Mohave County
May 2024
Volume 24 Issue 3

ESA program under scrutiny as cost set to soar to $900 million in 2024

General, January 2024, Journal | 0 comments

January 2024

MOHAVE COUNTY — Arizona’s ambitious expansion of the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA), commonly known as school vouchers, has become a topic of heated debate and scrutiny. Initially designed in 2011 to assist students with disabilities, the ESA program has undergone a significant transformation, now encompassing all students eligible for school enrollment in Arizona. This universal voucher system, set to cost the state an astonishing $900 million in the fiscal year 2024, marks a pivotal shift in educational funding, raising crucial questions about its long-term implications on the state’s public education system and overall economy.
The ESA program, funded by taxpayer dollars, allows families to use state funds for private education, including tuition, fees, textbooks, and other educational expenses. This expansion from serving a few thousand students to potentially 1.6 million marks a radical shift in Arizona’s educational landscape​​. With over 11,000 students already using ESAs in 2022, the program’s cost has escalated massively, significantly impacting the state’s budget for public education. Critics argue that this increase in funding for private education competes directly with resources for public schools, potentially leading to a decrease in quality and availability of public education​​.
One of the major criticisms of the ESA program is its perceived favoritism towards wealthier families. Approximately 75% of the initial wave of applicants were not previously enrolled in public schools, indicating that the program may be subsidizing private education for those who could already afford it. This situation is particularly striking given Arizona’s ranking as one of the lowest in the nation for per-pupil public school funding. The fear is that this diversion of funds from public to private education might lead to school closures, teacher layoffs, and a reduction in services, further exacerbating the funding challenges faced by public schools​​​​.
The economic implications of the ESA expansion extend beyond education. With the average ESA voucher being $15,189, which is more than double the state support for public school students, the program is placing a significant financial burden on the state’s budget. Most of these funds are used to support students with special needs, who require more resources for their education. However, there is also a higher cost when students come from wealthier areas, where education is usually funded by local property taxes. Under the ESA scheme, the state assumes the full cost of these students’ education, further straining the general fund​​.
The lack of academic accountability in the ESA program adds another layer of complexity. Unlike public schools, private schools and other educational providers using voucher funds are not required to report performance data back to the state, nor are they held to the same academic standards. This lack of oversight raises concerns about the quality of education students receive through the voucher system and whether it adequately prepares them for future academic and career challenges​​.
Arizona’s move towards a universal voucher system reflects a broader trend in the U.S. regarding school choice and educational funding. Other states are closely monitoring Arizona’s experiment, with some outright rejecting similar voucher schemes due to concerns about their economic viability and impact on public education quality​​.
As Arizona navigates this uncharted territory, the economic and educational ramifications of the ESA expansion will be felt for years to come. The state’s decision to reallocate a significant portion of its education budget towards private schooling presents both challenges and opportunities, but the ultimate test will be its impact on the quality and accessibility of education for all Arizona students.

Jeremy Webb

Based in Mohave Valley, Arizona, Jeremy Webb is a dedicated website designer and developer with a keen eye for detail. Transitioning from a background in retail sporting goods management, he now crafts digital spaces that resonate with audiences. Beyond the screen, Jeremy is a passionate writer, delving into topics ranging from business innovations and Arizona’s unique landscapes to the latest tech trends and compelling local narratives. Visit his website at JeremyWebb.Dev

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