In a major victory for families weary of a one-size-fits-all approach to education, the Arizona Legislature today passed a groundbreaking bill which ensures all Arizona families can access school choice. Sponsored by Rep. Ben Toma, HB 2853 expands eligibility for Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program to every family in the state.
ESAs, which Goldwater pioneered in Arizona more than a decade ago, put money that would otherwise go toward a given child’s public education into an account that parents can use to customize their child’s education experience to best meet their unique needs. The ESA program has gone from serving 100 students in 2011 to more than 10,000 today, and if Gov. Doug Ducey signs HB 2853 into law, more than one million students will be eligible for the program.
You can find out more about what HB 2853 does—and doesn’t—do for Arizona families below:
What does HB2853 do and why is it needed?
- Expands eligibility for the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program to every family in Arizona.
- Families would receive over $6,500 per year per child for private school, homeschooling, ‘learning pods,’ tutoring, or any other kinds of educational service that would best fit their students’ needs.
- Any child who wishes to opt out of their local public school (or who already has) would be allowed to join the ESA program under the bill.
- Many families currently make financial sacrifices and shoulder the expense of private school tuition or paying for homeschool supplies. These families are all currently entitled to send their child to a public school (at a cost of over $10,000 per year to taxpayers), regardless of their income. This bill would ensure that all families have the freedom to choose whatever form of education best fits their child.
Does this harm existing ESA families or will it crowd out families who are already eligible for the program?
- No, this bill places ZERO new restrictions on any family who is already eligible for the ESA program, including special needs students.
This bill does not have any testing requirements.
- Homeschool families are NOT required to do ANY testing of their students in order to participate in the ESA program under the bill.
Doesn’t this drain our public schools of funding? NO
- No, the ESA program simply ensures that each student’s funding follows the student, just like it already does each time a student leaves a public school for a different public school using the state’s open enrollment option. Unless you believe that a student should be required to attend a particular school district—no matter how poorly it would serve that child–simply because of the zip code the child’s family lives in, then you already support the idea that funds should follow a student.
- Moreover, the ESA program costs roughly $6,400 for a typical student, compared to the more than $11,000 that state and local taxpayers spend on each public school student (not even counting the cost of federal spending on top of that. Each time a student leaves a public school for an ESA, over $600 is immediately added back to the public school system, even though it no longer serves that child—which means there is more money for public school students on a per-pupil basis thanks to the ESA program.
- In fact, the rapid growth in Arizona’s ESA program has tracked closely with major increases in per pupil funding for public schools over the past decade (even adjusting for inflation).
- Moreover, the Legislature has introduced a companion measure that would provide an additional $400 million to public schools that would go to all districts and charter schools in the state to help provide additional support for special education students, low-income students, teacher compensation and general education needs.
How else does this legislation strengthen the ESA program?
- The bill would also allow ESA families to purchase electronic devices like computers, calculators and microscopes and to utilize their ESA funds for student ride share services designed for students to help get them to school.
- The bill would also ensure that families of students with special needs can get an examination to determine whether they qualify for special education therapies under the ESA program.
Visit ESAFamilies.com to learn how Empowerment Scholarship Accounts can be a lifeline to ensure that children get the education they deserve.