2016 Voucher Expansion Legislation
Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA)
ESA's provide a portion of the funding allocated to a school district or charter school for the eligible student to their parents. Parents must use the funds to provide the student an education. The parent may choose to home school or send the student to a private school, or a combination of both. Initially only students with disabilities were eligible; currently, other students meeting very specific criteria are eligible to apply for an ESA.
This year, approximately 2,500 students are using ESA's. Non-special needs students typically receive $5,300 per year. Special needs participants can receive up to $26,000 each year. A portion of the funds must be spent to provide an education in at least reading, grammar, math, social studies and science. Participants may not remain enrolled in a public school and may not accept Student Tuition Organization (STO) scholarships.
SB 1279 passed the House Appropriations Committee on March 23 with a Strike-Everything Amendment that would expand ESA's to students who are also eligible Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL) under the National School Lunch Program. Email and Call your legislators asking them to oppose this bill.
Families must not exceed certain income limits to qualify for FRL; for the 15-16 school year, that amount is $44,863 for a family of four. Arizona’s median income is $49,928. Currently, approximately 565,000 students are receiving FRL benefits. This is about 50% of our public school population considering only school district elementary schools are required to offer FRL, so not all schools provide FRL. It is estimated approximately 750,000 students (68% of all students) would likely be eligible for an ESA under this expansion. This expansion is a full expansion masquerading as a benefit for low-income children.
Additionally, ESA expansion is NOT similar to the development of public school choice. With the addition of Open Enrollment and Charter Schools, yes, it was different from the traditional view of public education. Open Enrollment and Charter Schools are a part of Arizona’s public school system but ESA’s do not come close, the only public part of an ESA is the public tax dollars shifted from public use to private use.
There is no accountability; transparency or even reporting connected with this program, as is required of ALL other pieces of the public system. Recipients report information to ADE but there is no annual/performance report or objectives to determine if the program is effective.
- Program shifts public dollars out of the public schools into private schools
- ESA’s cost the state more, as public schools are supported by a combination of local property taxes and state funding, while ESA's are wholly state-funded.
- Expanding the ability of private schools to access tax dollars seriously endangers the passage of Prop 123, voters concerned over using State Land Trust funds as part of the settlement will see Prop 123 as a way to funnel money to private schools.
- Continued expansion will hamper the ability for ADE to oversee the program.
- Misspending, waste, abuse and even fraud occur each year, with several cases forwarded for prosecution.
- Although participants may not use both ESA and STO funds, there is no oversight of this as the state has no ability to verify
- Even with the oversight provided by ADE (which exceeds the statutory requirements) one parent failed to provide an education for their child and not only bought themselves a television, a tablet and even used the funds for an abortion.
- There is no academic accountability to demonstrate these students are performing better outside the public schools.