Just three weeks after Gov. Doug Ducey announced that school districts issuing mask mandates or requiring vaccinated students to quarantine would be penalized by diverting money to students to use as school vouchers to attend elsewhere, demand has exceeded the $20 million he allotted by twice the amount. Ducey announced on August 17 that money the state received from the federal government through the pandemic-generated American Rescue Plan to boost per-pupil spending would not go to any of those schools.
Ducey made the announcement immediately following a demand on August 11 from Republican state legislators to take action regarding those school districts. The state legislators suggested that Ducey could withhold federal funds and offer vouchers, which he did, but he did not go so far as following their recommendation of suing the school districts.
“It shouldn’t come as a shock that Arizona parents and students are fleeing school districts that have chosen to politicize the educational environment with anti-science mask mandates and COVID virtue signaling,” Rep. Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek), who spearheaded the letter, told The Arizona Sun Times.
Both Republican lawmakers who support the move and their opponents believe that once the students are in the program, the state will find a way to allow them to stay at those schools after the funding runs out.
“The Governor took the first right step by implementing the temporary ESA program when called upon to do so by the legislature; however, he has plenty of money at his disposal,” Hoffman said. “Not one Arizona student should be denied the opportunity to escape the unlawful mandates being imposed by rogue school districts across our state. Every child deserves the highest quality education possible, free from the poisonous politics of power hungry bureaucrats and union bosses who seek to exploit students for their own partisan gain. The governor should make sure that every child that wants a temporary ESA gets one.”
The voucher program allots $7,000 to each student per school year that can be used for tutoring, private education or other educational costs. According to the governor’s education policy adviser Kaitlin Harrier, applications for 454 children are completed, 69 have been approved, and another 2,255 started. Twice as many have been started or completed than can be afforded by the funds allocated.
Ducey signed legislation banning masks and vaccine mandates in schools. A lawsuit by a Phoenix Union High School District biology teacher against the district for implementing a mask mandate is currently underway; so far the judge, who was appointed by Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano, has merely ruled that the mandate doesn’t go into effect until September 29.
The demand by Republican lawmakers followed a “COVID-19 harassment” rule implemented by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on August 8 which provided similar school vouchers. DeSantis also threatened to withhold funds from school districts that defied his ban on mask mandates. However, President Joe Biden has notified school districts the U.S. Department of Education will make up those funds.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott banned COVID-19 vaccine mandates regardless of whether the vaccine has been fully approved by the FDA — like the recent approval of the Pfizer vaccine. Several school districts are moving ahead with the mandates anyway, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he will sue them.
The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) opposes mandatory masks in schools and has a lengthy analysis of their effectiveness and negative health implications on its site. The AAPS polled doctors and found that nearly 60 percent said they hadn’t gotten fully vaccinated against COVID-19. A survey taken in July by The Trafalgar Group found that 71.4 percent of likely voters believe the COVID-19 vaccine should be a personal choice, compared to 21.8 percent who think it should be mandatory.
COVID-19 is not surging in Arizona like it is in some other areas of the country. The most recent data from the respected site Worldometer shows 2,378 cases on September 6, far less than the winter surge of 17,234 cases on January 3. Similarly, there were 38 deaths on September 4 (the most recent date available for those numbers), barely over one-tenth the winter surge of 335 deaths.
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