Editor’s note: In case you missed it, click here to listen to Matt Ladner’s recent interview on Phoenix-based public radio station KJZZ.
After claiming to have no desire to take choice away from the special populations eligible for Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program, opponents have filed a ballot proposition to do precisely that.
A group calling itself Save Our Schools Arizona has filed a new ballot initiative that will over time squeeze Native American students, military dependents and foster care children out of the program. Once the group has completed this task, it may further deny access to special needs children.
You can read the entire document by clicking the link above, or you can read the relevant portion of it below – the one that would create a statewide cap on the program equal to 1 percent of the total public-school population and that would create a rationing protocol.
Arizona has more than 1.1 million K-12 students, so if this initiative were to become law, it would kick in at somewhere around 11,000 participants. With approximately 7,200 current participants, this is only a matter of time.
The Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account program currently allows participation to students with disabilities (those with IEPs and 504 plans), those who have been through the foster care system, are attending D- and F-rated public schools, are the children of active duty military or their orphans, and those living on Native American reservations. If the initiative were to gain the necessary signatures and pass, students in all categories but children with disabilities would be squeezed from the program over time.
Arizona has more than 150,000 students either served under IDEA or with a Section 504 plan. The number of children with disabilities served in the Arizona public education system has nearly tripled since 1990.
A single-digit participation rate among these students would begin the process of squeezing other students out. A slightly larger but still single-digit participation rate would deny access to additional children with disabilities. When this would happen would depend on a variety of factors, but whether it will happen can’t be in doubt. The participation rate in special needs choice programs in Florida, for instance, is already well above the rate required to trigger rationing under this misguided proposal.
The number of signatures required for the proposition to make the ballot is substantially greater than that required to recall a piece of legislation as was the case with the previous Proposition 305. Save Our Schools leaders admit to using choice for their own children but plan to spend their summer collecting signatures attempting to diminish the opportunities for disadvantaged students to do the same.