August 18, 2021
By Matt Beienburg

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey just empowered thousands of families to pursue educational choice and opportunity in the Grand Canyon State. Under a new “COVID-19 Educational Recovery Benefit Program” announced Tuesday, Arizona families seeking an alternative to ongoing COVID mandates at their local public school district are eligible for up to $7,000 per student to help pay for other schooling options.

Similar to the flexibility provided by the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program—first pioneered by the Goldwater Institute and now open to roughly one in five Arizona students—these new grants will allow families to put the funds toward the educational needs of their kids and help pay for things like tuition, tutoring, and transportation to school.

As described in the governor’s announcement, “The funding will provide choice for parents who are facing financial and educational barriers due to unnecessary closures and school mandates and that are not in compliance with the provisions set forth in state law.”

Indeed, as a growing number of Arizona school districts implement protocols such as required masking of children for the new school year—contrary to the legislative intent of newly passed state law—parents across the state have sought options offering a greater return to normalcy for their students.

For such families, two features of this new program in particular stand out: 1) its ability to fully cover the costs of private education, and 2) its use of COVID-19 related funds for the direct benefit of students.

Regarding the first, as the Goldwater Institute has reported previously, median private school tuition in Arizona reached just $6,100 at the elementary school level, and $6,600 for middle school as of 2019. (A forthcoming Goldwater Institute report shows these figures have increased only modestly since then.) So a family receiving $7,000 from the new grant program would be to attend over half of private schools in the state with zero additional cost.

Regarding the second, the new grant program offers a refreshingly student-centric approach—one that addresses families’ educational needs in the present, rather than simply contributing to the stockpile of cash that districts have accumulated under the various COVID stimulus bills.

Indeed, as the American Enterprise Institute’s Nat Malkus recently tabulated, of the $190 billion of federal COVID-19 aid going to K-12 education, “it seems probable that half or more of federal COVID relief funding could end up not going to COVID relief at all.”

Under this new grant opportunity, however, Arizona families will have the chance to benefit directly and immediately from at least a small portion of the surge of available K-12 funding flowing through the system, ensuring that their children have access to an educational environment that fits their needs.

While it will be incumbent on state lawmakers to sustain and increase access to such opportunities in the future—particularly if and when the deluge of federal dollars subsides—Arizona families ought to celebrate this victory and the opportunity it brings.

Matt Beienburg is the Director of Education Policy and the Director of the Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy at the Goldwater Institute.

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