Governor Ducey Signs Most Expansive School Choice Legislation in Recent Memory
Governor Doug Ducey today signed the most expansive school choice legislation in the nation into law, ensuring kids and families in every corner of Arizona can access the education that best fits their needs.
“This is a monumental moment for all of Arizona’s students. Our kids will no longer be locked in under-performing schools. Today, we’re unlocking a whole new world of opportunity for them and their parents,” said Governor Ducey. “With this legislation, Arizona cements itself as the top state for school choice and as the first state in the nation to offer all families the option to choose the school setting that works best for them. Every family in Arizona should have access to a high-quality education with dedicated teachers. This is truly a win for all K-12 students. I commend Senate President Karen Fann, House Speaker Rusty Bowers, Rep. Ben Toma and all the lawmakers who voted for this important legislation and put students first.”
H.B. 2853, sponsored by Rep. Ben Toma, ensures all Arizona K-12 students will now be eligible for scholarship funds to access the education that best fits their unique needs.
“In Arizona, we fund students, not systems, because we know one size does not fit all students,” said House Majority Leader Ben Toma. “It was my privilege to sponsor the most expansive school choice law in the nation, opening Empowerment Scholarship Account eligibility to all school-age children without restriction. I appreciate Governor Ducey for his strong support to help Arizona become the first state with a truly universal ESA program, delivering educational freedom to more than 1.1 million students.”
Under Governor Ducey’s leadership, Arizona has become the best state in the nation for school choice. He called for additional school choice policy in his January State of the State address:
“Many of our poor kids and children of color are trapped in a failing school. It’s time to set these families free… Let’s think big and find more ways to get kids into the school of their parents’ choice. Send me the bills, and I’ll sign them.”
Arizona families who participate would receive more than $6,500 per year per child for private school, homeschooling, micro schools, tutoring, or any other kinds of educational services that helps meet the needs of their students outside the traditional public school system.
“Our kids have been crying out for better schools to be open to them,” said Drew Anderson, senior pastor of First Watch Ministries and Legacy Christian Center in South Phoenix. “Today we said ‘enough is enough.’ We broke open those doors and saved our children. As a pastor I’ve seen too many of our black and brown children struggling; going to fast food restaurants just to connect to WiFi or just looking for some guidance on homework. I’m grateful to Governor Ducey and the Legislature for putting our kids first by expanding the Empowerment Scholarship Account program. We avoided a crisis for our children and helped them achieve greatness.”
In addition to the monumental legislation, the bill includes improvements to make accessing an ESA a more user-friendly process for parents.
“My five children benefit from the Empowerment Scholarship Account program,” said Jenny Clark, founder of Love Your School. “Because of the program, our kids had access to wonderful curriculum, resources and special education that they needed. It has been life changing. Every Arizona child now has access to the same opportunities – unbound by their parents’ income. Thanks to the hard work of Governor Ducey and the Arizona Legislature, all Arizona students have equitable access to a great education.”
Governor Doug Ducey’s commitment to expanding school choice and education savings accounts for Arizonans has garnered national attention.
“With the signing of this bill, Governor Ducey and Arizona Republicans freed thousands of families from government-run schools that aren’t meeting their needs,” said Senior Fellow of the American Federation for Children Corey DeAngelis. “Arizona families will no longer be forced to send their children’s taxpayer-funded education dollars to government-run schools regardless of their choices. All Arizona families will finally be able to direct their children’s taxpayer-funded education dollars to the education providers that best meet their needs, whether it be a public, private, charter, or home-based educational option. Arizona has figured out how to fund students instead of systems, and now solidly leads the nation in educational freedom.”
The expansion was covered in major news outlets, acknowledging the monumental moment for the state.
The National Review wrote that “Arizona Governor Doug Ducey is about to sign a new law that will allow every one of the state’s 1.1 million students to take advantage of an education scholarship to attend a school of their choice — public, private, religious, or charter. School-choice advocates call the legislation the ‘new gold standard’ for student freedom, one that will be a model for states across the country to emulate.”
The WSJ Editorial Board observed that the “school choice movement continues to gain support, and the latest breakthrough is legislation in Arizona that will expand the availability of education savings accounts for any K-12 student in the state who wants one.”
In an interview with the Washington Examiner, the governor called the legislation “transformational” for Arizona and that it represents the “gold standard of educational freedom.”
USA Today columnist Ingrid Jacques wrote, “…It didn’t surprise me when I heard that Arizona passed what’s being called the most expansive school choice plan in America. After all, the state has long been a trailblazer in educational freedom.”
Other media outlets covered the school choice expansion, including Real Clear Education, Reason, the Heritage Foundation, the Las Vegas Review Journal, the Washington Free Beacon, the Foundation for Economic Education and the Washington Examiner.
People across the nation took note of Arizona’s leadership in school choice on social media.
Jeb Bush, chair and founder of ExcelinEd and former Florida governor, gave credit to Governor Ducey in creating the most expansive K-12 education savings account program in the nation.
“What Arizona is doing is putting into practice the concept of education money going to fund students, not systems,” said Forbes CEO Steve Forbes.
“Parents, not unions, should be in charge of their kids’ education. Kudos to @DougDucey for empowering families and securing a win for education freedom. More governors should follow his lead!” tweeted Nikki Haley, former ambassador to the United Nations and governor of South Carolina.
It is no coincidence that as Arizona led the nation in offering school choice, the state also improved academic attainment at the fastest rate in the nation from 2008 to 2018 as measured by the The Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University. Now, with this legislation, Arizona is positioned to unlock the future for all of our K-12 students.
This legislation complements the overwhelmingly successful, bipartisan budget the governor signed last week, which provides historic levels of funding for public district and charter education options as well.
The Fiscal Year 2023 budget invests an additional $1 billion in year-over-year spending, with total K-12 spending for this year reaching $8.45 billion. This includes:
- $329 million to raise the base support level of education spending, representing the single largest dollar and percentage increase in per pupil funding in 20 years;
- $183.3 million to maintain school facilities, the single largest investment in building renewal in the history of the program; and
- $100 million in special education funding for Arizona public schools and $50 million in ongoing funding for school safety.
This is Governor Ducey’s final action of the 55th Arizona Legislature. The Governor signed 387 bills which prioritized K-12 education, water, infrastructure, veterans, health care and more.
Read the governor’s signing letter HERE.
Arizona has bolstered its leadership in school choice options for students and families, expanding programs for greater open enrollment, new transportation models, more charter schools and more educational freedom for families.
In Arizona, families can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, homeschooling and microschools.
Students and families may go to the school of their choice through Arizona’s open enrollment for public school districts. A resource for families especially during the pandemic, open enrollment empowers families to pursue the best education for their children.
Over the last seven years, Arizona has strengthened its position as a national leader in school choice. The state has more than 550 public charter schools teaching 230,000 students – approximately 20 percent of all students enrolled in public schools throughout the state.
Governor Ducey has worked to expand microschools throughout the state. Microschools provide a smaller learning community, tailored to the needs of each student. The Governor invested $3.5 million to create new microschools through the Black Mothers Forum. The Black Mothers Forum, led by founder Janelle Wood, helps create new, innovative learning models where students receive personalized support.
Open for Learning
In early January, the Governor announced the “Open for Learning Recovery Benefit” program, which ensures parents have the resources they need to get their kids in a classroom.
With this program, if a school closes for even one day, students and families will have access to instruction that best meets their needs. The program funds up to $7,000 for needs related to child care, school-coordinated transportation, online tutoring and school tuition.
The program builds upon the Education Plus Up Grant program which was announced in August 2021 to boost per pupil spending.