Arizona is poised to expand its Empowerment Scholarship Account eligibility to all K-12 students in the state, which will deliver a massive victory for school choice to all families who wish to take advantage.
This universal voucher program will provide parents an average of $7,000 to go toward private school tuition or other educational expenses, Arizona Mirror reported. Families will have to opt-in to the program, which is expected to have around 25,000 students participating, a significant increase from the 11,800 that currently use it, the outlet added. Republican Gov. Doug Ducey is expected to sign the bill into law soon.
“This win is the biggest school choice victory in U.S. history,” Corey DeAngelis, National Director of Research at the American Federation for Children, said.
As Arizona has many lower-income communities, including in Phoenix and Tuscon, this expansion could help parents provide a brighter future for their child who may be stuck in a failing public school. Even if a family is not in a situation of economic hardship, this program will also help them.
DeAngelis told RedState that the expansion will act as the “gold standard” nationwide and will likely start a “friendly competition” between Republican governors over parental rights and educational freedom.
“If Arizona can do it, other Republican states should be able to do this coming session. It should not be difficult to follow your party platform, especially in states where you have 80 percent of the legislature,” he added.
For those who think that House Bill 2853 would cost taxpayers more money, a 2021 EdChoice study determined that the program will save taxpayers an average of $7,500 for each student that takes part, The Center Square reported.
Arizona state Rep. Shawnna Bolick, who voted for the bill, had this to say:
“We blew the top for educational freedom last Friday when both chambers of the Arizona legislature passed universal ESAs. Educational freedom wins! I have one thing to say: Governor DeSantis, Arizona is the best state for school choice, not Florida. We believe parents are the best ones to decide where their kid can attend school.
“Now, all Arizona students qualify who reside in the state and could enroll in a public school, including homeschool students and private school students. The ESA allows for students to take a major portion of the funding with them to pay for therapy, tutoring, private school or online school. A huge win and the best way to wrap up my tenure as a legislator.”
As expected, not everyone is supportive of the expansion, as they believe it hurts public schools.
“We have no financial transparency and we have no academic transparency,” Democratic state Sen. Christine Marsh said, according to 12 News. “I’d like to know how many families that earn maybe a million dollars a year are getting voucher money versus how many families earning maybe 30 or 40,000 a year are getting voucher money.”
However, DeAngelis argues that the argument regarding minimal accountability has little merit.
“Underperforming private schools shut down. Underperforming public schools get more money,” he said. “Private schools are directly accountable to families. If families aren’t happy with what they’re getting in a private educational option, they can vote with their feet and take their kid’s educational dollars elsewhere.”
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, education and parental rights are becoming an increasingly important issue on the political stage, and Arizona leaders are on the frontlines of that battle. Alternative options to one’s local public school allow children opportunities outside of their immediate community, and that could be life-changing if the quality of education is better elsewhere. Although public schools are worth investing in, those that do not perform well should not have cash constantly thrown at them if their students do not show any improvement, as it’s unfair to both families and taxpayers.