A couple of years ago, I was on Emil Franzi's radio show and we were talking by phone with the infamous Clint Bolick of the infamous Goldwater Institute. The topic was something called the Empowerment Scholarship Account or, as the hucksters who are pushing this crapola refer to it—in private—the Grandson of Vouchers, Version IV (or simply the latest application of lipstick on the same old pig). I've never seen Bolick in person, but I imagine he's got to have the broadest shoulders in America, based on the amount of shit he was shoveling and the fact that he could do so without even breathing hard.
By now, Arizonans who care about education (and apparently most of us don't) realize that when a Republican in this state opens his/her mouth to speak about education, about 54 percent of what comes out translates to "I hate teachers unions." Another 24 percent is "I hate teachers, period." Then, 21.2 percent is "How can I dick the middle class and help my rich donors send their kids to private school at the same time?" The remaining 0.8 percent is largely unintelligible, even more so than the other 99.2 percent.
An Arizona Republican claiming to be an advocate of public education is like Gen. Sherman, on his march to the sea, saying that he was acting in the name of urban renewal. It's scorched earth and they won't be happy until they have destroyed what used to be a pretty good system of public education, all in the name of partisan pettiness and a crackpot reliance on the misguided notion that "free-market principles" make everything better.
Having been slapped into submission by the courts over his previous take-from-the-taxpayer-and-give-to-the-undeserving-well-off ventures into VoucherLand, Bolick was shilling for the ESA, which he claimed was a tiny pilot program designed to help "special needs" kids get assistance with their, you know, special needs. As the conversation went on, I knew Bolick was lying and Bolick undoubtedly knew he was lying. (Because the Goldwater Institute hates all things Democratic, Emil decided to just sit there like a mamooch.)
The lying didn't really bother me. Bolick is a lawyer and some lawyers lie for a living—smoothly and without remorse. What has always bothered me about Bolick is that he's a grand hypocrite. He and his organization will fight till their last breath to keep Phoenix police unions from operating as unions (i.e., working to get decent wages for their members and protecting hard-earned benefits), but they then turn around and allow their beloved charter schools to spend taxpayer money with no oversight and no accountability.
The funniest thing (in a decidedly unfunny way) about the "special needs" claim is that private schools turn away special-needs kids at a rate of nearly 100 percent. They don't need that six grand from the state. They've got well-off parents willing to pay top dollar to provide their kids with a premium education. (There's nothing wrong with that; it's the American way.) Likewise, charter schools—which are, technically, public schools and are supposed to accept everybody—often find creative ways to turn away special-needs kids. Otherwise, they would have to hire a specialist or two and that would cut into the administration's profit margin. Bolick and the Republicans who are pushing this landfill fire certainly know this, but they continue to use special-needs kids in a most cynical manner to push their agenda.
Somewhat astonishingly, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled that the early version of the ESA was not unconstitutional, finding, in effect, that Fred, The Voucher System is somehow different from Bill, The Voucher System. We're waiting to see if the Arizona Supreme Court will take up the case.
There are actually three separate bills advancing through the Legislature. All three are attempting to expand the existing program, adding (how's this for cynicism?) the children of military personnel killed in the line of duty, then later the children of cops and firefighters, then the siblings of kids already getting ESA money, then the kids of active military and then ...
Two bills—SB 1236 and HB 2291—are identical, which puts them on the fast track to passage. These two don't even attempt to be cynical. They just increase the number of people eligible for free money by 15 percent each year until everybody gets a big fat check from the government. Yes, the Goldwater Institute is fully in favor of universal educational welfare. The worst thing of all is that these self-proclaimed small-government people would be doing one of two things: They would either be creating a huge new bureaucracy needed to track the hundreds of millions of dollars going out the door or they would be opting to allow the hundreds of millions of dollars to go out the door with absolutely no oversight of accountability (as they have done in the past). How's that for a Sophie's choice?
Perhaps our best (nervous, sweat-inducing) hope is that Gov. Jan Brewer will veto it. (She signed the initial bill into law, but later vetoed an expansion effort on fiscal grounds.) Brewer has shown that she can be influenced by a huge public outcry, and if people knew what was in the ESA, there would be an uproar that made the furor over SB 1062 seem like a whisper in the forest.