Legislative Update

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A reporter from the Arizona Capitol Times will give us a mid-week update on the state legislature.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon" -- our legislative update looks at efforts to use tax money for private school tuition. The conductor of the Phoenix chorale talks about the group's recent grammy award and we'll take you to a local English tea room. Those stories next on Arizona Horizon.

Video: Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon". "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS. Members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Governor Doug Ducey said today he will back Donald Trump if trump winds up as the Republican nominee for president.

Ted Simons: He says he will suport whoever becomes the GOP nominee because "what's important is that we defeat Hillary Clinton. I don't want to see another four or eight years of the policies of Barack Obama. That's very important to me."

Ted Simons: Ducey's comments come after senator Senator John Mccain earlier on "Arizona Horizon" reiterated his support for trump should Trump win the nomination.

Ted Simons: If he were the nominee, would you support him?

John McCain: I'll support the nominee of the party. There's no doubt he and I have very strong disagreements, but he will have been picked by the vote of the Republicans and that's a legitimate process.

Ted Simons: Neither McCain nor Ducey has endorsed a candidate thus far. Arizona's primary is March 22.

Ted Simons: Well, a plan to allow all Arizona students to use taxpayer supported voucher like system to pay for private and parochial school tuition is running into problems at the state capitol. Here with more in our weekly legislative update is Ben Giles of the Arizona Capitol Times. What is an ESA?

Ben Giles: It's an empowerment scholarship account, one of the big ideas behind school choice movement in Arizona. These were created years ago in particular for special needs students who if you are stuck in a public school district that maybe didn't serve the needs of that particular student, we're going to give you a scholarship. The state is going to give you taxpayer money for a scholarship that you can then take and spend at any school of your family's choice. Whatever is in the best interests of the student. Ever everybody since that started it's been expanded a little bit here, a little bit there every year. This year representative Justin Olson has an idea to by 2020 open it up to any student in Arizona regardless of need, regardless of any special needs that student might have.

Ted Simons: We're talking a million kids here. A lot of kids who could possibly take advantage of this. Can the state afford this? Can public schools afford this?

Ben Giles: Well, public schools are saying they can't because it would provide such a level of uncertainty for public school districts that need to plan out a year, maybe two, in advance to budget how many students are we going to have, how many students are we going to serve and what do we need to request from the state to accomplish. That that's one of the main arguments against this from the public school districts. That's winning over some Republican lawmakers in the house where this bill has stalled. Representative Olson has had the bill on schedule to be voted on two or three times in the last week and a half and it has yet to be voted on because there are not enough votes.

Ted Simons: And that's because it did pass a similar bill did pass the Senate and the minute that got through, I think a lot of people went, what's going on here? It kind of opened a lot of eyes.

Ben Giles: Right, a million students moving wherever they might want to across the state, and it was around the same time there were reports too about who might be using these programs because just because it's a available to everyone doesn't mean that everyone will take advantage of this. There have been studies that have shown the students and the families that do take advantage of these programs, these taxpayer funded scholarships that you could go use at a private school, charter school, whatever you choose, are typically wealthier families that also have the expenses out of their own pocket to afford things like transportation to get to that school. There are restrictions on poor families to take advantage of it.

Ted Simons: Indeed, it seemed like you would get, what, 500,000 some odd dollars along those lines. Good luck getting into some private schools with that kind of tuition. A lot of poor families still can't afford to get to the school of their choice.

Ben Giles: Right. Private schools have different rules about letting students in. It's not like in a district where if you live in the district you're in. Other schools can be more selective about regardless of whether or not you have a scholarship if they are going to let your child into that school.

Ted Simons: Haven't heard much from the governor's office on this. Sounds like something he would support but also may be iffy considering it's taking attention away from prop 123.

Ben Giles: The governor sidestepped questions like that. Any governor doesn't like to comment on legislation as it's moving through the house and the Senate. But he did reiterate that his number one focus, Ducey's, this year is getting prop 123 passed in May. That's taking state land trust money, about $3.5 billion over ten years, for schools. That's his priority. I think a part of the concern beyond some Republican legislators in the house having concerns with the program itself, they are concerned that this might not look good to voters who are going to have to come out in May and say do we want to infuse public schools with all this money?

Ted Simons: People are rushing off as quick as they can to private, parochial schools. Arizona Education Association, they support prop 123. Will they if this thing goes through?

Ben Giles: I really don't think it is going to go through this year. They won't have to answer that question at least in 2016. There might be some efforts maybe with a late maneuver at the end of session to get this through, but right now it seems like the writing is on the wall because of those two reasons we spoke of, because there's actual genuine discomfort with the idea of by 2020 possibly undermining public schools all together, and discomfort with the idea that this is the year we really need to focus on prop 123, that $3.5 billion that the governor's number one priority. If that were to get messed up, the entire public school system would be thrown into disarray because we would not have this agreed-to settlement of a long-standing lawsuit between the legislature and public schools.

Ted Simons: You would have the constitutional crisis that everyone tried to avert in the first place. But again, is anything ever really dead at the legislature?

Ben Giles: We don't know until sine die.

Ted Simons: This could pop back up at any time and say boo.

Ben Giles: Depending on the bill it gets attached to, we'll keep an eye on it.

Ted Simons: Good stuff. On the Friday roundtable we'll talk more about this and and classroom spending report - lowest since 2000, we'll talk about that as well. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Ben Giles: Thank you.

Ben Giles: Arizona Capitol Times reporter

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