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Arizona is losing money on private school subsidies, research finds

(AP File Photo)

PHOENIX — Arizona is losing money on its private school subsidy programs, a policy paper from the Grand Canyon Institute recently found.

“(Arizona) spent $141 million to support just over 13,000 students,” lead researcher David Wells said, referring to the data from 2015 and 2016. “$10,700 per student.”

On average, taxpayer-funded private school subsidies cost an additional $4,700 — or 75 percent more per student than the $6,000 the state pays to educate a regular public school student.

Wells said the study also found no evidence that private-school scholarships help at-risk children do better academically.

“Arizona can’t afford fiscally irresponsible private school subsidies that siphon money away from its public education system,” GCI board chair George Cunningham said.

“These subsidy programs are placing an increasing burden on the state’s general fund, meanwhile research shows they provide no academic benefit when comparing demographically similar students attending public and private schools.”

Arizona has two private-school subsidy programs: Tuition tax credit scholarships and Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, also known as ESA vouchers.

Private-school tuition tax credit scholarships, which were introduced two decades ago, allow taxpayers to give money to a scholarship or school of their choosing in return for a dollar-for-dollar reduction in taxes owed.

ESA vouchers, which were introduced in 2011, allow certain categories of students, such as students from D- and F-rated public schools, foster children and children of veterans, to attend private schools. They were distributed by the state’s Department of Education and financed from the state’s general fund.

Wells said the institute found that many private school students are receiving more than one tax-credit scholarship by applying for funding from multiple School Tuition Organizations, which are private organizations that accept tuition-tax-credit donations and distribute them to students.

“There are more scholarships than there are students,” Wells said.

Wells also claimed that private-school enrollment has declined from 5.9 percent to 4 percent since Arizona introduced the private-school tuition tax credit scholarships.

This November, voters will be asked to expand the school-voucher program through Proposition 305.

KTAR News 92.3 FM has reached out to Arizona House Speaker J.D. Mesnard and the state Department of Education for a comment. Neither have responded as of Monday.

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