Arizona’s education savings account program has been successful in funding education for students who come from low-income families, a report by two groups that advocate for school choice says.
The report, by the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute and the Washington, D.C.-based American Federation for Children, says that average awards from Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program have been fully covered for non-special education students attending private elementary schools with median tuition and fees.
The ESA program allocates partial funding from a student’s public school education and puts it in an education savings account that families can use for public school alternatives like private school tuition or home schooling. Students with special needs, students from low-performing public schools, students on Native American reservations, children in foster care, and students in military families are eligible for the program.
The median private elementary school and middle school tuitions in Arizona are $6,139 and $6,599, respectively, while the median ESA reward is $6,166, according to the report.
The report also says that “the proportion of ESA students from comparatively poorer or wealthier areas closely mirrors that of traditional public school students.”
The 10 Arizona school districts with the most ESA enrollees have child poverty rates ranging from 13.5 percent in Fort Huachuca Accommodation to 46.4 percent in San Carlos Unified, which includes students from Native American reservations.
Matt Beienburg, the report's author and Goldwater Institute's education policy director, said the report’s findings discredit claims from school choice opponents who say the ESA program benefits students from wealthier communities.
“The report likewise turns upside down prior claims that ESAs disproportionately benefit wealthy communities,” Beienburg said. “As the data make clear, ESA participation among higher- and lower-income communities and higher- and lower-performing school districts mirrors that of the public school student population at large.”
A related report the Goldwater Institute released in August said that the ESA program served more than 6,400 students in 2019, and saved taxpayer dollars, “redirecting over $4.2 million per year in education dollars back to other public school pupils.”
Arizona voters rejected a ballot measure last year that would have allowed for the expansion of the ESA program to all public school students.