GOP Voters in Arizona Punish Candidates Who Fell Out of Line on School Choice

Advocates of school choice in the state believe the issue is emerging as a litmus test for Republican candidates.

AP/Ross D. Franklin
A voter heads into a polling station at Tempe, Arizona on Tuesday. AP/Ross D. Franklin

After passing the nation’s most ambitious school choice program, Arizona Republicans are affirming their support for the idea by voting against fellow party members who oppose school choice.

Three Republican opponents of the push — Michelle Udall, Joanne Osborne, and Joel John — lost their respective races by double-digit margins in Tuesday’s primary election in Arizona.

As state legislators in Arizona, the three politicians torpedoed several attempts to expand education savings programs. They ultimately supported the latest efforts after being rebuked by their fellow Republicans. 

A local Republican Party in Maricopa County attacked them in January in a resolution that challenged “Republicans who campaign as conservatives while voting against school choice and against the best interests of students and parents — specifically Representatives Joanne Osborne, Michelle Udall, and Joel John.”

In February, a former superintendent of public instruction, Diane Douglas, blasted the three politicians in the Arizona Daily Independent. Ms. Douglas accused them of “putting up obstacles rather than creating opportunities for students.” 

Ms. Udall’s loss is the most noteworthy for education-watchers, as Republican voters overwhelmingly rejected her education platform. She came in third place in the race for superintendent of public instruction, the state’s education secretary. A former Arizona attorney general who supports school choice, Tom Horne, leads.

The trend was first noted by an Arizona-based scholar at the Heritage Foundation, Jason Bedrick. Along with a fellow school choice advocate, Corey DeAngelis, Mr. Bedrick believes school choice is “emerging as a litmus test” for Republican voters.

Arizona’s state legislature recently passed the nation’s first universal education savings program, signed into law by Governor Ducey. With the Empowerment Scholarship Account, non-public school families will have access to more than $6,500 of public funding per child.

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