Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Goldwater Institute: Disability and Foster Care Scholarships in Danger

by Matthew Ladner

Governor Janet Napolitano has very different ideas about education reform from my own, but I have had to confess a grudging respect for her. In 2006, she went down in history as the first Democrat governor to sign a new school voucher program into law. A few seconds later, she did it again, creating voucher programs for both students with disabilities and foster care children.

It took real strength of character and independence to face down the overwrought hysteria from the state’s powerful education establishment. Napolitano’s own ideas on education reform are consistently misguided from my point of view, but I’ve never had any cause to doubt her sincerity in wanting to do what she believed to be the right thing.

Perhaps, that is, until now.

Governor Napolitano signed these two voucher laws into existence, and children across the state are benefiting from them. Now, as a part of her budget proposals, the Governor’s office has proposed “sweeping” the accounts of funds despite the fact that hundreds of severely disadvantaged children are using these funds to attend school.

Let me be clear: the governor’s proposal outlined in her budget would not only take away as yet unused funds. The proposal would also take away funds that children have been using to attend school, kicking some children out of the program.

We should not delude ourselves that this constitutes any savings to the state. Children stripped of scholarships will revert to the public school system, which will cost taxpayers more money than the scholarships they are given to attend private school.

Children like Lexie Weck are the hostages of this proposal. The East Valley Tribune profiled Lexie, a little girl working through multiple disabilities. The disability scholarship program gave Lexie’s mother the opportunity to choose a specialty private school for her, and she has thrived in it.

Lexie’s mother Andrea Weck said “something clicked” for Lexie in her new school: “She’s signing; she’ll make eye contact now. She’s feeding herself. She’s verbalizing sounds . . . She still isn’t speaking, but I know it’s in there. And they’ll find a way to get it out.” Lexie’s family cares so strongly about the program’s benefits that they are serving as clients in the Institute for Justice’s defense of the program against the legal assault of the ACLU.

Governor Napolitano signed these bills into law. Lexie Weck and many other disadvantaged children now depend upon them. Nothing could be more cruel than to create an opportunity for a child and then to capriciously snatch it away.

With her signatures, Governor Napolitano created as much of an obligation to these children as the legislators who passed the bills. Proposing to throw special needs and foster children under the proverbial bus simply cannot be justified.

Please reconsider, Governor. These children deserve much better.

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