By Corinne Murdock |
Arizona families have filed nearly 6,500 applications to join the state’s universal school choice program since enrollment launched two weeks ago. The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) estimated that about 75 percent of the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program applicants, about 4,870, had no prior record of public school enrollment.
Universal ESAs award students up to $7,000 in funding. ADE disclosed that the figure usually falls around $6,500 for grades 1-12 and $4,000 for kindergarteners.
ESA Program universalization takes effect on September 24.
In an effort to reverse the ESA Program universalization, public school activists with Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ) launched a referendum for a 2024 ballot initiative, “Stop Voucher Expansion.”
In response to the 6,500 applications, SOSAZ claimed that the state was handing over $47.4 million in taxpayer dollars to private schools “with no transparency or oversight.” Their calculation included the several hundred students who applied to the original ESA Program for students with special needs, not the universalized version.
SOSAZ said that they would have the 118,823 signatures required to qualify for the November 2024 ballot by September 23.
“Should [universal school choice] go into effect, these numbers will certainly balloon as special interests promote vouchers for for-profit schemes,” wrote SOSAZ.
ADE Superintendent Kathy Hoffman signed onto the SOSAZ ballot initiative. Hoffman, who is up for reelection this November, echoed SOSAZ’s claim that the ESA Program she oversees has “zero accountability.”
Although the ballot initiative and Hoffman describe the ESA Program funds as “vouchers,” they are actually education scholarship accounts. Vouchers are education funds for use at private schools only. The ESA Program universal funds may be applied to a variety of education-related things on top of private schooling, such as: tutoring, supplemental curriculum, online learning programs or courses, standardized testing fees, and community college.
Pro-school choice activists have launched a counter-initiative to the AZSOS campaign, “AZ Decline to Sign.”
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey expressed total support for universalization of the ESA Program.
In an email to school choice advocate Corey DeAngelis, ADE shared that it would post the total number of universal ESA Program applications every week on social media.
Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.