Top Public School Official’s Robocall Encourages Parents to Look at Private Education

Feb 13, 2014

The state’s top school official is defending his efforts to tell parents they can use tax dollars to send their children to private and parochial schools. Arizona Public Radio’s Howard Fischer reports.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal
Credit Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer

The controversy surrounds a robocall John Huppenthal made on behalf of the Alliance for School Choice.

“I want you to know about a state program that provides money for parents to offer alternative education choices for their children, including private school. That’s right. You may be able to send your child to private school for free,” Huppenthal said on the recording.

Huppenthal is referring to a voucher-like program now available to students with special needs and any youngster in a school rated D or F by the Department of Education. It provides what’s called a scholarship good for up to 90 percent of what the state would pay to send the child to public schools. About 200,000 of the state’s 1.1 million children already are eligible to opt out of public schools — and take their dollars with them. And, legislation pending this year could eventually extend that to all youngsters. The call angered Arizona Education Association President Andrew Morrill.

“I think it’s very unfortunate that the elected leader of our public instruction system, public school system — and, by the way, I think that’s distinction without a difference in this case — saw fit to encourage parents to leave that system,” Morrill said.

Huppenthal refused to be interviewed. But in a prepared statement he said he was simply trying “to appraise parents of a unique program, not advocate for private school instruction over that of a public school education.”