Contact: Charles Siler
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: IN WAKE OF VICTORY OVER TEACHERS' UNIONS, ARIZONA LAWMAKERS, GOVERNOR APPROVE EXPANSION OF FIRST-IN-THE-NATION SCHOOL CHOICE PROGRAM
Program Shifts School Funds Directly to Parents to Decide What Fits Children’s Needs Best
Governor Jan Brewer signed into law Wednesday two pieces of legislation that will expand a first-of-its-kind school choice program to an even larger pool of Arizona kids than are currently eligible. The move comes just weeks after the state prevailed over a three-year lawsuit by a local teachers' union challenging the constitutionality of the education savings accounts program.
Arizona's education savings accounts, known officially as "empowerment scholarship accounts," were first approved by lawmakers in 2011 and allow eligible families to use a portion of the funds that would have been spent on their children in traditional public school to seek a customized education experience, including private-school tuition, virtual classes or homeschooling. Never before has a school choice program allowed parents themselves to decide how to marshal the public dollars spent on their children’s education.
More than 3,000 Arizona children are expected to use the accounts next year, with over 90 percent of families surveyed reporting high levels of satisfaction with the accounts.
Nearly one in five Arizona families was previously eligible for an account, including special-needs children, children in failing schools, children adopted out of the state foster system, and children of active-duty military families. Thanks to Governor Brewer's signature this week, siblings of eligible children as well as children of fallen soldiers will be eligible for the accounts.
"Every child is unique: Kids should not be trapped in schools that treat them like they're all the same,” said Darcy Olsen, President and CEO of the Goldwater Institute, where the education savings accounts concept originated. “Education savings accounts put parents in the driver's seat to choose the education experience that fits their children's needs best.”
Until last month, school choice opponents had hoped the accounts would be ruled unconstitutional. Like nearly 40 other states, Arizona's constitution contains a provision called the Blaine Amendment, which prohibits the transfer of government money to private or parochial school. That provision led to a court striking down a school voucher program in Arizona in 2009. The teachers' union and other opponents of education savings accounts argued in this case that education savings accounts also violate the Blaine, but both the trial court and the state appeals court found that, unlike vouchers, education savings accounts do not shift funds from the state to private schools, but rather empower parents to choose to spend the funds to suit their children's needs best.
After that ruling, Arizona lawmakers moved quickly to increase program eligibility, and the court decision paves the way for expansion of education savings accounts for states throughout the country.
Lawmakers in nearly a dozen states are considering this year proposals to bring education savings accounts to their residents, including Florida, Oklahoma, Mississippi and several more. According to Olsen, the Goldwater Institute will continue to work to expand education savings accounts to every corner of the nation.
To schedule an interview please contact Charles Siler with the Goldwater Institute at (202) 487-8652 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Goldwater Institute has an in-house VideoLink studio for rapid cable hook-up if needed.