‘Cripple children’: Parents protest against Gov. Katie Hobbs’ move to scrap key school choice program

(Daily Caller) – With signs reading “education for all” and “support for all students,” a coalition of about 150 parents protested Tuesday over newly-elected Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs’ plan to dismantle the nation’s largest school choice program, parents told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Hobbs’ executive budget released Jan. 13 called on state legislators to roll back the state’s expansion of its school choice program which currently makes Arizona K-12 students eligible to receive taxpayer-funded scholarships if they choose to leave or are already outside of the public education system. Education for All, a group of parents backing the state’s current school choice program, rallied against Hobbs’ announcement at the state capitol, voicing their concern that ending the program would strip their children of opportunities, parents told the DCNF.

“It would rip away essentially thousands of dollars that we as taxpayers already pay into the system, that is for our children already,” Stacey Brown, the organizer of the rally, told the DCNF. “It would mean that it would cripple some homeschoolers, it would cripple children who wouldn’t have had the opportunity otherwise to possibly go to a private school and to receive extra aid in areas that they need aid. It really, really, really, really would hinder Arizona as a whole and the leg up that we have compared to other states to provide and to produce excellent educated children. We truly want education for every child in Arizona, whatever that might be to fit their needs.”

Former Republican Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey created the nation’s largest school choice program in July, making more than 1.1 million Arizona students in public and charter schools eligible to receive up to $7,000 in order to transfer schools.

Hobbs’ plan includes returning to the state’s previous school choice program which only provided taxpayer-funded vouchers to disabled children, students living on American Indian reservations and students attending low-performing public schools, Fox 10 reported. Under the previous program, just one-third of Arizona students were eligible, with about 11,800 students utilizing the vouchers, according to the AZ Mirror.

Since expanding the school choice program more than 45,000 students are currently enrolled, according to the Arizona Department of Education.

Bella Viner, an organizer of the rally and Arizona parent, has worked with Latino, African American and Hispanic students within the state’s school choice program to place them at the school that will best benefit them, she told the DCNF.

“Through this program, they are able to choose a better education and school that will concentrate on their needs, especially special-needs children,” Viner told the DCNF. “So they take away this program, they are going to take away the opportunity to have a better education in the future, to have a professional job and to be able to fulfill the dream that their family has come to this country for. Because we come to the United States for the American dream and we can not get out of poverty without a proper education.”

Due to a “high volume” of applications when the program opened, users received error messages, the Arizona Free News reported.

Save Our Schools Arizona, an organization that advocates for public schools, petitioned to put Ducey’s expansion of the school choice program on the general election ballot. The effort against the school choice program failed in September after the organization failed to collect enough signatures.

“For decades, Arizona’s public schools have gone chronically underfunded by our state leaders,” Save Our Schools Arizona said in a statement. “We applaud Hobbs for sweeping universal voucher funds and harmful results-based funding to add $198 million in addition base-level support. School districts will be able to use these desperately-needed funds to raise teacher pay and provide critical resources and extracurriculars for all 1.1 million Arizona students.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kevin Gemeroy, an Arizona parent and member of Education for All, was able to take his son out of a remote learning environment and enter him into an education that best addressed his dyslexia, Gemeroy told the DCNF. Since, Gemeroy has advocated for the school choice movement to help students who did not have the same opportunities his son had.

“I’m so grateful for what happened to us but I’m so sad for the families that don’t have the ability to buy their way out of it,” Gemeroy told the DCNF. “And ever since I’ve been advocating for school choice. There’s too much at stake for the kids.”

Hobbs’ office did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.