Christopher van Leeuwen
In July, Governor Doug Ducey signed into law a sweeping universal school voucher bill, making Arizona home to the most extensive school privatization plan in the country. The new law will funnel money away from public schools and into private and religious schools by expanding the state’s existing school voucher program to every student in Arizona.
The bill passed the Republican-led Arizona Legislature along party lines. This isn’t the first time Gov. Ducey and the GOP have attempted to expand school vouchers. In 2018, voters rejected an almost identical law that expanded vouchers. Signatures are being collected to allow Arizonans to vote on the expansion again. What’s different with this legislation is the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Carson v. Makin that further reduced the separation of church and state and now allows state subsidizing of religious schools.
“All of this is really about taxpayer-funded white flight and Christian nationalism,” Beth Lewis, director of Save Our Schools Arizona, a non-partisan group of parents and teachers, described the legislation. This could be a potential “nail in the coffin” for public schools.
While school vouchers are not on the ballot this November, five Maricopa County public school teachers are running to increase support for Arizona’s public schools.
Legislative District 2 – North Phoenix
Jeanne Casteen is running for state senate in LD2 against Republican Representative State Kaiser.
“Taxpayer dollars should not be paying for unaccountable private schools that are able to pick and choose their students,” said Casteen. Casteen comes to politics after a career in education where she worked in Title I schools and as a school board member.
“The voucher proposal is a giveaway to the wealthy who already put their kids in private schools. All this proposal will do is further erode our public school funding.” Her daughter has followed in her footsteps to become a teacher as well but ended up accepting a position out-of-state because Arizona offered half as much.
Her opponent, Representative Steve Kaiser sponsored an extremely controversial bill that would have required Arizona teachers to “out” their LGBTQ+ students. Kaiser also supports voucher expansion.
In the race for assembly, State Representative Judy Schwiebert of the North Valley of Phoenix has been an educator for 27 years as a teacher and a librarian in the Arizona public schools.
“By subsidizing unaccountable private schools at the expense of our public ones, Republicans are deliberately depriving the public schools chosen by the vast majority of parents of the qualified teachers and resources those students deserve and need to thrive,” said Schwiebert when asked for comment.
As a result of redistricting, Schwiebert is running against incumbent Republican Representatives Justin Wilmeth and Christian Lamar. Both of whom are in support of Arizona’s new expansive school voucher program.
Legislative District 4 – Arcadia, the Biltmore area, Paradise Valley, North Phoenix, and Scottsdale
Over in Legislative District 4, Arizona’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Christine Marsh is running for reelection to the state senate.
“We have no financial transparency and we have no academic transparency,” and Marsh. “I’d like to know how many families that earn maybe a million dollars a year are getting voucher money versus how many families earning maybe 30 or 40,000 a year are getting voucher money.” Additionally, Marsh sponsored a bill that would limit class sizes in response to severe overcrowding in Arizona schools. Marsh spent four decades teaching before running for office.
This year Christine Marsh is running against Republican State Senator Nancy Barto, who voted for the school privatization plan. Barto has also advocated for legislation that would put young children at risk by banning any sexual education before fifth grade, including ‘good touch-bad touch’ curriculum designed to help children identify and communicate potential molestation or abuse. “I may be the only one here who’s actually taught sex education, we don’t call it that it is about human growth and development. Fourth and fifth graders are learning things like hygiene and deodorant,” said Marsh to AZEdNews. “I’m very unnerved about the idea of not having anything younger for the simple reason that our kids are already living this.” Governor Ducey ultimately vetoed the legislation.
In the race for the state assembly in LD 2, former teacher Laura Terech is running against Republican Representative Maria Syms. Terech says she was moved to run for office the day the ceiling fell on kindergarten students. She’s running on a platform to increase funding to Arizona schools. Her opponent, Rep. Syms has received an “F” score on The Arizona Education Association’s Legislative Report Card and voted for voucher expansion as well.
Legislative District 13 – Chandler, Gilbert, and Sun Lakes
Finally in LD 13, retired public school educator Cindy Hans, is running for state senate against Republican incumbent J.D. Mesnard.
“When Arizona already sits at 49th out of 50 states in per-pupil funding, vouchers bleed our public schools further,” said Hans. “Governor Ducey and my opponent J.D. Mesnard have given us a ticket to worst outcomes for students, teachers, families, and employers.”
Vying to represent LD 13 in the state assembly, former teacher and current Representative Jennifer Pawlik will face off against Republicans Julie Wiloughby and Liz Harris.
“Vouchers pull money directly from Arizona students and divert it to for-profit private schools,” said Pawlik who taught kindergarten through 6th grade for 17 years. “Our kids deserve schools with fully-staffed qualified teachers.”
By contrast, Harris has stated her support of the expanded vouchers program and has been asserting baseless claims of voter fraud in the face of zero evidence.