This June, hours before adjourning their legislative session, Republican majority lawmakers delivered a massive blow to Arizonans by passing a universal voucher program that will siphon public dollars away from public schools to private schools with zero accountability to the public. Even worse, this program is significantly larger than a similar voucher program that was rejected by voters in 2018 by a margin of more than 2-1.
Make no mistake, lawmakers did not pass this bill at the urging of their constituents — who overwhelmingly support and rely on local public schools — but at the behest of special interest groups like Betsy DeVos’ American Federation for Children who aim to dismantle the public education system.
Lawmakers tried to sell these expanded vouchers as “school choice,” but we all know it has nothing to do with school choice and in fact harms the choice of the 1 million students who choose AZ’s public schools.
Republican lawmakers have long argued that universal vouchers would “free children from a broken school system.” But that argument was utterly destroyed recently when the Arizona Department of Education reported that 75% of families seeking new Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, which is what this voucher program is called, have never stepped foot in a public school.
And that’s just the start. Approximately 85,000 students already in private school and homeschool will become eligible for ESA vouchers overnight, potentially diverting another $600 million in funding away from public schools every year. This amounts to a 20% blow to local public schools across the board – a blow they cannot withstand. But of course, Governor Doug Ducey, DeVos and their cronies know that.
These deep dips into the school funding bucket drain the funding of the choice of 1 million AZ students who choose public schools. That’s not school choice— it’s highway robbery.
The only goal this disastrous bill accomplishes is fattening the bank accounts of special interests and for-profit operators at the expense of Arizona kids. Universal vouchers leave our taxpayer dollars ripe for fraud and abuse at the hands of extremist charlatans like Charlie Kirk and his radical Turning Point Academies (founded the same month as passage of Ducey’s voucher expansion). Using taxpayer dollars to indoctrinate children on bigotry and intolerance is not school choice – it’s dangerous.
Public funds belong in public schools where there is oversight and transparency, not in privately operated businesses with no accountability to taxpayers. There is nothing in this voucher expansion that would stop a bad actor from opening up a “private school” in a strip mall, lying to the parents, taking $7000 per child and closing up shop. Ducey’s expansion gives the state no mechanism to recover misspent or fraudulently used funds. There is zero oversight of academics, performance, curriculum, safety, or teacher credentials. And there is nothing to stop voucher schools from discriminating against students who don’t “fit” their ideology or mold. That’s not school choice – it’s indoctrination and segregation.
The entire program is a walking permission slip for future scandal, segregation, fraud and abuse. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Arizona kids sit in overcrowded school classrooms with outdated textbooks, leaking roofs, and under-resourced teachers.
Save Our Schools Arizona is working to stop this law by turning in 118,823 valid signatures on Sept. 23, so that AZ voters will have the final say on the 2024 ballot. Find locations to sign the petition at teamsosarizona.com.
Beth Lewis is a mom, public education advocate, and K-12 policy expert who fights for a fully and equitably funded school for every Arizona child. As Director of Save Our Schools Arizona, Beth works to bring parents, educators, elected officials, business leaders, and community members together in support of Arizona’s public schools, which strengthen our communities and our great state. Beth has taught elementary and middle school in Arizona for 12 years. She holds a BA from the University of Notre Dame and a Master’s in Education from ASU. Reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org