Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill expanding the state’s first-in-nation education savings accounts, charging the education choice program skews “a competitive market.”
The veto “surprised most legislators,” who expected the Republican governor to approve the expansion as she had the original program, said Jonathan Butcher, director of education policy at the Goldwater Institute. Legislators have made plans to adjust the expansion’s funding and coordinate with the governor’s office for another effort.
“We are hopeful that we’ll see an expansion this year,” Butcher said.
The vetoed bill would have extended the school choice option to children with a military parent, gifted children, and children trapped in schools labeled as “D” or “F” schools on the state report card.
In her veto message, Brewer called on state legislators to approve a state budget before making other financial changes such as the ESAs, noted Arizona public schools are funded on the previous year’s student count, and raised concerns over double-counting students because of this.
In 2011, Arizona implemented the first ESA, creating accounts that deposit 90 percent of what a special-needs student’s school would have spent to educate him or her into an education savings account. The child’s parents can rhen use the money for private school expenses, special education services, online learning, and other education-related expenses.
“A lot of people may be watching states like Louisiana and Indiana, and for good reason—the voucher programs there will be the nation’s most expansive. But the Empowerment Savings Accounts in Arizona had the potential to be the most sweeping, not least because the state would have empowered families to choose from so many services besides a private school,” said Adam Emerson, director of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s Program on Parental Choice.
ESAs can help every child customize their education, Butcher said, “so it’s critical that we expand the eligibility provisions.”
Competing to Offer Choice
For Arizona to keep up with education policy innovations around the country, expanding ESA eligibility to students in failing schools “is just the beginning,” Butcher said.
“Indiana and now Louisiana have made school choice a central tenet of system-wide reform, not just for limited interventions,” he said. “Arizona needs to do the same.”
Brewer’s veto shortchanges children in a state with low educational performance, Emerson said.
“Arizona could have been the model for more innovative trials in other states, but Brewer snuffed that opportunity,” Emerson said.
Expanding the program is imperative in ensuring more children have access to quality education options and in encouraging more states to expand school choice, he said.
Image by Gage Skidmore.