Arizona House Votes Down Expansion of Taxpayer-Funded Private School Scholarships

Categories: I'm Only a Bill
Matthew Hendley

The Arizona House of Representatives voted down a bill that would have expanded the taxpayer-funded private school scholarships known as Empowerment Scholarship Accounts.

The ESA program is similar to a voucher program, but has been held up in court because it's not quite a voucher program -- the taxpayer money that would have gone to the public school district for a child is instead given to the parent (it's actually a little more money), and that money can only be spent on various, yet specific, education-related expenses, including private-school tuition.

See also:
-Arizona's "Empowerment Scholarship Accounts" Survive Court Challenge
-Lawmakers Look to Expand Eligibility on Controversial "Empowerment Scholarships"

Although several Republican-backed bills are calling for an expansion of the program, House Bill 2291 is the largest. The initial version of the bill called for expanding the program to include kids who are eligible for the federal free or reduced-price lunch programs.

Instead, the bill was amended to include any child who lives in a ZIP code where the median income is 185 percent or less of the federal poverty threshold for a family of four.

According to the budget analysts, this would have been the impact from the initial bill: "Starting in FY 2016, the bill is projected to increase state costs by approximately $46,100 in FY 2016, $3.5 million in FY 2017, $7.6 million in FY 2018 and $12.5 million in FY 2019 (the last year that program growth is capped) relative to current law."

According to the analysts, more than 100,000 more kids would be eligible for the program under this bill.

However, it's not being utilized to the fullest extent at the moment. About 150,000 public school students are currently eligible for ESAs. Due to state law, the cap (which increases each year) allows more than 5,500 students to participate in the program. This year, 692 kids are actually participating in the program.

That's taken into account in price the estimates quoted above.

"The bill is expected to incentivize additional students, especially private school participants, to enroll in ESAs," the budget analysis write. "Participation is projected to ramp up over a 3 year period of time, starting in FY 2017, so that the full cap is utilized by FY 2019. This increased usage of the existing cap results in the bill's fiscal impact."

Enough Republicans joined the Democrats to vote down the bill, 27-31.

There's an identical version of this bill in the Senate, however, it hasn't come to a final vote.

Expansions of the ESA program have been supported by the Goldwater Institute and Center for Arizona Policy.

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The bill is not dead. Expect that JD Mesnard is on the phone this weekend and doing a lot of arm twisting.

Then expect him on Monday to make a motion for reconsideration to redo the vote.

There are a handful of House Republicans that voted against the bill. If three of them change their vote, Mesnard wins, taxpayers and families who send their children to public schools lose.


Unfortunately with the one party, (lapdogs for ALEC and the Arizona Center for the Taliban) dictatorship in the legislature, nothing is over until sine die. More evil is done in the time after the budget is passed and signed than in the whole, insane period before the budget. Yee and Lesko are the greatest enemies of public schools in Arizona with their fetish about subsidizing private school tuition for the rich.

fishingblues topcommenter

@Reggievv  Golly reg, I believe the voucher system is for the poor kids to get a chance at an education outside of the failing government schools. 

WhoKnows topcommenter

@fishingblues @Reggievv  Are YOU proof of how stupid some people that went to public schools are?  That seems to be the case!

Why not IMPROVE the public schools, instead of paying for kids to be taught in religios schools about how Jesus rode dinosaurs, and how science isn't real?


@fishingblues @james8394 @WhoKnows @Reggievv  1st, I view property taxes, however assessed, as funding for public education to be part of the social compact.

My private school education was in military school. One set of cousins went to Catholic school and another to public school. No, I don't necessarily believe My education was superior to any of theirs, we just know some  different things. I know about art,(didn't learn it at military school, tho) catholic knows math and public knows engineering. We also have more in common, intellectually, than we have differences. Is that a family thing or education thing? I can't say. None of us is stupid though and all have earned good livings and done well for our families. 

fishingblues topcommenter

@james8394 @fishingblues @WhoKnows @Reggievv  

Hey James, notwithstanding the time "wasted" on religion and church attendance while attending a catholic school, do you believe you received a superior education?  I bet you do.  

To me, the argument has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with educating our children.

fishingblues topcommenter

@james8394 @fishingblues @WhoKnows @Reggievv  

Good post James.  I can't argue with your main points.

You seem to be a bit off on the funding issue.  Funding for schools does indeed come from property taxes.  These are not part of the "mortgage", although they can be included with the P & I payment, as can insurance.  They can also be paid separately.  Once a mortgage is paid off, one still needs to pay property taxes and home insurance.

Additionally, it is a weak argument to say property taxes (and subsequent school funding) is included in rent.  Rent can be treated as a commodity which fluctuates with the market and is priced at what the market will bear.      


@fishingblues @WhoKnows @Reggievv  Fish, I, too, went to private school but, because that was my parents choice, they paid for it themselves. My cousins, who were dirt poor, went to Catholic school but the church provided scholarships for them. My point is that if people want their kids to get a private education let them pay for it. And don't say that property taxes paid is their money because those assessments are usually part of the mortgage or rent.

The greater issue of "what's ailing public schools" is not something that can't be summed up by party talking points. It is rooted in bad policy. For example: there is a misconception that the purpose of public education is to provide workers for businesses. I submit that the goal should be to turn out citizens who can think for themselves. Another factor that gets little or no attention is structural. It's a fact that not everyone learns the same way, yet schools are organized to provide a one size fits all education. This means that the kid who is a kinesthetic learner, you know, the ones that can't sit still because they have to move so their brains can process information, becomes considered a disruption in the classroom. This in turn leads to excessive diagnosis of ADHD. So those kids are no longer "disruptive" in class because the drugs make them zombies but they are not learning anything either. Except to take drugs to solve problems.

It really is time for an overhaul of public education, done by educators and not politicians, and the outcome would not be made better by stripping away funding to enrich the self serving ESA, G.I. and CAP trinity.

valleynative topcommenter

@fishingblues @WhoKnows@Reggievv 

1. Most teachers don't belong to unions and so they have no power.

2. There is NO TENURE in Arizona public schools.  None.  Not a single, tiny bit and there hasn't been, for a long time. 

3. There is competition, both between public and private and between public schools.  Parents can choose to send their students to another public school at no extra charge if they don't like the closest one.  Schools that lose students, lose funding, so you can be sure that they care.

4. This is the problem, and private schools don't address it.  Too many students have never had a book read to them before they start school, because their parents are illiterate, even in their native language.   Even more have no English language books in the home, and have parents who can't help with their education because they don't speak the language and are afraid of the school officials.

fishingblues topcommenter

@WhoKnows @fishingblues @Reggievv  

Gosh Who, that seemed like an unwarranted and baseless attack.  Please identify, in your ugly little mind ---  exactly WHAT "... seems to be the case".

In my NSHO, private schools have little to do with religion and everything to do with education.  I am certainly not religious, but unlike you, I don't fear it.

By the way, 12 years of parochial school and I am one hell of a lot smarter than you dick-weed.

As to "improving  public schools", we have been trying and failing for a large number of years.  

Here is what will improve public schools:

1.  Get rid of any and all union interference.

2.  Get rid of tenure and treat teachers and administrators just like the private sector.  (Accountability and continually roll over the bottom 10%.)

3.  Introduce more competition. 

4.  In Arizona, it seems the large population of under-educated and  undocumented kids is a contributing factor.  Their parents do not pay for the schools (non property owners), which creates a burden on the system no equipped to deal with this issue.  This has to be addressed.   

Simply throwing more money at the problem has proven not to be effective.    

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