Gov. Doug Ducey /Photo by Nick Phillips/Arizona Capitol Times
By Howard Fischer | Capitol Media Services
Gov. Doug Ducey is doubling down in his fight with public schools over their virus policies, offering cash to parents to send their kids to private or parochial schools if a school – or even a classroom – has to shut down for even one day due to an outbreak of Covid.
In what his office describes as “preemptive action,” Ducey announced Tuesday his Open for Learning Recovery Benefit program to provide up to $7,000 for parents who face “financial and educational barriers due to unexpected school closures.” It can be used for things like child care and online tutoring.
But the cash, taken from federal COVID-relief programs, also can be used for tuition so parents can send their youngster to a private school, covering what gubernatorial press aide C.J. Karamargin said are “any charges from the school: tuition, books, uniforms if required.”
The new $10 million program is a variant of one announced by Ducey last year to give what amounted to $7,000 vouchers for private schools to parents who want to pull their child out of a school solely because it has a mask mandate. Ducey also divided up $163 million in federal aid that is under his control to schools — but only to districts that do not require students and staff to wear face coverings.
Both of those already have drawn threats from the U.S. Treasury to take back the money which federal officials said were designed to finance “evidence-based efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.” But so far there has been no action against the state.
Karamargin said the idea of this new program is not necessarily to give out more money.
“It’s that parents have options,” he said. But there is a message there. “That the closing of schools should not be an option,” he said.
And Karamargin acknowledged that the audience for the new order is not just parents but school districts who get state aid based on the number of students enrolled.