Arizona, with a new law granting scholarship funds to all families that wish to customize their child's education, has become the state with the "most expansive" school choice policy in the nation.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Thursday signed into law HB 2853, which passed the Republican-majority state legislature last month in a party-line vote. The bill allows the state's 1.1 million students to tap into the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) and use their share to enroll in any education program that best meets their needs.
Launched in 2011, Arizona's ESA has been limited to a rather small group of students, such as those who have a disability, have a parent serving in the armed forces, attend a failing public school, live in foster care, or live on a Native American reservation.
With HB 2853 becoming law, the ESA is now available to all K-12 students across the state, regardless of their backgrounds or what type of school they are enrolled in.
"In Arizona, we fund students, not systems, because we know one size does not fit all students," said the bill's sponsor, Arizona House Majority Leader Ben Toma.
While critics decry the ESA expansion for directing public funds away from public schools, school choice proponents argue that ESA is a more efficient usage of taxpayers' dollars. On average, Arizona spends more than $11,000 on each public school student—a price 70 percent higher than the $6,500-per-child voucher.
According to Arizona's education department, parents who want to take advantage of the ESA have to follow a set of rules designed to prevent fraud or abuse. Specifically, participants must verify their Arizona residency; hire education providers that have proper credentials and are not immediate family members; make sure to use some of the ESA money for reading, grammar, math, social studies, and science; and submit receipts on a quarterly basis.