PHOENIX – On July 7, Arizona governor Doug Ducey signed HB 2853, expanding Arizona’s empowerment scholarship account (ESA) program to include all school-aged children in the state. These scholarships allow parents to make use of a portion of the state tax dollars that would be allocated to their child’s public education should a public education not be the right fit for their family.
ESAs can be used to pay for private school tuition — including Catholic education, homeschooling, tutoring, and more. According to the bill, monies will be available to fund student education through high school. Unused expenses carry over for at least three years after an ESA contract is closed before returning to the state of Arizona.
Opponents of the law have until September 24 to gather over 100,000 signatures to place the law on hold until it can be taken up by Arizona voters in November 2022. Their concerns center around Arizona’s public schools losing money. As the law is written, public schools may lose funding if current students leave the public education system for other methods of education. There will be no change in public school funding for students not currently educated by public schools.
The bishops of the Arizona Catholic Conference in July voiced their support for the law:
We strongly support a quality education for all children in Arizona and believe it is best to have good district schools, charter schools, private schools, and homeschool options. HB 2853 makes all Arizona children eligible for the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program and will increase school choice substantially, which is a very good thing.
Though the law does not go into effect until September 24, the Arizona Department of Education is currently accepting applications for universal ESAs. The Diocese of Phoenix Catholic Schools Office is expected to have additional information for families in the coming weeks.