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Arizona Shows The Voucher Money Shuffle In Action

The primary complaint against school vouchers is that they result in the funneling of money from public schools to private ones. A deep look at what is happening in Arizona shows that result in action.

CNN compared two school systems in Scottsdale: the Dream City Christian School and the Paradise Valley Unified School District. The former is a wealthy private religious school associated with a megachurch that recently hosted former president and convicted felon Donald Trump for a rally. It is in the process of expanding, thanks in part to the millions of dollars flowing their way because of vouchers.

Meanwhile, Paradise Valley is losing resources exactly as fast as Dream City is gaining them. They had to shut down three schools last month after attendance fell. Arizona schools, like Texas, are funded based on attendance numbers. When students leave public school for private ones, the money goes with them.

For fans of public education, it’s cause for concern. Private schools are exempt from a host of state and federal regulations when it comes to access, discrimination, oversight, and approved curriculum. Many like Dream City openly boast about prohibiting discussions of LGBT issues or white supremacy, language that Texas politicians like Governor Greg Abbott have used in selling “school choice” to voters.

For those running the national movement to privatize education, Arizona is proof of concept. Since 2021, neatly a dozen states have passed universal voucher systems. Unlike the targeted programs of old designed to help low-income, disabled, or otherwise underserved communities get into specialized schools, these voucher systems can be used for anything, including homeschools. All of this is funded by state taxes.

What Arizona shows is how affluent and prestigious conservative Christian organizations can use education as a way to acquire taxpayer funds. Not only do those funds go into the coffers of places like Dream City that are openly courting Republican politicians, they represent huge savings for their conservative Christian communities. Most vouchers go to wealthy and upper middle class families who use the money more as a coupon for a luxury than funding for an education not otherwise available to them.

These savings leave the families with more disposable income while also segregating their children into schools that actively avoid admitting various religious minorities, disabled students, and LGBT kids. The extra money can be courted for political donations, further cementing conservative power.

Arizona proves what critics of vouchers have said all along. While the programs can and do sometimes help the marginalized, it is primarily driven by far-right conservatives who see it as an easy way to raid public coffers. Dream City’s gain is Paradise Valley’s loss. The same dynamic is likely to play out wherever a wealthy private Christian school is within easy commuting distance of a public school.

Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner is an award-winning freelance journalist, the author of The Rook Circle, and a member of The Black Math Experiment. He lives in Houston where he spends most of his time investigating corruption and strange happenings. Jef has written for Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Houston Chronicle.


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