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Arizona public school advocates demand ESA voucher reform

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(Arizona News Connection) As the State of Arizona grapples with a $1.8 billion budget deficit, public school advocates are demanding urgent reform on the state's Empowerment Scholarship Account voucher program which lets parents use public funds for private-school tuition and other education-related costs.

PROMO Map - Arizona State Map - iStock - klenger

© iStock - klenger

Representative Analise Ortiz, D-Phoenix, said the Republican majority is "hell-bent on privatizing education and profiting off the backs of Arizona children."

"The fraud and abuse of ESAs is infuriating," Ortiz asserted. "Especially considering the massive unmet needs of the 90 percent of families who choose Arizona public schools."

Ortiz pointed out every new ESA voucher subtracts funding from Arizona's public schools, which are funded 49th in the nation according to the Education Law Center. ESA vouchers will cost the state an estimated $825 million in fiscal year 2024, according to the nonpartisan organization Save our Schools Arizona.

And while the numbers tell one story, Republicans in charge of the state's Department of Education contended the ESA program saves taxpayers money while giving parents more options.

Save Our Schools has collected more than 3,000 signatures from Arizonans who want ESA voucher reform.

Beth Lewis, executive director of the group, said the signatures, delivered to lawmakers on Wednesday, represent the majority of Arizona voters who want ESA vouchers to be accountable and want public school funding to be prioritized.

"Our state legislature has a clear choice," Lewis stressed. "Make devastating cuts to our local public schools and essential services or B; work with Governor Hobbs to reign in this irresponsible, out of control voucher program and return public funds to our schools."

Lewis argued a budget without voucher reform is no budget at all, especially as teachers continue to struggle to afford basic classroom supplies across the state.