Arizona Passes School Choice Measures

Published September 1, 2006

On June 21, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) and state legislators finalized a budget that includes state money for scholarships for disabled and foster-care children and expands the corporate tuition tax credit established in March. As a result, up to 10,000 additional Arizona students will be able to attend the school of their choice this September.

Achieving the ‘Impossible’

Though Napolitano made history by placing her signature on the new school choice measures, the programs passed despite–not because of–her efforts.

“Working out the different philosophies between the Legislature and the governor added some difficulty to [the budget] process,” said Senate Majority Leader Ken Bennett (R-Prescott). “It took a long time to work out.”

Napolitano vetoed the corporate tuition tax credit twice before allowing it to become law without her signature earlier this year. She defended her acceptance of the budget as “a compromise,” telling the Tucson Citizen newspaper on June 28, “That’s what we needed to do to get something out of the Legislature and move the state ahead.”

The record gains in school choice will be accompanied by record increases in public school funding. Public education will receive nearly half a billion dollars in additional state funding in 2007, accounting for nearly 20 percent of the total state budget. School choice measures will account for less than 1 percent of the FY 2007 budget.

Supporting Choice

That funding disparity didn’t stop Arizona Education Association (AEA) President John Wright from vowing on the group’s Web site to “pursue legal, legislative, and election strategies to dismantle the voucher program and end the misguided attempts of some to pursue voucher schemes.”

While one in five Arizona children attended a school that failed to make adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind Act in 2005, the AEA maintained its stance that “vouchers are never a ‘necessary option.'” Polls show Arizonans disagree: A 2005 survey by the Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation revealed more than 90 percent of Arizonans supported one or more of the five school choice proposals that were pending in the state legislature last year.

According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and a 2005 survey of private schools conducted by the Goldwater Institute, one in 10 Arizona schoolchildren exercise charter or private school choice. The new programs passed this year could double that number.

Recognizing Limits

Nevertheless, limitations on the choice programs abound. While the corporate tuition tax credit will increase by 20 percent annually until 2011, enabling anywhere from 300 to 800 additional students to benefit each year, both the Displaced Pupils Choice Grant Program and the Students With Disabilities Scholarship have caps that severely restrict the number of children who can participate.

Similarly, the foster care voucher is limited to only 500 students annually. Arizona currently has more than 9,900 children in foster care–meaning only 5 percent of children who need school choice most will be able to benefit from the program.

The disabled students’ scholarships will help an even smaller proportion of students in need. Depending on the severity of the disability covered, the program may help only 80, and at most 625, students attend the school of their choice. In the 2003-04 school year–the most recent year for which NCES data are available–109,477 disabled students lived in Arizona.

Arwynn Mattix ([email protected]) is a research assistant at the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix.

For more information …

“Survey of Arizona Private Schools: Tuition, Testing, and Curricula,” published by the Goldwater Institute in January 2005, is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to, click on the PolicyBot™ button, and search for document #17097.

“Education Scholarships: Expanding Opportunities for Students, Saving Taxpayers Money,” by Darcy Olsen, published by the Goldwater Institute in March 2002, is also available through PolicyBot™. Search for document #19190.

S.B. 1404, Arizona’s Corporate Tuition Tax Credit legislation,

S.B. 1164, Arizona’s Displaced Pupils Choice Grant Program,

H.B. 2676, the Arizona Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program,

“Giving Foster Children a Boost,” by Dan Lips,

“Race and Disability: Racial Bias in Arizona Special Education,” by Matthew Ladner,

“Survey Shows Majority of Arizonans Endorse School Choice,”

“‘Toe-Hold Strategies’–Democrats for (school) choice” by Clint Bolick,

Arizona Education Association,