Legislature approves vouchers for youths to attend private schools;  may not be the last word

Members of Save Our Schools Arizona erect signs on the lawn at the Capitol Wednesday urging lawmakers to reject universal vouchers and honor the will of voters who four years ago voting against expansion.Capitol Media Services /Photo By Howard Fischer

By Howard Fischer | Capitol Media Services

State representatives voted Wednesday to let any Arizona youngster get state funds to attend a private or parochial school.

The party-line vote for universal vouchers for all 1.1 million students came even after the Republican majority removed the one bit of accountability that had been inserted in the original plan: a requirement for annual testing of the students who get those tax dollars. Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, who moved to delete the requirement, said what’s happening at private schools is none of the government’s business, even if the test results would not be made public.

But Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, said the fact that tax dollars will be flowing to those schools is precisely what gives the state an interest.

“We will not know if students are using our tax dollars — $7,000 is the typical award —  if they’re using that money to learn anything,” Butler said.

House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, who crafted HB 2853, said those who demand testing of students in private schools, even if their tuition is being partly or fully funded with state tax dollars, are missing a key point.

“Parents are the ultimate accountability, not government,” Toma said. “They know what’s best for their children and we should trust them to do the right thing.”

The Senate already has approved a nearly identical measure crafted by Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale. If the Senate concurs with the House version, that paves the way for the proposal to be signed by Gov. Doug Ducey, who has inked his approval to every other voucher expansion bill that has reached his desk.

That, however, may not be the last word.

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