DeVos pushes school vouchers at Arizona event

Jonathan J. Cooper and Bob Christie
Associated Press

Scottsdale, Ariz. — U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday touted her $5 billion plan to fund tuition for private school students, telling a room of supportive parents and lobbyists that it would improve the quality of education.

DeVos praised Arizona’s devotion to school choice programs that provide public funding for private and charter schools.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, right, joins Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, left, as they address the media after a roundtable discussion on school choice, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019, in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“Arizona is a real leader in giving parents and students the kind of freedom that they need to find their right fit for education, and I’m so grateful for the example that you are setting here,” DeVos said, seated next to Republican Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on the sidelines of a conference of conservative legislators.

DeVos is pushing her plan to create “Education Freedom Scholarships” allowing businesses and individuals to get 100% federal tax credits for donations to scholarship-granting groups. The Republican is a major backer of school vouchers and formerly led the American Federation for Children, which promotes the programs in Arizona and other states.

Arizona has a similar program that uses tax credits to fund private school tuition scholarships. It also has an “Empowerment Scholarship Account” school voucher program that takes state general fund money and funnels it to more than 6,000 private or home-schooled students.

Arizona public school teachers revolted in 2018 and persuaded voters to block an expansion of the state’s school voucher program enacted by the GOP-controlled Legislature and endorsed by Ducey. Voters rejected the expansion by a nearly 2-1 margin. Tens of thousands of teachers also went on strike that year over low pay and school funding and won big pay raises from Ducey and Arizona’s Republican-dominated Legislature after he had rejected them earlier.

Despite the voucher program rejection at the ballot box, Ducey praised the program and urged DeVos to take it nationwide.