Advisory Update - Education
Empowerment Scholarships – Vouchers. HB2394 and SB1431. Supporters of public education need to show up, stand up, speak up for public education else Arizona may become the first state in the nation to extend this form of voucher to all children. Two bills are being fast tracked through the legislature and each has passed their respective Education Committee, been okayed by their Rules Committee and have had two readings on both the House and Senate floor. They could be voted on at any moment. The Senate bill 1431 and the House bill 2394 both would expand these vouchers – valued at just over $5,000 per year over a four year period to all Arizona children. Currently, there is a cap that limits the number, but the cap expires in 2019 and once it expires, there could be a significant exodus from public schools, and the students would take the money into a debit card that they can then use to attend a private or religious school or be home schooled, or used for some other purposes. They can even put the money into an education savings account and use it to go to college. Opponents believe this would wreck the public school system. The Joint Legislative Budget Council (JLBC) threw some possible cold water on this idea by saying that it would cost the state $13.9 million by 2020 if 2.6% of the children elect to take the money from their public school and go to a religious or private school (or be home schooled). The cost would rise to $24.5 million or more if more than 2.6% sign up for the program. SB1491 even added that the student does not first even have to be attending a public school to apply. Opponents are concerned that this opens the program up for even more possibility of fraud since the program would have no way of knowing who the student actually is. The only previous audit of the program found numerous examples of fraud and an almost frightening lack of accountability. The advantages mainly go to middle and upper middle class families, since the vouchers are not enough to actually pay the full price of private or religious schools. And, the ability to save the money or collect it and then home school the children, leaves the entire program with little accountability. This is especially troublesome since another bill, SB1281, permits students to stay on the program until they are 22 years old. Yet, the program has no real way of tracking to insure that the student is actually being educated at all. There is unified Democratic opposition and some Republican opposition which might grow as the supporters will have a hard time now, as a result of the JLBC cost analysis, claiming that this program actually saves money for the state.
As people of faith, please make a difference by supporting quality education for ALL the children of Arizona. Go to www.azleg.gov/memberroster/ for your representatives, bill information, etc. PLEASE CALL OR E-MAIL TODAY.
An excellent wrap-up of education bills and some good talking points about Empowerment scholarships can be found on the ASBA (Arizona School Board Association) web site. http://azsba.org/advocacy/positions/#1o1a-web-report.
The above information has been provided by the Valley Unitarian Universalist weekly Arizona Legislative Alert written by Anne L. Schneider, PhD., retired ASU Professor of Public Policy. If you want to be added to the e-mail list, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Submitted by Jo Vredenburg, Desert Palm UCC, Tempe,
Member of Justice and Witness and Greater Phoenix UCC Justice Network