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Members of the Maricopa County Republican Party are moving to censure three GOP lawmakers for their vote against a massive expansion of Arizona’s voucher-style program for K-12 education.
A resolution introduced by former Senate President Russell Pearce states that the Maricopa County GOP “opposes Republicans who campaign as conservatives while voting against school choice and against the best interests of students and parents.” Specifically, the resolution rebukes Reps. Joel John, Joanne Osborne and Michelle Udall, whose opposition doomed a budget amendment that would have substantially expanded the Empowerment Scholarship Account school voucher program near the end of the 2021 legislative session.
The ESA program provides parents who pull their children from public schools with 90% of the funds the school would have received for them. Parents can use that money for private school tuition, tutors, learning materials or other educational purposes. The program is currently open to children with special needs, foster children, children on tribal reservations, children in failing schools, children of active-duty members of the military and children whose siblings are part of the program.
GOP lawmakers proposed an amendment to the K-12 education budget bill in June that would have expanded the program to include all children who receive free or reduced-price lunches, and all children of veterans of the U.S. armed forces, while eliminating other restrictions, such as reducing the amount of time a student must attend a public school before qualifying for an ESA.
A separate Maricopa County GOP resolution singles out Udall, who chairs the House Education Committee, for opposing or blocking other bills. They include legislation to require the Pledge of Allegiance in classrooms, consolidate school districts, expanding personal finance course requirements in high schools and barring teachers from being required to address students by the pronouns of their choice.
The resolution urges the Maricopa County Republican Committee to hold Udall responsible “for her bad voting record on education issues” and urging her “to start putting children before bureaucrats when it comes to education issues.”
The county party’s resolutions committee approved both resolutions on Saturday. They’ll go before the entire Maricopa County Republican Committee at its next meeting in January.
Udall, a Mesa Republican who is seeking the GOP nomination for superintendent of public instruction next year, said she opposed the ESA expansion for two main reasons — the lack of accountability for the results of the program and the fact that voters in 2018 overwhelmingly rejected a similar expansion.
“There needs to be some academic accountability if we’re going to expand the program. We need to know that they’re getting the education that we’re paying for. That wasn’t in the bill,” Udall told the Arizona Mirror.
As for the “grab bag” of legislation in the second resolution against her, Udall said those bills mostly lacked enough support to pass out of her committee — and even if they’d done so, didn’t have enough votes to pass the full House.
Osborne noted that voters across the state, as well as in her district, which runs from the southwest Valley to northern Yuma, voted down Proposition 305, the 2018 citizen referendum on a previous ESA expansion bill approved by the legislature. The Goodyear Republican said she opposed this year’s budget amendment because any new expansion plan should go back to the voters for approval.
And she bristled at the allegation that she doesn’t support schoolchildren.
“I care deeply about the children of Arizona, and their future and all education. My mother was a teacher. My daughters are teachers. And I know, as a mother of four, that not every child learns the same or in the same environment. And we need to have a system in our state that benefits them all. So, what’s happening here is wrong, and people need to understand that,” she said.
John said he has concerns about the ESA program. It lacks accountability and oversight, he said, and is unfair to public schools that must abide by regulations that don’t apply to other entities they compete with for ESA dollars. And after numerous rounds of expansion, the Buckeye Republican said the program is sufficient to help students with needs that aren’t being addressed by the public school system.
“I’m trying to do my best to represent my district,” said John, who represents a predominantly Democratic district.
John’s victory over a Democratic incumbent was one of the biggest upsets of the 2020 election. Had he lost his race, it would have resulted in an evenly split House, which would have been the first time since 1966 that the GOP lost control of the chamber.
“That’s the kind of treatment I get for saving the House,” he joked.
John questioned how the GOP could be successful when it’s going after its own members. Osborne and Udall also questioned the political strategy of targeting fellow Republicans over their votes.
“I think the purpose of the county party is supposed to be to … strengthen and enlarge the party. But I think this is probably doing the opposite,” Udall said.
Osborne called the resolution “political payback.” She also noted that Udall defeated Pearce’s sister in last year’s GOP primary election, and that Constantin Querard, the resolutions committee member for her district, was the campaign consultant for her opponent in the 2020 primary.
Querard said the resolution wasn’t his and that he didn’t advocate for it. He said he voted for the resolution because the committee is supposed to OK any resolution that is properly written and accurate, likening the committee’s job to that of the rules committees in the legislature, which only vets measures for constitutionality. He said he doesn’t know how he’ll vote on the resolutions in January.
He also noted that he was the consultant for another lawmaker who ran as a team with Osborne, and that he ran an independent expenditure campaign that helped elect John.
Pearce did not return a message from the Arizona Mirror.
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