The legislature’s “Grand Bargain” on education funding looks like a raw deal for Arizona’s children.
We acknowledge passage of much needed funding for our Arizona public schools, including the addition of a poverty weight and special education funding, as well as additional funding for the Arizona Promise Program. It’s critically needed and much overdue. However, we’d be remiss in not highlighting that in brokering this deal, the legislature also passed a bill to expand vouchers that will divert money toward private schools.
Only an elite few will benefit from an unprecedented and unpopular expansion of education savings accounts, while more than one million Arizona public school students will continue to attend some of the lowest-funded schools in the country.
For years, a bipartisan group of advocates across business and education has been pushing the state legislature to create a comprehensive solution to Arizona’s P-20 education funding system—one that will address the critical needs of students from early education to college and beyond.
Instead, the majority of legislators chose to greatly expand education savings accounts (ESAs) that will help wealthy parents pay for tuition at expensive private schools and other extravagances that Arizona’s neediest children will never be able to afford.
The bill now sitting on Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk will not solve Arizona’s school funding problem. Once the governor signs it, Arizona will continue to pay teachers less than they deserve and will not provide funding to help the neediest students.
House Bill 2853 will expand eligibility to ESAs for all K-12 students; right now, it’s limited to a select group of students with special needs and specific circumstances, like military families. Starting this fall, high-income parents will be able to make deposits into savings accounts and withdraw money to pay for private school tuition or a wide range of services and equipment, including tuition, new iPads, equine therapy and one-on-one tutoring.
This bill does not hold parents accountable for how they spend their ESA withdrawals. The state will never know if $300 million or more spent on ESAs will yield improved learning. By contrast, public school students will continue to take annual assessments, and their schools will be graded on those results.
Arizonans did not ask this. The legislature created ESAs in 2011, but in 2018, after passing a new expansion of ESAs, advocates gathered the signatures necessary to let voters decide. Voters roundly rejected this ESA expansion. They want the state to invest in public schools, not to create savings accounts for the rich to invest in their children.
Following our mission to give voice to the voiceless, Helios Education Foundation has created a 5-Year Impact Plan to focus on the needs of Latino students and low-income students in three key areas: third-grade reading, college-going and college completion. Arizona’s schools desperately need funding to accelerate the implementation of science of reading instruction to teachers to improve student literacy skills and expand access to dual enrollment programs so students will be able to earn college credits in high school and be ready to succeed in college. These are what will give every Arizona student the tools needed for success.
The majority of legislators chose a different route. They passed a bill that achieves their political objectives in exchange for overdue and needed investments in our public schools.
Their “grand bargain” is a “big loser” for Arizona and its children.
Vince Roig is Founding Chairman of Helios Education Foundation.
Paul J. Luna is President and CEO of Helios Education Foundation.