Save Our Language: Call Them Empowerment Vouchers

Arizona gets a blue ribbon for its euphemisation of political dialogue. In order not to appear like a Common Core State Standards state, they named them the Arizona Career and College Readiness Standards. The difference between the CCSS and the ACCRS equals zero, the ploy fooled no one, and the lawmakers ended up looking silly.

Something similar is going on with Arizona’s program to provide direct financial aid to families to pay for things like private school tuition, testing fees, and educational therapies. Most places call such aid vouchers. But Arizona calls them Empowerment Scholarships. Once again, no one is fooled.

School voucher opponents say things like, “The voucher program, which the lawmakers have decided to call ‘Empowerment Scholarships,’ will lead to the ghettoization of public education in Arizona. But let’s call them what they are: They’re vouchers!!” Accompanying histrionics include eye rolls, head shakes, and air quotes.

But that very typical statement shows how voucher opponents play their own games. Leaving aside any comment on the fairness of whom gets empowered, an empowerment scholarship really is a grant (scholarship) that really does give the recipient authority (empowerment) to make decisions about their children’s education. So when opponents sneer and make faces when they say “empowerment scholarships,” it comes off more as a lazy rhetorical device than a reasoned argument.

But, there’s still no denying that voucher – a paper entitling the holder to a discount on goods and services is a perfectly serviceable term. So Empowerment Scholarships smells like manipulative branding. I can imagine Department of Education folks learning that focus groups react negatively to the word vouchers. So they put their pointy heads together and come up with, “Empowerment Scholarships,” and that is that.

So here’s my modest suggestion: Why not call them Empowerment Vouchers? It’s catchy, accurate, and whereas advocates can emphasize the empowerment and put air quotes around “vouchers” opponents can put their air quotes around “empowerment” and emphasize voucher.

Gotta love the symmetry; gotta love the language.

For more on the euphemisation of political dialogue, see: Consequences, Punishments, or Something New?, and Teacher Leader Versus “Teacher” Leader


Sandy Merz

I grew up in Silver City, New Mexico and went the University of New Mexico, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology. After working for the U.S. Geological Survey in remote regions of western New Mexico, I moved to Tucson to attend graduate school at the University of Arizona, earning a Master of Science degree in Hydrogeology. While working as an intern hydrologist for a local county agency, I started doing volunteer work that involved making presentations in schools. At that moment I knew teaching was the path to follow. It must have been a good decision because I’m still on the path after thirty-two years. My teaching certificates are in math and science and I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Career and Technical Education. After teaching engineering and math and elective classes at the same school in downtown Tucson my whole career, I’ve moved to a different middle school and district on the edge of town to teach math. In addition to full time teaching, I am actively involved in the teacher leadership movement by facilitating National Board candidates, blogging for Stories from School Arizona, and serving on the Arizona K12 Center’s TeacherSolutions team. In January 2017, Raytheon Missile System named me a Leader in Education and I’m a former Arizona Hope Street Fellow.

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