Arizona Lawmakers Pushing For Universal School Choice Vouchers

A Republican lawmaker is lookin to gain support to expand on a existing Arizona voucher program for students, but has a long battle ahead.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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Arizona voucher

School choice is said to be widely popular with parents of all backgrounds. It is the belief that every family should be able to freely choose whether or not to send their children to public, charter, private school, or homeschooling. Unfortunately for many families, school choice is not an option. Because of this, more states are creating voucher or savings programs to better direct education funds to the student, instead of the public school system. An existing Arizona voucher program is being looked at by Republican lawmakers, as some are pushing for a wider universal school choice program. 

Axios reports that the Republican House Majority Leader, Ben Toma, has decided to make a late legislative session push to expand on the existing Arizona voucher program for K-12 students. Formally known as the Empowerment Scholarship Account program (ESA), it is currently only made available to families that meet certain criteria. Toma hopes to change that, and make it “universal.”

The Arizona ESA voucher program currently allows some parents wishing to pull their children from public schools to receive money from the state so they can send them to a private school, pay for tutoring or other related expenses with homeschooling. As of now, the ESA program is only available to certain students. They have to show a current disability, prove to be Native American, or show that the public school the student is currently attending is failing in standards. 

The program has already proven to be a hit with families that qualify. As of March 31, there were 11,775 students statewide enrolled in the Arizona voucher program. Depending on the student’s situation, the scholarship grants families anywhere from $3,000 to $30,000 per school year. The Republican lawmaker, however, hopes to soon make changes to make sure all families are eligible for the program.

Many of the details regarding how this would work are still unclear, and because of the hefty funding needed to accomplish this goal, it is losing support across party lines. Historically, Republican lawmakers tend to show support for school choice, while Democrats tend to oppose similar measures. In the instance of the Arizona voucher idea, Democrats seem to be against Toma’s idea, along with a few Republicans.

Three House Republicans expressed hesitancy to vote yes on expanding the Arizona voucher program. GOP Reps. Joel John, Joanne Osborn, and Michelle Udall all voiced similar concerns with the proposal. Speaking with Axios, John noted that he wasn’t opposed to expanding the program. However, he needed to see more accountability and oversight on its part. Likewise, Udall said she would support the measure, but also showed hesitancy with a lack of transparency and proof that it could work. Furthermore, Udall wishes to see the program keep some restrictions, including income limitations.

arizona voucher

More and more parents are losing trust in public schools, as they seek alternatives. Programs like the Arizona voucher one are intended to make that transfer easier for some. But as Americans continue to see more funds being sent to failing public schools, it’s no wonder there is a great caller for school choice options. However, Toma has quite the battle ahead of him, as he hopes to win more approval for his initiative.