Arizona becomes first universal school choice state

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Published Friday, July 8, 2022
by Tom Joyce

(The Center Square) - Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed a bill expanding access to school choice to all students Thursday.

In signing House Bill 2853 into law, all Arizona's school-age children will be eligible for the Empowerment Scholarship Account. It's a state-funded account that allows parents to spend money on tuition and other education expenses. Previously, the program was limited to disabled students, those in failing schools, and other specific circumstances.

"This is a monumental moment for all of Arizona's students. Our kids will no longer be locked in under-performing schools. Today, we're unlocking a whole new world of opportunity for them and their parents," Ducey said, according to a press release. "With this legislation, Arizona cements itself as the top state for school choice and as the first state in the nation to offer all families the option to choose the school setting that works best for them. Every family in Arizona should have access to a high-quality education with dedicated teachers. This is truly a win for all K-12 students."

The program will now be available to more than 1.1 million students across the state. The average ESA spends $6,400, legislative analysts have previously estimated

The bill also 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. The report also found that school choice programs nationwide saved taxpayers an average of $7,500 per student that participated. 

House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, said education dollars shouldn't be tied to one building.

"It was my privilege to sponsor the most expansive school choice law in the nation, opening Empowerment Scholarship Account eligibility to all school-age children without restriction," Toma said. "In Arizona, we fund students, not systems, because we know one size does not fit all students."

Goldwater Institute President and CEO Victor Riches said the program will benefit children with varying educational needs.

"Families deserve the right to choose the best education option for their children, regardless of zip code. This reform empowers parents weary of a one-size-fits-all approach to public education to customize their children's schooling based on their unique needs," Riches said. "States around the nation should follow Arizona's lead and pass legislation that funds students, not systems."

Save Our Schools Arizona announced on Wednesday that it would lead a push to get a veto initiative on the 2024 ballot that would scale back the program if successful.

"Stopping the privatization of Arizona's public schools has been our mission for 5 years. Now, lawmakers have defied the will of AZ voters by attempting once more to pass universal ESA vouchers & dismantle public education - but we won't let them win," the organization said.

The nonprofit and others argue that school choice saps funding from public schools that receive tax dollars based on attendance.

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