Wednesday, February 3, 2016

New Bill Bulks Up Arizona's "Vouchers on Steroids" (aka Empowerment Scholarship Accounts) Program

Posted By on Wed, Feb 3, 2016 at 3:42 PM

Want your child's private school tuition subsidized by the state? Want your child's home schooling subsidized by the state, with the added bonus of a heap of money left over to help pay for college? You can do that right now by signing up for one of those Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, aka Vouchers on Steroids, but only if your child fits into a few specific categories. If HB 2482 passes, in a few years anyone can do it.

Private school vouchers give parents money from state funds to help them pay private school tuition. Empowerment Scholarship Accounts take the idea a step further. ESAs give parents a pot of money each year to spend on their children's educations. If they want to use the ESA money to pay private school tuition, fine. If they want to home school their kids and use some of the money to pay for educational supplies, tutoring, testing, therapy or anything else the state OKs as an educational expense, that's fine too. Any money left over from one year rolls over to the next. Anything left over when the kid is through with K-12 education can be used to pay for college.

When the Goldwater Institute originally wrote the ESA bill and the legislature passed it, only a small portion of Arizona's children qualified, basically those with an educational disability of some kind. But that was only the beginning. The ESA elephant slipped its trunk under the educational tent flap with the idea of eventually crowding its whole self in and including every child in Arizona as a potential "Vouchers on Steroids" recipient. Legislators openly said as much when the bill first passed, so I'm not guessing as to their intent.

Now HB 2482 is trying to make the "ESAs for everyone" idea a reality. Over a few years, the bill would add more and more students into the mix until every child from kindergarten through 12th grade qualifies. There's only one hitch for the parent to get the money. The newly qualified children have to spend some time in public schools. How much time? In my reading of the added language, that's not clear. Previously, a child had to spend 100 days in a public school—district or charter—to qualify. The school year is about 180 days, so that's a little over a semester. Under the new wording, it includes "any child who attends a public school." That may mean that a child only has to enroll in a public school and attend a few days of class to earn an ESA for their rest of their K-12 career.

Whether the requirement is a few days or 100 days in a public school, should the bill pass, there will be a time a few years from now when every home school or private school student in Arizona will be given taxpayer money to pay for their educations. If the child is a kindergartener, that's a thirteen years long government stipend. The only possible exceptions will be children of parents who are so rich that spending ten or twenty thousand dollars per year to send a child to school isn't worth worrying about.

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