June 28, 2022

Arizona Budget and ESA Expansion Fall Short for Arizona Students

By Rich Nickel, president and CEO, Education Forward Arizona

Rich Nickel

Last week, the Arizona legislature reached a compromise to pass a budget, which included much-needed investments in K-12 education and important resources for schools serving students from low-income families and students with disabilities. The budget also included a meaningful increase in the base funding amount that K-12 schools can use to support teachers, staff, and programs.

While Education Forward Arizona sees those as steps in the right direction, we also believe that the budget missed the opportunity to provide a long-term funding solution for the entire P-20 continuum, from early education to K-12 through higher education.

Also disturbing is that, after the budget deal was struck, the legislature passed a bill late Friday night to universally expand school vouchers (called empowerment scholarship accounts, or ESAs), creating the first universal school voucher program in the nation.

Education Forward Arizona has consistently opposed a mass expansion of ESAs. By conservative estimates, universal vouchers are projected to take an additional $125 million out of the K-12 system with no fiscal or academic accountability.

Taxpayers will have no idea how the money is being spent, who is being served, or whether students using the vouchers are receiving a quality education.

While vouchers are often sold under the banner of ensuring that all students receive an equitable education, low-income and students of color will likely have the hardest time accessing or using a school voucher.

Although there were steps forward taken with specific investments in the budget, education funding in Arizona has not been solved. And, by diverting public funding to private schools without accountability or assurance that the students who need help the most will get it, the state also took a giant step backward.

Compromise is the nature of politics, but Education Forward Arizona will continue to work to ensure that equity is not conceded.