Ducey Lies to Expand Vouchers with Covid-Relief Funds
Governor Ducey has long prioritized expanding private school vouchers over funding public schools, so it comes as no surprise that he is misusing federal Covid relief dollars to create yet another form of voucher. Arizona public schools have already lost billions in education funding over the past decade as lawmakers have expanded private school vouchers again and again.
Ducey Lies to Push Anti-Mask Voucher Programs
Ducey’s newest voucher program encourages parents “unhappy with their public school district’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts” (as in, mask mandates) to apply for $7,000 in federal dollars to take to private schools even if they have mask mandates! Three months after Ducey’s anti-mask voucher program was first announced, the Governor’s office claimed they’d received more than 2000 applications which exceeded the $10 million in allocated funding. However, these claims about the popularity of the program don’t hold up.
According to AZ Republic reporter Stacey Barchenger in “The Gaggle” podcast, public records requests revealed that only 1400 voucher applications were started, only 650 were completed and submitted, and only 93 were approved. In short, Gov. Ducey lied about the popularity of these programs. And if history tells us anything, he will double down on this lie in order to sell expansion of the program this upcoming legislative session.
Unused Voucher Funds Could Help 1.1 Million Students
In the interview, Barchenger points out that less than $50,000 has been spent of the $10 million set aside by Ducey for this purpose. The remaining $9.9 million remains unused. As Save Our Schools Arizona Director Beth Lewis recently pointed out in the AZ Republic, “The governor’s claims are absolutely misleading. The governor’s office is holding $10 million dollars hostage saying they’re receiving all these applications, and that money is not in the classroom helping kids right now.” Federal dollars that could be used for aides, academic support, counselors, and PPE to keep students, teachers, and staff healthy and in the classroom are sitting in the state’s coffers.
While touted by the governor to be vastly successful and popular, the program has proven to be the opposite. Barchenger reported that when confronted with the data, Ducey responded that “helping any number of families through what he called ‘good policy’ was worth it in his mind.” For the governor, it’s preferable that millions of dollars sit unused in order to justify expanding vouchers at all costs.
Voucher Fraud & Abuse
Like Arizona’s ESA voucher program, the Governor’s latest private school voucher plan is rife with misspending. The program was billed as a way to “get kids back into classrooms,” yet a full third of approved vouchers are being used to send kids to online school. And despite an income cap meant to prioritize low-income kids, several awarded vouchers went to wealthy families.
Barchenger says that her research uncovered several inconsistencies with what the governor said the purpose of the voucher program was and the actual outcomes. “[Ducey] said the programs were to keep kids in classrooms, but a third of the people who have been approved for the vouchers were approved to send their kids to online school so they’re not in classrooms at all,” she noted.
“The language coming from [Ducey’s] office was, ‘We want to support districts and parents that are following the law,” Barchenger reported, referring to the law prohibiting districts from imposing mask mandates that was recently ruled unconstitutional. “But that law doesn’t exist anymore, so [Ducey’s] shifted a little bit to the latest defense that anything we can do to keep kids in classrooms helps stem the digital divide that has emerged after COVID.” And yet many families are using the funds to attend online school.
The US Treasury has said federal Covid relief dollars were intended to help with economic recovery and slow down the spread of the virus, and that Ducey’s programs do the opposite. “These programs were unveiled just after the CDC recommended universal masking in schools, and they do the opposite of that. They put financial incentive to districts that don’t follow those guidelines,” said Barchenger.
AZ Parents Choose Public Schools
The program’s failures underscore the well-known fact that private school vouchers are not an effective or efficient way to help Arizona kids in need. Despite this, as well as the ongoing struggle between AZ and the federal government on whether voucher expansion is an appropriate use of federal dollars, Gov. Ducey insists that there will be a need to expand the program. Once again, his office is using lies and exaggerations to expand eligibility, which is extremely concerning when $9.9 million in Covid relief dollars sits unused.
Gov. Ducey continues to prioritize unpopular and inefficient voucher programs while Arizona public schools remain last in the nation in education funding. Arizona families overwhelmingly choose public schools, and voters rejected private school voucher expansion by a 2-1 margin in 2018.
AZ voters have spoken: Governor Ducey and the legislature must prioritize public education and support the 1.1 million students attending Arizona’s public schools.