Arizona OKs biggest US school voucher plan, faces challenge

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed on Thursday a bill that creates the largest school voucher program in the U.S.
Published: Jul. 7, 2022 at 2:45 PM MST
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PHOENIX (AP) — Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has signed a massive expansion of Arizona’s private school voucher system. The governor’s action on Thursday came despite a promised effort by public school advocates to put the bill on hold until voters can block it in November’s election.

Arizona has the most expansive education options in the nation and will have the most comprehensive voucher system if the bill takes effect. The expansion Ducey signed will let every parent in Arizona take public money now sent to the K-12 public school system and use it to pay for their children’s private school tuition or other education costs.

“As a parent, I’m really grateful,” said Elizabeth Dreckman, who has two kids who both get special education services at their schools. They’ve gone to private and charter schools, and she is commending Gov. Ducey for expanding the school voucher program. “I looked at over 20 different schools when I was looking for my kiddos,” Dreckman said. “The ability of parents to choose is important. Parents know best what’s right for their kids.”

“I think this voucher system is going to allow people who already have the means, ability to have kids go to a private school, it’s going to give them the hands-up on things instead of the people who truly do need it,” said Kelly Berg, a high school math teacher in Mesa Public Schools. Berg said she doesn’t think this will benefit most Arizona students, and it doesn’t seem most Arizonans want it either.

In 2018, Arizonans voted against this by a large majority. As of March 2022, about 256,000 kids were eligible for the ESAs. That includes students with special needs, military students, adoption or foster care students, etc. Of those eligible, only around 12,000 used the program, which is about 4.6%. “We’re already an open enrollment state. There’s a lot of school choice already in Arizona. 80-85% of students, depending on how you’re looking at it, decide to go to their neighborhood school,” said Aaron Marquez, a board member for Phoenix Union High School District. Marquez said there’s no doubt this will affect funding for his district. “It’s really important that you have high-quality options that benefit everybody in Arizona and really invest in our public schools in the state of Arizona,” Marquez said.

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