December 2018 Church & State | Editorial

The big news about last month’s elections focused on control of the House of Representatives. That is indeed important, but some other noteworthy developments occurred that shouldn’t be overlooked.

One of them took place in Arizona, where a determined coalition of public school advocates beat back an effort to expand vouchers in that state. In an impressive victory, Save Our Schools Arizona blocked an expansion of vouchers decisively, 65 percent to 35 percent.

Legislators in Arizona had initially passed a voucher plan aimed at students with special needs. A study showed that the plan was rife with problems. Some parents who were already living in areas with high-performing public schools were using vouchers to enroll their children in private schools at taxpayer expense. The program was also plagued by lax oversight. Nevertheless, last year, lawmakers voted to extend it to any student in the state.

The program was a real threat to public education, and some residents saw it as the first step toward privatization of secondary education in the state. They decided they’d had enough, so they gathered signatures and put Proposition 305 on the ballot. And on election night, they won a clear victory.

The Arizona results mirror those from other states. Time and again, when people are given the opportunity to vote directly on vouchers at the ballot box, they reject them, usually by wide margins. This pattern has held even in traditionally red states, such as Arizona.

It’s pretty obvious what the people are saying: Americans support an adequately funded, effective public school system. They support the system that is open to all. They support the schools that educate 90 percent of our children.

Yet despite this unambiguous message, legislators in several states continue to force voucher plans – these days often euphem­istically called “scholarship” programs or “education savings accounts” – on the people.

In Arizona, parents, educators and others showed the rest of the country what can be done when people of goodwill and determination band together and work hard on behalf of public education. The victory is all the more impressive when you consider that the battle in Arizona had more than a bit of a “David v. Goliath” feel, as powerful, well-funded forces affiliated with the far right (including groups affiliated with the Koch brothers) backed vouchers. They still lost.

The people of Arizona, and indeed the people of America, support public schools, and they don’t want to undermine that system with reckless and corrosive voucher plans. That was once again made clear on Nov. 6.

Let’s hope politicians in other states were paying attention.