In April 1997, the Arizona legislature passed a $500 tax credit for donations to private scholarship programs. Predictably, the Arizona Education Association, the Arizona School Board Association, People for the American Way, and other special-interest groups allied with the educational establishment sued. "We think it's a voucher [plan] in disguise," then-AEA President Kay Lybeck told REASON. "But I must admit that it is well written and it will be difficult to counter." (See "Educating Arizona," July 1997.)
Lybeck was right, at least on those last two points. This January, the Arizona Supreme Court deemed the tax credit constitutional. The "primary beneficiaries of this credit are taxpayers who contribute to [the scholarship funds] and parents who might otherwise be deprived of an opportunity to make meaningful decisions about their children's educations, and the children themselves," said the court. It also had the temerity to rule that a tax credit, which allows a person to keep more of his own income, is not public spending.
Arizona's educrats are not amused. "I think it's unfortunate that the state has decided to find ways to support parochial and private education," says Penny Kotterman, current president of the AEA, which is pondering an appeal to the United States Supreme Court. "The net effect of this legislation is less dollars into the general fund," Kotterman laments.
But bad news for the Grand Canyon state's public schools may well be good news for its students. "We can help innumerable kids now," says Jack McVaugh of the Arizona School Choice Trust, a foundation that plans to pass out 500 scholarships next fall. McVaugh expects the court decision to spur more donations. "Our goal" he says, "is to [help] every child in Arizona who wants to get out of a public school– or wherever they are–have that opportunity."