Republican Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and supporters of universal school vouchers won a victory lap on Tuesday over legislation the Republican-controlled Legislature enacted in June, giving the state the most extensive voucher system of the country, and he also used the time to attack public school funders who are trying to block the measure on the ballot.
Ducey touted the signature bill he signed in July that gives all parents in Arizona the ability to take state money that would go to their local public school and use it instead for private school tuition or other education costs. The governor conducted a signing ceremony at a central Christian school in Phoenix that already benefits greatly from the state’s tax credit donation programs and existing school voucher program.
But he celebrated the further expansion of universal vouchers, which has been a key goal during his eight years in office. A similar law with registration caps that passed in 2017 was voted down by 2/3 of voters in the state the following year, but Ducey has not halted his voucher expansion plans.
“Over the past eight years, and this has taken all eight years, we have taken steps to ensure that more children have this opportunity by positioning Arizona as the national leader in school choice,” said Ducey told several hundred students, lawmakers and voucher supporters. gathered at Phoenix Christian Preparatory School.
“Our children will no longer be stuck in underperforming schools. We are unlocking more educational options for them and unlocking their full potential,” he said. “There is no single model for education.”
But he acknowledged the fight ahead, as public school advocates try again to block the voucher law due to come into force on September 24. And he criticized them for their efforts.
“Misguided special interest groups will try to tell you that this legislation is going to diminish our public education system,” he said. “They couldn’t be more wrong. Public education means educating the public.
Beth Lewis, executive director of Save Our Schools Arizona, the grassroots groups made up primarily of parents of public students, teachers and concerned citizens who blocked the 2017 law, said Ducey was wrong. The group needs just over 118,000 valid signatures to prevent the voucher law from going into effect. It would remain stuck until voters can weigh in in November 2024.
“Governor Ducey’s dogs and ponies show on universal vouchers underscores his public education funding agenda,” Lewis said. “The reality is that Arizona students across the state happily started public school. And parents expect these schools to be funded and they don’t want vouchers.”
Lewis and other public school advocates say the vouchers take money from an already underfunded public school system, while supporters say the program allows parents to choose the best education for their children.
Lewis argues that the new voucher law could take out more than new lawmakers added to school funding this year, which was close to $1 billion in ongoing and one-time cash.
Under the new law, about 60,000 private students and about 38,000 home-schoolers would immediately be eligible to receive up to $7,000 a year. Some of them are currently receiving vouchers and many are already receiving money from groups such as tuition organizations that funnel tax credits to students.
The 1.1 million students who attend traditional district and charter schools would also qualify to leave their public schools and get money to go to private schools. About a third are already eligible, but only about 12,000 students statewide now use the system.