Voucher proposal is smart, not racist
Jan. 29, 2006
Tax credits could aid English-learners


A good many of my columnist friends and a vast sea of readers discovered certifiable racism last week.

With indisputable evidence - which is to say their own long-standing assumptions and, yes, prejudices, combined with their targets' cheapskate antics involving poor Hispanic children - the Republicans in the Legislature were unmasked.

Now, I'll admit I very much dislike the vicious moral preening of professional racism police. Al Sharpton, a low-budget street hustler whose antics have cost lives, dares to judge the character of others? And people listen to his rot, you say? That amazes me.

Still, if you were inclined to think ill of Republican lawmakers, the mostly male and White fellows at the state Capitol provided plenty of reason last week to believe the worst.

At least if you considered just half of the story.

The evidence at hand was the GOP-dominated Legislature's response to a court order for funding school programs for English-language learners.

The Republican proposal, such as it was, clearly had some shortcomings. It was chiseling compared with what Gov. Janet Napolitano sought: to more than triple the current $360 per student that is spent for English-learners. And nearly a quarter of it would be spent on the kind of administrative paperwork that Republicans purport to hate.

Worse, the Republicans sent their clumsy contraption to the governor twice. I'm not entirely sure even now how it was supposed to work, but the lawmakers seem to believe school districts leave federal money lying around in drawers, just waiting to be used for programs like theirs.

How often do House Republicans need to get their hat handed to them by Napolitano before they realize that anger-management classes for their leader, Jim Weiers, would save a fortune in bill-paper costs alone?

But the sweeping - and, often, shockingly venomous - conclusion of some critics was that these amazingly easy targets, rife with White guys as they are, were refusing to adequately finance English-acquisition programs for one big reason alone.

Perhaps you've read that reason somewhere. I have. It's all about race hatred.

We're told it is because they hate Hispanics. They hate that all those Hispanic kids are on this side of the Mexican border. They not only hate spending extra money on these kids, they hate spending any money on their education.

That's a lot of hatred to lay on one group of people. But where race is involved, our capacity to assume the worst in people can be boundless.

At the very moment last Wednesday that much of this alleged Republican racism was going down, I was in a meeting with three women. We were talking about hope, mostly. The hope of mothers for their children's future.

All three of the women were Latinas. Two of them were involved in a group that is arguing for higher-quality education options for Latinos.

The third woman was a Chandler resident with two children. Her daughter isn't learning much in the local public school. She is in first grade, the mom says mostly in Spanish. But she says in some schools, fourth-graders are still doing second-grade math. "Rafaela" would like to send her daughter to a Catholic elementary school, but she can't afford the tuition.

A voucher - something, say, along the lines of the corporate tuition-tax credit provision that was a part of the bill sent to the governor by all those "racist" lawmakers - could help Rafaela's girl get a decent education.

"We're disappointed for the community that the corporate tax credit has been vetoed twice," said Rebeca Nieves Huffman, president of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, a national organization that seeks educational choice for kids. "A lot of moms really wanted to see this come into law."

Now, I know the education lobby despises vouchers. The Florida Supreme Court, at the bidding of the National Education Association, recently declared part of that state's voucher-option program unconstitutional. It made everyone in the NEA very happy to send hundreds of poor Florida kids back to the miserable state schools they thought they'd escaped.

But I don't understand the thinking about corporate tuition-tax credits here.

Napolitano's staff compared last week's first GOP proposal to the woe-begotten "alt-fuels" scandal of a few years ago. That mess allowed hundreds of mostly well-off SUV buyers to stick the state with almost a third of the tab for their new gunboats. According to the governor's people, that could have happened again with the unlimited plan to provide education vouchers for English-language learners, as proposed by the Republicans.

Yes, now wouldn't that be awful? Just imagine . . . hundreds of millions of corporate dollars that rightfully belong in state's bank accounts being funneled to poor Hispanic kids so they could learn English and perhaps even get a quality education.

What the hell were those racist Republicans thinking?

Doug MacEachern is a Republic editorial writer. Reach him at doug.maceachern@arizonarepublic.com.