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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : latest news : state May 25, 2016

6/7/2013 11:59:00 AM
Court refuses to delay voucher-program funding

Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- The Court of Appeals won't stop the state from continuing to fund a controversial voucher program, at least not now.

In a brief order Tuesday, the judges rejected a request by foes of what are called "empowerment scholarship accounts' to block continued payments while the legality of the program is litigated.

The judges gave no reason for their ruling. But they said it does not necessarily presage that they will conclude that the vouchers are constitutional.

Tuesday's order comes the same day the state House voted to further expand eligibility for the program to those in kindergarten. Now a student is eligible only if he or she had previously attended a public school.

It also expands aid for students who previously attended charter schools.

Potentially more significant, it follows implementation last month of more far-reaching expansion that potentially opens the program, which now serves just 302 students, to tens of thousands more.

Attorney Donald Peters, who is representing the Arizona Education Association and others who sued, said he sought the funding delay on behalf of those students who might find themselves out of luck in the middle of the school year if the appellate court decides the funding plan is illegal.

The 2011 law requires the state treasurer to set up a special account that parents of students with special needs could tap to pay tuition and fees for their children at private or parochial schools. The aid is equal to 90 percent of what the state would otherwise pay in state aid to send that child to a public school.

That figure depends on everything from grade level to the child's needs. Legislative staffers put the scholarships at anywhere from $1,700 to as high as $26,000.

The AEA sued, contending the plan violates a constitutional provision which specifically bars state aid to private and parochial schools. They also cited another constitutional section precluding the use of public money for religious worship, exercise or instruction.

When a trial judge rejected the challenge, foes sought relief at the Court of Appeals.

Last year, though, lawmakers voted to expand the program to make it available to any student in a school rated D or F by the state for academic achievement. State officials said there are about 90,000 youngsters in D-rated schools -- none has yet scored an F -- all of whom would be eligible.

The Department of Education says it is still counting applications but knows of at least 1,200 applicants as of a month ago. That compares with 302 children receiving the special aid last school year.

"They may have all these people starting to rely on these scholarships, only to find in the middle of the (school) year the court finds it's unconstitutional,' Peters said.

"Then they've switched schools once and they're going to have to switch again if the funding for their new school is withdrawn,' he explained. "Nobody, whatever their view of education, thinks that frequently changing schools is good for any kid.'

The appellate court gave no indication when it ultimately will rule on the legality the program. And whichever side loses is virtually certain to take the issue to the state Supreme Court.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, June 8, 2013
Article comment by: We've Got A Failure To Communicate!

1. AEA teachers union only want more taxpayers
money to enrich their cushy feathered-beds.
(this statement only seems to be true)

2. Also the taxpayers want excellent choice of
education for their children and not fork out one
penny for said education. (this statement only
seems to be true)

3. No constitutional provision exist that only gov
(fed, state, local) shall be the provider of choice
of education/training for our children. (this is a
true statement)

4. Gov (fed, state, local) is not only out of money
but are mindlessly squandering tax and borrowed
monies. (this statement, factually is true...sad)

5. Vouchers are constitutional if we apply the
equal treatment clause of the US Constitution.
For example 100% voucher system for all 100%
of citizen students (1-12) given a voucher via
their parents. The parent make a choice of
education/training (which is their prior-right) via
home and/or private and/or public schooling.
(this statement is true and can be done)

5. We could continue with other points of views,

We can communicate with each other and decide
on a pragmatic path for our children...lets face it,
they are the country's future.

Thanks and Good Luck,

Frank Henry

Posted: Friday, June 7, 2013
Article comment by: @ Attorney Donald Peters

RE: "Nobody, whatever their view of education, thinks that frequently changing schools is good for any kid.'

Poppycock! Anyone who has grown up in the military knows frequently changing schools can be a very valuable addition to kids' education.

It depends a lot on whether their parents see it as an exciting opportunity to expand horizons and handle change, or worry about the adverse effects of same.

It also depends on how their teachers handle kids with different points of view and, in this case, whether AZ public school teachers would be inclined to gloat if "empowerment scholarship" students were forced to return. For instance, stateside dependents during the Vietnam Conflict had a lot harder time in school than did those during the Korean Conflict.

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