by David Safier
Louisiana set up a voucher program without any oversight of the private schools students could attend. Then a news report came out about New Living Word in Ruston which "has a top-ranked basketball team but no library. Students spend most of the day watching TVs in bare-bones classrooms. Each lesson consists of an instructional DVD that intersperses Biblical verses with subjects such chemistry or composition."
How do you staunch the bleeding from a story like that? The answer from Louisiana Ed Supe John White was, lie. White sent out an email to others involved in passing the voucher bill telling them he was going to "muddy up a narrative" and "take some air out of the room" by saying the state would check the schools prior to issuing vouchers. The problem is, that was never part of the plan.
Arizona hasn't even made a pretext of checking the acceptability of the private schools our children can attend on the taxpayer's dime. Our "vouchers on steroids" legislation, Education Empowerment Accounts (SB 1553), allows state education funds to be used to pay for tuition and books at private schools with no provision for checking whether the school is a suitable environment for children. According to the bill, a "Qualified School" is
A NONGOVERNMENTAL PRIMARY OR SECONDARY SCHOOL OR A PRESCHOOL FOR HANDICAPPED STUDENTS THAT IS LOCATED IN THIS STATE AND THAT DOES NOT DISCRIMINATE ON THE BASIS OF RACE, COLOR OR NATIONAL ORIGIN. [The "handicapped students" part is there because the original bill, which is to be expanded, only included students with some kind of educational handicap.]
That's it. The building can be unsuitable for education. The curriculum can be nonexistent. The focus can be on religious education -- and most often will be on religious education since 75% of Arizona's private schools are religious (as they are across the country) -- teaching and preaching whatever the leaders of the school deem appropriate. Anything goes so long as it's a private school and it doesn't discriminate on the basis of race, color or national origin.