Special session to tackle school vouchers - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Special session to tackle school vouchers

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Posted: Wednesday, May 20, 2009 10:04 pm | Updated: 2:03 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Arizona lawmakers will convene a special session Thursday to come up with new ways to fund the private and parochial school tuition and fees of several hundred students with special needs.

But it won't be as broad as some lawmakers wanted.

A plan hammered out between Gov. Jan Brewer and legislators late Wednesday would replace a voucher program the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in March is unconstitutional. The justices said having the state write checks directly to private and parochial schools violates a constitutional provision barring state aid for those institutions.

Instead, the proposal would allow corporate donors to get dollar-for-dollar income tax credits for money they give to help these students. That essentially means the contributions are money that otherwise would have gone into the state treasury.

While the net cost to the treasury is the same, the state Supreme Court has concluded that tax credit measures pass constitutional muster because the cash never made it onto the state's books in the first place.

Brewer insisted that the total available credits be limited to $5 million a year, the same amount that lawmakers agreed to provide annually in vouchers in 2006 to help up to 500 children with special needs and those in foster care. Their parents and guardians argued the youngsters were not getting educated in public schools.

Rep. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, had envisioned a plan that would provide cash for more students with similar needs. But the governor wanted no new net loss in tax revenues to the state from the new program.

In a prepared statement Wednesday night, Brewer praised the deal, saying it "allows these parents to utilize the best educational programs for their disabled and foster children.''

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