March 1, 2024

On July 7, Republican Governor Doug Ducey signed into law an amended expansion to “The Empowerment Scholarship Account” (ESA) program, to provide public funding via vouchers for private education, for which eligibility would extend to all 1.1 million K-12 students in the state.

The legislation significantly expands the scope of the original ESA legislation, which was first made into state law in 2011. Currently, around 11,800 students are enrolled in the voucher program. The original ESA program included only students with parents in the military, or who are wards under the state’s foster care program, children with disabilities, and students who live on Native American reservations.

Teachers throughout Arizona took part in strikes and protests in 2018. [Photo by Save our Schools Arizona Facebook page]

The new law makes Arizona’s ESA program the largest school voucher program in the country. Ducey signed the bill within days of the US Supreme Court ruling that allows state funding to be used for parochial schools.

The new law will provide $7,000 per student per year for parents who opt out of public school, for expenses incurred for private schools, also including home schooling and religious schools. The legislation contains limited provisions for oversight concerning the distribution of voucher funding, and almost no accountability over private schools who receive the funds.

On the same day, Ducey also signed legislation that lowers academic requirements for educators. Under this provision, teachers are not required to hold a degree. The prospective teacher needs only to be enrolled in an academic program to begin teaching in the public school system.

Notably, in 2017, a similar universal voucher bill passed in the legislature, but was defeated after a ballot referendum in 2018. The nearly 2-1 rejection of the voucher bill demonstrated the massive popular opposition to the attack on public education.

The Arizona public school system is one of the most deeply underfunded in the country, ranking near the bottom in per-pupil spending, with more than $1.1 billion having been cut over the last decade. Arizona educators are among the lowest paid in the nation. To add insult to injury, the state government forced schools open during the ongoing pandemic in 2021, which has exacerbated the crisis afflicting teachers and students alike.

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