Time is running out to block the state's new school voucher law
You've got a few weeks left if you want to sign a referendum petition to let voters overturn one of the most controversial education laws passed in this year's legislative session.
Save Our Schools Arizona has to collect a minimum of 75,321 valid signatures from registered voters before Aug. 8 in order to put a hold on SB 1431, which would extend school vouchers for any public school student. If the referendum drive is successful, the law will not go into effect until voters give it a final OK on the November 2018 ballot—and referendum backers hope that the voters will resoundingly reject it.
The state has slowly expanded the use of "empowerment scholarship accounts," or ESAs, since they were first created in 2011. The accounts essentially give parents who pull their kids from public schools a debit card worth close to $5,000 that can be used to pay tuition at private and religious schools, or to buy school supplies for home-schooled students, or even saved for future education costs.
ESAs have previously been limited to special classes of children, such as learning-disabled kids, foster children or children who live on Native American reservations. Roughly 3,000 students now take advantage of the program.
But the new legislation removes those qualifying criteria. While the number of ESAs is limited to 30,000 students through 2022, critics of the legislation say that cap could be lifted by future legislatures. Indeed, right after the bill passed, Goldwater Institute Executive Director Darcy Olsen sent out a triumphant letter to supporters promising to have the cap lifted next year, although she later apologized for the premature call.
Critics of the legislation complain that it will drain more money from public schools at a time when the state is spending less than nearly any other state.
Dawn Penich-Thacker, an ASU professor who is leading the referendum effort, says the expansion of vouchers will benefit Arizona's highest earners at the expense of the majority of schoolchildren.
"Arizona is already the bottom of the barrel when it comes to how much we invest in our public school system," Penich-Thacker said. "We believe to come up with a program that takes even more money out of the public school system is highly problematic. This is very definition of taking from the many in order to privilege the few."
Penich-Thacker suggested that, because tuition at most private schools is higher than the voucher provided by the state, many families that would take advantage of the program would likely still need to subsidize the education, so it would mostly benefit higher earners who decide to pull their kids from public schools.
"A very average private school tuition is $15,000 a year, and that's for one student," Penich-Thacker said. "The vouchers can be as low as $5,000 per year, so that means that that family has to make up $10,000 a year per child in order to go to that private school. And this is exactly why studies have shown that vouchers are used almost exclusively by affluent families already paying private school tuition, and now this voucher is a coupon for them."
The referendum effort does not have a big money backer, so Penich-Thacker is counting on volunteers to gather the necessary signatures.
"We have an amazing force of volunteers across the state," Penich-Thacker said. "We have hundreds right here in Southern Arizona. These are parents, teachers, grandparents, concerned citizens, retirees who are literally hitting the streets, standing outside of libraries, carrying petitions to their families and friends and just collecting as many signatures as possible. It's going very well because so many people want education to be prioritized for once in Arizona."
If you want to find out how you can sign the petition, visit saveourschoolsarizona.org.
Meet Your Candidates
Ward 3 hopefuls appear in a televised forum this Friday
The three Democrats who want to replace the retiring Karin Uhlich on the Tucson City Council will meet in a televised Zona Politics forum this Friday, July 14.
Retired attorney Paul Durham, business owner Tom Tronsdal and teacher Felicia Chew will discuss major issues facing the city of Tucson with Zona Politics host Jim Nintzel.
The show airs at 6:30 Friday night and repeats at 9 a.m. Sunday morning on Cox Channel 20 and Xfinity Channel 74. The forum will also air at 5 p.m. Sunday on community radio KXCI, 91.3 FM.
Longtime radio host John C. Scott is off the air again, at least for now
John C. Scott has been a radio fixture since the late '80s, bouncing from frequency to frequency with his political forum.
Now it appears his latest effort—creating a progressive radio AM station—has stalled out following a series of disputes with the owner over the cost of keeping KEVT, 1210 AM, on the air.
We'll skip the details, but the station, which was basically held together with chewing gum and rubber bands, is now broadcasting nothing but static.
John C., in the meantime, is looking to continue the operation via the Internet. We wish him the best of luck and will let you know if he comes back. Given that he has shown he has more lives than a cat, we sure ain't counting him out.