AZ Superintendent’s Letter to Editor Shows Where “Empowerment Scholarship Accounts” Lead
Sierra Vista AZ Superintendent Kriss Hagerl’s letter to the editor of her local newspaper the Sierra Vista Herald, describes the how AZ’s proposed “Empowerment Scholarship Accounts” would play out in her school district. Having downloaded, read, and bookmarked the Center for Media and Democracy’s (CMD) 2016 report on ALEC’s privatization movement, it is evident that AZ legislators are proposing a bill of the “scholarship genre”, described in the CMD report follows:
A handful of ALEC bills claim to offer “scholarships” for sympathetic populations—like students with disabilities or foster kids—but are actually targeted voucher programs that act as the proverbial “camel’s nose under the tent” to advance a privatization agenda.
One ALEC bill, the Special Needs Scholarship Program Act, carves out vouchers for students with special needs, regardless of family income. Nine states—Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New York, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island—considered similar legislation in 2015, or expanded existing laws. This bill uses taxpayer funds to send vulnerable children to for-profit schools not bound by federal and state legal requirements to meet a student’s special needs that public schools must follow.
Another ALEC bill, The Foster Child Scholarship Program Act, would create a voucher program specifically for children in foster care, and was introduced in Missouri.
“Opportunity Scholarships,” introduced in four states—Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, and New Mexico—earmark vouchers for students in schools deemed “failing.”
The similar Smart Start Scholarship Program, introduced in four states—Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Tennessee—offers vouchers for pre-school and kindergarten on a sliding scale starting with families eligible for reduced price school lunches. The strategy with these bills is to use the notion of helping poor families as a first step towards expanding taxpayer-funded, private “scholarships” to any family, regardless of their ability to afford private school.
ALEC and its allies have additionally sought to move away from the term “vouchers” and towards “education savings accounts,” even though the impact is ultimately the same: to shift taxpayer funds from public schools to private or religious institutions.
Versions of the ALEC Education Savings Account Act were introduced in seven states—Iowa, Illinois, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia—in 2015. The bill subtracts funds directly from state school aid and deposits these funds into savings accounts for low-income students that can be used to pay private school expenses.
And how would this bill affect Sierra Vista, AZ schools? Ms. Hagerl explains that uncertainties regarding enrollments make it impossible to develop budgets since her district must educate all children while “…private schools can choose to be open or can shut their doors at any time.” Moreover, public schools cannot say “we are full; you will have to go somewhere else” nor can they turn away students who are disabled or disruptive. And most unjust is the fact that the private schools and homeschool parents who are siphoning money from public schools do not need to meet the accountability standards established for public schools. Ms. Hagerl writes:
A parent may accept Empowerment Scholarship dollars for their child on a yearly basis and never have to demonstrate their child’s learning in any way. I am at a loss as to how the state has decided to provide taxpayer money from the state’s general fund to parents who opt to take their child out of a public school and send them to a private school or home school them in a program that does not have to keep track of academic progress or be held accountable for student growth and success.
This issue is hitting close to home for me since the NH legislature is considering SB 193, which would effectively accomplish the same ends as the bills under consideration in AZ… and the bill is currently labelled as “ought to pass” and, according to the fiscal note at the end, will have no impact on state finances. Why? Because no additional STATE funds are needed to implement the bill!
After writing this post I intend to be in touch with my local delegation, urging them to oppose this bill, which would clearly have an adverse impact on NH public schools across the state. In the meantime, I urge any readers of this blog to see if your State legislature is proposing “scholarship” bills that get the camel’s nose under the tent…. Because it is evident that privatization and vouchers— and the destruction of “government schools” are the ultimate goals of the legislatures— and not just in AZ and NH!