State Capitol News
8:57 am
Tue February 11, 2014

House Committee Votes to Boost Voucher Education

The House Ways and Means Committee voted Monday to allow hundreds of thousands of children to attend private and parochial schools at public expense, a vote one legislator said is part of a radical agenda to destroy public schools. Arizona Public Radio’s Howard Fischer reports.

Rep. Bruce Wheeler
Credit azpm.org

The law first approved in 2010 allowed students with special needs to get what amounts to a voucher of state tax funds to be educated outside of public schools. Since then what’s been called empowerment scholarship accounts are now available for youngsters attending schools rated D or F, boosting the potential total to 200,000. This measure says anyone eligible for free or reduced lunch programs also would qualify. Rep. Bruce Wheeler said that covers about 600,000 youngsters, potentially taking $3.6 billion away from public schools.

“Certain extremist elements in this state have perpetrated on us to take away our empowerment from families and children by defunding public education even further, resulting in larger classroom sizes and less curriculum to choose from and a degradation of our traditional public school system,” Wheeler said.

He said the ultimate goal of supporters is the “destruction of our education system.” That brought an angry response from Rep. Debbie Lesko.

“The intent of my bill is definitely not to hurt or destroy the public school system and does nothing to that effect. In fact, my own children go to the traditional public school system,” Lesko said.

But, Lesko said there’s no reason for the state to fund public schools for students who no longer go there.