Concerned Communities for America

Washington Examiner | Education freedom for all students is under attack in Arizona

By DaQuawn Bruce | February 06, 2023 11:07 AM | Washington Examiner

Equal access to quality education is under attack in Arizona .

Last year, Arizona became the first state to adopt a universal school choice voucher program , building on its decadeslong legacy as a pioneer in educational opportunity — a legacy that is particularly beneficial for minority students.

Almost immediately, Arizona’s teachers unions set about trying to undo this achievement , circulating petitions in an effort to trigger a referendum on the law that they hoped would lead to its repeal. However, they didn’t even manage to collect enough signatures to get the measure on the ballot. Such is the popularity of school choice.

Ironically, then-Secretary of State Katie Hobbs was the one who announced the effort had fallen short, even as she credited the unions with submitting an improbably high number of signatures, based on independent estimates.

Now that she’s been sworn in as Arizona’s new governor, Hobbs is asking the legislature to repeal the program , proposing to redirect the money back to the state’s sclerotic public school system. Lawmakers should reject this request out of hand for the sake of Arizona’s children, especially black and brown children.

It’s difficult to overstate the significance of Arizona’s universal voucher program, which provides genuine educational choice to well over 1 million students across the state.

This is particularly important in Arizona, which by many measures ranks dead last in public education. Predictably, educational outcomes are lowest for minority students .

That means minority students have the most to gain from access to high-quality charter schools. Black students, specifically, seem to benefit most from access to charter schools. But it’s not just black students who are taking advantage of the opportunity that Arizona’s pioneering approach to school choice offers. As of 2021, 59 % of Arizona charter school students identified as nonwhite.

So why would Hobbs want to eliminate a program that improves educational outcomes across the board while also increasing racial equality?

Hobbs claims that eliminating the universal voucher program will save money, even though voucher programs such as Arizona’s have been proven to be cost-effective. In reality, the only group that stands to gain from eliminating the voucher program and sending those children back to traditional public schools is the teachers unions . The more parents who opt to take advantage of vouchers, the fewer children will be left in traditional public schools that are dominated by teachers unions — and they know it.

Anything that threatens teachers unions is also a threat to Hobbs’s political career. As Hobbs boasts on her own website, a coalition of the state’s largest unions, including the Arizona Education Association, endorsed her bid for governor.

With the backing of the AEA’s 20,000 members and generous financial support from the AEA’s political action committee, Hobbs squeaked out a narrow victory, winning by just 17,000 votes.

In return, Hobbs made some generous promises to the AEA, such as hiring thousands of new public school teachers and giving teachers an average raise of $14,000 (a 27% increase). But she can’t deliver on those promises if parents take advantage of school choice through the universal voucher program.

Unfortunately, Hobbs is placing her own interests and the interests of her AEA allies above the interests of Arizona’s children and their parents. She’s choosing to side with the teachers unions even when it means actively fighting against equal access to quality education.

Yes, it’s sad. It’s always sad when our elected officials choose special interests over the interests of the people, especially when children are the ones who stand to suffer the most.

Read the original op-ed in the Washington Examiner.

DaQuawn Bruce is the executive director of Concerned Communities for America, a 501(c)(3) advocacy group that promotes economic empowerment, public safety, free and fair elections, and quality education for the black community.

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