Doug Ducey, the Governor of Arizona, has been funded by the Koch machine. One of his goals is to destroy public schools. Arizona voted vouchers down, by 65-35%. No matter. Kathryn Joyce wrote in Salon about Ducey’s latest effort to eliminate public schools, disregarding the referendum.

She writes:

Last Friday, while the country reeled from the Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade, Arizona made history of a different sort. Legislators in the Grand Canyon State passed a universal school voucher bill that, once signed by Gov. Doug Ducey, will become the most wide-reaching school privatization plan in the country.

In his January State of the State address, Ducey called on Arizona lawmakers to send him bills that would “expand school choice any way we can,” and the Republican-dominated legislature obliged, delivering last Friday’s bill, which will open a preexisting program for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) up to the entire state. In practice, the law will now give parents who opt out of public schools a debit card for roughly $7,000 per child that can be used to pay for private school tuition, but also for much more: for religious schools, homeschool expenses, tutoring, online classes, education supplies and fees associated with “microschools,” in which small groups of parents pool resources to hire teachers.

Ducey said the law had “set the gold standard in educational freedom” in the country, and right-wing politicians and education activists quickly agreed. Corey DeAngelis, the research director of Betsy DeVos’ school privatization lobby group American Federation for Children, declared on Twitter that Arizona “just took first place” when it comes to school choice. Anti-critical race theory activist Christopher Rufo — the Manhattan Institute fellow who this spring called for fostering “universal public school distrust” in order to build support for “universal school choice” — tweeted, “Every red state in the country should follow [Ducey’s] lead,” since the law “gives every family a right to exit any public school that fails to educate their children or reflect their values.”

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From the American Enterprise Institute, education researcher Max Eden happily concluded that “Arizona now funds students, not systems,” deploying a formulation that has become common among conservative education activists, as when last week the Moms for Liberty network chastised Arizona public school advocates who opposed the bill as “system advocates” rather than “education advocates.” From Rhode Island, anti-CRT activist Nicole Solas, a fellow with the right-wing Independent Women’s Forum, tweeted, “You know what happens when you abuse people? People leave you. Bye, public school.”

And back in Arizona, the Goldwater Institute, a libertarian think tank founded in honor of former senator and right-wing icon Barry Goldwater, celebrated the law it had done much to create as a “major victory for families wary of a one-size-fits-all approach to education,” plus a cost-saving measure to boot, since the total funding parents would receive through ESA vouchers is $4,000 less than Arizona’s already paltry per-pupil funding for public schools.

By contrast, Democratic politicians and public education advocates described the law as the potential “nail in the coffin” for public schools in Arizona, as Beth Lewis, director of Save Our Schools Arizona (SOS Arizona) put it.

“The Republican universal voucher system is designed to kill public education,” tweeted former Arizona House Rep. Diego Rodriguez. “OUR nation’s greatness is built on free Public schools. The GOP goal is to recreate segregation, expand the opportunity gap, and destroy the foundation of our democracy.”

“I think it’s a very serious mistake and the result will be that, within a decade, Arizona will have a very, very poorly educated adult population,” added Carol Corbett Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education. “Maybe that’s the game…”

“It’s very easy to set up a one-room shop in a strip mall, give every kid a Chromebook and a plaid skirt, tell parents they’re on an accelerated curriculum and take that $7,000,” said Lewis. But it’s equally easy for those schools to “close up shop whenever they want,” as numerous low-quality voucher schools have been known to do, leaving students stranded partway through the school year. When that happens, said Lewis, “There’s no recourse to claw those funds back.”

Unfortunately, said Carol Corbett Burris, ESA programs have already demonstrated problems with that approach, through numerous cases of fraud, in which parents used the funds for things other than their children’s education.

“It’s like an insurance company giving parents of a sick child $7,000 and saying, ‘We don’t care if you go to a physician or a dentist — take that money and do what you believe is best,” Burris continued. “Parents may know best about many things, but they’re not professional educators any more than they are doctors, dentists or nurses.”

What’s more, SOS Arizona pointed out, the ESA funds could also be used to send taxpayer funding to the sort of private school being established by Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, who recently announced plans to start a network of anti-“woke” Turning Point Academies, first in Arizona, then around the country. The first such school, with more than 600 students, is set to open in Glendale this fall, as the result of a partnership between Kirk and Phoenix megachurch Dream City. According to Newsweek, the academy will ban CRT, the New York Times’ “1619 Project” and what it calls “radical LGBT agendas.” Those 600-plus students, Lewis notes, will add up to some “4 million taxpayer dollars that go straight into Kirk’s academy.”

On a larger level, the new law also speeds up the same sort of death spiral that has afflicted public schools across the country, by steadily draining funds away from public education. While the immediate cost of ESA expansion — for students already outside the public school system — will draw on Arizona’s general funds, the money to cover children who leave public schools in coming years will be deducted from public school budgets. ..

“I think we’re witnessing the dismantling of public education in our state,” said Lewis. “Will it happen overnight? No. But the effects will be felt quickly and the blow to public schools will be unsustainable.” If even a few kids leave a neighborhood school, the difference in funding is noticeable. If six or seven do, “that’s a whole teacher [salary] down.” In her own school, where Lewis teaches third grade, that sort of downsizing would mean the immediate increase of her class size of 27 students to more than 40. “Or do you make the cuts elsewhere? Do you cut special education, which has already been cut to the bone? Or music, arts and after-school programs, which have already been cut to the bone? Do you not have an assistant principal? Then how many students don’t get what they need?”

“We are going to stop this by any means necessary,” Lewis said, including electoral work, public education, and possibly another ballot initiative, even if that means risking the “poison pill” cancellation of the state’s newly increased public school funds. “All options are on the table.”

Read more on the right’s systematic assault on public education:

Kathryn Joyce is an investigative reporter at Salon, and the author of two books: “The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking and the New Gospel of Adoption” and “Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement.”MORE FROM KATHRYN JOYCE