By Terri Jo Neff |
The Arizona Attorney General’s Office has been called on to take immediate action to prevent public school districts from using taxpayer funds in an effort to reduce how many of the state’s K-12 students are eligible for up to $7,000 for educational expenses.
The Goldwater Institute worked earlier this year to expand eligibility for Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program from roughly 11,000 K-12 students to all of the estimated 1.1 million students. Gov. Doug Ducey signed the legislation in July and it takes effect later this month.
However, Democrats and special interest groups, including union organizations, have pledged to stop universal ESAs from becoming a reality. And Arizona’s public school districts appear poised to violate state law to do so, according to Scott Day Freeman, a Senior Attorney for the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.
“Arizonans would rightly be appalled to learn that school districts will be using taxpayer resources to have district employees participate in an event clearly geared toward a political objective: undoing Arizona’s innovative, new universal school-choice program,” Freeman wrote on Aug. 31 to Michael S. Catlett, the Chief Counsel of Special Litigation for Attorney General Mark Brnovich.
In the letter, Freeman outlines the Goldwater Institute’s concern that many of the state’s school districts are poised to use taxpayer dollars to send representatives to a politically motivated meeting later this week at which attendees will be encouraged to help overturn Arizona’s new ESA opportunity.
“Arizona Revised Statute Section 15-511 prohibits school districts from spending or using district school resources to influence the outcomes of elections, including the support or opposition of ballot measures,” Freeman wrote. “But school districts are doing precisely that, and the Attorney General is statutorily empowered to stop it.”
Freeman notes numerous public school district employees plan to attend a “Law Conference” presented by the Arizona School Boards Association at the J.W. Marriott Camelback Inn in Paradise Valley on Sept. 7 through 9 that will include programming by Friends of the ASBA, a 501(c)(4) organization opposed to school choice.
Friends of the ASBA, Freeman wrote Catlett, “will be working at the conference to gather signatures on a petition to overturn the universal school choice reform via ballot referendum.” He added that the ASBA “has brought its political advocacy to a fine point in its upcoming Law Conference.”
The Goldwater Institute is asking the Arizona Attorney General’s Office (AGO) to immediately investigate and “take all appropriate legal action to enforce Arizona’s law prohibiting school districts from using public recourses to support a ballot measure seeking to invalidate Arizona’s universal ESA program,” Freeman wrote.
The authority of the AGO to act is provided in ARS 15-511 “but only if your office acts promptly,” he added.
In a follow-up public statement, Freeman said the Goldwater Institute is dedicated to exposing the plans of entrenched interests in education to use hard-earned taxpayer dollars to deprive parents of the educational freedom provided by ESAs.
“All Arizona families should be free to make educational choices for their children without having the government work against them by rigidly defending a status quo that protects bureaucrats and government unions,” he stated.