There is unquestionably little concern in the Arizona Capitol regarding the citizens of Arizona. This is a scary and sad situation that needs to be watched, dragged out into the light of day, and eventually, rectified.
While this statement more or less applies to many areas, the issue of school vouchers, or Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, is the most blatant.
When citizens organized and stopped SB1431 – the universal expansion of vouchers – from going forward, they accomplished something never done before. They gathered over 111,000 in 90 days to put this on the ballot. Next, they mobilized to make sure Arizonans across the state understood the harmful effects of ESAs draining taxpayer funds from public schools. And that worked too. By an overwhelming 2 to 1 margin, Proposition 305 went down in defeat, sending a clear message that Arizonans want taxpayer money to stay in public education – not to be syphoned off, bit by bit, to private schools, parochial schools, home schools with little oversight and less accountability.
Luckily, our local legislators and governor acknowledged the call, admitted defeat, and buried the issue once and for all. Just kidding. No, their response was to start working to expand vouchers almost immediately. They didn’t go all-out crazy, trying to expand it universally. They are trying to inch it forward bit by bit. They are proposing bills to increase the number and scope of students allowed to take advantage of these ESAs.
Why? Because the majority in the legislature and our governor are desperate to get this done. They want privatization of public schools here in Arizona so that they don’t have to deal with the continual funding issues. When SB1431 passed, Governor Ducey celebrated by sharing the three tweets he received congratulating him – ultra-conservative Grover Norquist, Jeb Bush, and Betsy DeVos. When SB1431 got put on hold, Ducey doubled-down stating from a Koch Brothers’ retreat that he wasn’t elected to play small ball… that this issue (vouchers) was important to Arizona.
So, the will of the people has gone ignored. The majority of Arizonans, 95 percent, prefer the public schools of Arizona and want them funded. They are not against school choice. They are not wanting to dismantle the current ESA system. These are both frequent comments that seem aimed at dividing the public against one another.
At a recent Senate Finance Committee hearing, Save Our Schools argued against yet another bill that expands the scope of vouchers, while ESA parents with children in tow, espoused how ESAs have been a godsend for their child. The chair of the Finance Committee, J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, upon hearing from SOS Arizona co-founder Dawn Penich-Thacker that no one wants to take ESAs away from these families, seemed shocked. Really? This has been an ongoing issue in Arizona for two years and he’s just now getting this? Questionable. However, he was not hiding his acceptance of using taxpayer dollars to let families send their students to private parochial schools. He stated that this was acceptable since public schools don’t teach this indoctrination curriculum. This seems to be a clear abuse of the separation of church and state in the constitution. Senator Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, read something he said was in the constitution that backed up a parent’s choice of where to school their children. He conveniently ignored the fact that there is no mention of taxpayers paying for whatever education a parent chooses.
So, the fight continues because those in power do not care. So we watch. We attend hearings. We fill committee rooms. We report. We post. We tweet. We expose. We write these letters. We keep pushing the truth against those that want to twist, ignore or deny the facts. Then we make sure that come November 2020, we help citizens connect the dots. The dots that connect legislative votes and actions with the nefarious agendas they are pushing. It’s one thing to vote down a horrible bill like Proposition 305, it’s another to vote out the legislators that got the voucher ball rolling in the first place.
— Jeff Fortney has been teaching special education in Arizona since 2004.