Although the program is small and limited to few children, it is a troubling change in position for the governor.
When two political entities with sharp philosophical differences negotiate an agreement, neither side will be entirely happy.
That was the case with the state budget agreement between Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano and the Republican-led Legislature.
One aspect of the agreement that was pushed by legislators and accepted by the governor is deeply troubling, is sure to spur bitter legal challenges and could be the beginning of serious financial woes for Arizona’s beleaguered public school system.
Napolitano agreed to creation of a voucher system that will, for the first time, allow parents to send their children to private schools – including religious ones – and have taxpayers pay the tab.
Napolitano will point out that the voucher program is extremely limited – only for disabled children and former foster children who have been adopted. And she will point out that the dollar amount is insignificant: $5 million equally divided between the two groups of children. In the $10 billion state budget, that is 0.05 percent of the spending.
Regardless of scope or cost, this is an important philosophical step for Napolitano – and one that is extremely worrisome.
The governor has in the past steadfastly and consistently opposed vouchers because she said they would divert badly needed money from public schools. It is disappointing that she has abandoned that thinking.
Her spokeswoman even went so far as to claim the program is not “vouchers” but “scholarships” – an unsuccessful attempt to put lipstick on this pig.
Arizona already spends less per student than almost every other state in the nation. Allowing parents to take their children and the funding for those children out of the system will only further weaken the public school system for those who remain.
There also are serious constitutional questions about vouchers – regardless of what they are labeled. Under the Arizona Constitution, “No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise, or instruction, or to the support of any religious establishment.”
If a parent eligible for this new state program decides to send his or her child to a parochial school at public expense, how is that constitutional?
The Arizona Supreme Court has never been presented with a clear case of vouchers and asked to decide their constitutionality. The Arizona Education Association, which represents teachers, promises to change that with a lawsuit as soon as the budget is signed into law.
We know Napolitano agreed to these vouchers as a way to get other educational funding that she deeply wanted. And we agree that funding – for higher teacher pay and expanded all-day kindergarten – was essential.
But this deal lets the camel’s nose of vouchers under the public school tent. And that is unacceptable.
Because of technical problems, material was left out of a June 14 editorial on the Western Governors’ Association’s call for states and cities to reduce human-caused greenhouse gases.
The editorial should have read:
“By acknowledging these problems, Western governors have taken the first step,” said Diane E. Brown, executive director of the Arizona Public Interest Research Group. “The next step is to reduce global warming emissions by increasing energy efficiency and clean, renewable energy.”
We agree. No problem can be resolved until it is recognized and acknowledged – a move that President Bush must make regarding greenhouse gases and their effect on our planet’s environment.