Beth Lewis: Nation watches as Arizona’s universal ESA voucher fiasco fails
Beth Lewis is the director of Save Our Schools Arizona. In this guest editorial for the Arizona Capitol Times, she lays out the failure of Arizona’s generous universal voucher program.
She starts with the financial impact on the state. Legislators were warned, but insisted that the program would barely dent public school funding. They were wrong.
This year so far, universal ESA vouchers are poised to drain $350 million from our state general fund — enough to give every Arizona classroom teacher a $6,000 raise. And because the legislature myopically failed to appropriate any additional funding for the expansion, the program’s unbudgeted costs are driving our state into a gaping financial hole.
But are the vouchers at least helping poor students escape “failing schools”? Not at all.
Make no mistake: the demand for universal ESA vouchers is not coming from low-income families, and there is no exodus from public schools. In fact, 80% of applications are for students already attending private school or homeschool whose families are eager to claim an annual taxpayer-funded subsidy of $7,000 per child. Arizona families are not exiting public schools — in fact, 92% of Arizona families proudly choose public schools, and we want our choice fully funded.
With 85,000 Arizona students in private schools and homeschools, it is likely that the ESA voucher program will cost well over $500 million this school year and reach $1 billion annually in a few short years. Because Republican lawmakers refused to cap or means-test vouchers, limitless funding can (and will) be stripped from Arizona’s public schools and siphoned to unregulated private schools that are in no way required to open their books to taxpayers. Taxpayer-funded private schools will legally be allowed to discriminate, teach any curriculum they wish, and cherry-pick the students they want. This isn’t “school choice,” it’s the school’s choice. And this isn’t “educational freedom,” it’s a perfect storm for fraud, abuse, segregation and scandal.
There’s more. Then Lewis ends with a simple plea:
Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs has called upon the legislature to reverse this fiscally irresponsible program and prioritize funding public schools, as is their Constitutional duty.