By now, education choice enthusiasts – and detractors as well – know that Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has signed into law the nation’s first universal education savings account program, creating the most expansive school choice initiative in the nation.
House Bill 2853, sponsored by Rep. Ben Toma, allows education savings accounts to be available to all 1.1 million-plus K-12 students in Arizona, incorporating other reforms into the program, such as allowing families to use education savings account funds for transportation, computers, and other education related expenses.
Families will receive scholarships by re-directing their current education tax dollars at an amount expected to be approximately $7,000 per student per year when the bill takes effect later this fall.
Here is what Ducey had to say at the bill-signing:
This is a monumental moment for all of Arizona’s students. Our kids will no longer be locked in under-performing schools. Today, we’re unlocking a whole new world of opportunity for them and their parents. With this legislation, Arizona cements itself as the top state for school choice and as the first state in the nation to offer all families the option to choose the school setting that works best for them.
Every family in Arizona should have access to a high-quality education with dedicated teachers. This is truly a win for all K-12 students. I commend Sen. President Karen Fann, House Speaker Rusty Bowers, Rep. Ben Toma, and all the lawmakers who voted for this important legislation and put students first.
Here are remarks from bill sponsor Toma:
In Arizona, we fund students, not systems, because we know one size does not fit all students. It was my privilege to sponsor the most expansive school choice law in the nation, opening Empowerment Scholarship Account eligibility to all school-age children without restriction. I appreciate Gov. Ducey for his strong support to help Arizona become the first state with a truly universal ESA program, delivering educational freedom to more than 1.1 million students.
From Drew Anderson, senior pastor of First Watch Ministries and Legacy Christian Center in South Phoenix:
Our kids have been crying out for better schools to be open to them. We broke open those doors and saved our children. As a pastor I’ve seen too many of our black and brown children struggling; going to fast food restaurants just to connect to Wi-Fi or just looking for some guidance on homework. I’m grateful to Gov. Ducey and the Legislature for putting our kids first by expanding the Empowerment Scholarship Account program. We avoided a crisis for our children and helped them achieve greatness.
From Jenny Clark, founder of Love Your School, a resource for Arizona families looking for the best schooling options for their children:
My five children benefit from the Empowerment Scholarship Account program. Because of the program, our kids had access to wonderful curriculum, resources, and special education that they needed. It has been life changing. Every Arizona child now has access to the same opportunities – unbound by their parents’ income. Thanks to the hard work of Gov, Ducey and the Arizona Legislature, all Arizona students have equitable access to a great education.
From Steve Smith, Arizona state director, American Federation for Children:
This is a historic moment for all families in Arizona, especially those who have been demanding more education options for their children in the wake of the massive learning loss and school closures from COVID. For more than a decade, AFC has worked to expand education freedom in Arizona, and now today, every family truly has that freedom that they are entitled to. We could not ask for a better partner than Gov. Ducey, a stalwart champion for kids, and the Republican lawmakers who refused to give up on this effort. We look forward to continuing our work to ensure all children, especially those from lower-income families, will receive full access to the opportunities now available to them through the ESA program.
From Tommy Schultz, CEO, American Federation for Children:
Arizona leaders just created a Sputnik moment for education freedom that should inspire lawmakers in every other state to launch their own massive school choice policy expansions. We appreciate the enormous task ahead of us to spread education freedom and opportunity to millions of children across the nation still stuck in schools failing to meet their needs. Every child in America deserves the opportunity to thrive and achieve his or her potential through a high-quality education, and we will continue fighting for families in Arizona and across the country until that day comes.
From Corey DeAngelis, senior fellow, American Federation for Children:
With the signing of this bill, Gov. Ducey and Arizona Republicans freed thousands of families from government-run schools that aren’t meeting their needs. Arizona families will no longer be forced to send their children’s taxpayer-funded education dollars to government-run schools regardless of their choices. All Arizona families will finally be able to direct their children’s taxpayer-funded education dollars to the education providers that best meet their needs, whether it be a public, private, charter, or home-based educational option. Arizona has figured out how to fund students instead of systems, and now solidly leads the nation in educational freedom.
From Jason Bedrick, research fellow, Center for Education Policy at The Heritage Foundation:
Arizona lawmakers are right to trust families. Arizona has long been a pioneer in education choice—enacting nation’s first tax-credit scholarship policy in 1997, in addition to the first ESA—and the investment in education choice is paying off. Despite doomsday predictions about the effects that education choice would have on student performance, Arizona has led the nation in gains on the National Assessment of Education Progress over the past two decades. When families are empowered to choose the learning environment that works best for their children and that aligns with their values, everyone benefits. Once again, Arizona is setting an example that other states should emulate.
From Patricia Levesque, executive director, ExcelinEd in Action:
Today, Arizona lawmakers boldly passed a historic piece of legislation that will give families more educational options for their students. More than 11,000 students now use the Arizona Empowerment Account Program. If the expansion is signed into law, all of the approximately 1.1 million Arizona students will have access to public and private options to better meet their individualized needs. We are extremely grateful to the leadership of Rep. Ben Toma and members of the Arizona Legislature for their courage in providing additional avenues for every student to succeed in school and beyond.
From Matt Beienburg, director, Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy and director of education policy at the Goldwater Institute:
Opponents have once again pledged to fight against ESA expansion, and state lawmakers still have to notch the final win for academic transparency in 2023 after SB 1211, which would require public schools to disclose online all instructional materials being used in their classrooms, also cleared the state senate and came just a single vote short of final passage in the house. But in both cases, one can see a growing consensus among Arizona lawmakers that meaningful reforms are needed by families across the state, and that now is the time for greater educational freedom and academic transparency for students across the nation.
From the Wall Street Journal editorial board:
The school choice movement continues to gain support, and the latest breakthrough is legislation in Arizona that will expand the availability of education savings accounts for any K-12 student in the state who wants one.
From USA Today columnist Ingrid Jacques:
It didn’t surprise me when I heard that Arizona passed what’s being called the most expansive school choice plan in America. After all, the state has long been a trailblazer in educational freedom.