PEORIA, Ariz. — Editor's Note: The above video is from an earlier broadcast.
As school districts statewide face uncertainty over finances this year, Democratic leaders at the Arizona State Legislature said a Republican Senator’s warning last week about a funding “war” is outrageous.
As 12News reported Friday, longtime state Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, told an audience of superintendents and business leaders in Goodyear “there would be war” if an effort to repeal an Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) expansion law garners enough signatures by September to place the measure on the 2024 ballot.
Livingston said Arizonans could expect Republicans at the legislature to keep a constitutional spending cap in place that would prevent school districts from fully spending money allocated to them by the legislature and the governor.
“If you want to undo the deal, and these groups clearly want to undo the deal, then they risk undoing the WHOLE deal, and that's all I was saying,” Livingston wrote in an email to 12News, explaining his rhetoric.
Democrats Did Not Vote For A Voucher Expansion
Livingston compared the voucher bill and the bipartisan school spending boost to a sports trade. He suggested one piece of legislation was passed with the understanding that the other piece of legislation would pass.
“They want to be able to get Kevin Durant on our team and not give up anything. Well it doesn’t work that way,” Livingston said.
But Democrats did not vote for the ESA voucher law. It was passed strictly on a partisan vote by Republicans. House Majority Leader Ben Toma even attempted to strong-arm Democrats to vote for a spending package that included universal vouchers, but he was unsuccessful.
"House and Senate Democrats never agreed to not fight voucher expansion, and in fact, we would not support a budget that included vouchers,” said House and Senate Democratic leaders in a written statement to 12News on Sunday. “To hear that Republicans plan to declare ‘war’ to punish more than a million public school students and their families with catastrophic mid-year budget cuts if their unrelated voucher expansion is referred to the ballot is outrageous."
A group of public education advocates, Save Our Schools is collecting signatures in an attempt to place the voucher law on hold and give voters a chance to decide its fate on the 2024 ballot.
Supporters of universal vouchers for private education say they empower parents with the ultimate “school choice” model. Critics say universal vouchers will siphon away necessary funds from a public school system that is already underfunded.
A key weakness of the voucher law is it does not contain academic and financial accountability measures, Democrats say. Several Republicans likewise argued for accountability measures in past years before changing their position this year.
“We remain puzzled and disappointed in the handful of Republican members who, for more than a year, had made principled arguments against voucher expansion citing a lack of accountability and means testing only to abandon those arguments and vote for unrestricted expansion,” House and Senate Democrats said in their statement.
Livingston claims there was an “overall deal” not in writing that included Democrats agreeing to the voucher law. He alleges that Democrats, SOS and the teacher’s union (Arizona Education Association) are working together to the detriment of what’s best for Arizona.
"If they want to back off, we can back off," Livingston added. "But they're the ones who started the war.”
12News reached out to Republican leadership about Livingston’s comments. Liaisons for House and Senate Republicans have not responded.
RELATED: Arizona school districts in 'mad scramble' to hire teachers while spending cap goes unsolved
Up to Speed
Catch up on the latest news and stories on our 12 News YouTube playlist here.