Regents approve private-college vouchers

By Charles Ratliff
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 16, 1996

The Arizona Board of Regents voted 5-4 yesterday to support a proposed voucher program that will give 60 students $1,500 each to attend private universities.

The issue sparked a lengthy debate among the regents at their meeting at ASU West.

The board took positions on four bills, including vouchers, making their way through the legislature.

The voucher bill, HB 2439, will provide $1,500 to the first 60 students who apply in the 1996-97 school year, and requires a $100,000 appropriation.

Regent John Munger said he supports the bill, adding that the board should offer students more options.

"I believe any option we can provide to help our students attend the university of their choice is beneficial."

Munger also said the cost per student of attending an Arizona university is around $7,000. Students are paying $1,500 to $2,000, and taxpayers are footing the remaining $5,000 bill. With this program, he said, the taxpayer is only paying $1,500 per student with a net saving of $3,500.

Regents executive director Frank Besnette said a report given during a study session last summer found that vouchers will not help the state of Arizona.

For one, he said, the benefits of this program do not equal taxpayer savings.

He said studies show of the 60 students who join the program, only six would have gone to a state university anyway.

Taxpayers would save about $20,000, while costing $100,000, Besnette said.

ASU President Lattie Coor said this bill does not direct money to students who need it. He said the bill should be "need-based," not "first come, first served" basis.

"If the state is going to take this step, this is a slippery slope if they do not take into account the needs of the students," Coor said. "This bill does not do that."

New Regent Kurt Davis said this issue should be examined more closely, with consideration given to where the money is coming from and where it is going.

"To oppose a program of this size is to oppose it out of fear," he said.

Munger agreed with Davis and said this is a small program.

He said the state would save more if more money were available for vouchers.

UA President Manuel Pacheco said the Arizona International Campus of the University of Arizona was created to address the concerns over vouchers.

He said the liberal arts curriculum being developed will make the state institution look more like a private university.

"This program would purport to serve students who say they want an education that the new campus might be able to give them," Pacheco said.

The regents vote split 4-4 until President Eddie Basha cast the final supporting vote.

The regents split over two of the remaining three bills, voting to stay neutral over HB 2168, which establishes a Higher Education Coordinating Board.

The bill, regents said, would establish another bureaucratic governmental entity that would do work the regents already do.

The board had intended to oppose the bill, but Tony Seese-Bieda, assistant executive director to the regents, said it had moved out of committee and there was no appropriation for the proposed board.

Seese-Bieda said the bill resulted from legislators' concerns over the establishment of new campuses without legislative input. For instance, he said, lawmakers were concerned that one campus in Maricopa County (ASU East) was being established one way and the other (AIC) in Pima County was opening under a different schedule.

The third bill authorizes $245 million in bonds for new construction projects.