State School Voucher System Suffers Potentially Fatal Setback

Apr 18, 2014

A proposal to sharply expand the use of tax dollars to send students to private and parochial schools suffered a severe — and perhaps fatal — setback Thursday as the state House defeated the plan. Arizona Public Radio’s Howard Fischer reports.

Rep. Ethan Orr
Credit Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer

The vouchers, good for about $5,400, have been available to students with special needs and youngsters in schools rated D or F. This measure would expand that to anyone living in a zip code where the average income is below about $44,000 a year. Rep. Justin Olson said denying more vouchers means denying parental choice.

“That is an arrogant point of view to think that I know better for your kids than you know for your own kids,” Olson said. 

But, Rep. Heather Carter said there already is parental choice, including open enrollment at any public school and a large system of charter schools. She said vouchers essentially give a state-funded debit card to parents.

“And so what’s happening now is that we are driving taxpayer dollars into a system of private schools,” Carter said.

And, Rep. Ethan Orr said giving out more vouchers, known by supporters as educational scholarship accounts, is premature until the state properly funds its public schools.

“We should continue this dialogue of engaging our parents and giving the parents the ability to work with ESAs and put their children in private schools, but not until our public schools are something we are truly proud of,” Orr said.