ARIZONA, USA — In just two weeks' time, the Arizona Department of Education says nearly 6,500 applications have been filled out for the new universal expansion of school vouchers.
The new law would give an average of $7,000 to parents to fund their child’s education through private schools, homeschools, tutoring, and therapies instead of sending that money to public schools in Arizona.
Out of the 6,494 applications for universal vouchers, 75% don’t have a record in an Arizona public school, according to ADE.
During a ceremonial signing of the law a few weeks back, Governor Doug Ducey said it would give families a choice.
“Our kids will no longer be stuck in underperforming schools,” Ducey said.
The numbers released by ADE appear to show parents are jumping at the chance to offset the money they’re already paying for their child’s schooling.
12News did request an interview with ADE Wednesday regarding the applications already submitted but didn’t hear back.
“The voucher system is not set up to benefit kids that are struggling. Investing in public schools would do that. Instead, it's set up to benefit families who are already in private schools who have already exited public schools for homeschooling and are just recouping those funds,” Beth Lewis, Director of Save Our Schools Arizona, said.
Lewis’ organization is working to gather more than 118,000 signatures to get a measure on the ballot for voters to decide on the law instead.
The applications already filled out could move about $45 million of funding out of public schools, which Lewis believes would hurt classrooms.
“If you don’t have a quality local public school in every neighborhood, then you no longer have a public education system, and a lot of kids are gonna lose,” Lewis said.
However, Christine Accurso believes the ESA she’s had for her son for nine years now has made all the difference.
“We really have been able to curtail and customize his education, not just with that private school, but with other things to support his therapies and other such things,” Accurso said.
Accurso is working with those opposing the ballot initiative, saying those who have applied deserve to have funds to offset their child’s education costs.
“These are taxpayers have been paying into this system for years and years,” Accurso said. “And we have a vested interest as the state and as the community to see that their education is done right.”
Currently, almost 12,000 students are already enrolled in Arizona’s 11-year-old ESA program, according to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.
The nearly 6,500 applications already submitted represent just a fraction of existing private school students that the state estimates are eligible.
Governor Ducey’s spokesperson said the number of applications submitted before the law is set to take effect is a good sign.
“I think it underscores the point that the Governor has been making throughout this entire process, and that is public education is about educating the public,” C.J. Karamargin, Ducey’s spokesperson, said. “And that means all students. That’s our goal here is to give students and families a choice, and they seem to be taking advantage of it.”
With Save Our Schools Arizona working on collecting more than 118,000 signatures for the ballot initiative, the law could end up in the hands of the voters. Those signatures have to be in by September 23.
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