A report with the most comprehensive data crunching to date, is for the first time giving Arizonans an honest look at why the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program is a game-changer for disadvantaged, minority and under-resourced children.
ESAs, often referred in the media as “vouchers” were designed to help level the education playing field for students who have the most challenges in the state by giving them options and resources to learn any way that best fits their needs. The majority of children using ESAs are children who have special needs, are attending a failing school, live on Tribal lands, or have active-duty military parents. Regardless of which ESA eligibility category they fit, the most important fact to note is that every single child using an ESA is facing a disability, challenging situation, or was stuck in a poor performing school. Because ESAs allow parents to control their child’s state-allocated education dollars, opponents immediately emerged with one goal, keep every penny in the state’s public school system even if that is not the best educational environment for the child. Opponents of the ESA program have run away with a misleading and false narrative scaring voters into believing ESAs are stripping money away from public schools in order to subsidize private schools for wealthy families. They have told this lie knowing that every child in the ESA program is disabled or disadvantaged. Even worse, ESA opponents have undermined low-income families who need ESAs the most, by publicly claiming over and over that those families are not using ESAs and can not benefit from this crucial program.
That misinformation and spin ends now with a new report released by the Goldwater Institute and the American Federation for Children. The data and facts are undisputable proof that children in low-income communities across Arizona benefit significantly from ESAs. Here are three main facts the report reveals:
- The three districts with the highest concentrations of ESA students in Arizona have child poverty rates over 38%–more than double the state average.
- In FY 2019, Roosevelt Elementary School District—the Phoenix area school district with the single highest proportion of D- and F-rated public schools—saw more than 100 students participating in the ESA program.
- The average ESA award covers 100% of the median private elementary school tuition and fee rate in Arizona.
This is significant because ESA opponents misleadingly quote tuition amounts from a handful of the state’s most expensive private schools and then make false statements that low-income parents who qualify for ESAs could never afford to use them at private schools. The truth is, over half of the private schools in the state have tuition costs around the ESA dollar amount. Low-income families are successfully using ESAs at private schools every day.
Advocates for ESAs and the families who qualify have known long before the release of this report that ESAs are having a crucial impact on disadvantaged children. Before ESAs, those students only had a couple of learning options. Since ESAs, every option has now opened up to those same students and their parents now can have the resources to pay for whatever their child may need in order to learn. The average ESA is $7,000 a year and parents can pay for private school tuition, online education, home school, expenses, curriculum, tutors, therapists and more. Read all the data and the full report, Education Savings Accounts Serving Low-Income Communities: The Impact of ESAs in Arizona.