By Corinne Murdock |
On Thursday afternoon, Arizona made history by becoming the first state to implement universal school choice in modern-day education. The state’s school choice system, the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program, ensures that all of Arizona’s students receive up to $7,000 annually to receive the education they desire. Students may apply the scholarship account funds to public school alternatives or supplements like private schools, homeschooling, educational therapies, or tutoring.
For the past month, Governor Doug Ducey has celebrated the historic legislation in a flurry of tweets and press releases. Ducey declared Arizona’s universal school choice program the “gold standard for education freedom.”
The legislation marks a fulfillment of Ducey’s promise during his state of the state address in January to expand school choice.
Arizona House Majority Leader Ben Toma, the sponsor behind the bill to universalize school choice, emphasized in a press release that the GOP overcame divided opinion within its “razor thin” majority to universalize ESAs.
“In Arizona, we fund students, not systems, because we know one size does not fit all students,” said Toma. “I couldn’t be prouder that House Republicans stood united to pass the first truly universal ESA program in the nation and deliver educational freedom to more than 1.1 million students.”
In the wake of the Arizona legislation’s approval of Toma’s bill, school choice opponents invoked rhetoric to reiterate their longstanding claim that school choice leads to segregation. Proponents of school choice refute that claim, including one prominent Black pastor from South Phoenix — a Democrat who benefitted from school choice.
Anti-school choice activists with Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ) launched a campaign to subvert the new law, “Stop Voucher Expansion” — a mischaracterization of the school choice funds as “vouchers.” If successful, SOSAZ would put the fate of universal school choice on the 2024 ballot.
The ESA Program is not a voucher program. It is an education scholarship account. Vouchers are education funds awarded for use at private schools only. The ESA Program allows parents to apply their funds to a variety of education options including, but not limited to, private schooling. Prior to its universalization, the ESA Program was open to a select few classes of students, mainly utilized by those with disabilities that relied on the funds to obtain niche educational therapies.
Parents who benefited from ESAs pleaded with their community to oppose the SOSAZ activists.