Friday, May 19, 2017

Can Voters Defeat the Vouchers-For-All Law?

Posted By on Fri, May 19, 2017 at 5:03 PM

This could be the opening paragraph of an article in an Arizona paper the day after the 2018 election.
Voters decisively rejected the will of the . . . Legislature and governor Tuesday, defeating what would have been the nation's most comprehensive education voucher program in a referendum blowout.
That's an actual opening paragraph of an article, but not here in Arizona. It's from Utah's Salt Lake Tribune (I put three dots where the state name should be) on November 7, 2007. A recently formed group, Save Our Schools, has begun collecting signatures to put a similar referendum on Arizona's November, 2018, ballot to overturn the bill expanding empowerment scholarship accounts to all Arizona children. If the referendum succeeds, Arizona journalists have their opening paragraph written for them.

Since 1990, people across the country have voted against vouchers every time they've had a chance. The No votes have ranged from 60 to 71 percent. The last vote was in Utah in 2007, and the circumstances were similar to ours. The Utah legislature passed its voucher law by one vote. This year, our legislature passed SB1431 by three votes in the House and Senate. With one more Democratic representative and senator, it would have been a one vote margin. (Two more Democrats in either the House or the Senate, and the bill would have gone down.) Utah's voucher opponents collected 124,000 signatures. This year Arizona needs 152,000 valid signatures. In Utah, the teachers union led the signature gathering effort. At this point, Arizona's teachers unions haven't been a visible presence, though it's still early.

By the time votes were cast in Utah, $8.5 million had been spent, with the money reasonably evenly spread between the pro- and anti-voucher forces. Most of the $4 million pro-voucher money came from one man: Patrick Byrne, then the chief executive of The National Education Association and the state teachers union put up most of the anti-voucher money. I'm not sure the teachers unions are going to have deep pockets like that if the Arizona referendum makes it to the ballot. They've got lots of expensive battles to fight across the country. Meanwhile, the privatization/"education reform" movement has grown so popular among multimillionaires and billionaires, it has almost unlimited cash, so the financial battle over an Arizona referendum could be lopsided. But remember, only 8 percent of Arizona's children attend private school or are home schooled, so 92 percent of parents won't see any benefits from the expenditure of taxpayer money on vouchers. Pure self interest is on the anti-voucher side.

A These-Sons-Of-Bitches-Will-Resort-To-Anything-To-Win Note. I just received an email directed at signature gatherers warning that a new law can invalidate any signature or other voter information on a petition that goes outside the lines. That means an oversized signature or even a lower case g, j or y extending into the box below can mean the signature won't count. I didn't know that law is in effect for this round of petitions, but if it is, it means petitions are likely to have lots of signatures thrown out which are valid except that the signers' information goes outside the line. This isn't voter suppression per se. It's suppression of the ability of voters to put their ideas to a vote. Add "preemptive voter suppression" to the garden variety voter suppression Republican legislatures have put in place in Arizona and across the country.

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