Educating Arizona

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The education establishment has long championed policies to lower teacher-to-student ratios. But when the Arizona legislature came up with a plan that may accomplish just that, the Arizona Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, didn't applaud–it threatened to sue.

In April, Arizona lawmakers passed a law that allows residents to deduct up to $500 from their tax bill for donations made to tuition scholarship programs. Eligible organizations are nonprofits that give children scholarships to attend the school of their choice. The measure also allows taxpayers to write off up to $200 for donations made to public schools for extracurricular activities.

"We think this is a voucher [plan] in disguise," says AEA President Kay Lybeck. "But I must admit that it is well written and it will be difficult to counter it."

That is not to say that the AEA won't try. Lybeck is considering a two-pronged attack on the law: a constitutional challenge and a statewide referendum. While a constitutional challenge is unlikely to succeed, the AEA can put the law on hold until 1998 if it gathers 60,000 signatures to place the bill on the November ballot.

If a court challenge is mounted, the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice is planning to argue on behalf of scholarship parents. And the Indianapolis-based American Education Reform Foundation promises to fight any attempts by the AEA to stall the law. "They will have a battle on their hands if they want to start it," warns AERF President Kevin Teasley. "We will tell the truth about the teachers' union attempts to thwart the will of the people."

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