If you’re confused about the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program expansion to all Arizona K-12 students, you’re not alone. The recent passing of HB 2853, gives parents and guardians who opt out of the public-school option, a portion of taxpayer funds to use for tutoring, private school tuition, home schooling, and special-needs therapies. Much of the confusion comes from advocates for and against this expansion by complicating the issue with opposing scenarios.
I believe both sides of the debate must begin under the auspices of Arizona law. Specifically, the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which states: “All parental rights are reserved to a parent of a minor child without obstruction or interference from this state, including the right to direct the education, upbringing, moral or religious training and make all health care decisions for their minor child.”
Opponents to Arizona’s ESA program expansion, like Save Our Schools and teachers’ unions, who have tried and failed to get enough signatures to stop HB 2853, feel parents are unqualified and can’t be trusted with these taxpayer funds to direct the education of their children. The Democrats of Greater Tucson take that mistrust of parents to a heinous level in a recent post. They write “With no accountability protocols, this creates an opportunity for extremist-xenophobic-homophobic-white nationalist-MAGA groups to develop their own little Hitler Youth Academies to indoctrinate impressionable minors.” The four false cheering points of the anti-ESA crowd can be easily debunked with facts:
ESAs don’t siphon funds away from public schools: The inconvenient truth as explained by the Goldwater Institute is the “ESA program now gives back nearly $1,000 per child to the public school system each time a student switches to an ESA from a public school. This is because ESA students forfeit their funding from several pots of state taxpayer funded money (such as the ‘Classroom Site Fund’ and ‘Prop 123’ add-on revenues) when they leave their district or charter school, and all of that money gets redistributed back to the public school system instead. (For instance, for the 2022-2023 school year alone, the Classroom Site Fund raised $945 million dollars, with every one of Arizona’s 1.1 million public school students getting almost $900 each from it. ESA students, on the other hand, completely give up their claim to those dollars and instead send them back to their public-school peers, who end up with more money per pupil than they had before.” Read more here.
ESAs do have monetary accountability and transparency: According to the Arizona Department of Education’s 2022/2023 ESA Handbook, when an Account Holder enters into an ESA contract with the Department, the Account Holder is required to report all expenses made with ESA funds. To maintain ESA program eligibility, debit card receipts must be submitted in the quarter that the transaction occurred. Complete invoices or receipts must be included when submitting expenses or making payments in the “Class Wallet” platform. All required credentials must be included when submitting debit card receipts or reimbursements.
Parents can’t spend the ESA money on anything they want: The Arizona Department of Education’s 2022/2023 ESA Handbook is quite clear on their “Spending and Program Requirements” in Chapter 2. There are twenty-one out of seventy pages in this handbook explaining what is approved and unapproved spending. For instance, if your child needs a computer for online classes, you would think that is an approved expenditure, but it’s not.
ESAs have academic accountability and transparency: I find the teachers’ union claim to the contrary laughable after the Arizona Department of Education’s recent release of the state’s assessment data. Overall, only 41% of students passed the English component, and a mere 33% passed the math portion. Where is the accountability for this disaster?
The biggest inconvenient truth is that home-schooled and private school students outperform public school students on state standardized tests and college entrance exams. As the number of homeschooled children in the United States grows, the statistics of student outcome cannot be ignored. According to Think Impact, homeschooled students score between 80% and 90% regardless of their parents’ level of education. On average, homeschooling one child costs the parent(s) between $700 and $1,800.
Business Wire, a Berkshire Hathaway company, reports a Back to School Survey shows 47% of parents are considering dropping school and going to homeschooling. Results from the EdChoice survey in 2020 showed that the top reasons parents had considered homeschooling before the COVID-19 shut down included freedom in exploring their child’s interests; safety concerns about schools; schools did not meet the needs of the children; and parents wanted to mold their children as per their own practices and beliefs.
Our education system has become a bloated, bureaucratic mess that is desperately trying to hang on to power over our children that is not legally theirs to have. Schools have one job, and that is to give our children a great academic education and they are failing. Compared to other nations, the United States fell to 24th in high school literacy in 2012 and continues to decline.
Parents, guardians, and concerned citizens are on the front lines, exposing the inconvenient truths regarding problems in our schools. We need to give them our support. I don’t believe the teachers’ unions, Save Our Schools, and their media cohorts are going to give up after their first defeat to stop ESA expansion.
Please contact your state representatives and tell them to uphold Arizona law which gives our parents the right to direct the education of their children.
Michele Hamer is a candidate for the Prescott Unified School District Governing Board. You can find out more about her campaign here.
Parents want options for their children’s education. That is why so many went to the legislature and the governor and asked them to pass the Universal Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program for all of Arizona’s students!
The ESA program has been around for 11 years, but it’s only been available for a limited number of students who have qualified under particular classifications. As a mother of a child who has qualified under the category of special needs, I have seen our son thrive with his education for the last 9 years on an ESA. The tax dollars that we have been able to draw down are completely accountable to the state. After submitting all the documentation for every purchase and having it all approved by the Department of Education, we can then have access to the next quarter’s funds.
There is no better advocate for a child than their parents. Public district and public charter schools are not for everyone. We need options for students and parents who don’t thrive in these settings. For our son, the public district school failed us, and the public charter schools disappointed us. That is why we left the “public system” of education. Every child is uniquely different and has different needs. ESAs simply ensure that each child’s needs can be met without significant financial sacrifices from their families.
The latest controversy now seems to be between the parents and the teachers’ unions. But it is not an EITHER/OR for public schools and ESAs. It really is a BOTH/AND. We need strong public schools, and we also need options for our children who don’t fit into that cookie-cutter style of learning. Children may be doing very well in a public school now and that is great, but their needs may change. Or the school may change and then, an ESA may be needed in the future.
If you read House Bill 2853, you will see that there is a significant amount of money that is allocated to the public school system. They also retain all federal and local tax dollars. A student on an ESA only receives 90% of the state per pupil funding. According to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, a public school child will receive approximately $14,326 in the coming school year, but an ESA recipient will receive $6,966. This is a win-win-win for the student, the public schools, and the taxpayers!
But right now, a group called Save Our Schools is out on the streets attempting to get the people of Arizona to sign a petition that could stop families from having the freedom of school choice. They’re trying to spread the false narrative that the new ESA law only benefits rich parents who want to send their kids to private school. If that were the case, you would expect to see a low demand for these ESAs. And yet, the new ESAs have been so popular with parents across all backgrounds and political spectrums that it has overwhelmed the Arizona Department of Education’s website!
It’s time for the people of Arizona to see through the lies. Save Our Schools wants to defund and deprive Arizona kids from receiving an amazing education. But thankfully, hundreds of parents have joined the Decline to Sign Movement. These engaged parents have been peacefully countering the Save Our Schools petition gatherers before a voter signs it to make sure that they understand what they are signing.
I encourage every voter in Arizona to Decline to Sign any petition from Save Our Schools. When our lawmakers put our children first, that is always a WIN! And that’s exactly what Governor Ducey did when he signed the new ESA law, making Arizona the gold standard for school choice laws in the country. Let’s leave this new law the way it is so that parents have full control over their children’s education. Our state and our kids will be better off if we fund students rather than systems.
Christine Accurso is a wife, mother, and ESA parent leading the charge for the Decline to Sign Movement. You can find out more about this effort here.
With nearly $7,000 becoming available for every K-12 student to attend a private school or be homeschooled through the recent expansion of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs), the Arizona Department of Education’s website has been overwhelmed with parents seeking to apply.
The credit becomes available on Sept. 24 but the number of parents applying in advance has created issues for the Department of Education’s website. An advisory posted to the website this week noted “high volume” may cause users to receive an error message when trying to establish an account.
On Saturday, Ducey took to Twitter as word spread about the tremendous interest.
The ESA expansion legislation sponsored by Rep. Ben Toma provides families of all 1.1 million of Arizona’s K-12 students the option of allocating 90 percent of state funding which would have been allocated to the student’s district or charter school and have it be available for private school tuition, home-schooling, tutoring, and other educational needs such as transportation, textbooks, and computers.
Among the permitted expenditures for homeschoolers is the cost of specialized teachers for subjects such as foreign language, art, and music.
Ducey presided over a Aug. 17 ceremonial signing of HB2853. He later said making ESAs available to all of Arizona’s K-12 students was putting “the power back in the hands of parents, who are best suited to make decisions for their children’s education.”
Jenny Clark, founder of Love Your School, attended last week’s ceremony (Ducey actually signed HB2853 on July 7). Clark says Arizona’s ESA program can be life-changing for Arizona’s students.
“My five children have benefitted from ESAs and I can’t help but think how many kids don’t get the help they need,” Clark said. “Now, they will. Every child in Arizona will have the same opportunities and ability to get the education tailored to their needs.”
Corey A. DeAngelis of the Federation for Children was one of the stakeholders involved in ensuring passage of HB2853, calling it “a national model” that empowers parents. He too used Twitter to comment on what the high demand on the ADE website means.
“This is why the government school monopoly fights so hard against giving families a choice,” DeAngelis wrote. “They’re terrified. They know parents want alternatives.”