June 13, 2023

Rhonda Cagle: Arizona’s fuzzy math spells trouble for school vouchers

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As we’ve seen in many states, the projected cost of vouchers is far ahead of promises made. Rhonda Cagle runs some numbers.

It seems the Arizona Legislature has a slight accounting problem on their hands.

And by slight, I mean an $835 million difference in what universal vouchers are anticipated to cost versus the $65 million the Legislature originally projected.

This differential isn’t covered in the state budget legislators just passed, even with the extra $500 million legislators included, just to be safe.


I don’t know about you, but if I made that kind of accounting error in my household budget, I would have some explaining to do — first to my family and then to my creditors, who would likely not be as forgiving.

Apparently, however, it doesn’t work that way for lawmakers.

Universal vouchers, also known as Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs), were sold as a way to save the state money while also giving poor kids in “failing” schools a choice in where they go to school.

Never mind that most private schools don’t provide transportation from the ’hood to the haven of their hallowed halls.

Or the fact that the average ESA payout of $9,900 falls far short of the $13,864 median price of yearly private tuition — a chasm most low-income families can’t bridge.

Proponents tout the cost savings of the program, highlighting the fact that vouchers fund no more than 90% of what the state pays in per-pupil funding for public school students.

That’s all well and good, providing public school students are actually the ones receiving the vouchers.

The most current data shows 75% of all applicants for vouchers have no history of previously attending a public school.

Simply put, 75% of ESA recipients are families that were already sending their child to a private school or homeschooling them.

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