Laurie Roberts: Arizona is 'ground zero' in the Koch brothers' battle to reshape public education in 2018.
If you are someone who believes in the public schools – the ones that educate 95 percent of Arizona’s children …
If you are someone who believes that tax money shouldn’t be spent to create a two-tier system of education – private schools for those of means and public ones for everybody else …
Then it’s time to start paying attention.
Kochs targeting school voucher vote
Gov. Doug Ducey and his Koch brothers network of "dark money" bazillionaires have set their sights on saving Arizona’s expanded voucher law – the one that a grassroots group and 100,000 Arizona voters put on hold last year via referendum.
The one that will be on the ballot this fall as Proposition 305, so you can decide whether you want your tax money going to fund private schools.
The one that is now dead center in the sights of the Koch network as it prepares to spend whatever it takes – and say whatever it takes -- to ensure the expanded voucher law will stand.
The Washington Post, invited to sit in on the Koch network’s strategy session on education at its weekend retreat, reported Tuesday that the Kochs see Arizona as 'ground zero' in their push to reshape education.
Ducey's campaign to squash opposition
And the general leading that push will be Gov. Doug Ducey.
Ducey, addressing Koch donors at the weekend retreat in California, talked up the need to defeat the citizen referendum and allow the law to take effect.
“This is a very real fight in my state,” Ducey said, according to the Post. “I didn’t run for governor to play small ball. I think this is an important idea.”
The problem with this important idea, of course, is that this particular form of school choice isn’t really a choice at all for most people.
Vouchers not a choice for most people
That’s because a voucher would cover only a portion of the cost of private tuition, around $4,000. No doubt, the well-to-do will snap up those vouchers, diverting what they would have spent on tuition into better vacations.
And everyone else can stay in the woefully underfunded public school system.
Oh, there will be some for whom that $4,000 voucher would make all the difference, parents who just need those few extra thousand that a voucher will supply to be able to afford tuition. But those families already can get publicly funded scholarships via the state’s tuition tax credit program.
Just don’t expect that to be mentioned in the coming campaign to save the expended voucher law.
Just how far will the Kochs go?
Already, the Koch-funded Libre Initiative is targeting Latino families to extol the wonders of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, as vouchers are called.
Already, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity is in court, trying to knock Prop. 305 off the ballot.
Now, it’s being pitched to Koch donors as a fight against teacher unions. The Post,covering the meeting, described it this way:
“Teacher unions, worried that this will undermine the public system, collected enough signatures to put the law on hold and create a ballot proposition to let voters decide in November whether to expand vouchers.”
Meanwhile, the Post reports that Ducey introduced Steve Perry, of Capital Prep Charter Schools in Harlem, N.Y., who has been coming to Arizona to speak in support of the voucher law.
“The teacher unions are unencumbered by the truth,” Perry told the Koch donors. “It is a distant relative that is never invited to dinner.”
Prepare to be lied to
Actually, in Arizona the teacher union is unencumbered by any actual power. If it had any, would our teachers be among the nation’s lowest paid?
In fact, Arizona’s teacher union had nothing to do with the referendum on vouchers. Nor was it a Democratic Party effort (in case that’s the next red herring launched).
Save Our Schools Arizona was started by a handful of ordinary citizens who met at the state Capitol last year while waiting to testify against the voucher bill. These political neophytes were so angered by the bill’s passage that they decided to launch a referendum to try to stop it.
This, despite every so-called political expert’s warning that it couldn’t be done – not by a group of citizen volunteers with no major financial or organizational backing.
So they did it anyway, sending the powers-that-be – in and outside of this state – reeling.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, cannot be allowed to stand.