• July 21st, 2024
  • Sunday, 08:21:37 AM

Universal Vouchers Dramatically Defund and Divide

Photo: Beth Lewis Beth Lewis


Beth Lewis


The argument made by Republican lawmakers that universal vouchers would “free children from a broken school system” was utterly destroyed recently when the Arizona Department of Education reported that 75% of families seeking new Empowerment Scholarship Accounts have never stepped foot in a public school.


Under Gov. Doug Ducey’s newly expanded voucher program, 85,000 current private school and homeschool families are eligible to take nearly $7,000 per child out of local schools and into their own pockets, potentially stripping $600 million or more from public schools every year — all for families who aren’t even choosing a different school system.


Arizona voters have to stop letting the extremist Republicans in power in this state continue to set the house on fire in order to claim their insurance money. We have one — and only one — opportunity to stop the privatization of public schools, and that’s by signing the Stop Voucher Expansion petition to stop universal voucher expansion so we can have the final say at the ballot box.


Our public schools are filled with amazing teachers and staff doing incredible work for children every single day, with only a fraction of the resources they need. Why? Because the very same folks who have myopically forced through vouchers year after year have systematically defunded public education in an effort to prop up privatized voucher schools as an alternative.


Let’s be abundantly clear: Ducey’s universal voucher expansion is a grift, a massive cash grab by for-profit operators. The bill was written in such a way to defund the public schools that serve 1.1 million Arizona kids. Lawmakers knew it when they passed the law, and they did it anyway, defying the will of millions of Arizona voters.


So, where is the voucher money going? The real answer is that no one knows. Lawmakers stripped any and all transparency or accountability from the bill. The result is that taxpayer dollars will be going to for-profit operators opening up in strip malls with zero experience in education and no safety standards.


What’s worse, taxpayer dollars will go to private academies that discriminate and cherry-pick their students, creating a two-tiered system that leaves the vast majority of Arizona children behind. Our taxpayer dollars will even be diverted to radical indoctrination camps, like Turning Point USA Academy, which teaches hateful ideology to kids.


The bill was written in such a way to defund the public schools that serve 1.1 million Arizona kids.


Our public dollars will be siphoned to home education “experiences,” such as home gyms, snow cone machines, family whale watching tours, dog grooming tools and costly playplace memberships. Meanwhile, teachers will continue to dig into their own pockets to provide supplies, PTOs will fundraise to provide basics like paper and Kleenex, and kids in our local public schools will go without resources, field trips, and extracurriculars.


At the end of the day, this is a moral issue. Families who choose to take the $7,000 handout for their private schools and homeschools need to recognize that those dollars are taken directly out of public schools.


And here’s the grim reality:  Arizona lawmakers could have written a bill that allocated funding for these vouchers separately, instead of robbing funds from local public schools. Should families who have never chosen public schools take those funds, or is it imperative to keep public funds in the public schools that serve 1.1 million children with accountability to taxpayers?


Universal vouchers mean the end of public education as we know it in Arizona. It’s time to put voucher expansion on the ballot for the voters to have a final say on where their taxpayer dollars go, and what kind of society we want to have.


Beth Lewis is the director of Save Our Schools Arizona, as well as a Tempe educator and parent. This oped is republished from  Arizona Mirror under a Creative Commons license.


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