When Arizona voters go to the polls in November, they’ll have the chance to weigh in on a ballot initiative that could have big implications for how Arizona students are educated.
So what do you need to know about Prop 305? In Defense of Liberty rounds up five facts about this hot-button initiative and how it would help students and families across the state.
- What would Prop 305 do?
Prop 305 would allow all students throughout the state to have and use an Empowerment Savings Account (ESA). ESAs are all about creating a custom education that works for each individual student; with an ESA, the state deposits part of a student’s funds from the state education formula into a private account, money that can then be used toward tuition, tutoring, and other educational tools.
Last year, Gov. Doug Ducey signed Senate Bill 1431, giving all Arizona students the option of having and using an ESA through a program to be phased in over the next four years. But anti-school choice activists collected enough signatures to put the universal ESA program to a vote. Now, the question of whether all parents will have the ability to make decisions about their child’s education lies with Arizona voters.
The main takeaway? Should Prop 305 pass, all Arizona students would have the ability to build an education that’s tailored to them and better meets their needs, regardless of their family’s income level.
- Arizona is at the forefront of education innovation, including the pioneering of ESAs.
In 2011, Arizona became the first state to pass an ESA program, offering ESAs to special needs students. In the years since then, the program has expanded to additional groups, including students from active duty military families, children from failing schools, and students living on Native American reservations. Today, about 3,500 students make use of ESAs throughout the state.
Arizona is home to other education options that give students and families more choice. For instance, one-third of Arizona public schools are public charter schools, enrolling about 17 percent of all students.
Arizona is a leader among states when it comes to giving students and their parents more say in their education—and universal ESAs are a natural fit with that leadership.
- Families in Arizona that use ESAs are very satisfied with them.
More than 3,000 Arizona students currently using ESAs, and Prop 305 would cover many more. So how satisfied are the families who already have ESAs? Quite satisfied, it turns out.
A Goldwater Institute-Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice survey found that nearly all Arizona families using ESAs reported some level of satisfaction with the accounts, with more than nine in ten saying they were either “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with ESAs.
- Prop 305 builds accountability into the ESA program.
Prop 305 includes provisions that require savings account students in grades 3-12 to take a national norm referenced test (students with special needs are exempt from this requirement). Furthermore, Prop 305 contains provisions for the Arizona Department of Education that require reporting of key statistics on participating students.
These implementation provisions also require the agency to solicit public comment before issuing new rules that apply to account participants. The agency must also create a review council that includes participating families to provide feedback and act as a steering committee for account administration.
These provisions protect student identity but also taxpayers to monitor the ESA program. While the potential for fraud is always a concern in any aspect of education funding, Prop 305 takes steps to minimize its possibility.
- ESAs provide a truly student-centered education option that help control education spending.
In his new report on school spending in the Grand Canyon State, Goldwater Institute Senior Fellow Jonathan Butcher recommends that one way to get state education spending under control is to give students the option to use an ESA a soon as they turn school-age. That’s because ESAs simplify the education spending formula, he writes: “Instead of a myriad of state, local, and federal formulas sending different streams of taxpayer spending to districts that then determine school budgets and the ensuing spending levels, parents can use their child’s funding from the state component of the formula and customize their child’s education.”
As Butcher explains, ESAs put the student first—and in a way that keeps spending in check. And that’s good news for students, their families, and taxpayers.
Opponents of ESAs would prefer that students and families have no educational options outside of traditional public schools. But when it comes to their kids, parents know best—and ESAs put more control over their child’s education in their hands. Prop 305 would give that ESA option to all Arizona students, allowing students and parents to tailor an educational experience that fits them and lets students have the best chance to succeed.