State Capitol News
10:59 am
Tue January 25, 2011

Brewer to Look at Law that Governs Scholarships for Private and Parochial Schools

Phoenix, AZ – The 1997 law allows individuals to give up to $500 a year to
organizations that provide these scholarships. The key is that
donors get a dollar-for-dollar state tax credit. That means every
dollar provided to help students attend private and parochial
schools means a dollar less in state revenues. In 2009 more than
$50 million was diverted. And Brewer last year signed a law
allowing even larger credits after lawmakers rejected any
requirement for scholarship recipients to prove need. The issue
arose Monday in a question during a press conference to promote
school choice. It also comes as Brewer proposes to give public
schools only $10 million for maintenance and renewal instead of
the $243 million they're supposed to get. The governor said
that's because of the state's fiscal crisis.

(And we're doing everything in our power to do the very best job
that is possible with the dollars that we have. And I will remind
you, and I know it's beginning to sound a little bit like a
broken record, but there is nothing more important to me than
education.)

But that still left the question of whether there should be means
test for those getting these scholarships.

(We'll, it's certainly something that we probably should discuss.
Maybe there's somebody in the audience that would like to answer
that.)

No one came forward. Proponents of the tax credits say the
amount of lost tax dollars is less than the cost of per-student
state aid to public schools. But aside from the lack of a
requirement to prove need, the funds also can go to parents who
already were sending their children to private and parochial
schools, with or without scholarship help. After the press
conference, newly installed state school superintendent John
Huppenthal said he opposes limiting the scholarship help to those
with an identified need. He said that has no more merit than
requiring parents who are wealthy to pay tuition to send their
children to public schools.

(Right now, we have a lot of people who are benefitting from our
public school system. We don't means test public school. It's the
same issue to me. I wouldn't ever consider means testing tuition
tax credits. I consider these students to be part of the public
students and part of the public school system.)

The entire question could become moot if the U.S. Supreme Court
accepts the argument of foes of the credits that they are
unconstitutional. In 2002 the high court upheld an Ohio law
providing vouchers of taxpayer dollars to parents to send their
children to any school they want, even parochial schools. The
justices said the program constitutes true private choice where
parents decide where to use the vouchers. But the high court is
now reviewing a 9th Circuit ruling which found the Arizona
credits illegal. The appellate judges said this is different
because it is the organizations that accept the donations and
give out the aid who decide where those scholarships can be used.
And the largest organizations in the state give scholarships to
parents only if they agree to send a child to a religious school.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule this spring. For Arizona
Public Radio this is Howard Fischer.