school vouchers Photo courtesy of Sarah Farrell, Cronkite News

Find out what’s happening from Arizona’s northern canyons to its southern border.

On Wednesday, a group of education advocates filed a ballot initiative with the Secretary of State’s Office targeting Arizona’s education voucher system – two years after successfully repealing the state’s plans to expand the voucher program.

According to Arizona Education News, Save Our Schools Arizona is seeking to further limit expansion of the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account, capping the program’s funding to equal the cost of providing one percent of the total Arizona student population with ESA vouchers. The initiative would also require any unused funds in the ESA program be returned to the state’s education budget.

The initiative “will bring some much-needed reform to the ESA program,” said Save Our Schools Arizona Chair Raquel Mamani. “What we would like to do is cap it, make sure that it serves the students that it was meant to serve, which is special ed students – it gives them priority – and it gives the program a much-needed transparency of how the money is being spent.”

In order for the initiative to be on November’s ballot, supporters must gather more than 237,000 signatures by July 2.

Local vineyards seek to remove production cap on wine

A group of Arizona winemakers are asking lawmakers to remove a 2005 cap on wine production they say is hampering growth. The effort is being championed by Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, whose bill to address the limitations passed unanimously in the state House earlier this week.

The current law places limitations on local vineyard’s production in exchange for concessions on ways their wine can be sold. While out-of-state winemakers cannot open tasting rooms or sell products directly to restaurants, local can – as long as they limit production to 40,000 gallons a year.

Wilcox-based winemaker Michael Pierce told The Arizona Republic that the law is keeping them from competing on a grander scale.

“The truth is those wineries are the largest ones in the state, but they are not large in terms of the wine industry,” Pierce said. “If Arizona is going to be national players, we need to be allowed to be the same size as wineries in other states.”

Demolition for border wall continues inside Monument Hill

Contractors hired to build a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border detonated their fifth round of explosives on Wednesday at Monument Hill inside Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Leaders of the Tohono O’odham Nation, who consider the park to be part of the tribe’s sacred ancestral land, were only given a 24-hour notice regarding the demolition.

“The federal government’s continued destruction of our religious and cultural resources is nothing less than the bulldozing of our church grounds and our cemeteries,” Tohono Oʼodham Nation Chairman Ned Norris Jr. told The Arizona Republic. “For us, this is no different from DHS building a 30-foot wall along Arlington Cemetery or through the grounds of the National Cathedral.”

The Department of Homeland Security, who oversees the construction of the border wall, was asked to answer for the destruction before the House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday. The department did not send anyone to attend, and instead held a demolition presentation at the border, where 86 rounds of explosives were set off within the national park.