The school voucher tax drain is on, and you won't believe who's snagging the money

More than 8,100 Arizona families have rushed to apply for a school voucher, hoping to snag an estimated $45 million in public funding.

Of those 8,100 families, the state Department of Education reports that 78% of them don’t now have a child in Arizona’s public schools.

Note that these aren’t people who are fleeing the “failing” public schools, as supporters would like you to believe.

These aren’t poor and minority students who were “stuck” in public schools, as we have been repeatedly told.

These are largely people whose kids already are in private schools or being homeschooled.

No wonder parents are rushing for vouchers

Heck, yeah, they’re rushing to scoop up those sweet $7,000 subsidies, thus far to tune of tens of million of dollars.

With more to come.

Should those subsidies become available next month, that is.

Big impact: What do expanded school vouchers mean for Arizona?

There’s a petition drive on to veto the universal voucher bill that was rushed through the Republican-run Legislature and passed on a party line vote, then signed – twice – by Gov. Doug Ducey. Opponents of the plan have until Sept. 24 to collect 118,823 signatures to put the law on hold until voters can decide whether it should take effect in 2024.

That’s no easy feat, given the shortened time frame for referendums.

But I’m guessing it just got easier, seeing now what this law is really about.

There's a reason voters said no before

For years, Republicans have schemed up plans to divert public money to private and parochial schools. For years, we’ve been told that “choice” shouldn’t be limited by the size of your bank account, that vouchers were all about helping poor, minority children escape bad schools.

Four years ago, voters stopped them cold, voting 2-1 to veto an expanded voucher plan.

So, naturally, this year’s version calls for an even larger voucher expansion – to include every child in Arizona.

“These kids are trapped in failing public schools,” Gov. Doug Ducey said in June, in signing the bill. “It’s time to set these families free.”

Meanwhile, here in the real world, the Department of Education reports that since opening up applications for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts on Aug. 16, it has received 6,494 applications claiming “universal eligibility.”

How many private schools will open to cash in?

Of those, three-quarters of the applicants “do not have a prior record of AZ public school enrollment.”

A few of them might be for kindergartners, I suppose. And homeschooled children.

But mostly I suspect it just means that little Jenny’s parents just cut $7,000 off their $26,000 to $30,000 tab to attend Phoenix Country Day School, should the law take effect. And that Oscar got a bump in his $17,500 bill to attend Brophy College Preparatory.

Of course, not all schools cost so much.

The average tab for private school tuition in Arizona is $10,304 per year, according to Private School Review, a tracking service that provides information on private schools across the country. For elementary schools, it’s $9,818. For high schools, $15,056.

What do you want to bet we’ll soon see some fly-by-night schools opening in Arizona, to offer your kids a private school education for the low, low price of $7,000?

There is, after all, no accountability built into the voucher law – no testing to demonstrate that they’re actually educating kids.

School choice is still for those who can afford it

Currently, there are just more than 12,000 children who have vouchers under the old rules – children who have special needs or who attend public schools rated D or F or who qualify in a variety of other ways.

Add to that now, another 4,800 children looking to snag $7,000 in tax money to go to schools they already attend. With plenty more to come between now and Sept. 24.

Turns out Gov. Ducey’s just fine with that.

“Public education is about educating the public, and that means all students,” Ducey’s spokesman, C.J. Karamargin, told The Arizona Republic’s Yana Kunichoff. “That is the goal here: to give students choice.”

The ones who can afford choice, anyway.

Reach Roberts at Follow her on Twitter at @LaurieRoberts.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona school voucher expansion helps the rich (again)