuition at your average private school. So only parents who can fork out another $6,000 per child to cover the balance of the tuition can afford to take the voucher.

Mind you, this abusive decision to divert millions of dollars from public schools follows years of shameful neglect. Arizona year after year has starved our schools for resources — cutting per-student funding to 40 percent below the national average. We rank somewhere between 48th and 50th nationally.

In the meantime, lawmakers have heaped one mandate after another on public schools, most of them more of a burden than a help.

You’d have thought legislative educational abusers like Thorpe, Barton and Allen would have been happy just to starve public schools and nurture charter schools. After all, publicly funded charter schools already give parents a choice. Granted, they don’t have to follow a lot of the burdensome rules that shackle public schools and aren’t nearly as accountable financially. And it’s also true that they add lots of fees, skip things like buses and have had the effect of increasing racial segregation almost everywhere they operate, according to an investigation by the Centers for Investigative Journalism. But at least charter schools remain public schools.

Not so voucher schools — or whatever else the parents do with the taxpayer money they take. So now a Legislature that has insisted on school ratings, legislated the number of periods in the day and heaped on layers of expensive oversight wants to give away a virtually unlimited amount of taxpayer money with no strings attached.

And so neglect degenerates into abuse.

But we’ll say one thing for the vote to cannibalize our public schools.

This vote strips away all pretense.

So just make a note.

Senator Sylvia Allen.

Rep. Bob Thorpe.

Rep. Brenda Barton.

They still represent Rim Country.

But make no mistake: They’re now the declared enemies of free, universal, public education.

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(2) comments

SJ Kirsch

Thank you for making this issue of universal vouchers and their consequences crystal clear. Voters across the state of Arizona time and time again make it clear that we support Public Education because the majority (85%) of AZ kids rely on their district schools. We need representatives who listen to their constituents. Gov. Ducey may be in the good graces of Betsy DeVos, but The People of the State of Arizona aren't having it any more. Our kids, our teachers, and our public schools deserve better.

Christine Senko

Agreed. Thank you!

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