By Corinne Murdock |
Arizona’s Democratic leaders and activists are arguing that the legislature’s decision to universalize the state’s school choice program will cause segregation.
After the legislature voted to universalize the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program last week, State Senator Martín Quezada (D-Glendale) pronounced that school segregation would return.
“We are codifying segregation in our school system today,” asserted Quezada.
Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ), the anti-school choice activist group, has accused school choice programs of discrimination consistently. SOSAZ also claimed that school choice would lead to segregation.
Similarly, State Representative Andrea Dalessandro (D-Sahuarita) has accused the state’s school choice program of discrimination.
The argument is a long-standing one from Dalessandro and the rest of the Democratic Party: school choice systems discriminate on the basis of race.
The ongoing narrative incriminates modern school choice systems using its origins story. The first American school choice program was a form of vouchers that enabled white children to attend white-only schools in response to mandated desegregation through the 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education. A year later, economist Milton Friedman released “The Role of Government in Education,” proposing a different version of the modern voucher system unrelated to the Supreme Court decision. In the decades following this initial paper, Friedman would champion the private market as a means of empowering parental choice in education, as opposed to leaving families trapped by zip code-determined schools.
The president of the nation’s largest teacher’s union, Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers, referred to school choice systems as the “polite cousins of segregation” in 2017, following the appointment of school choice advocate and former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
Although Democrats and mainstream media outlets often refer to the ESA Program as “vouchers,” the two are different. The ESA Program utilizes education scholarship accounts, which allocates funds based on per-pupil spending that can be used for approved educational expenses. By contrast, vouchers allow parents to apply public school funding to the private school of their choice.
Prior to Arizona’s universalization of its ESA Program, those eligible were largely special needs students who relied on the funds to personalize their education. Those also eligible were children in a “D” or “F”-rated school, children whose parents are active military or killed in the line of duty, foster care children, a sibling of an ESA recipient, children of a visually or hearing-impaired parent, or children living on native or tribal lands.
Governor Doug Ducey asserted that universal school choice was the “gold standard” for education. That remark prompted former state representative and withdrawn attorney general candidate Diego Rodriguez to reassert the claim that the program would result in segregation.
Drew Anderson begs to differ with Democratic leadership’s claims. The South Phoenix Pastor, a registered Democrat, has testified in the Arizona State Capitol and elsewhere repeatedly about how school choice rescued him from failing school systems and a life of crime, dubbed the “school-to-prison pipeline.” The pastor would go on to become a successful NFL player empowered to lift his family out of poverty.
In a statement to AZ Free News, Anderson contended that school choice would actually undo current segregation enforced by a lack of school choice.
“That is truly so false! Many public schools right now are segregated because the kids in a certain zip code are predominately white, black, or brown,” remarked Anderson. “So, school choice isn’t going to lead to segregation, it’s going to lead to competition for seats in the best schools in Arizona.”