Last updated 2/26/2021
The Arizona House of Representatives will soon be considering a bill that could have devastating consequences for public schools. Senate Bill 1452 (Arizona empowerment scholarships accounts; revisions) passed out of the Senate on Monday, February 15, and was transmitted to the House, where it will first be heard by the House Ways & Means Committee in the coming weeks.
SB 1452 significantly expands access to Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs), which would shift a significant amount of resources away from charter schools and traditional public school districts at a time when the majority of voters agree that the top issue facing education in Arizona is a general lack of funding for schools.
While we are supportive of school choice, we have significant concerns with actions that would trigger a mass expansion of ESAs without meaningful academic accountability and adequate transparency of taxpayer funding.
Take action now to stop this bill in its tracks! Use our simple advocacy platform to email your state Representatives now and tell them you OPPOSE SB 1452.
SB 1452 – What’s in the Bill
Significant expansion of the number of students who qualify for an ESA:
- The bill would expand ESA eligibility to students who receive federal Title I services or free or reduced-price lunches (FRPLs). It is estimated that SB 1452 alone will result in opening ESA eligibility up to as many as 700,000 students, which is more than 60% of Arizona’s K-12 student population.
- NOTE: This could put Title 1 funding at risk for school districts if enrollment drops too far!
- The bill also reduces, from the first 100 days to any 30 days, the amount of time a full-time student must attend a qualified governmental primary or secondary school to qualify for the ESA Program.
Broadens expenses that can be covered by an ESA:
- The bill allows ESA monies to be used on public transportation services in Arizona, including a commuter pass for the qualified student or commercial transportation services between the qualified student’s residence and a qualified school.
- SB 1452 waives the prohibition against using a School Tuition Organization (STO) and ESA in the same year for students in grades 9-12. STOs use tax donations and allocate them to K-12 students who need help with tuition in private schools.
- SB 1452 requires specified school districts to fund ESAs through a levy and makes other funding, program and expenditure modifications.
A fact sheet about SB 1452 from the Arizona State Senate can be found here.
What’s NOT in the bill
The ESA program continues to lack meaningful academic accountability and adequate transparency of taxpayer funding. SB 1452 fails to address either issue.
This massive expansion of ESAs will further exacerbate the opportunity gaps faced by Arizona’s low-income students and students of color. Overwhelmingly, families choose their neighborhood school. Even modest declines in student enrollment have a devastating impact on school district budgets at a time when voters believe schools need more funding and a focus should be placed on supporting struggling schools.
Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) have been part of the school choice landscape in Arizona since the 2011-12 school year when they were originally created to serve students with special needs. Since then, ESAs (also known as vouchers) have been expanded to serve other students. To receive an ESA, parents of eligible children must waive their rights for their child to attend a public district or charter school and in return, they receive financial assistance to provide other options for their child’s education.
Who is currently eligible to receive an ESA?
In addition to students with special needs, other groups now have access to ESAs, including:
- Students that attend public schools labeled poorly performing (D or F) in the year prior to applying
- Students whose parent is active military duty or who was killed while serving active duty in the Armed Forces
- Siblings of current recipients
- Wards of the court who have been or will be adopted
- Any child who resides on tribal lands
Students and parents must reside in Arizona and meet one or more other qualifications.
How much state funding do ESAs provide?
The amount varies depending on the student. However, students generally receive 90 percent of the amount it would have cost to educate the child at a charter school, whether they attended a charter school previously or not. Charter schools typically receive around $1,200 more per student in state funding than traditional district public schools. Other factors that can influence the amount of funding a student receives is if the student has special needs and their grade level. For example, a student with significant special needs could receive up to $30,000 annually.
How is the funding used?
The funds can be used for private school tuition and fees; tuition and fees for private online learning programs; tutoring services; curriculum; textbooks; or fees for national achievement tests, AP exams or postsecondary admissions; therapies for special needs students; and other approved items.
Learn more about the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts here.