Jun 16, 2022 - Politics

Expansion for Arizona's school voucher-style system remains uncertain

Illustration of a paper cut family, with the child in the middle made of a dollar bill.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A proposal to expand Arizona's voucher-style system for K-12 schools passed out of a committee in the state House of Representatives, but its fate is uncertain in the full House, where at least one Republican critic is still opposed.

What happened: The House Ways and Means Committee voted 6-4 along party lines to approve House Bill 2583, which would expand the Empowerment Scholarship Account program to make it available to all K-12 students in Arizona.

Details: Parents who pull their children out of public schools can receive scholarships that they can use for private school tuition, tutoring, learning materials or other educational purposes.

Yes, but: With Democrats likely to unanimously oppose the bill, Republican Rep. Ben Toma, who sponsored the proposal, can't afford to lose a single Republican vote in either chamber, and at least one House Republican is opposed.

  • GOP Reps. Joel John, Joanne Osborne and Michelle Udall have blocked previous attempts to expand ESAs.
  • Osborne co-sponsored Toma's bills, signaling her approval.
  • Udall tells Axios that she can't support the plan without "serious accountability" for the program and "much more money" for K-12 schools.
  • John told the Arizona Republic that he's open to considering the bill but wouldn’t take a position on it.

There’s more: The committee also passed another new Toma bill, House Bill 2854, which would increase K-12 funding by $400 million, but only if the ESA expansion proposal becomes law.

  • Osborne told Axios that increasing public school funding while expanding ESAs is “a win for all Arizona children and their education.”

Flashback: After lawmakers approved a major expansion of the ESA program in 2018, opponents referred it to the ballot with a citizen referendum, and voters overwhelmingly rejected it in the general election.

Of note: Even if lawmakers approve the plan and Gov. Doug Ducey signs it into law, opponents could still refer it to the ballot again. If they're successful, the new law will be on hold until voters have a chance to weigh in on it in the 2024 general election.

Between the lines: Lawmakers face a June 30 deadline to finish a budget and will adjourn for the year once that's finished, so Toma and other supporters of ESA expansion have only a couple weeks to rally enough support to pass the bill.


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