Arizona School Battle Brings Out Parents

Published April 1, 2009

The battle over vouchers and school choice has intensified in Arizona since state Rep. Tom Chabin (D-Flagstaff) introduced a bill to lower the tax credit for private school education by half, just days before 3,000 people attended a massive rally in favor of school choice on February 10.

State Rep. Steven Yarbrough (R-Southwest Mesa), president of the Arizona State House, attended the rally.

“The atmosphere was electric,” Yarbrough said. “The folks were there saying ‘thank you’ for supporting school choice. They were positive and supportive and were not protesting anything. It was different from the normal Capitol mall fare. It was a remarkable day for school choice in Arizona.”

Strong Opposition to Bill

Robert Teegarden, director of state projects for the Washington, DC-based Alliance for School Choice, said the rally’s timing, just 48 hours after Chabin introduced his legislation, was coincidental. Harry Miller, executive director of TOPS for Kids, a nonprofit organization that administers the scholarships, said the rally had been planned for two years.

Nonetheless, choice advocates had plenty to say about Chabin’s bill, which currently has four cosponsors and, according to state capitol watchers, has little chance of passage.

“In order to cut the tax credit in half, he would be increasing the tax revenues in the state,” said Teegarden. “This process would require a two-thirds majority of both houses in order to pass. He isn’t going to get it in either house.”

“I think [it] is ill-advised,” said Yarbrough. “It is designed to significantly harm the individual scholarship tax credit program in Arizona. Its goal is to reduce donations, reduce the number and/or amount of scholarships, and reduce the number of students able to attend the school of their parents’ choice. It will also be counterproductive to the state budget, which benefits from the students who attend a private school rather than a public one as a result of the scholarship.

“I do not believe it will advance in the Arizona House as a bill,” Yarbrough added. “The opponents of school choice will likely try other means to do harm as the session progresses.”

‘Puppetry for Teachers Union’

Teegarden says he’s weary of bills like Chabin’s, which he believes unfairly single out Arizona’s private education scholarship tax credit programs.

“This [bill] is puppetry for the [Arizona] teachers union,” Teegarden said. “There are over 750 tax credit opportunities in Arizona. Why did Chabin suggest [cutting] only this one?”

Miller said any bill like Chabin’s is bad for Arizona, which has voucher programs for special-needs and foster children as well as tax credit programs for corporations and individuals who donate money to scholarship-granting organizations.

“The two tax credits along with the two voucher programs enable parents to afford the opportunity to have a choice in their children’s education. We will fight to maintain that choice for families,” Miller said.

“The truth is that in 2007 Arizona’s school tuition organizations scholarshipped over 27,000 students at the average of $1,734 per student,” Miller added. “If students did not have these scholarships, a good number of them would be forced to return to the public school system, which has a considerably higher cost than this average. That would create a financial burden on the state. Tax credits are good for Arizona and good for Arizonans.”

Thomas Cheplick ([email protected]) writes from Massachusetts.

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Arizona HB 2471: