The appropriations committee in the Arizona House voted 8-5 to approve vouchers (called “Empowerment Scholarship Accounts”) for about half of the state’s 1.1 million students. One of the supporters of the bill wanted vouchers for every student in the state. The vouchers will drain students and funding from public schools. There is no evidence that vouchers improves education, but it is a red-button issue for libertarians, who want to eliminate public schools. They seem unaware that every nation with successful schools has a strong public school system, with neither vouchers nor charters. I cannot explain why Republicans are so unwilling to call vouchers by their rightful name. They have come up with all kinds of euphemism (“opportunity scholarships,” “education savings accounts,” etc.), but a voucher is a voucher is a voucher. Vouchers have not improved the schools or the educational outcomes of children in Milwaukee, the District of Columbia, or Cleveland. But when dealing with ideologues, facts are irrelevant. Republicans in Arizona are determined to wipe out public education, step by step, starting with vouchers for special education, then expanding until it is vouchers for all.



A House panel voted late Wednesday to let more than half the 1.1 million students in Arizona schools use public dollars to attend private and parochial schools.



The 8-5 vote by the Appropriations Committee follows the failure of supporters of vouchers to line up the votes in the House to open the door for all students. Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, said she hopes this scaled-back proposal gains more support.



Lesko also crafted this version of SB 1279 to try to overcome opposition from those who say that the vouchers are used largely by families who already can afford to send their kids to private schools.



It limits eligibility to students whose family income qualifies them for free- or reduced-price lunch programs. For a family of four, that figure is $44,863 a year.



Stacey Morley, lobbyist for the Arizona Education Association, said the most recent figures show about 565,000 students participating in those programs.



But that may not cover everyone who would be eligible.



Morley said high schools are not required to have such programs. Nor are charter schools.



That means the number of children whose family income would qualify them could be higher.



Lesko told lawmakers they should not worry there would be a sudden flood of children, armed with scholarships worth about $5,400 a year, fleeing public schools and taking with them the state aid that had gone to those schools. She said state law limits vouchers to no more than one-half percent of public schools students, or about 5,500 youngsters.



But Rep. Mark Cardenas, D-Phoenix, pointed out that cap disappears after 2019.



And Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, conceded his goal is to eventually make vouchers available to every public school student in Arizona.