The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:
State law HB 2853, also known as “Arizona Empowerment Scholarships,” should be a serious concern to Arizona voters. Putting this law into practice will reduce future funding of district public schools at the rate of $7,000 per student. Passed on a party-line vote by Republican members of the Arizona Legislature with a one-vote majority, this law is one more nail in the coffin of public education in our state.
The concept of a “common good” is rooted in a social contract. It is a belief that we are stronger as a state and as a nation when we provide for the well-being of all members of society.
In Arizona for more than a century, a universally available public education has been one component of that important social contract (see Article XI of the Arizona Constitution). Public education advocates support the belief that providing high-quality education for all young people is a way to ensure the economic health of our state and the successful continuation of our democracy.
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Taxes are collected to fund the common good. When we pay state taxes, those monies are not for the upkeep of the road in front of only our home or business, nor for police and fire fighters to protect only our own family or property. Public tax funds are not intended to follow your child or grandchild to a private or parochial school.
After eliminating public education funds that would have been made available through voter-approved Proposition 208, and while working with a $5.6 billion budget surplus, the 2022 Arizona Legislature allocated an additional $526 million for K-12 schools to improve teacher salaries. Then they passed HB2853 and made sure that Arizona Empowerment Scholarship monies will be taken from this additional funding.
In 2018, Arizona voters rejected expanding school vouchers by a 2-to-1 margin. With the Arizona Empowerment Scholarships, the Republican legislature has once again made an end run around the will of the voters. This universal voucher expansion allows any Arizona student to apply for a “scholarship” to attend private or parochial school. There are no financial or educational need criteria for obtaining these tax monies. And unlike public schools, the private and parochial schools at which students can use these funds are not held accountable for student learning outcomes or for how taxpayer funds are spent.
According to Capitol Media Services and as reported in the Arizona Daily Star, 6,500 Arizona students have applied for these taxpayer-funded universal vouchers as of Sept. 2. Of those 6,500 applicants, 75% are already attending private and parochial schools. So privileged Arizona families will be getting taxpayer-funded gifts, while less well-off children will be shortchanged in inadequately funded district public schools. And as Gov. Ducey’s press aide C.J. Karamargin notes: “It is just getting started.”
In Arizona today, where 90% of students attend district public schools, taxpayer funds are at work building our state’s future. Today’s under-served public school students may be your children, grandchildren, or young relatives. Tomorrow they may be your neighbors, your employees, your grandchild’s teachers, your doctor or dentist, or your grocery store worker. They will definitely be your fellow citizens who will vote and join you in determining the shape of the common good in our state.
It’s not too late to stop this improper use of our taxes. If you haven’t already signed the petition to repeal HB2853, please go to the “Save Our Schools Arizona” website to learn where you can sign. At least 118,823 valid signatures must be turned in before Sept. 24, 2022.
The repeal initiative will stop the expansion until voters have the opportunity on the 2024 ballot to vote for or against vouchers that divert public funds from public education. Please sign today! Our K-12 students are counting on you.
Judi Moreillon is a public education advocate, former school librarian, and retired classroom teacher and librarian educator. She lives in Tucson.