Legislature Strips Funding from Arizona Voucher Programs

Published September 1, 2008

A last-minute vote in the closing hours of the Arizona Legislature’s spring meeting stripped funding from the state’s two-year-old voucher programs for disabled and foster students, leaving roughly 350 children and their parents scrambling in search of schooling alternatives before classes begin this fall.

On May 15 a state appellate court had declared the two programs unconstitutional because some of the private schools accepting voucher students are Catholic. The Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based civil-liberties law firm, convinced the Arizona Supreme Court to allow the programs to remain operational until it rules on the case.

Less than 24 hours before the high court agreed to do so on June 27, however, legislators dickering over the state’s $9.9 billion budget for the next fiscal year withdrew the $5 million allocated for the two programs.

Devastated Families

Parents of the affected students are “heartbroken,” said Robert Teegarden, state project director for the Alliance for School Choice.

“Some parents are saying, ‘Our kids were warehoused by public schools,'” Teegarden said. “There was no development.”

This is especially evident in the case of the disabled students.

“One mother in particular said public school teachers said her child would never speak, because he is borderline autistic. They told her he would never communicate, and had a real negative diagnosis [of him],” Teegarden said. “After six months in the new school, he is speaking and communicating, and she is saying, ‘I can’t put him back in that hellhole.'”

Personal Giving

Tim Keller, executive director of the Arizona chapter of the Institute for Justice, who argued the case before the appellate court, said he will not find out until September 23 whether the Arizona Supreme Court will accept the appeal he filed in June. School begins in August.

Nonetheless, Keller said, the case for the programs will continue because the legislature didn’t actually eliminate them. The state’s scholarship-granting organizations, which administer the vouchers to families, are calling on residents to open their wallets and donate money to replace the state funding and ensure the affected children’s educations continue uninterrupted.

“Special-needs children and foster children were relying on their scholarships for a good education, but the legislature has left them without the necessary funds for this year,” Arizona STO Association President Harry Miller said in a July 17 press statement.

“These are children whose special needs are best met in a learning environment suited to those needs,” Miller continued. “I have met families who for the first time have hope that their children can learn and grow into productive adults, thanks to their new schools. But most of them cannot afford to keep their children in those schools without the scholarships. We cannot let these children down.”

Elisha Maldonado ([email protected]) writes from California.

For more information …

Information on how to make tax-deductible donations for Arizona’s disabled and foster student scholarships is available on the Arizona STO Association Web site at http://www.astoa.com.