Republican Arizona State Reps. Michelle Udall, Joanne Osbourne, and Joel John are coming under fire for their decision to deny over 700,000 kids school choice opportunities. The trio voted with all House Democrats to reject a proposal to expand the Empowerment Scholarship Account program.
Specifically, Udall, Osbourne, and John voted against an amendment offered by Rep. Shawnna Bolick that would have expanded the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program to low-income students (about 80% of whom are minorities) and kids of Veterans.
ESAs allow families to utilize their education tax dollars and spend those funds on education choices that they deem best for their children. These dollars can be used to attend micro/pod schools, private schools, hiring tutors, purchasing online curriculum, and other options that may work best for each unique student.
Critics say that by voting no on the Bolick amendment, Udall, Osborne, and John became the only three Republicans to vote against this measure and sided with the teachers’ union and anti-school choice groups like Save Our Schools.
Additionally, a poll conducted by the #1 pollster in the country according to the NY Times showed that 75% of Arizonan’s support school choice and that 73% of Arizonans support this specific effort of helping low-income children. This means that the vast majority of Republican, Democrat, and Independent voters all support school choice.
Supporters of ESAs say students in Arizona needed this expansion especially in light of the drastic learning loss from Covid due to the sub-standard “virtual” education provided due to the refusal of teachers to return to in-class learning.
Republicans have touted making changes to Arizona’s election laws since long before the current legislative session began Jan. 11. But only one major election-related bill has been signed by Gov. Doug Ducey so far, and on Wednesday another bill died and a third was put on hold.
In an unexpected move Wednesday, Republican Reps. Joel John and Michelle Udall cast their votes with all 29 House Democrats against SB1713, the Sen. J.D. Mesnard-sponsored bill which would have required voters to provide one bit of personal identification information on their early ballot affidavit before mailing it in.
SB1713 was introduced by Mesnard (R-LD17) in February to address concerns that a signature on the affidavit without some other identifying information was not sufficient to ensure ballot integrity. The bill later sat in the House for nearly two months before being amended Wednesday to require an early ballot voter’s date of birth to be included on the voter’s affidavit long with their Arizona driver’s license (or non-operating state ID) number or voter registration number.
The amendment passed but a short time later the newly worded bill failed 29 to 31 when John (R-LD4) and Udall (R-LD25) voted no, effectively killing the bill for the session.
Meanwhile, another election-related bill is on life support despite efforts by Sen. Kelly Townsend (R-LD16) and Rep. John Kavanagh (R-LD23) to push through more than 20 changes to how Arizona’s elections are conducted, changes Townsend says are needed to ensure “election integrity, election reform, and election security.”
Among the varied topics covered in SB1241 are the handling of data storage devices used during elections, affidavits for persons who process or count ballots, chain of custody requirements for election equipment, and what to do if there is a conflict between the state’s Election Procedures Manual and state law (hint: the law wins).
SB1241 also makes it easier to cancel a voter’s registration in another state upon their move to Arizona, allows voters who cast ballots at a voting location to request a receipt, prohibits any tabulation equipment from being connected to the internet, and requires all tabulation results to remain in the United States.
Some violations of the bill could be prosecuted as a Class 2 misdemeanor. In addition, it would force county elections officials to report to the Arizona Attorney General or the local county attorney any “inconsistent” signatures on early ballot affidavits.
A scheduled Third Read of SB1241 on Wednesday did not happen due to budget negotiations which led to the House recessing for the next week or so. Assuming it passed the House at some point, it would still need to go back to Senate to vote on the current amended version of the bill.
On Monday, the Arizona House passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 1044. The resolution allows voters to decide if students who are in the country illegally but have attended for two years and graduated from an Arizona high school can be eligible for in-state college tuition.
SCR 1044 also exempts post-secondary education from the definition of a state or public benefit. Currently, Arizona residents who do not have legal immigration status do not qualify to receive those benefits.
Last week, Republican State Reps. Michelle Udall and Joel John forced a vote on the resolution by joining all House Democrats. Republicans Rep. David Cook and Rep. Joanne Osborne joined the group later and voted in favor of the matter. The move shifted power away from the Republican Caucus momentarily, but left a deep division.
Speaker Rusty Bowers expressed his disappointment in the tactic employed by Udall and John before casting his vote against the measure:
The measure will now go before the Arizona voters on a ballot in 2022.
The ballot initiative would repeal a 15-year-old ban on in-state tuition for undocumented high school graduates, including about 2,000 Dreamers per year. Voters created that ban in 2006 when they approved Proposition 300, which denies public benefits to those not in the country legally, including reduced cost tuition.