Arizona House Was Right to Reject Voucher Expansion

AZ Daily Star, April 2, 2014 | Go to article overview

Arizona House Was Right to Reject Voucher Expansion


The Arizona House has wisely put the brakes on a push to give taxpayer money to private schools through tuition vouchers worth about $5,400 per child.

The legislation, approved by the state Senate, would give vouchers worth about $5,400 to families living in ZIP codes where the average income is less than $44,000, which is 185 percent of the federal poverty line for a family of four.

The vote Thursday was 31-27 to kill the proposal, but it could be revived this week.

Setting aside the matter of diverting taxpayers' money to pay private, sometimes religious, school tuition, the fuzzy numbers surrounding the discussion are worrisome.

The legislation, HB 2291, would build on Arizona's existing voucher program, which covers students in foster care, kids of active-duty military members, children with disabilities and students who attend schools rated D or F by the state.

Estimates based on those existing categories of eligibility range from 60,000 to 150,000 kids. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, would add eligibility for 112,000 more.

That's a lot of money to take out of the public school system and put into private schools -- assuming they had the capacity and willingness to take them.

But Lesko said Arizona law caps the number of new vouchers each year to about 5,400 students, according to a report from Capitol Media Services. This limitation raises more questions.

Siphoning money from public schools, which are already underfunded, doesn't make sense, said Rep. Ethan Orr, R-Tucson.

"Parental choice starts with well-funded and well-functioning public schools," Orr said. Talking about vouchers should happen "once we fix our funding formulas, once we make our public school system one of the best in the nation."

As Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, pointed out, Arizona has a plethora of school choice. …

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Arizona House Was Right to Reject Voucher Expansion
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