School Choice Victory in Arizona!

May 2, 2017 by AFP

To all Arizona Parents and Taxpayers–

The Arizona chapter of Americans for Prosperity wishes to express its gratitude to all of the people who made possible this year’s legislative victory creating universal eligibility for Arizona’s system of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs).

ESA expansion in Arizona was the most important education reform battle in the country in 2017, giving families from all backgrounds greater access to the educational resources that work best for them, introducing more competition into Arizona’s education marketplace, and putting more pressure on our underperforming district schools to improve. (To learn more, scroll down.)

Many people made contributed to the victory:

— First, all of our AFP-Arizona staff and volunteers who went door canvassing with us or made phonebank calls for ESA expansion, including: Aaron, Alex, Bill, Boaz, Brian, Catherine, Eileen, Fernando, Gonzo, Jacob, Jacek and his crew, Jaimie, Jason, Jennifer, Kasey, Keith, Kile, Kim, Leslie, Linda, Mallory, the Matts, Mike, Paul, Phyllis, Seth, Stephen, Steven, Swannee and Vamsi. (My apologies for omitting any other superstars!)

— Second, all of the AFP-Arizona activists who made calls or sent emails to their legislators in response to our alerts. Your actions helped to build and secure support for the passage of the reform before and during a very contentious legislative session.

— Third, all of the partners in our coalition, including the good people at the American Federation for Children, the Arizona Catholic Conference, the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, the Arizona School Choice Trust, the Cato Institute, the Center for Arizona Policy, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the Goldwater Institute and the Institute for Justice. (Again, my apologies for omissions!)

— Finally, and crucially, the brave elected officials who stood up for Arizona children in the face of brutal pressure by the vested interests (mainly, teacher union activists and school district cronies): Governor Doug Ducey, Senate President Steve Yarbrough, House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, bill sponsors Senator Debbie Lesko and Representative John Allen, and the 16 Senators* and 31 Representatives who voted Yes in the third read votes on Thursday. (*All Republicans voted Yes, except for Senator Kate Brophy-McGee, and Representatives Heather Carter, Todd Clodfelter, Doug Coleman, and Michelle Udall. No Democrats voted Yes.)

Thanks to all of you who made it happen!

To learn more about the ESA battle, scroll down.

To apply for an Empowerment Scholarship Account under the current rules (we’ll let everyone know when families can apply under universal eligibility), go here:

For HELP in applying for an ESA, contact these two organizations:

Arizona Federation for Children
(928) 864-7789

(888) 703-4080

The Most Important Education Reform Battle of 2017

The expansion of our state’s program of parental choice Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) was at the very top of AFP-Arizona’s 2017 legislative agenda.  The expansion of ESAs to universal eligibility will give families from all backgrounds greater access to the educational resources that work best for them, and that will help them live up to their full potential.  ESAs will introduce more competition into Arizona’s education marketplace, and put more pressure on our underperforming district schools to improve. We and our activists and allies achieved victory on Thursday, April 6 with the narrow passage of Senate Bill 1431.

Known also as Education Savings Accounts, Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts give families funds every year to pay for qualified education expenses, including tuition at independent schools, textbooks, tutoring, and online curricula.  Students can also use ESA monies to attend select courses at public charter schools and traditional district schools

Unlike traditional vouchers, ESAs are not use-it-or-lose-it: families can save monies not spent in the current school year for future educational expenses, including vocational training.  And unlike vouchers, ESAs go to families, not to schools, and thus do not involve the government giving direct support to religious schools  Until the passage of SB 1431, ESAs in Arizona were only available to children with learning disabilities, children living on Indian reservations, children whose parents are active duty military personnel, or children in officially-designated failing schools (which was a pretty low bar to clear…).

Under the former standards, roughly one-quarter of the students in Arizona were eligible for ESAs, but there were only about 3,000 children using ESAs.  Now that ESAs have universal eligibility, nearly all children in Arizona (other than those currently in private school) can apply to get ESAs and use them to obtain the educational services that work best for them. On average, non-disabled students can obtain about $4,500 to put in their Empowerment Scholarship Accounts.

But we’re not done yet…   Unfortunately, due to a late-hour amendment, the total number of students in the state who can use ESAs will be capped at 30,000.  In the coming years, as the current pilot program demonstrates successes in boosting student performance, we will make the case for lifting the cap.

To read more about the specific features of the reform, read the legislative summary of
Senate Bill 1431.

According to the Urban Institute, Arizona has the 13th best student performance in the country, when adjusting for demographic factors. But that is a very low bar. We can do better and we must do better — for ALL of our children. The expansion of ESAs to universal eligibility is an important step toward ensuring that all Arizona kids get into great schools and obtain the educational services they need to succeed.

Again, thanks to everyone who made it happen!

For Liberty & Prosperity (and Kids!), Tom

Tom Jenney
Arizona Director
Americans for Prosperity