AZ Supreme Court Strikes Down Vouchers for Disabled Kids. I’m Torn.

I couldn’t wait to hear how Ms. X’s classroom observation went.

“How’d it go?” I texted toward the end of the day. “Was Sophie swinging from the chandeliers?”

No no, Sophie did really well, Ms. X insisted, and her classroom observation with the principal was great. So great she wanted to celebrate, so we met for frozen yogurt.

Sophie pretty much followed directions all morning, Ms. X reported; she only got distracted when her chair was too far from the table. Ms. X spotted that, cruised over, pushed her in and kept right on with her lesson — didn’t miss a beat.

This observation was about Ms. X, not Sophie, but I had worried Sophie would disrupt the whole thing and keep Ms. X from tending to her 20-plus students. She assured me that didn’t happen. She told me Sophie completed her assignment without help, which I thought was pretty cool. It’s part of the rodeo theme this week — the kids had to cut out pictures of a cookout and put those pictures in sequence:


Ms. X had been stuck in the classroom all day, so I filled her in on the other big news: The Arizona Supreme Court struck down the state’s voucher program for disabled kids.

I have real mixed feelings about that. (A caveat: You — or I, at least — can only scratch the surface in a quick blog post.) Kindergarten in the public school setting is going amazingly well for Sophie — and it appears we are in a good shape for first grade (knock wood). But beyond that? I reserve the right to explore other options.

I didn’t always feel that way. By conservative Arizona’s standards, I’m practically a socialist, and that includes my feelings toward the public school system.

As long as I’ve been paying attention (probably longer), the right wing in this state has been pecking away at public education — not just starving it, but also trying to legislate it out of existence. Or darn close.

In the mid-1990s, there was a wholesale push for vouchers, which would basically take the money spent on public school and give it to parents to use at private schools, including private religious schools.

Even in Arizona, that one didn’t end up flying. Some will tell you that’s simply due to the power of the teachers’ unions. But I like to think there are folks out there who agree with me that public education is sacrosanct (or should be) in our country.

I get it, I get it. Some private schools are much better. But a voucher program, in my opinion, is simply a way of giving up on public schools. Not acceptable.

I was happy to see vouchers go down and upset when a bill allowing for charter schools passed. Another way to starve the public schools!

“Just wait til you have kids!” my conservative friends said.

It’s understood that most of us start out pretty liberal and get more conservative as we get older. I get that, I guess, although I’m not so sure that’s because wisdom comes with age.

More like the world beats you down.

I’ve never thought there was anything wrong with having high standards — or at least high hopes. I come by my blueness (naive or not) honestly. My mother was a McGovern delegate. Her people were actually socialists. (Really!) And I came of age in the 1980s — with a strong desire to go against the Reagan-inspired flow.

Now it’s true that over the years my mom’s gone from volunteering for Common Cause to serving as secretary of the homeowner’s association (if you ask, she’ll insist that those speed bumps leading into my parents’ gated community are NOT necessary and in fact a safety hazaard!) but her heart still bleeds. Mine, too.

Maybe we both just like going against the flow.

But now the river’s risen up to meet us, or whatever the appropriate saying is. Because suddenly, all my friends (even my super crunchy, Obama loving, tree hugging friends) with fifth graders are desperate to get their kids into the arsty charter school downtown, instead of the public junior high.

Even my mom called to tell me the artsy charter school’s going to start accepting fifth graders. “Wouldn’t that be perfect for Annabelle?” she sighed.

It would. I have to agree that it would. There are a lot of lousy charter schools out there, but there are some damn good ones, too. I’ll admit it.

And this disabled kid voucher thing? Even stickier. Let’s face it: Our public schools are not equipped to deal with no-problem kids, let alone the likes of Sophie (particularly on a bad day). There will come a time when Sophie has a teacher I can’t text, who won’t invite me out for frozen yogurt, who might be a decent person trying hard, but not willing — maybe not even able — to work her ass off to accomodate my child.

I might want to send Sophie to (I can’t believe I’m about to write this) to private school.

And now one option’s gone. Although I can’t imagine these voucher folks won’t appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Who knows. Maybe they’ll win. That will piss me off, too, because whether she would have gained from the voucher program or not, I can’t help feeling resentful of the right wing for finding a wedge — in the form of my disabled kid — to use to get in as far as they’ve gotten in on this voucher thing.

I still think there’s got to be a way to get our public schools to work, so that all the Annabelles and the Sophies of the world can be well served there and we won’t all be desperate for other options.

Go ahead, laugh. But I’m going to hang onto my hope, even as I’m filling out those private school applications….



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5 responses to “AZ Supreme Court Strikes Down Vouchers for Disabled Kids. I’m Torn.

  1. Come on to Brattleboro,V T! Our elementary schools are great! We do have a Montessori School but they seem to only want non-disabled kids born to Doctors. We have an excellent Catholic School but I have “issues” with that. Our daughter is mainstreamed, has been since pre-school and she is definitely one of the better behaved and personable kids. We have a choice of 3 elementary schools in our district, all small and each with a certain specialty for special needs kids (one with lots of technology for the higher needs, one with general mainstream, one with a specific class setting for higher kids with language delays). Every day I feel lucky to be here. Thanks for reminding me how hard it is elsewhere again.
    (Not meant to rub it in, just to invite you!)

  2. Very interesting post. You’ve humanized a complicated issue nicely.

    I am so jealous that you have frozen yogurt with Sophie’s teacher! I drink in the notes from Leo’s teacher in his little communication book with such hunger for (any) information

    I hope Sophie wasn’t sick for the rodeo and that Annabelle is feeling better.

  3. latishaspring

    i struggle so hard with this decision though it is still 4 years away and im in the kyrene district. i want to support public school so badly but i’m still drawn to the cool art driven montessori style charter and private schools.

    do you decide based on your principles or your children’s well being and are they really separated?

  4. I’ll be honest, I’m trying to get Kayla into a private special education school. We’re in a rural district and I talked to the mom who has the FIRST kid with Down syndrome EVER to attend the school. She’s in Kindy and VERY high-functioning. And the local school has NO clue what to do with her. So if they can’t figure that kid out, there is NO WAY they are going to know what to do with my super low functioning kid with Down syndrome AND autism.

    Our district doesn’t have a voucher program, but since they know they are ill equipped to appropriately meet the needs of special needs kids, they often ship kids out to either the county special ed school or a private school for extreme cases. And personally I think my kid is extreme.

    That’s probably why the special ed budget makes up more than 1/3 of our district’s instructional budget. You’d think it would be cheap to make the effort to keep them in-district. But that would require work and a change in thinking, neither of which I expect any time soon, even though the superintendent is a speech therapist and former special ed teacher.

  5. RicciBx

    Many like minded liberals have struggled with this issue. I have come to embrace charter schools/vouchers as a progressive position. Forcing students into failing school where they will be forever behind the priviledged students is not a liberal position. Here in NYC their was a report today that hundreds of A+ students are going to be assigned to failing schools because of the seat shortage. That is not progress

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