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Roberts: Et tu, AEA? Teacher union backstabs its allies over vouchers

Laurie Roberts: While teachers lobbied for a public vote on school vouchers, the Arizona Education Association lobbied to knock Prop. 305 off the ballot.

Amid all the high fives and the euphoria surrounding the #RedforEd movement last week, somehow I missed the flash of the butcher knife.

The one wielded by the Arizona Education Association.

It came out in the final hours of the legislative session as Republican leaders were working quietly to try to repeal their expanded voucher law in order to knock Proposition 305 off the ballot

Voucher supporters – including Gov. Doug Ducey, Center for Arizona Policy’s Cathi Herod and various Koch-connected groups – had no interest in allowing the public the final word on whether to divert vast new sums of public money to private schools.

No interest in seeing who would be motivated to come to the polls in an election year to drive a stake through the heart of the voucher law.

(So much easier, after all, to repeal it themselves and come back next year with a new universal voucher plan.)

AEA: a repeal is a repeal

Turns out they had a rather astonishing ally: the AEA.

While Save Our Schools Arizona was working to preserve the public’s right to right to have the final word on universal vouchers, their allies over at the AEA were working to block that vote.

Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, one of two Republicans who refused to go along with a repeal, told me the AEA asked her to vote for the repeal.

“Joe Thomas went on record with the Republic supporting a clean repeal of vouchers,” AEA Stephanie Parra told Brophy McGee in a text last Thursday. ”At the end of the day, a repeal is a repeal.”

Or – as history has demonstrated – a repeal is a chance for our leaders to come back next year and enact a new universal voucher plan, having avoided massive pushback at the polls.

Legislature admitted its mistake?

Thomas, AEA’s president, told me an outright repeal offered a way to get rid of a the voucher law without the expense or uncertainty of a public campaign. The AEA, he said, has opposed school vouchers for 30 years.

“It seemed an easy, safe win, that the Legislature was going to admit it made a mistake and was going to pull it back,” he said. “That’s the same as voters voting no.”

Brophy McGee said she was stunned by the AEA’s stance.

 ”The best I can figure is they didn’t want it (voucher repeal) conflicting with the one they’re ginning up against rich people.”

Clearing way for tax on the rich 

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SOS spokeswoman Dawn Penich-Thacker, said she had heard rumblings that the AEA was lobbying to knock Prop. 305 off the ballot. She believes the AEA broke ranks with her group – which gathered the signatures to put the universal voucher law on the ballot – in order to make it easier to raise income taxes on the rich.

“I imagine they are concerned about an education community that is facing a yes-no (campaign) because, of course, they want a yes on their initiative and we all want a no on Prop. 305,” she said. “I think we understand their concern.”

SOS-AZ has backed the #RedforEd movement but it is remaining neutral on the Invest in Education income tax initiative, calling it “a little bit more partisan than we would like.”

Instead, SOS-AZ announced Tuesday that it will be putting its legion of volunteers to work on petitions to put the Outlaw Dirty Money initiative on the ballot. ((Good move, given that dark money is at the root of why our leaders continue pushing for publicly funded private schools.))

Penich-Thacker declined to criticize AEA for working to kill the voucher referendum.

Brophy McGee, meanwhile, was stunned by what she saw as the AEA’s betrayal. She says Save Our Schools Arizona, the Arizona PTA and teachers all asked her to vote against a repeal, even as the AEA lobbied for it.

“Talk about selling out your membership,” she said. “Probably the second most asked question I got from hundreds of teachers over the last week and a half is ‘What is your position on the voucher bill.’”

Reach Roberts at laurie.roberts@arizonarepublic.com.

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