Critics said it would weaken Arizona’s public schools by siphoning away students and needed funds, and would be more likely to subsidize affluent families’ private-school tuition than to help poor children access new opportunities.
Arizona has long been among the most aggressive states in pushing for alternatives to public schools, and in 2011 became the first to offer “education savings accounts” to parents who withdraw from public schools. Unlike traditional vouchers, which can generally be used only for private-school tuition, education savings accounts (ESAs) can be used in a number of ways — for private tutoring at home, for private-school tuition or to save for college or other education expenses.
Until now, Arizona’s ESA program was limited to certain groups of students — those who attended D- or F-rated schools, were adopted from foster homes or lived on Native American reservations, for example. About 3,400 students are enrolled this year, each receiving up to $4,900 per year, according to EdChoice, an advocacy group. Students with disabilities could receive more.
Now, all 1.1 million students across the state will be eligible for the money, though not all will be able to enroll. Under a deal negotiated to ensure the legislature’s approval, 5,500 additional students will be able to enroll each year, up to a cap of 30,000 in 2022, according to the Arizona Republic.
Arizona becomes only the second state in the nation to offer universal eligibility for ESAs. Nevada first approved a universal ESA in 2015, but money has never flowed to families: The state’s supreme court found the funding mechanism unconstitutional in 2016, a problem the legislature has not yet fixed.