Arizona families could send their children to any school they want with the new state’s universal school choice bill.
The Arizona Legislature recently approved what could become the nation’s largest school choice program, which would make education vouchers available to all K-12 students in the state. The next step for House Bill 2853 is to be presented to Governor Greg Ducey, who has already said he will sign the legislation, calling it “The biggest school choice victory in U.S. history.”
“Arizona has already been the leading state in the nation on school choice,” Ducey told the Washington Examiner. “This establishes Arizona as the gold standard of educational freedom and puts the power to parents to establish their child’s education.”
When the bill is signed by the governor, all K-12 Arizona students will be eligible for the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA). An ESA is a state-funded program that assists parents with school tuition and other education costs, which may be applied to private schools, including religious schools, and even funds for homeschooling and online school. Right now, Arizona’s program is limited to families meeting certain requirements, such as if they have a child with special needs.
“So the parameters were if the student was in an F or D school if the student had special needs, lived in tribal lands or was in the military, you would go to the Arizona Department of Education and fill out an application and if you got approved you would get approx $7,000 to go to a private school,” explained the Superintendent of Pima County Schools in Arizona, Dustin Williams. “Now it will be open to every student to go where they would like to go.”
Currently, Arizona’s bill is the only approved universal voucher program in the country.
But opponents worry about the impact on public schools, especially since Arizona’s per-student funding for public education remains at the bottom of the states. Additionally, critics think there will be a lack of accountability for taxpayer dollars in the program.
“It is that people realize that it’s a grift and this is just for private operators that are trying to make a profit off of our kids,” said Executive Director of Save Our Schools Arizona, Beth Lewis. “There’s nothing in this bill that stops anyone from just opening a strip mall school, parking a kid in front of a computer for hours and making a profit off of it.”
Lewis also noted that when dollars are taken away from public schools, it’s harder to retain and hire teachers.
Yet, Ducey said that the bill will protect families from being trapped in low-performing schools. The bill will also enable families to take their kids out of schools that are pushing divisive ideologies.
“[The bill] puts the parents in control. The parents have all the power. They are consumers now — and they’re pretty good consumers,” said Ducey. “And what they’re going to do is what’s in the best interest of their child, and now, they can take action when necessary.”
“Arizona is proud to be a trendsetter in educational excellence and freedom,” he continued. “We’re happy to have everyone come along and we’re happy to help, reach out, and we’ll show you the way.”
Over a million students across the state will be eligible for the program. Analysts predict 25,000 students will use the school choice program, which will be up from the current 11,725 ESA students. Analysts say that the average ESA spends $6,400.
What do you think about Arizona’s proposed school choice program?
Learn more about school choice’s impact on public education funding. You can also find out how much your school district spends on education at Project Nickel.