Choice Advocates Cheer Arizona’s Voucher Expansion

The Friedman Foundation is congratulating the state of Arizona and its Governor Jan Brewer for signing into a law an expansion of the state’s voucher program that will be the first in the nation to cover military families. Starting with the 2013-14 school year, the new law will also make vouchers available to students attending failing public schools and those adopted out of the state’s foster care system.

Under the program’s current incarnation, only special education students were eligible. Those whose families chose to pull them out of public schools or charter schools received up to 90% of the state’s per-student education contribution to apply towards tuition at a private school of their choice. The funds can also be spent on online courses, tutoring services, classroom materials and even be put towards future college costs. Like many other voucher programs across the nation, Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts aren’t restricted based on family income level.

“For decades, members of the armed forces have benefited from the GI Bill in higher education, and to give similar freedom to their children in K-12 education is the right move,” said Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. The Friedman Foundation was started by the late Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, who first introduced the idea of universally available school choice in 1955. “Military members nationwide, and all families for that matter, deserve the ability to choose the schools, public or private, that work best for their children,” Enlow added.

The bill is surely a good news to nearly 12,000 children of military families currently residing in Arizona who attend schools that are either graded “D” or “F” or are located in districts graded “D” or “F” who will now be eligible to participate in the ESA. Overall, the Goldwater Institute estimates that over 94,000 students will be newly-eligible to receive the vouchers. The voucher program currently services 125,000 special education students in Arizona.

“This expansion gives more parents the ability to customize their children’s education,” said Jonathan Butcher, Goldwater’s Education Director. “Empowerment Scholarship Accounts are a 21st century model for education other states would be wise to consider.”

Arizona isn’t the only state to recently expand the pools of families who qualify for school vouchers. Last month, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal put his signature on the law that takes the program that has been successful in New Orleans and opens it to all the school districts in the state. The LA voucher program, unlike Arizona’s, is income-limited.

The expanded Student Scholarships for Education Excellence Program will allow any student from a family making up to 250% of federal poverty level and attending a school marked C, D, or F by the state accountability system to receive state-funded scholarships to attend a private school of their choice