Arizona's "Empowerment Scholarship Accounts" Survive Court Challenge

Categories: News
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Matthew Hendley


The Arizona Supreme Court won't hear an appeal of a ruling that upholds the state's "empowerment scholarship accounts."

The state Supremes have struck down voucher-program laws in the past, and although these accounts are similar to vouchers, they're not quite the same.

See also:
-Lawmakers Look to Expand Eligibility on Controversial "Empowerment Scholarships"
-John Huppenthal, Arizona Schools Chief, Shilling for Private Schools

The voucher laws allowed parents of foster children or children with special needs to send their kids to private schools, using state money. This was seen as a transfer of state funds to a religious institution.

After those were struck down, proponents of the voucher system helped pass the new "empowerment scholarship accounts."

The Goldwater Institute, which defended the ESAs in court, describes the program as a way to "empower parents to choose to spend the funds to suit their children's needs best."

The state funds, which would have gone to the public school, are still going toward private-school tuition. However, unlike the vouchers, the parent can also spend the ESA money on books or other school-related fees, in addition to the tuition.

The ESA system was also put into effect to benefit children with special needs, when it was passed into law in 2011. It was then expanded to include foster children, children with parents on active duty in the military, as well as kids that went to schools given a "D" of "F" grade by the state.

Lawmakers are currently considering even more expansions, including one way which would eventually make a majority of Arizona students eligible for such accounts.

Even the state Superintendent of Public Instruction, John Huppenthal, has encouraged parents to check out if they qualify for ESAs.

The power opposed to ESAs, the state teachers' union, effectively sees this as a way to dismantle the public school system.

According to a statement released by the Goldwater Institute, they believe Arizona's law standing could be good news for those who want to implement similar programs in other states:
While many policymakers throughout the states have expressed interest in bringing education savings accounts programs to their constituents, many have encountered roadblocks due to the continued hostility of school choice opponents through the courts. Thanks to the outcome of this lawsuit, they no longer have reason to fear.

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Follow Matthew Hendley at @MatthewHendley.


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