Home > Uncategorized > Arizona’s Education Savings Accounts: The Billionaires’ “Vouchers in Disguise”

Arizona’s Education Savings Accounts: The Billionaires’ “Vouchers in Disguise”

October 6, 2018

In early September the Guardian’s Steven Greenhouse wrote an article that included a paragraph that offered an excellent summation of Education Savings Accounts (or ESAs), the billionaire “philanthropists'” latest gambit to expand the privatization of public schools. The primary focus of the article was the ongoing efforts of Arizona parents and teachers to stop the expansion of ESAs and restore public education funding to a level that will put the public schools back on their feet. How bad are things in Arizona?

One study found that Arizona, at $7,613, is the third-lowest state in public school spending per student, while another study found that from 2008 to 2015, school funding per pupil had plunged by 24% in Arizona, after adjusting for inflation – the second-biggest drop in the nation.

Determined to push back against this short-changing of public schools, six determined parents decided to launch a referendum effort to push back against the recent action of the Arizona legislature that had enacted a law that was characterized as “the nation’s broadest school vouchers law”, a law that allowed state-raised taxes to be used on private or religiously affiliated schools. Over the summer these parents gathered over 110,000 signatures and got the referendum they sought on the ballot this November. What happened next?

…the Koch brothers’ political arm, Americans for Prosperity, sued to block the referendum. A judge dismissed the lawsuit and approved the referendum for 6 November – it’s called Proposition 305. The vote will be closely watched by people on both sides of the debate as the Kochs and DeVos hope to spread the voucher scheme and opponents look to Arizona for clues on how to stop them.

Near the end of the article, Mr. Greenhouse quotes Lily Eskelen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, who said what has happened in Arizona is “part of a scheme to undermine public education”.

“We know exactly how the plan goes,” she said. “You underfund the kids who need the most. You starve the public schools. You take away the funding so they can’t deliver quality services, and then when things get so bad that nobody wants to work in the schools, the voucher salesmen, the vultures, swoop in and do this nice little bait and switch. Instead of fixing the schools, they say let’s make sure you have the same program as wealthy kids at private schools.” But vouchers, she said, don’t begin to deliver on that promise.

IF the handful of parents succeed in stopping the legislature by passing a referendum it won’t help in many states because not every state has a referendum mechanism. That means parents and teachers who care about public education will need to watch their State elections carefully. During the past legislative session in New Hampshire the legislature narrowly avoided the passage of a bill that would have greatly expanded Education Savings Accounts. The NH legislators wrote their law using the ALEC handbook funded by the Koch brothers and their pro-privatization allies. Like their Arizona counterparts, the NH GOP legislators are starving public education claiming there isn’t enough money to pay for the state formula that equalizes funding so that the kids who need it most get an adequate education… BUT, they did manage to “find” funding to help underwrite ESAs. NH doesn’t have a referendum mechanism, but it DOES have a ballot box referendum. Here’s hoping the voters ensure that they elect a legislature that will abandon ESAs.

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