VERDE VALLEY – Representatives from Verde Valley public schools are feeling as if they’ve gone 15 rounds with Gov. Doug Ducey, who on April 6 signed legislation to make the state’s public school students eligible to receive state money to attend private and parochial schools.
According to Jennifer Chilton, principal at Mingus Union High School in Cottonwood, Arizona public schools should be “bolstered, not battered.”
Each of the state’s 1.1 million students in Arizona public schools eligible for vouchers worth about $4,400 annually for most of the students, with another 10 percent added to vouchers for students in families with an of about $50,440 a year for a family of three.
The state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account Program has been a topic of discussion among public school professionals “as the legislation has developed,” Chilton also said.
“Equity of educational opportunity is a priority,’ Chilton said. “Inequity grows when the voucher subsidizes costly tuition. Most families who cannot access a school with a $20,000 tuition still do not have access if the tuition is subsidized to $15,000.”
According to Eric Schultz, board president of Camp Verde United Christian School, Gov. Ducey’s decision is a sign that Arizona “has demonstrated a commitment to education options that benefit families.”
“The ESA scholarships add another way to offer private school options to families that would otherwise be out of reach,” Schultz said. “Families in Camp Verde have already discovered that the Arizona Education Tax Credit program opens doors for private Christian education, and United Christian School is looking forward to welcoming new students who take advantage of the ESA scholarships as well.”
Said Alan Emory, interim administrator at the Christian school, the Governor’s signature was a commitment to competition within the state’s school system.
“Clearly, the current system needs repair,” he said. “Giving parents more of a choice in their child’s education will force all institutions to assess their approach to learning.”
Emory also said that competition between private and public schools “is only going to hurt those schools who are not providing a quality education.”
“I believe it behooves all citizens, particularly those in the education realm, to take a hard look at education as a whole,” Emory said.
‘This can only make things worse’
Steve King, assistant superintendent at Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District, said Gov. Ducey’s decision makes it “difficult to see any immediate or potential benefit for the great majority of our children, families, and community.”
In 2011, empowerment scholarship/vouchers were first approved as a way to help parents whose special needs children could not get the services they need from their public schools.
Problem is, Arizona public schools are “already tragically underfunded,” said Lance Barnes, principal at Camp Verde American Heritage Academy.
“This can only make things worse,” Barnes said. “I am saddened for our most needy students in Arizona.”
Public schools losing ‘more ground’
Expanding these empowerment scholarship accounts, according to Sedona-Oak Creek School District Superintendent Dave Lykins, creates a “financial incentive” to remove students from Arizona’s public schools.
“When students exit, the associated dollars generated by Average Daily Membership of students decline, and funding is lost from the public school system,” Lykins said. “This weakens [a] public school district’s ability to have the necessary resources they need to provide the educational services to the students that we serve.”
Karin Ward, principal and superintendent at Beaver Creek School District, agrees.
“Any time the governor and legislators take money from the general fund for non-traditional public education or higher tax credits to private schools, traditional public schools lose more ground in providing a high quality education for all students in their communities.”