Advocates of school choice are trying to legalize education vouchers for students in failing public schools.
The move comes a year after the Arizona Supreme Court deemed earlier voucher programs unconstitutional.
This time, supporters want to go straight to voters, asking them to repeal a constitutional prohibition against using taxpayer money to aid private or sectarian schools and churches, and then authorize the creation of a voucher program.
The proposal that was adopted by the Senate Education Committee on April 7 is more expansive than previous voucher programs that were tailored to assist children with disabilities and those under foster care.
The strike-everything amendment on HCR2057 would allow any student who attends a school labeled as “failing” to receive a grant to attend a private school. It would be called the Parental Education Choice Grant Program.
The amount of the grant would be equal to what it costs to educate that student in a public school.
The proposal’s next stop is the Senate floor. If passed, voters will have the final say in November.
Critics said the proposal diverts funding away from the public school system and lamented what they view as some lawmakers’ readiness to help private schools at the expense of public schools.
“For me it goes back to the foundation of our democracy, which is having an educated citizenry. That’s what public education is about – to make sure that all American citizens have the opportunity to go to school and to learn and to become participants in our democracy,” said Senate Minority Whip Linda Lopez, a Democrat from Tucson.
“When you start privatizing that, when you starting diverting funds from our public education to go into private and parochial schools, I believe you undermine the foundation of our democracy,” she said.
But Sen. John Huppenthal, chairman of the Senate Education Committee and author of the “striker” to HCR2057, said voucher programs have proven to improve the performance of public schools.
Poorly performing public schools work to turn around the situation when faced with the possibility of student migration to other schools, according to the Chandler Republican.
He said Florida’s failing schools improved in the short time that it had a voucher program. He said the improvement was apparent before that state’s court struck down the program as unconstitutional.
“If your district’s school is failing to educate you, you as a member of the public … have the right to an education,” Huppenthal said. “Obviously you’re not getting an education at a failing school so it’s probably incorrect to even call it a public school. A failing school is not really a school.”