Governor Napolitano said she still opposes vouchers, but accepted several measures helping students afford private schools to gain legislative approval of additional spending for all-day kindergarten, teacher pay and other priorities.
“That’s what we needed to do to get something out of the Legislature and move the state ahead,” Ms. Napolitano said recently after the Legislature adjourned. “The whole social service side of the budget was underfunded originally so to restore some of that, this was just part of the compromise that was reached.”
The Democratic governor’s acceptance of the measures as part of a budget compromise with GOP lawmakers has drawn praise from school-choice advocates and strong criticism from the president of the state’s largest
Ms. Napolitano signed bills creating two small voucher programs for foster and disabled children.
She also let a bill doubling the amount of tax-credit funding for private school tuition grants become law without her signature. After vetoing three previous versions, Ms. Napolitano earlier also let a bill to creating a corporate income tax credit for private school tuition grants become law without her signature.
Ms. Napolitano acted on the latest bills as part of the budget package for the fiscal year that began July 1, prompting school-choice advocates to hail the action.
Clint Bolick, president of the Phoenix-based Alliance for School Choice, said Arizona families owe “a huge debt” to Ms. Napolitano, Republican legislative leaders and advocacy groups “for moving us closer to fulfilling the promise of high-quality educational opportunities for every Arizona student.”
Ms. Napolitano herself did not mention the school-choice measures in session recaps that instead focused on her own priorities.
Governor conceded too much
However, the president of Arizona Education Association — a group often allied with Ms. Napolitano on education issues — said Ms. Napolitano conceded too much both in tax cuts and school-choice measures to get what she got.
“There is a fine line between expanding school choice and advancing a deliberate attack on public school funding,” said AEA President John Wright. “Expanding tax credits and adding vouchers clearly crosses that line and contradicts the governor’s commitment to public education.”
Asked about the criticism, Ms. Napolitano said both she and Republican lawmakers had to make concessions.
“The budget is a compromise and to get well over $400 million in new public education spending I had to compromise on a $4 million to $5 million program that can be used in private schools for foster care and special ed children,” she said. “I don’t like vouchers. I still believe that public money ought to go for public education.
“I know that there are members of the Legislature who hate all-day kindergarten and voted for the budget because it was part of the compromise,” she added.
Ms. Napolitano also said it was “open to question” whether the voucher programs would survive a legal challenge based on the Arizona Constitution’s prohibition against public funding for religious schools. “I suspect there, at some point, will be some litigation filed.”
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