November 19, 2019
By Matt Beienburg
Opponents of educational freedom say that school choice benefits the wealthy and hurts the poor. But when it comes to one of the biggest school choice tools available to Arizona students, that argument is simply false.
A new report released today by the Goldwater Institute and American Federation for Children captures the extraordinary impact of the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program among Arizona families most in need. The report, Education Savings Accounts Serving Low-Income Communities: The Impact of ESAs in Arizona, Part II, reveals both the value of and demand for the program among disadvantaged families throughout the state.
Despite claims of education bureaucrats, union bosses, and political activists that ESAs offer little value to low-income families, the report documents that the typical non-special needs ESA award covers 100% of the median private elementary school tuition and fee rate in Arizona. In other words, the report shows that ESAs put private education within financial reach of even the most economically disadvantaged, especially in places like the Roosevelt Elementary School District near downtown Phoenix, where over 90% of families are African American or Hispanic, where the child poverty rate reaches 30%, and where more than half of public schools are rated D or F by the State Board of Education. More than 100 students from this district alone have joined the ESA program, where the typical award fully covers the tuition rates at 4 out of 5 private K-8 schools within that district.
The report likewise turns upside down prior claims that ESAs disproportionately benefit wealthy communities. As the data make clear, ESA participation among higher- and lower-income communities and higher- and lower-performing school districts mirrors that of the public school student population at large.
The report similarly challenges proponents of the status quo with a stark contrast when it comes to the educational opportunity of students on Native American reservations, where public school spending reaches as high as $16,000 per pupil per year and yet thousands of students find themselves trapped in D and F rated schools. As documented in the report, the extraordinarily high ESA participation rates in these communities make clear that the program has offered academic hope to hundreds of students.
Part I of this report’s series documented the fiscal benefits of the ESA program to participating families, taxpayers, and public schools alike. This second installment brings further clarity to the hope and opportunity ESAs offer to Arizonans from all backgrounds.