by Cole Lauterbach
Arizona is likely to become the first state in America that empowers students to take tax dollars with them to a school of their choosing.
Lawmakers sent House Bill 2853 to Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday. When the governor signs the bill, all of Arizona’s school-age children will be eligible for the Empowerment Scholarship Account. An ESA is a state-funded account that parents can spend on tuition and other education expenses. The program is currently limited to disabled students, those in failing schools or others that qualify in a handful of other methods.
The program will be available to more than 1.1 million students across the state. Legislative analysts estimate 25,000 students would use the expanded program, up from 11,725 current ESA students. The average ESA spends $6,400, analysts said.
“And they said it couldn’t be done! The most expansive school choice program in the nation has passed the legislature and is on its way to the Governor’s desk,” House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, tweeted Friday evening.
The legislation gives the Arizona Department of Education $2.2 million and allows for the hiring of 26 new workers to aid in administering the expanded program. A 2021 report found that school choice programs nationwide saved taxpayers an average of $7,500 per student that participated.
“Arizona has long been a pioneer in education choice,” Ducey tweeted Friday. “Now, with this historic expansion of ESAs, we’ll continue to charter the path for others to follow suit.”
School choice advocates call the legislation the “new gold standard” for student freedom that should be emulated by states across the country.
“This win is the biggest school choice victory in U.S. history,” said Corey DeAngelis, senior fellow at the American Federation for Children. “Arizona is now the gold standard for school choice. Every other state should follow Arizona’s lead and fund students instead of systems. Education funding is meant for educating children, not for protecting a particular institution. School choice is the only way to truly secure parental rights in education.”
DeAngelis credits GOP lawmakers for their efforts in seeing such an expansion through, saying “Republicans all across the country are calling themselves the Parents’ Party. Republicans in Arizona just proved it.”
Opponents of the program and its expansion say it will siphon tax dollars from public schools when parents decide to take their children elsewhere. Public schools are largely funded by federal, state and local government on the basis of attendance.
“We are deeply disappointed, though not surprised, that the corrupt Arizona legislative majority has universally expanded ESA vouchers – shamelessly defying the will of the 1.5 million voters who rejected Prop 305 by 2-to-1 margins,” Save Our Schools Arizona said in a news release. “This constitutes the largest voucher expansion in Arizona history and the most expansive in the nation, making Arizona once again the laboratory for predatory national privatizers.”
SOS Arizona was one of the organizations behind a successful 2018 ballot initiative that nullified a less-expansive law.
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Cole Lauterbach is a managing editor for The Center Square covering the western United States. For more than a decade, Cole has produced award-winning content on both radio and television.
Photo “Governor Doug Ducey” by Governor Doug Ducey.