By: Mike Feeney
On January 13, 2023, newly elected Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs issued her first budget proposal, which includes a plan to repeal the massive expansion of the state’s school voucher program that former Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed into law in June of 2022. While Hobbs’ efforts to repeal the state’s voucher program are defining the early days of her tenure, Arizonans have been engaged in a heated battle over the implementation and effectiveness of school choice programs for the past decade. But after a final effort by Arizonan school choice opponents to block the program failed in October of 2022, the nation’s most expansive private school voucher program became law in Arizona in late 2022.
Arizona’s new school voucher program will expand voucher eligibility to all K-12 students throughout the state of Arizona. This school voucher, which allows Arizona families to use taxpayer dollars to fund their child’s education outside of the public school system, will apply to 1.1 million students in traditional public and charter schools, 50,000 students in private school, and 35,000 homeschooled students. Participating families may use their voucher (which amounts to about $7,000 per student) to pay for private school attendance, books, tutoring, testing fees, uniforms, and extracurricular programs or classes.
Within this educational scheme, school funding follows the student. More specifically, if a student chooses to use a school voucher, taxpayer funding is allocated to the student’s family to procure their own education outside of the public school system. Thus, if a student who previously attended a public school elects to use a voucher, the public school will no longer receive the specific amount of funding allotted for that student. On the other hand, if a student never previously attended a public school, their school funds come out of education funding in the state’s general fund.
Former Governor Ducey championed the novel voucher program as “the biggest school choice victory in history.” The former governor provided that the expansion will allow all Arizona parents to send their children to the best schools possible, commenting that “kids will no longer be[ing] locked in underperforming schools.” Supporters, such as Arizona Superintendent Tom Horne, have argued that competition between schools is healthy and “good for everybody.”
While school voucher supporters have argued that the state’s novel educational program will broaden educational opportunities to all Arizona students, early application data suggests otherwise. As of early January 2023, 80% of the applicants to the school voucher program have never attended a public school before. Moreover, the Arizona zip codes that do include one “failing” high school or two “failing” k-8 schools have only accounted for 3.5% of school voucher applicants. Critics of the program have argued this result was predictable: using a voucher requires having the financial means, time, access, transportation, and overall and ability to both navigate the state’s school system and afford private schools (as the average high school tuition currently stands at $15,506). Indeed, the fears of public school advocates who have consistently criticized the expansive voucher program appear to be coming true: Arizona’s school voucher program will fail to help the students who need the program the most. Instead, the program may just be a taxpayer funded coupon for the wealthy.
Mike graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a B.A. in History and Political Science and is currently a 2L at Sandra Day O’Connor of Law. When not in law school, Mike enjoys spending time with his family, playing basketball, and passionately supporting the Phoenix Suns.