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I heard directly from students, and they deserve school choice


“I was at an F school and they would just pass us through to the next grade even if our grades were bad and we didn’t learn the stuff. At my new school, my teacher stays with me during recess to help me learn all the things I don’t understand and now I love going to school.”

These words from 11-year-old Destiny Garcia and other students like her are the reason I sponsored expansion of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts and school choice in Arizona. Destiny was stuck in a failing school in south Phoenix and the ESA program gave her parents enough money to transfer her to a private school near her home, where Destiny now has hope and is happy.


Sen. Debbie Lesko

Thank God Destiny was in one of the few categories of students eligible to get an ESA under the current program. Now, with my new legislation, SB1431, all students will be eligible for this wonderful opportunity, and that is a very good thing.

During the Senate Education Committee meeting, we heard testimony after testimony from countless students telling us how ESAs helped them move out of a school, where they were struggling, to a school where they are flourishing. Some traveled five hours because it was so important to them. They wanted to let legislators know how the program helped them and they wanted the legislators to support my legislation that expands eligibility of ESAs to all students.

I ran for office to make a difference. I know with all my heart that the ESA program is helping students because I heard it from one student after the other with my own ears. As I heard these stories from students from all over the state, I knew that all students in Arizona deserve to have a choice.

It is not surprising that unions and institutions oppose my legislation. If a student moves from their school, they lose the money that goes along with teaching that child. That is why these same groups have fought charter schools for years. They oppose competition because they don’t want a parent and child to have the choice to leave their school. What is surprising, however, is their over-the-top rhetoric that ESAs are somehow going to destroy public education as we know it. Considering my legislation caps the number of new students entering the program at 5,500 students per year out of 1.1 million students, their argument is utterly ridiculous.

My legislation also adds academic and fiscal accountability. Students will be required to test to show their performance and an online “open checkbook” will tell the public where ESA monies are spent.

ESAs are a win for Arizona students and parents! Students in Arizona deserve as many choices to receive the best education possible regardless of who they are or what zip code they live in. I support all educational options for students. That means our traditional district schools, where all my children went, public charter schools, where my grandchildren attend, online schools, alternative schools, private schools and homeschooling. When it comes down to the simple market principle of choice, competition drives better options and outcomes.

— Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, represents District 21.


The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

One comment

  1. The outcome of Lesko’s SB 1431 will be the further impoverishment of most public schools in Arizona, resulting in a majority of lower-performing graduates, and the enrichment of a few “good” schools — mostly private — resulting in a minority of higher-performing graduates. In fact, Debbie’s much vaunted (according to her) legislation will perpetuate and even exacerbate class differences.

    “Choice” money by itself isn’t sufficient for less-well-off students regardless of promise to attend the “better” schools — schools that are “better” mainly because their students’ wealthier and more influential families can contribute resources to these institutions that less-well-off parents cannot contribute to their children’s schools. Less-well-off students will be consigned to declining schools. Meanwhile, children already in the “better” schools or from families wealthy enough to buy their children a place will benefit from yet more money pouring in, money from the Educational Trust Fund. See how this works?

    Yes, Senator Lesko, once again you’ve demonstrated your commitment to a society divided between the wealthy minority, who elect politicians like you, and the poorer majority, who can’t afford to elect anyone.
    Naturally, your Republican colleagues have gone along with your cynical plan. Arizona will remain a second-rate society. The rich will slap you on the back, “Thank God, Debbie!” Thank God….

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