Archives for category: Vouchers

In Arizona, Save Our Schools Arizona and other parent groups are gathering signatures to force a referendum on the legislature’s plan to unleash a universal voucher plan. Parents and teachers overwhelmingly defeated a voucher proposal in 2018, but the salaries Koch-sponsored forces are pushing an even bigger voucher plan than before. In their proposal, every student in the state would be eligible for a voucher.

The Grand Canyon Institute has assembled the facts about the proposal. The greatest beneficiaries would be families whose children already attend private schools and parents affluent enough to pay for the cost of private high school.

Max Goshert, Assistant Research Director of the Grand Canyon Institute, writes:

Phoenix, Arizona – 2022 was a blockbuster year for Arizona policy. Along with a record budget and a billion-dollar investment in water, Arizona passed the largest private school scholarship program in the country. Previously, only families who met certain conditions, such as having a student with a disability, a parent who served in the military, a student who attended a D or F school, a student who lives on a Native American reservation, or a sibling of one of these students, could participate in the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program.

HB 2853 establishes universal eligibility for the ESA program, meaning that any student attending grades K-12 can receive a scholarship, which is estimated to average $6,966 in FY23 (certain circumstances, like disability status, can change the scholarship size). Unlike the 2017 expansion, which capped participation at 30,000 recipients, there is no limit on the number of students who can participate in the program.

Naturally, the polemic public debate resulting from the seismic shift in education has spawned a gamut of predictions on what the impact of this expansion will be. In an attempt to foster conversation that is grounded in fact, we address several questions about the ESA program by diving into the data.

How will the ESA expansion impact academic outcomes?

As with any policy that impacts education, the most important feature of the ESA expansion is how it impacts the quality of education that students receive. While the literature on the academic outcomes of participation in voucher programs is mixed, with some research reporting significant positive effects, several recent studies have found negative impacts on student achievement, especially in math, for statewide voucher programs in Ohio, Indiana, and Louisiana (Mills and Wolf, p.8). This is likely due to the rapid expansion of these voucher programs from smaller populations to the entire state, overwhelming existing private school infrastructure (p.43).

Arizona’s expansion is the largest in the country, with the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) estimating that 36,078 public school students will begin participating in the ESA program. While some families may choose to homeschool given their new ESA eligibility, most will likely elect to attend a private school. Given that there are currently 59,171 private school students, Arizona private schools will see a 39% rise in demand, a tremendous increase in a short period of time that threatens to overwhelm existing facilities. Consequentially, Arizona will likely see a similar decline in academic outcomes due to the inadequate supply of private schools.

What are the accountability requirements for ESAs?

While ESA participants are required to use a portion of the program funding in reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies, and science, there are no minimum standards of academic achievement, such as reading or math proficiency. Private schools are not required to be accountable for the academic outcomes of their students. This contrasts sharply with Louisiana’s voucher program, where private schools must apply to become voucher recipients and undergo site visits, financial audits, and health and safety assessments from the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Abdulkadiroglu et al, p. 4). Private schools must maintain eligibility by administering annual state achievement tests to voucher recipients along with financial audits.

Who benefits the most from ESA expansion?

Of the 9,710 applicants to the ESA program for SY2023, approximately 77% do not have a history of attending an Arizona public school. Effectively, these ESAs serve not to enable those attending public school to attend private school, but as a public subsidy for families that already had the means to pay for private schools or homeschooling. This is in line with a 2018 study by the Grand Canyon Institute which found that, while enrollment in the private school sector has been relatively flat, private school subsidies from Arizona’s General Fund have increased 50-fold from $3 million in SY2000 to $141 million in SY2016. As with other private school subsidies, the beneficiaries are largely those who are already attending private schools, not those attending public schools who would otherwise attend privates.

What are the limitations on ESA expenses?

ESA funding can be used to pay private school tuition, curriculum, homeschooling, and other educational expenses. The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) maintains a comprehensive list of approved spending categories and ESA allowable items. However, because state statute on allowable items is broad, parents are able to use ESA dollars for expenses with questionable educational benefit. Uptown Jungle Peoria, an indoor playground, recently attracted attention when they advertised that they would accept ESA money, an expenditure that ADE confirmed was appropriate. Parents may also use ESA dollars to purchase Lego kits, lawn darts, and croquet sets. ADE staff oversee ESA expenditures to ensure that they fall under program guidelines, yet allowable purchases that are more recreational may come at the expense of academic experience.

How much will the ESA expansion cost taxpayers?

Initial estimates from the JLBC are that taxpayers will spend $33 million in FY23, $65 million in FY24, and $125 million in FY25 from empowerment scholarships. With 77% of the 9,710 enrollees this school year coming from outside of the public system, the cost of these students will likely be around $52 million, very close to the JLBC estimate. As participation in the ESA program proliferates due to public awareness in the coming years, the burden of the program on the General Fund will rise substantially.

How will the ESA expansion impact school choice?

Arizona currently has 2,391 public schools and 448 private schools. The estimated award for FY23 of $6,966 covers the entire average cost of private elementary schools ($6,710), but only about a third of the cost of private secondary schools ($18,590). Consequentially, families will have to pay around $12,000 per student out of their own pocket once they reach high school, a financial barrier that will be too burdensome for those who rely on ESAs to pay for private school tuition. The families that experience the greatest expansion of school choice are those who are wealthy enough to pay the difference in tuition at the secondary education level.

The impact of school choice by the ESA expansion is further limited by the lack of public accountability of private schools, creating a vacuum of information on academic outcomes. With little means to determine how well private schools educate their students, parents must rely more on marketing and word-of-mouth, impairing their ability to make well-informed decisions for school choice.

HB 2853 is scheduled to go into effect on September 24 however that date could be put on hold if an initiative successfully gathers sufficient signatures to refer the issue to the November 2024 ballot.

For more information, contact:
Max Goshert, Assistant Research Director
mgoshert@azgci.org, 602.595.1025, Ext. 12

The Grand Canyon Institute (GCI) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to informing and improving public policy in Arizona through evidence-based, independent, objective, nonpartisan research. GCI makes a good faith effort to ensure that findings are reliable, accurate, and based on reputable sources. While publications reflect the view of the institute, they may not reflect the view of individual members of the board.

Our reasonable and sensible friend Jan Resseger writes here about the efforts by the Heritage Foundatuon and its allies to saddle Ohio with vouchers. This is especially bizarre because researchers have consistently found that kids in public schools learn more than those in religious schools. Their goal: diminish or eliminate public schools.

She writes:

When you notice a particular educational trend moving across state legislatures, it is useful to investigate who’s behind the policy and who is making it so difficult to mount effective opposition. On Tuesday, this blog covered some of the far-right advocacy groups pressuring Ohio’s supermajority Republican legislature to pass House Bill 290, the Backpack Bill, which would bring a universal Education Savings Account (ESA) school voucher program to the state. Kathryn Joyce’s research for SALON demonstrates that the effort to pass a wave of universal ESA voucher bills is much broader than the particular groups working in Ohio.

Profiling a strategic effort by the Heritage Foundation to drive ESA vouchers through a number of state legislatures, Joyce describes the Heritage Foundation’s new Education Freedom Report Cardwhich rates the states in four categories: “In the category of education choice, Heritage’s primary focus is on education savings accounts (ESAs), a form of school voucher that allows parents to opt out of public schools and use a set amount of state funding (sometimes delivered via debit card) on almost any educational expenses they see fit. ESAs can be used towards charter schools, private schools, parochial schools and low-cost (and typically low-quality) ‘voucher schools,’ as well as online schools, homeschooling expenses, unregulated ‘microschools’ (where a group of parents pool resources to hire a private teacher) or tutoring.”

“In terms of regulatory freedom, Heritage weighs whether states enforce ‘overburdensome’ regulations… The chief concern here appears to be (weakening) teacher certification credentials…. In the third category, transparency, the report rewards states that have ‘strong anti-critical race theory’ laws, high rates of engagement by groups like Parents Defending Education… and laws requiring school districts to provide exhaustive public access to any student curricula or educational materials… Lastly, in terms of spending, the report compares per-pupil (public school) spending not just to learning outcomes but also to matters like the future tax burden created by teacher pensions.”

In states whose legislatures are considering universal Education Savings Account bills like Ohio’s HB 290 Backpack Bill, legislators are receiving lots of help from far-right organizations pumping out “model legislation” that can be adapted to the needs of any state legislature. Joyce points out that the Heritage Foundation’s new report includes “a section containing model legislation written by the Goldwater Institute, the libertarian law firm, Institute for Justice, and (from) the Heritage Foundation itself, covering more ‘anti-CRT’ proposals, more requirements for schools to publicize their training materials for students and staff, and more or bigger ESA voucher programs.” You will remember that Tuesday’s blog post on Ohio quoted the Ohio Capital Journal’s Zurie Pope reporting that Ohio legislators sponsoring the Ohio House Bill 290, have received guidance from the Ohio Center for Christian Virtue, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), EdChoice (the former Friedman Foundation for EdChoice), and Heritage Action.

The top scorers on the Heritage Foundation’s Education Freedom Report Card are Florida with the top ranking and Arizona coming in second. Kathryn Joyce publishes comments from public education supporters in both states. In Florida, Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association notes that Florida ranks 45th in the United states in average per-student public school funding. He comments: “In their report, it seems like the states that fund their (public school) students at a higher level have a worse ranking than those who invest less in their children… the Heritage Foundation celebrating the rankings of how well you underfund public schools, how well you dismantle public schools.”

In Arizona, Beth Lewis, director of Save Our Schools Arizona, “which is currently leading a citizen ballot referendum against the state’s new universal ESA Law,” said “The fact that the Heritage Foundation ranks Arizona second in the country, when our (public) schools are funded nearly last in the nation, only underscores the depraved lens with which they view the world… Heritage boasting about realizing Milton Friedman’s dream reveals the agenda—to abolish public schools and put every child on a voucher….”

Ohio is not the only state where politicians are currently being pressed by far right advocates to adopt one of the model ESA bills that are available to anyone who wants one.

States whose legislatures have enacted Education Savings Account vouchers to date include Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Indiana, and Missouri. ESA programs were passed but later found unconstitutional in Nevadaand Kentucky under the provisions of their state constitutions.

For example, for the Wisconsin Examiner, Ruth Conniff reports that education policy has become a huge issue of contention between “Republican candidate Tim Michels, Donald Trump’s choice for governor of Wisconsin, who is challenging incumbent Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, the former state schools superintendent, this fall.” Evers has managed to hold off the school privatizers in both houses of Wisconsin’s Republican-dominated state legislature for the past four years. Last week, Conniff explained: “A group of heavy hitters in Wisconsin politics announced Thursday that they are forming a coalition to push for universal school choice and ‘parents’ rights.’ The group, which calls itself the Wisconsin Coalition for Education Freedom, includes Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Americans for Prosperity, the American Federation for Children, School Choice Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty… Michels and Evers are far apart on a lot of issues, from abortion to immigration to how the state runs elections, but one of the most profound impacts of the Wisconsin governor’s race will be the way it shapes the future of education. Michels’ education blueprint calls for an immediate, statewide expansion of Wisconsin’s school choice program… Michels said, ‘I will introduce universal school choice in my first budget in 2023… Among the other goals of the Wisconsin Coalition for Education Freedom is a ‘Parents’ Bill of Rights’ which would encourage lawsuits against school districts that don’t take direction from parents on these issues.”

Conniff concludes: “But beyond these flashy culture-war issues is a steady march toward a privatized education system that is on its way to bankrupting Wisconsin’s once-great public schools.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is determined to pass voucher legislation if he is re-elected. He has pushed for vouchers repeatedly and been defeated by a coalition of urban Democrats and rural Republicans. Our friends, the Pastors for Texas Children, have been champions of public schools, knowing that vouchers would undermine public schools in rural and suburban Texas. Governor Abbott, as usual, is pandering to the far-right extremists in his party who want to privatize everything.

The Texas Monthly describes Abbott’s sleazy tactics:

Undermining public schools has been a winning strategy for governors in several states. But for many rural, conservative communities in Texas, such schools are the only game in town.

By Bekah McNeel

At a July campaign event in Fort Stockton, Governor Greg Abbott played what has proven to be a winning card for Republicans across the country. “Parents,” he said, “should not be forced to send their child to a government-mandated school that teaches critical race theory, or is forcing their child to wear a face mask against their parents’ desire, or is forcing them to attend a school that isn’t safe.”

Actually, Abbott long ago outlawed mask mandates, and he and the Republican Legislature have heavily regulated what can be taught about race in Texas schools. But touting the progress of his agenda is less compelling than making a bogeyman of public schools altogether—telling parents that they deserve more control over what, where, and how their children learn. It’s a strategy that has well served Republican politicians such as Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin and Florida governor Ron DeSantis.

The buzz phrase “parental control” can cover a lot of ground, from oversight over classroom lessons and library books to school choice, and it’s a concept that most Republican voters support. But Abbott has lately taken parental control a giant step further by promoting school vouchers—government funds that would allow families to send their kids to public or private schools, including religious institutions and homeschooling arrangements. Supporters depict vouchers as the acme of parents’ control over their children’s education. But critics, including many conservative Texans, worry that they will inevitably drain resources from public schools, which in many small communities are the only schools available.

What most call “vouchers” can actually be several different things: tax credits for tuition or homeschooling supplies, access to a government savings account or scholarship that can be used for private school tuition, or a reimbursement for a set amount of educational expenses. Abbott has not committed to a specific kind of program, only to the idea that parents’ tax dollars should be able to pay for private school tuition.

These subsidies—often between $4,000 and $8,000 a year—don’t cover the full annual tuition rates of most private schools, which average between $9,000 and $11,000 in Texas, leading many critics to describe them as gifts to those who can already afford some level of tuition. The neediest students, they argue—those most likely to be in struggling schools—are still left with a considerable bill if they choose to participate.

“It looks like voucher programs in the past have always been about subsidizing affluent to wealthy folks who want private school for their kids,” said Charles Luke, codirector of Pastors for Texas Children. His group has always opposed vouchers, not only on the basis of the potential cost to public schools, but also on the grounds of separating church and state. Luke worries about government interference with religious or church-affiliated schools. “Government interference isn’t good for the church,” he said.

Where the money comes from and what strings are attached will be the devil in the details of bills soon to be filed for the 2023 Legislature, especially as Republicans vie to cut property taxes as well. Texas pays for public schools on a per-pupil basis, so every student lost represents a loss of revenue. School-voucher proponents say that state money should follow students to whatever public or private schools their parents choose. But superintendents argue that when a student leaves a public school for a private one, the district’s costs—for everything from classroom teachers to bus drivers—don’t decline proportionately.

Superintendents and elected representatives from rural areas—many of whom are Republicans—fear that the state would fund vouchers by reducing funding for public schools in places where such schools serve as community hubs, providing meeting spaces, sports competitions, and social services like school nutrition programs and health screenings. Places like Palestine, Texas.

Beth Lewis, the director of Save Our Schools Arizona, thought that vouchers were a dead issue after 2/3 of voters rejected them in 2018.

But the Republican legislature, egged on by the usual billionaires, came back with a voucher plan even worse than the one that was defeated. They probably figured that the volunteers couldn’t muster the energy and resources to fight another round.

Beth Lewis writes:

This June, hours before adjourning their legislative session, Republican majority lawmakers delivered a massive blow to Arizonans by passing a universal voucher program that will siphon public dollars away from public schools to private schools with zero accountability to the public. Even worse, this program is significantly larger than a similar voucher program that was rejected by voters in 2018 by a margin of more than 2-1.

Make no mistake, lawmakers did not pass this bill at the urging of their constituents — who overwhelmingly support and rely on local public schools — but at the behest of special interest groups like Betsy DeVos’ American Federation for Children who aim to dismantle the public education system.

Lawmakers tried to sell these expanded vouchers as “school choice,” but we all know it has nothing to do with school choice and in fact harms the choice of the 1 million students who choose AZ’s public schools.

Republican lawmakers have long argued that universal vouchers would “free children from a broken school system.” But that argument was utterly destroyed recently when the Arizona Department of Education reportedthat 75% of families seeking new Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, which is what this voucher program is called, have never stepped foot in a public school.

And that’s just the start. Approximately 85,000 students already in private school and homeschool will become eligible for ESA vouchers overnight, potentially diverting another $600 million in funding away from public schools every year. This amounts to a 20% blow to local public schools across the board – a blow they cannot withstand. But of course, Governor Doug Ducey, DeVos and their cronies know that.

These deep dips into the school funding bucket drain the funding of the choice of 1 million AZ students who choose public schools. That’s not school choice— it’s highway robbery.

The only goal this disastrous bill accomplishes is fattening the bank accounts of special interests and for-profit operators at the expense of Arizona kids. Universal vouchers leave our taxpayer dollars ripe for fraud and abuse at the hands of extremist charlatans like Charlie Kirk and his radical Turning Point Academies (founded the same month as passage of Ducey’s voucher expansion). Using taxpayer dollars to indoctrinate children on bigotry and intolerance is not school choice – it’s dangerous.

Public funds belong in public schools where there is oversight and transparency, not in privately operated businesses with no accountability to taxpayers. There is nothing in this voucher expansion that would stop a bad actor from opening up a “private school” in a strip mall, lying to the parents, taking $7000 per child and closing up shop. Ducey’s expansion gives the state no mechanism to recover misspent or fraudulently used funds. There is zero oversight of academics, performance, curriculum, safety, or teacher credentials. And there is nothing to stop voucher schools from discriminating against students who don’t “fit” their ideology or mold. That’s not school choice – it’s indoctrination and segregation.

The entire program is a walking permission slip for future scandal, segregation, fraud and abuse. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Arizona kids sit in overcrowded school classrooms with outdated textbooks, leaking roofs, and under-resourced teachers.

Save Our Schools Arizona is working to stop this law by turning in 118,823 valid signatures on Sept. 23, so that AZ voters will have the final say on the 2024 ballot. Find locations to sign the petition at teamsosarizona.com.


Beth Lewis is a mom, public education advocate, and K-12 policy expert who fights for a fully and equitably funded school for every Arizona child. As Director of Save Our Schools Arizona, Beth works to bring parents, educators, elected officials, business leaders, and community members together in support of Arizona’s public schools, which strengthen our communities and our great state. Beth has taught elementary and middle school in Arizona for 12 years. She holds a BA from the University of Notre Dame and a Master’s in Education from ASU. Reach out to her at beth@sosarizona.org

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, once known as the Rush Limbaugh of Texas, has organized a group of pastors to push for school vouchers, in opposition to the dynamic Pastors for Texas Children, which has staunchly supported public schools.

Our friends, PTC, have helped to build a bipartisan coalition of urban Democrats and rural Republicans who don’t want their community schools defunded.

The Dallas Morning News reported:

Conservative Texas pastors and lawmakers have their eyes set on school vouchers to fight the “miseducation” of students ahead of the November elections and the upcoming legislative session.

“After COVID and after [critical race theory] and after pornographic books in libraries, parents deserve choices,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said during a call with about 50 Texas pastors Tuesday.

Patrick was joined by Rev. Dave Welch, founder and executive director of the Texas Pastor Council; Allan Parker, president of The Justice Foundation and former U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige on the call that lamented the “crisis” facing K-12 education.

“We are educationally in a crisis of change,” Paige said. “The pandemic has changed the area of education in the United States of America. My suggestion would be that [Gov. Greg Abbott] assemble a good group of good thinkers and think about where we go from here.”

Amid the ongoing education culture wars over what’s taught in schools and students falling behind academically after pandemic disruptions, many families want more options and some believe the landscape is ripe for a renewed fight for vouchers or similar efforts that funnel taxpayer money for use on private school education.

You may recall Rod Paige as President George W. Bush’s first Secretary of Education. He called the NEA “terrorists.”

I am grateful for PTC, who have fought for adequate funding for the five million students in Texas public schools and stood strong against vouchers.

Peter Greene, retired teacher and brilliant writer, explains the real goals of the school choice movement, and how its rhetoric has shifted over the years from “saving children” to destroying public schools.

He writes:

A quick summary of the history, so far, of pro-choice arguments. Because if it seems like they keep shifting, well, there’s a reason.

If you’re old enough, you may remember a time when the argument in favor of school choice was that students needed to be able to escape their failing public school.

There was a period way back when in which the argument was for vouchers, but vouchers tested poorly with the electorate, so choicers threw their weight behind charter schools, with a continued and frequent emphasis on the notion that charter schools were just another type of public school, because generally speaking, people liked and trusted public schools. Charters will just add to a robust public educational ecosystem, they said.

The “public schools are failing” trope (first given some heft in A Nation at Risk, a report commissioned to make exactly that point) needed some back-up, and at just that opportune moment, we got the rise of the Big Standardized Test, a high stakes system that would provide solid data proving that public schools were Failing Our Children.

Then school choice was adopted by folks on the Left and the Right (and by people from the Right pretending to be on the Left) so we had a tag team argument. Students should not have their educational quality determined by their zip codes. The pro-choice argument was two-pronged:

1) Public schools are failing academically (look at these test scores) but unleashing the power of the free market will competitionize them into excellence.

2) Public schools are failing poor and minority students, and in the pursuit of equity, those students should be given a school choicey path out.

This two prong period lasted roughly most of the Obama administration, because the movement benefited from the neo-liberal Democrat support of choice. But it was at times a tense partnership. Free marketeers chafed at the social justice wing’s ideas about regulating choice schools to suck less, and the social justice wing tried hard not to notice that free marketeers didn’t really care that much about how choice affected their children.

And then Obama was out and Hillary tanked and the free marketeers didn’t need the social justice wing any more, and detente was over.

The choice argument was also suffering from another problem. Charter schools weren’t any better than public schools, and voucher systems were maybe even a little worse. Some new arguments were tried out, like “choice gives strivers a chance to get away from those other kids.” Some free marketeers and libertarians started saying more loudly that it didn’t really matter if choice improved outcomes or not–it was a virtue in its own right.

Trump knew nothing about education policy except that backing choice got him support from the Catholic Church. And Betsy DeVos was patiently waiting for the rest of the movement to catch up to where she has been for years.

Her moment was almost coming, but first we had a few years of just replaying the hits– escape failing schools, improve outcomes, let’s push vouchers under some other name, etc.

Then the pandemic hit, leaving local schools to wrestle with the question “How do we navigate this unprecedented crisis” while on the national level, everyone was more focused on “How do we leverage this unprecedented crisis for maximum political benefit.”

To their credit, many choicers initially resisted the call to blame public schools for schools being closed, but that moment passed, someone decided it would be good strategy to blame school closures on the unions, and then people lost their damned minds over masking. When Christopher Rufo decided to elevate critical race theory to the level of a McCarthy-style Red Scare, a whole network of anti-maskers was already in place to spread the word (Moms For Liberty is a fine example of a group that started out anti-mask and quickly pivoted).

The many waves of complaints and controversies may seem large and complex, but they really aren’t. They all connect through one simple idea, the new choicer pitch, summed up in this quote from Rufo speaking at Hillsdale College:To get universal school choice, you really need to operate from a place of universal school distrust.

The current choice pitch is that parents need the power of choice because public schools can’t be trusted. Jay Greene, who I always thought of as intellectually honest, has moved to the heritage foundation and now publishes pieces like “Who will raise children? Their parents or the bureaucratic experts?” He signaled this new approach explicitly with February’s “Time for the school choice movement to embrace the culture war” aka “We can use this current noise to further our cause.” My state of Pennsylvania is facing a viable candidate for governor whose idea is to end property taxes, replace them with nothing, and give every parent a voucher good for half of the current per-pupil spending amount in the state.

Do not be distracted by the arguments about LGBTQ students and trans athletes and teacher gag laws; these all matter, and certainly many hard right folks will be happy if they win these fights, but for the pro choice crowd, the point is that public schools can’t be trusted and we need to scrap the whole system and replace it with vouchers (or, as DeVos called it, “educational freedom”). If the right drags victory out of any of these many erupting pockets of chaos, that’s gravy, but for many choicers, the chaos is the whole point, because it adds to the claims of a failing public system.

The end game, for those on the far right DeVos-style wing is as it has always been–get the government out of education. Take back the schools for religious education. Slash the tax-based funding because that’s just the government stealing our hard-earned dollars to pay for more services for Those Peoples’ Children. And while all that’s happening, if we could break the back of the teachers unions, which just prop up the democratic Party, and, hey–also let some entrepreneurs make a buck selling education flavored products.

At every stage of the choicer evolution, you will find people who sincerely believe their talking point du jour. But at this point, it’s hard not to notice that some choicers will adopt whatever argument will get them closer to the dismantling and privatization of public education.

Like many other movements, the school choice movement has room for both true believers and grifters, but in both cases, the school choice debates are marked by a refusal to talk about what we’re really talking about–changing education from a universally provided public good into a privately owned and operated commodity delivered however and to whomever the market deems worthy.

There’s another paragraph. Open the link and read it.

Perhaps you thought the voucher fight was over in Arizona in 2018 when voters rejected vouchers by a decisive margin of 65-35%.

But no, the clear and overwhelming decision of the state’s voters did not deter the Christofascists who are determined to destroy public schools by transferring funding away from them to any form of non public schooling, be it religious, private, homeschooling or a business run by a fraudster.

Governor Doug Ducey signed a law creating a universal voucher plan on July 6. The new law will subtract $1 billion from the state’s public schools.

SOS Arizona is once again leading the fight against universal vouchers, led by Governor Ducey and championed by the Republican legislators. The dark money behind the voucher campaign comes from the usual suspects: the Koch machine and the Betsy DeVos combine.

If Save Our Schools Arizona and its supporters can secure 118,823 valid signatures before September 24, the voucher expansion law will be placed on hold until November 2024, when voters get a chance to express their views, as they did in 2018.

The stakes could not be higher – this is a referendum to decide the future of education in Arizona and across the nation.

You can see more about the SOS Arizona signature drive here: teamsosarizona.com.

Beth Lewis, the director of SOS Arizona, wrote to provide the context for the battle over vouchers:

Universal voucher expansion is the KEY issue driving right-wing politics in the US, and hardly anyone is talking about the well-moneyed, dangerous forces driving it. The AZ legislature’s myopic focus on pushing private school voucher expansion over any other piece of legislation for the past 6 years is enough to tell us that — not to mention the massive focus FOX News has placed on vouchers since the bill’s passage here in Arizona. Recently, Christopher Rufo admitted he created the CRT furor in order to advance universal vouchers.

We desperately need folks to plug in – people all over the state can get petitions at our hubs: teamsosarizona.com or sign up to volunteer: bit.ly/SVEvolunteer.

As you know, we are truly the tip of the spear when it comes to privatization. Betsy DeVos’ American Federation for Children is mobilizing (somewhat ineffectively) against our efforts, and the battle lines are drawn. It is evident that universal voucher expansion will become a pattern across the US, as Republican Governors are all declaring that every red state should adopt this policy. We have seen the dangers of private school vouchers first-hand here in Arizona, and our public school system has been starved in order to give credence to those who wish to privatize our public education system.

Charlie Kirk is partnering with an incredibly rightwing Evangelical church (Dream City Church) to open Turning Point Academies across Arizona. Here is the June article from Newsweek describing their plans to proliferate campuses across AZ and then the nation. It is no coincidence this plan was announced the same month the AZ state legislature passed universal vouchers.

Kirk recently spoke at Freedom Night hosted by Dream City Church, and this expose in the AZ Republic shows the hateful ideology against LGBTQ and trans youth Kirk and the Church spread. It’s terrifying – and infuriating to think this is where our taxpayer dollars are headed.

It is abundantly clear that special interests who favor extremist Christian Nationalism are driving the bus on these issues – and it makes sense. Private school vouchers are the perfect solution for building a long-term, endlessly replenishing base of voters who also favor Christian Nationalism.

We only have 42 more days to collect the signatures to put this bill on the 2024 ballot. We expect massive legal battles, as dark money will pour in and the usual suspects will challenge every signature. We are confident we will push back successfully and get the measure on the ballot – we must, as goes Arizona, so goes the nation.

You can help these fearless, intrepid volunteers by sending a contribution to: sosarizona.org/donate.

I was thinking of titling this post “Libertarian Crackpots Take Charge of School Funding in New Hampshire” but decided to bite my tongue.

Garry Rayno, a writer for InDepthNH.org, reports that the Koch-funded plan to defund public schools in New Hampshire is a “success.” Not because most parents want to put their children in private or religious schools, but because the overwhelming majority of students using the new education freedom accounts are already enrolled in nonpublic schools. Thus, public funds are now underwriting private education. At some point, the public schools will shrink to be just one among many choices even though the people of New Hampshire never voted to abandon their community public schools. This is a theft of public dollars for private use.

By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org 

The new education freedom account program is a success judging by the number of students participating in the first year.

More students are expected to participate in the second year and state education officials predict it will continue to grow into the future.

One of the most expansive school choice programs in the country, it was sold as a way for students and parents to find the best educational avenues to fit their student’s individual learning needs.

That would be wonderful and would fulfill the education department’s long-standing goal of individualized student pathways, but that is not what happened for a majority of students.

Instead the program has increased the state’s education spending while few students changed their learning environment.

The vast majority of students — around 85 percent — participating in the first year, did not attend public schools the year before. Instead they were in private or religious schools, or home schooled, or too young for school.

That does not change the learning environment for that 85 percent of students.

What did change under the program was the parents’ financial obligations, which were reduced thanks to the influx of state taxpayers’ money.

Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, a program advocate, told lawmakers the first year of freedom accounts would cost the state’s Education Trust Fund about $300,000 and the second year about $3.2 million. Instead the cost was close to $9 million this year.

Why the increase? Edelblut’s estimates were for students leaving traditional public schools to participate in alternative programs, not for those already in other programs applying for state help to cover the costs of private and religious schools, or home schooling.

Essentially most of the state money flowed through the parents to private and religious schools and for homeschooling costs all previously paid for by the parents or religious institutions.

When the program was first debated this term, the nonpartisan Legislative Budget Assistant’s office estimated the state’s exposure could be as high as $70 million if all the students in private or religious schools applied for grants.

The program provides grants to parents of students who earn no more than 300 percent of the federal poverty level or about $80,000 a year for a family of four.

You only have to qualify once, so if the next year your family makes $125,000, you still qualify and if you double that the next year, you still qualify.

Grants range from about $4,500 to $8,000 per student with the average the first year a little under $5,000 per student.

The money can be spent in any number of ways, for tuition, books and instructional programs, supplies, computers, individual instruction on a musical instrument, etc.

The money to pay for the freedom accounts comes from the Education Trust Fund established more than 20 years ago when the state overhauled its funding system after the Claremont II Supreme Court decision saying the then current system of relying on local property taxes with widely varying rates to pay for public education was unconstitutional because it violated the proportional and reasonable clause of the state constitution.

For most of its early years, the trust fund ran a deficit and state general fund money had to be added to meet the state’s education aid obligations.

In recent years the fund has had a surplus including this biennium. The state budget passed last year estimates a $54.4 million surplus at the end of last fiscal year June 30 and a $21 million surplus at the end of the 2023 fiscal year.

The surplus at the end of last fiscal year is much larger than that as the overall state revenue surplus is more than $400 million, but most of that has already been spent through legislation this year such as the $100 million settlement fund for the children abused at the Youth Detention Center.

The law establishing the freedom accounts has a provision if the education fund does not have enough money to cover the cost of the grants, the needed money will be withdrawn from general fund revenue without any action needed from the legislature or the governor.

Such a provision is extremely rare as lawmakers like to be able to determine how general funds are spent.

The number of students participating in the program the first year would probably not be so large if not for the American for Prosperity, an “education organization” funded by the Koch network and other like thinking libertarians who have longed advocated that public education tax money also pay for private and religious schools, homeschooling and charter schools.

The New Hampshire affiliate had a campaign ready to go when the freedom account legislation passed as part of the budget package last year. The group helped parents enroll their students in the program, many who were in private or religious schools or home schooled.

Last week the same organization held an “education fair” for parents to meet representatives of some of the organizations and groups approved to other alternative education programs under the freedom account program.

The fair was promoted by Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut who tweeted a photo from the fair, and the department had a booth there to promote its 603 Moment campaign on social media.

Others touting the fair included members of the House freedom caucus and others in the free state/libertarian wing of the GOP.

The fair is intended to help grow the program, meaning more state money will be drawn from the Education Trust Fund and ultimately the state’s general fund.

This is a well planned operation that only required the state to agree to a school choice program with few guardrails to begin taking the state down the road to greater educational “freedom” and less traditional public education.

The Koch network has recently developed a proposal to “reform” public education with one of its officials calling public education the “low hanging fruit.”

The reform would look a lot like what the freedom account program looks like and would shift resources as it does away from traditional public education to alternative pathways.

As the freedom account program grows, observers of the legislature know what will happen eventually.

As more and more education trust fund money is allocated, there will be pressure to reduce the amount of money going to traditional public education and, depending on which party is in control, to charter schools.

That is how public education becomes the low hanging fruit.

The education commissioner and others talk about the achievement gap between students from well off areas and minority students and those from low-income families.

Edelblut maintains that gap has not changed in 50 years despite numerous efforts on the federal and state level and says that is why education needs to change.

He downplays what the recent education funding commission made the centerpiece of its work, that the achievement gap is due to the resources available to students.

Students from property poor communities perform below students from property wealthy communities.

The economic disparity gap between students from property wealthy and property poor communities is larger now than it was when the Claremont lawsuit was filed 30 years ago.

Proponents of alternative education programs say it is not about spending more money, and the education funding commission said the same thing.

But the commission said the resources needed to be distributed differently, while the advocates for freedom accounts say it is about finding the right fit for a student.

Those advocates are saying the issue is not economic disparity.

Ultimately their goal is to make government smaller and they can accomplish that by disrupting traditional public education with lower cost, less regulated alternative programs.

Eventually traditional education will be small enough to be just one more alternative pathway for students among many.

That is why public education is the low-hanging fruit and freedom accounts are just the beginning.

In the Texas governor’s race between the vile Gregg Abbott and challenged Beto O’Rourke, the candidates are fighting for rural votes on the issue of vouchers. Rural Republicans have a strong allegiance to their public schools, which are often the heart of the community and its biggest employer. Many rural communities do not have any other schools.

Yet Governor Abbott has supinely sought the approval of Betsy DeVos’s American Federation of Children.

The Texas Tribune summed up the conflict:

A battle over school vouchers is mounting in the race to be Texas governor, set into motion after Republican incumbent Greg Abbott offered his clearest support yet for the idea in May.

His Democratic challenger, Beto O’Rourke, is hammering Abbott over the issue on the campaign trail, especially seeking an advantage in rural Texas, where Democrats badly know they need to do better and where vouchers split Republicans. O’Rourke’s campaign is also running newspaper ads in at least 17 markets, mostly rural, that urge voters to “reject Greg Abbott’s radical plan to defund” public schools.

Abbott, meanwhile, is not shying away from the controversy he ignited when he said in May that he supports giving parents “the choice to send their children to any public school, charter school or private school with state funding following the student.” He met privately last week with Corey DeAngelis, an aggressive national school choice activist who had previously criticized Abbott as insufficiently supportive of the cause.

“School choice” tends to refer to the broad concept of giving parents the option to send their kids to schools beyond their local public school, while vouchers would allow parents to use state tax dollars to subsidize tuition for those other options, including private schools. Opponents of vouchers say they harm public school systems by draining their funding. In the Legislature, vouchers have long encountered resistance from Democrats and rural Republicans whose public schools are the lifeblood of their communities.

O’Rourke is leaning into the bipartisan salience of the issue.

“For our rural communities, where there’s only one school district and only one option of public school, he wants to defund that through vouchers, take your tax dollars out of your classroom and send it to a private school in Dallas or Austin or somewhere else at your expense,” O’Rourke told a rural audience recently.

As usual, the voucher vultures are pushing the lie that money taken away from your public school will allow children to attend elite private schools.

It can’t be said often enough: voucher funds are never enough to pay for elite public funds. It is a lie. Voucher funding ranges from $4,000 to $8,000. The tuition at elite private schools ranges from $30,000 to $70,000.

Elite private schools don’t have vacancies. When they do, they don’t seek to enroll poor kids.

After 25 years of vouchers, the research is clear: kids who leave community public schools for voucher schools lose academic ground. Large numbers return to their public schools.

Meanwhile public schools are grievously harmed by the withdrawal of funding. They must lay off teachers and cut programs.

If the Devil designed a program to hurt the public schools, he would call it vouchers. And it would be funded by the American Federatuon for Chiildren.

Florida is led by a Republican governor and legislature determined to crush public schools. The state is overrun by unregulated voucher schools, where teachers and principals need no certification. Some of these openly discriminate and indoctrinate. The Orlando Sentinel ran a series about the voucher schools called “schools without rules.”

Florida has a thriving charter industry, many of them operated by for-profit corporations.

Now the state has passed a new law making it easier to open new charter schools and suck money out of the public schools.

As this rampant privatization continues, Governor DeSantis keeps up a barrage of attacks on public schools and their teachers, accusing them of “indoctrinating” their students with anti-racist views and “grooming” children to be transgender.