Arizona: Architect of voucher plan already seeks to have cap lifted

President and CEO of the Goldwater Institute Darcy Olsen, left, talks with Arizona Corporation Commissioner Kris Mayes before the Trunk ’n Tusk Dinner Saturday evening at the Prescott Resort.

Matt Hinshaw-Daily Courier

President and CEO of the Goldwater Institute Darcy Olsen, left, talks with Arizona Corporation Commissioner Kris Mayes before the Trunk ’n Tusk Dinner Saturday evening at the Prescott Resort.

PHOENIX – A key architect of the universal voucher plan approved Thursday is already looking to undermine the key provision of the compromise that secured the votes for the programs expansion.

In a message to financial supporters late Thursday, Darcy Olsen, chief executive officer of the Goldwater Institute, said those who want to give more state money so parents can send their children to private and parochial schools should not be dismayed about the enrollment cap of about 30,000 that is in the final version of the bill.

"We will get it lifted,'' Olsen said.

And Olsen didn't even wait until Gov. Doug Ducey had penned his approval hours later to the delicately crafted deal, a deal in which the Goldwater Institute participated – and the deal that managed to bring on the bare minimum 31 votes in the House and 16 in the Senate to secure approval.

The comments angered Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, who brought all the interests together and corralled the votes.

"I just think it's deplorable that she would put that in print,'' he told Capitol Media Services. And Worsley said what's worse is that Olsen was involved in the talks.

"She was negotiating in bad faith with us if that was her intention,'' he said.

An aide said Olsen was not available to comment. In her place, Goldwater President Victor Riches told Capitol Media Services that her message, meant for longtime donors, should not be taken as a vow to start working to remove the caps – at least not yet.

"It was probably not very artfully worded, I would say,'' Riches said.

But Riches, who acknowledged Goldwater's role in the final deal, would not commit to waiting that full six years the deal limits enrollment before trying to get the cap removed.

"We're not interested in making any changes right now,'' he said. But Riches said he could foresee a scenario where waiting makes no sense.

"Let's just say the present cap is hit and there is 20,000 people on the equivalent of a wait list,'' he said. "Would we want to reevaluate that? Yes.''

Worsley said that is directly contrary to the whole purpose of cap, which would be about 30,000 by the 2022-2023 school year. He said the next six years are designed to be an "experiment'' to see if it's appropriate to keep the cap, increase it, or get rid of it entirely.

He said the six-year period gives the Goldwater Institute and other supporters of vouchers "plenty of freedom'' to make the case for further expansion.

And Worsley had a message for the institute and anyone else who intends to try to make changes before then.

"That will not happen while I'm in the legislature,'' he said.

But here's the thing: With term limits, Worsley can serve in the Senate only through 2020.

Someone who could be here longer is Ducey. If reelected next year, his term would run through 2022.

Only thing is, the governor, a self-professed supporter of "school choice,'' will not commit to keeping the voucher limits in place through the end of his time in office.

"We have to see how the program works,'' press aide Daniel Scarpinato said when asked if Ducey would veto any changes before then. Scarpinato said it's premature to even be talking about changes as the law has not even taken effect.

What makes Ducey's views so significant is that the ability of Olsen to pull apart the deal and scrap the caps could be dependent on whether the governor goes along.

The Goldwater Institute has links with the governor.

Riches had previously been Ducey's deputy chief of staff. Christina Corieri, Ducey's education policy, came from the Goldwater Institute.