TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — The Arizona Legislature voted last week to approve theschool voucher program, which expands the program to all K-12 students in the state. The voucher program or empowerment scholarship accounts, originally began about 10 years ago to help students with special needs enroll in the right schools.
Superintendent of Pima County Schools Dustin Williams said now any student in Arizona can apply and use the money to go to private or charter schools.
"So the parameters were if the student was in an F or D school if the student had special needs, lived in tribal lands or was in the military, you would go to the Arizona Department of Education and fill out an application and if you got approved you would get approx $7,000 to go to a private school," he said. "Now it will be open to every student to go where they would like to go."
He said his department oversees all schools from public to private in Pima County. He said in fiscal year 2022, about 17.8% of students used the vouchers in Pima County.
“But parents still need to do their homework," he said. "Just because you might be getting some extra dollars from ADE make sure that school has all your student’s needs.”
The voucher program diverts funds from public education to the private sector, a concern for many parents, teachers and advocacy groups. Beth Lewis, the executive director for Save Our Schools Arizona, has worked with her team against the voucher program. She said there's no accountability for how the money is used.
"It is that people realize that it’s a grift and this is just for private operators that are trying to make a profit off of our kids," she said. "There's nothing in this bill that stops anyone from just opening a strip mall school, parking a kid in front of a computer for hours and making a profit off of it."
She said since Arizona has one of the lowest-funded public education systems in the country, this doesn't help provide support and funds for retaining teachers.
"So if we're siphoning money away from public schools, we won't be able to hire or keep the amazing teachers we have," she said.
Tina Giuliano is a reporter for KGUN 9. She is a native Arizonan and grew up in Scottsdale. Tina is passionate about storytelling and is excited to work telling Tucson's stories. Share your story ideas and important issues with Tina by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.