Arizona schools chief Horne says growth of school voucher program beneficial to state

Jun 2, 2023, 4:25 AM

(Photo by Olivier Touron/AFP via Getty Images)...

(Photo by Olivier Touron/AFP via Getty Images)

(Photo by Olivier Touron/AFP via Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said Thursday he believes the state will be able to handle a continued growth in the state’s school voucher program that critics say is leading to excessive spending and benefitting the wealthy.

A day earlier, Horne announced that Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program participation is projected to reach 100,000 students at a cost of roughly $900 million in 2024, significantly higher than what was initially anticipated.

“Now you have to realize we have 1,100,000 [students] in public and charter schools, so it’s still a relatively small percentage,” Horne told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show on Thursday. “The growth indicates that some people feel that their children’s needs are not being met.”

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs and others have argued that the shift to more ESA participation is taking vital money away from public school education.

Horne, however, said that families should have a choice.

“If a parent feels that their child’s needs are not being met, they should have a choice to put them someplace where their needs will be met … we want all people to have that choice,” Horne said.

The other main argument from critics is that the program, which was championed by former Gov. Doug Ducey and went into effect in 2022, is set up to benefit the rich.

Horne said 78% of families initially enrolled in the universal voucher program were not in the public school system.

That total has dropped to 49%, according to Horne.

Horne said his office has put out advertisements targeting families in lower economic areas.

“So there’s a definite trend toward people lower on the economic scale,” Horne said. “That is really the intent – to make it available to people on the lower economic scale as rich people already had that choice.”

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Arizona schools chief Horne says growth of school voucher program beneficial to state