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Letter to the Editor: Arizona's Universal ESA Vouchers: A Deepening Crisis for Public Education

Letter to the Editor: Arizona's Universal ESA Vouchers: A Deepening Crisis for Public Education

Arizona's universal ESA (Empowerment Scholarship Account) vouchers are causing significant harm to local neighborhood schools, students, and educators. By diverting over $700 million from the state's education budget to private schools that lack accountability, the program is undermining public education across the state.

The Impact on Pinal County

Recent data from the Arizona Department of Education's Quarter 2 ESA voucher report highlights the alarming extent of the issue in Pinal County. A total of 4,823 students in the county are currently receiving vouchers, each averaging $9,768. This translates to approximately $47 million allocated to ESA voucher recipients in Pinal County alone, an amount equivalent to the salaries of 780 teachers.

More concerning is that 85% of these voucher recipients never attended district public schools. This shift has resulted in nearly $40 million in additional costs to the state for students who were already enrolled in private schooling options. According to the Brookings Institution, the voucher program predominantly benefits families from wealthier zip codes, further exacerbating educational inequality in Arizona.

A Statewide Crisis

Former Governor Ducey's flat tax and universal voucher expansion are primary factors driving Arizona's current $1.8 billion deficit over the past two years. The Republican-led legislature now faces a critical decision: continue funding the ESA voucher program, which predominantly serves wealthier families, or reform it to prevent significant cuts to vital public services, including local public schools.

School District Impacts in Pinal County:

  • Florence Unified School District: 1,274 voucher recipients, 86% with no district history, diverting $12.4 million, with $10.7 million as new costs.
  • Maricopa Unified School District: 943 voucher recipients, 82% with no district history, diverting $9.2 million, with $7.5 million as new costs.
  • J O Combs Unified School District: 776 voucher recipients, 87% with no district history, diverting $7.6 million, with $6.6 million as new costs.
  • Casa Grande Elementary District: 676 voucher recipients, 81% with no district history, diverting $6.6 million, with $5.3 million as new costs.
  • Apache Junction Unified District: 402 voucher recipients, 87% with no district history, diverting $3.9 million, with $3.4 million as new costs.
  • Coolidge Unified District: 361 voucher recipients, 91% with no district history, diverting $3.5 million, with $3.2 million as new costs.
  • Casa Grande Union High School District: 148 voucher recipients, 91% with no district history, diverting $1.4 million, with $1.3 million as new costs.
  • Santa Cruz Valley Unified District: 133 voucher recipients, 79% with no district history, diverting $1.3 million, with $1.0 million as new costs.
  • Toltec School District: 110 voucher recipients, 81% with no district history, diverting $1.1 million, with $869,000 as new costs.


Total for Pinal County:

  • 4,823 voucher recipients, 85% with no district history
  • Total funding diverted: $47.1 million
  • New cost to the state: $40 million


Call to Action
Save Our Schools Arizona urges the Arizona legislature to reform the voucher program to ensure students have prior public school experience before receiving vouchers, as proposed in Governor Hobbs' executive budget. This reform aims to balance the state budget responsibly and address the needs of Arizona's working families. Additionally, lawmakers should implement financial oversight and academic accountability measures, which are supported by 80% of Arizona voters, including 71% of Republicans, 77% of Independents, and 91% of Democrats.

The time to act is now. The future of Arizona's public education system depends on it. Our students and educators cannot afford to wait any longer. 

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The views and opinions expressed in this letter are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SanTanValley.com. Letters to the editor are published to promote open discussion and give voice to our readers' diverse viewpoints. The content of this letter is the sole responsibility of Tyler Kowch, with Save Our Schools Arizona, who has submitted it for publication.

If you would like to share your thoughts or respond to this letter, we welcome your submission. Please send your letters here or drop your comments below ⬇️ 

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Saturday, 15 June 2024

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