Under the new bill, HB2853, every family in the Grand Canyon state would be eligible for the State’s 2011 Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program — initially designed for disabled, military, or failing students. The program grants families $6,500 in tuition annually per child for private or home schools or learning pods — which have grown increasingly popular nationwide over the last few years due to COVID shutdowns, mandates, and woke ideology.
“This legislation is the most robust expansion of educational freedom in the nation,” Matt Beienburg, director of education policy of Goldwater Institute, a staunch defender of America’s founding principles and constitutional liberties, told the Washington Free Beacon. “It guarantees every Arizona student, whether they are coming from public school, private school, or homeschooling, the opportunity to join the ESA program and receive their share of state funding to pursue any educational opportunity that best needs their needs.”
Goldwater, who pioneered the ESA program more than a decade ago, reports the program went from serving 100 students to more than 10,000. The institute says many families make yearly financial sacrifices shouldering expenses of private school tuition or homeschool supplies. Yet, those same families have access to enroll their children into public schools — which cost taxpayers over $10,000 per year regardless of their income.
Earlier this year, Governor Doug Ducey (R) challenged lawmakers in his State of the State address to “think big” for Arizona families regarding their children’s education.
“This session, let’s expand school choice any way we can,” Ducey said. “Send me the bills, and I’ll sign them.”
On Wednesday, he tweeted, “In Arizona, we trust parents to make the best decisions for their children’s education.”
Corey DeAngelis, a senior fellow at school choice advocacy group American Federation for Children, in an interview on Sunday with Fox News called the bill “the biggest victory when it comes to school choice in U.S. history.”
“Arizona is now the gold standard for school choice, and they’ve now cemented themselves as the number one state for education freedom and supporting parental rights and education,” DeAngelis said. “This is the way every state should do, and they should follow Governor Ducey’s lead.”
DeAngelis added Republicans across the nation claim they are the party of parents, but Arizona Republicans “proved it.”
Like the recent controversy of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, which gave abortion rights back to the states, the school choice experiment will serve as another model for other states to watch how the original design of the Constitution works without federal oversight.
Arizona teachers unions argue that putting money back into the parents’ pockets could defund the public school system.
Arizona Education Association, the largest teacher union in the state with more than 20,000 members, said it opposes private school vouchers and tuition tax credits because “they divert money from our public schools into private religious schools without any accountability.”
“We urge Arizona state senators to support our public school educators and students by voting no on expanding private school vouchers,” AEA said in a statement.
But DeAngelis says the school choice program would do the opposite, calling the move a “win-win” situation.
“[It’s] the state portion of the total funding,” he said. “The schools are funded state, locally, and federally, so the public schools get to keep some of the money, and they’ll actually end up with higher per-pupil revenues and expenditures.”
Arizona’s bill passed the same week the Supreme Court extended school-choice eligibility nationwide, which bars states from discriminating against religious institutions with school-voucher programs.
Governor Ducey has yet to sign the legislation, but is expected to pen his signature in the coming days.