Arizona superintendent’s goal for affordable private school could cost taxpayers $900 million

Superintendent Tom Horne says the universal voucher program is expecting 67% more applicants next year. However, it's expected to cost taxpayers $900 million.
Published: Jun. 5, 2023 at 5:41 PM MST|Updated: Jun. 5, 2023 at 6:03 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- The state superintendent says the new universal voucher program is growing fast, expecting 67% more applicants next year. Families use those vouchers to go to the school of their choice.

Because they can be used for private schools, critics say it’s hurting public education. In addition, we now know it could cost taxpayers $900 million next year. “If your students’ needs are not being met, be aware that you have choices,” said Superintendent Tom Horne.

Getting your child into a private school could be easier. “We have excellent public schools. But even a good public school might not meet the needs of all students,” Horne added.

Horne is rolling out a universal voucher program to make private schools more affordable by giving $7,000 to each student each year. “This was not intended to help students living in poverty,” said President of the Arizona Teachers Union, Marisol Garcia.

But it doesn’t come without criticism. “This is intended to help people make money off of our taxpayer money,” Garcia said. Garcia says the program only benefits the wealthy. “These are families that have already committed $15,000 a year to send their child to a private school. What this did essentially is give them a 50% of ticket that is being paid for by the taxpayers,” she said.

Horne says that 78% of applicants were families already paying full price for private school. However, he claims that the number has recently dropped to 49%. Right now, there are roughly 60,000 applicants. That number is expected to climb to 100,000 by 2024. Horne said it could cost taxpayers $900 million, much higher than originally anticipated.

“From the beginning, AEA has been against privatization of taxpayer money going to institutions or people that we have no accountability for. Just imagine how much better our students would be doing if they had a fully funded public school,” Garcia said.

The vouchers come from the state’s general fund, which also funds transportation, police and fire, and prisons. The teachers union tells me they are worried it’ll bankrupt those other areas. But Horne says he is not concerned and believes the state can keep up.

Governor Hobbs’ executive budget called for repealing the program. While she couldn’t do that, her spokesperson says she got more transparency in reporting for the program through budget negotiations.

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