Here’s how Arizona’s expansive school voucher system works

The universal voucher bill passed with only support from majority Republican lawmakers in the legislative session
Published: Aug. 16, 2022 at 6:05 AM MST|Updated: Aug. 16, 2022 at 10:26 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- During his State of the State address in January, Gov. Doug Ducey said he wanted to bring sweeping school choice to Arizona families during his last year in office. Arizona currently has the most expansive education options in the nation, and once this latest education reform bill takes effect, it will have the most comprehensive voucher system.

Gov. Ducey held a ceremonial signing of the bill on Tuesday after the legislature passed it in June and it was signed into law last month. A “ClassWallet” overview town hall was held virtually by the Arizona Dept. of Education.

The State of Arizona has had the program for about ten years, utilizing what’s called Empowerment Scholarship Accounts or ESAs, but not many families have qualified before now. As of March 2022, about 256,000 kids were eligible for the ESAs, but only about 4.6%, or approximately 12,000 students, used the program. Most of those students were those with special needs, military students, or those in adoptive or foster care

This new law, effective at the end of September, makes every Arizona family eligible to use an ESA if they ever want to leave the public school system for any reason. On average, about $6,500 in tax dollars per student can be put into private school tuition, homeschooling expenses, online schooling, and other educational expenses such as transportation to other schools. Students who have a current IEP/MET/504 are eligible to receive additional funding.

In 2018, Arizonans voted against this by a large majority, and many public school advocates and school districts have since voiced their disappointment in the bill, many stating it will largely impact school and district funding.

“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,” Aaron Marquez, a board member for Phoenix Union High School District told Arizona’s Family in July. “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.”

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The Associated Press & Briana Whitney contributed to this report through prior coverage.