SOS Arizona tried its best and collected more signatures than necessary to get a referendum on the ballot to stop the state’s new universal voucher law, but “more than necessary” was not enough. The Koch machine managed to knock enough signatures out to block the referendum, which stopped vouchers in 2018 by a margin of 2-1. So Arizona heads into new territory, with public money supporting anything and everything that calls itself a school or a substitute for a school.

Blogger Dillon Rosenblatt writes an Arizona blog called Fourth Estate 48. In this post, he explains the glaring inequity of vouchers. Most vouchers will underwrite students who are already enrolled in private schools. Vouchers will increase economic segregation. Open the link for zip code data.

He writes:

With the ballot measure failing to collect enough signatures to put the new universal expansion¹ on hold through the 2024 election, Arizona K-12 students can now get their Empowerment Scholarship Accounts and attend any private or parochial school they’d like at a cost to the taxpayers of roughly $7,000.²

We already saw an influx of applications come in for the first few weeks of eligibility with most of those going to families already enrolled in a private school rather than those who would be switching from public to private. 

Of course, now that the application period is a full go (and the deadline extended from September 30 to October 15 in order to receive Q1 funding) those numbers will likely look different. How different remains to be seen, but I’m sure the Department of Education will provide those updates as they have been. 

Many of the arguments in this always heated debate about school vouchers comes down to who can afford to attend private school and who cannot. Put simply, wealthy families can foot the bill and those in lower income areas struggle, as do the public schools they attend. The 75% figure from ADE in August shows that families who can already afford to attend these private schools were the first ones to hop on the opportunity to cash in on the taxpayer money to help them pay for the tuition (most private schools cost more than the $7,000)….

This expansion effort failed in 2021, but was able to succeed this session with the support of the three Republican no votes last year: Michelle Udall, Joanne Osborn and Joel John. All three voted no in 2021 because they wanted some type of accountability measures in place. That didn’t happen and all three lost their respective races in the August primary to candidates further to the right of them.

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Something to keep an eye on is how many schools will lower their tuition to $7,000 or new schools that will open up around this amount for the purpose of siphoning students from the competition.

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