Legislature

Legislature Allows All Students to Use Vouchers for Parish Private Schools | Education

PHOENIX — Rejecting claims of segregation and favoring the wealthy, Republican lawmakers on Friday gave final approval to the most comprehensive system of taxpayer funds vouchers for private and parochial schools in the nation.

The 16-10 Senate vote came as supporters said parents wanted more choice for their children. Republican Sen. Vince Leach of SaddleBrooke said public schools in his district, which includes parts of Pima and Pinal counties, are “hemorrhaging kids.”

“It’s not over a year, it’s not over a COVID year, but over the past five years, he told his colleagues.

“They leave because the parents make a decision,” Leach said. He said schools are spending less time teaching the basics and more time teaching things like common core standards “when 2 plus 2 equals all but 4 and parents can’t help their children with simple problems of basic mathematics”. On top of that, he said. , are programs like Structured English Immersion and so-called “Critical Race Theory”.

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By contrast, Leach said, charter schools in his district, public schools that are privately owned and operated, are all full.

“What does this tell you about public schools? he asked.

The solution Republicans say HB 2853 offers is to allow each of Arizona’s 1.1 million public school students to get a voucher they can use to attend a private or parochial school.

But Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, said there was a reason for the loss of students.

“We created the crisis” by not funding public schools properly, he said. “And we are guilty for people who want to look for other choices.”

What’s worse, he said, is that people who were able to afford the cost of private schools already have their children there.

“Now we just gave them a check for $7,000 for each of their children,” Quezada said, referring to the amount of each voucher.

Legislative Budget staffers estimate that the cost of providing vouchers to parents of children already in these private schools will cost the state approximately $125 million per year by the 2024-25 school year, which means even less money for public schools.

“We perpetuate discrimination, we perpetuate inequity, we actually codify the segregation of our schools,” Quezada said.

The vote came after Republicans used a procedural maneuver to block any attempt by Democrats to propose amendments, skipping the normally required floor debate and instead allowing only a roll call up or down. .

That denied Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, the chance to seek votes on some suggestions she said would make the plan to use public funds to send children to private schools a little more palatable.

For example, she wanted students using these public funds to be tested each year to see if they were making academic progress.

Proponents of vouchers, however, say such public reporting is unnecessary.

Senator Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, said the nature of providing parents with resources to make educational choices necessarily makes them more involved in their child’s education when choosing a school.

“Remember: it’s for whatever the parent thinks is best for their child,” he said. “And, for my life, I still don’t understand why anyone would object to that.”

Marsh, who is a teacher, said it was not just about testing. She said that given the use of taxpayers’ money, there should also be requirements regarding the minimum qualifications of teachers, the fingerprinting of employees and volunteers who work directly with pupils, as should be produce in public schools, and data on the incomes of families taking the vouchers. .

“Do we have a large majority who are really needy, in poverty, earning anything, $30,000 a year, and how many of them are there, versus how many families are taking that money and who make $500,000 or $1 million a year or $2 million a year?” she asked. “We have no way of knowing.

Sen. TJ Shope, R-Coolidge, said he doesn’t believe there will be a “mass exodus” of children from public schools, even with a $7,000 voucher offer.

“What I believe will happen, though, is that an opportunity will be given to students who may want to go to this private school, may want to go to a school that is beyond their reach” , did he declare. “Frankly, I think that’s something we should all be encouraging if they want to.”

Marsh said this pick option could be good and good if there were a level playing field. But she said that was not the case.

“Public schools need to educate everyone,” Marsh said. “We educate every child, regardless of cognitive ability or disability, regardless of physical ability or disability.”

She pointed out that public schools may be required to educate some students until the age of 22.

“This is not the case with private schools,” she said, which are free to decide who to take – and who to reject, a process some call selecting those who will be easiest to teach and academically more advanced.

Boyer, however, said it is misleading to say the dollars only go to private and parochial schools. He said parents can also use the money to enroll their children in parent-created “micro-schools” or for home schooling.

The measure, already approved by the House, now goes to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who has signed every voucher expansion bill that has come to his desk since taking office in 2015.

Howard Fischer is a veteran journalist who has reported since 1970 and has covered state politics and the Legislature since 1982. Follow him on Twitter at @azcapmedia or by email [email protected]