Democrats for Choice

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Choice. For most Democrats it rings as a clarion call… except when it comes to education.

When school choice is mentioned, most D’s line up with the usual suspects, as was the case in Arizona this summer, when a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of Arizona’s voucher program for foster children and children with special needs. The usual suspects in this case were the Arizona Education Association, People for the American Way (ugh), and the ACLU Foundation of AZ.

In AZ, children placed in foster care can receive a scholarship of $5,000 to cover tuition and fees for a school of their choice. Kids who have received an Individualized Education Program by the state can receive an amount equivalent to the per-pupil expenditure by the local district school.

Many have long thought that Arizona’s Constitution was pretty clear in saying that state revenues could not be used for public purpose. But, in fact, repeated decisions in AZ show this not to be the case.

And one very big D, Governor Janet Napolitano, was in fact the one to sign a tuition scholarship bill into law in 2006.

I wonder if it is worth seeking an advisory opinion from the court as to whether these state decisions post-SCOTUS’ Zelman v. Simmons-Harris have any bearing on our Know-Nothing provisions. For a good primer on the fallout of Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, see Paul Peterson’s 2003 article in Education Next.

At the very least, it would be instructive to see whether there is any room for running with the idea of giving tax benefits to individuals and corporations providing funding for scholarships to go to parents choosing to send their kids to private or parochial schools. On the opportunities for such a program and the lessons to be learned from other state experiences, see Pioneer’s October study School Choice without Vouchers: Expanding Education Options through Tax Benefits.