Arizona Expands Privatization of Education Yet Again
Arizona is no stranger to the privatization of education. It has had charter schools, online charter schools, tuition tax credits and the newest iteration of privatization—Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Tuition tax credits and education savings accounts are particular types of school tuition vouchers, by which children are granted tax funded coupons to pay all or more commonly part of private school tuition. An education savings account program expansion was signed into law late last week by Arizona’s governor. Now every single child in the state will be eligible, though at this time there are enrollment caps—to be expanded gradually over time— on how many students the state will underwrite each year. ESAs are basically an experiment in totally portable school funding.
Here is Dana Goldstein describing Arizona’s ESA expansion in the NY Times: “The bill, which the State Legislature passed on Thursday, makes all 1.1 million public school students in Arizona eligible for money from a program that until now was available only to some students, including those with disabilities and those in underperforming schools. Under the law, parents who withdraw their children from public school can use their child’s share of state education funding to pay for private school tuition, home-schooling costs, tutoring and online education, as well as for therapies for the disabled… Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee have similar programs, but they all restrict eligibility to disabled children. That makes the Arizona expansion the broadest to date. Unlike traditional vouchers, in which states pay private schools directly, E.S.A.s allow parents to distribute public dollars for educational expenses.”
For parents an education savings account is like a credit card which parents can use to buy particular services for a child. This puts parents fully in charge of where and how children are educated. Here is how the Network for Public Education explains education savings accounts in a fact sheet that is part of an excellent new new toolkit, School Privatization Explained: “ESAs provide a huge loophole for unaccountable use of public money. Parents who withdraw their children from public schools get a proportion of the money the state would otherwise have spent to educate their children deposited into an account. The account comes with a debit card families can use to pay for unaccountable education products and services such as private schools, home schooling, online courses, lessons and private therapists and tutors… Most of these (ESA) programs release their funds to parents in exchange for the parents agreeing to forego their right to a public education.”
Goldstein explains the size of Arizona’s monetary awards to parents: “This year, about 3,500 Arizona students, the majority of whom have special needs, are participating in the program. The average size of an account is $5,700 per year for children without disabilities and $19,000 for children with them.”