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Rapid Growth of Universal Voucher Program Sparks Controversy; Could Cost Taxpayers $900 Million

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In a recent report by our news partner, AZ Family, Arizona State Superintendent Tom Horne highlighted the swift expansion of a new universal voucher program, projecting an expected increase of 67% in applications next year. These vouchers enable families to choose the school that best meets their child's needs.

The initiative, however, has not been without its critics, especially because these vouchers can also be used for private schools, a factor that some argue undermines public education. According to recent revelations, the voucher program could present taxpayers with a bill of nearly $900 million in the coming year.

Superintendent Horne emphasizes that families should be aware of their choices, particularly if their children's needs aren't being met by the current public education system. "We have excellent public schools. But even a good public school might not meet the needs of all students," he added.

This universal voucher program aims to ease the financial burden of private school attendance by providing $7,000 per year for each student. Contrarily, Marisol Garcia, President of the Arizona Teachers Union, points out that this program does not primarily serve impoverished students, but rather those already affording private education.

Garcia strongly criticizes the initiative, stating, "This is intended to help people make money off our taxpayer money." She holds that the program mainly benefits affluent families who can already afford a $15,000 annual private school tuition. In her view, the program essentially offers them a half-priced education, subsidized by taxpayer funds.

Horne acknowledges that initially, 78% of applicants were families already affording full-price private education. However, he claims that this percentage has fallen to 49%. Currently, there are approximately 60,000 applicants, a figure that is anticipated to reach 100,000 by 2024. The superintendent concedes that the program could cost taxpayers a hefty $900 million, significantly more than initially projected.

The Arizona Education Association (AEA) has been vocal about its opposition since the program's inception, due to a lack of accountability for institutions receiving taxpayer money. Garcia questioned the repercussions, asking, "Just imagine how much better our students would be doing if they had a fully funded public school."

The program is funded by the state's general fund, which is also responsible for transportation, public safety, and prison funding. Despite the teachers' union's concern over potential bankruptcy in these areas, Horne remains confident in the state's financial resilience.

Governor Hobbs initially sought to repeal the program in her executive budget. While this action could not be implemented, her spokesperson reports that she succeeded in securing increased transparency in the program's reporting through budget negotiations.
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Tuesday, 25 June 2024

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