Examining the Current State of Vouchers in Arizona

Examining the Current State of Vouchers in Arizona
This comprehensive article explores the current state of voucher programs in Arizona, examining the relevant state laws, pros and cons, and their impact on education. Gain authoritative insights into the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) program, equity concerns, and the ongoing debate surrounding educational choice in Arizona.

The utilization of vouchers in education has been a subject of ongoing debate in various states, and Arizona is no exception. Vouchers, also known as school choice programs, provide public funds that parents can use to cover tuition expenses at private schools. In this article, we will delve into Arizona's current state of vouchers, exploring relevant state laws and evaluating the pros and cons of this contentious issue. However, before we delve into Arizona's voucher program, here is a look at the beginnings of voucher programs.

How voucher programs got their start.

Voucher programs have their roots in the mid-20th century. Economists and politicians initially promoted vouchers for educational choices and alternatives to traditional public schools. The concept of vouchers gained traction as a response to concerns about the quality of education, particularly in disadvantaged communities.

Here is a brief overview of the historical context and reasons behind the emergence of voucher programs:

Milton Friedman and the School Choice Movement

The intellectual foundation of voucher programs can be traced back to economist Milton Friedman, who popularized the idea in his seminal 1955 essay "The Role of Government in Education.

Friedman argued for a system where government funding would follow students, enabling parents to choose the educational institutions that best meet their children's needs, including public and private schools.

Civil Rights Movement and Desegregation

During the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s, there was a push for desegregation and equal access to quality education for African-American students. Voucher proposals emerged as a potential solution to counter racial segregation by allowing families to choose schools outside their assigned districts.

Disillusionment with Public Education

Dissatisfaction with the performance of public schools and concerns about their ability to meet the diverse needs of students also fueled the emergence of voucher programs. Proponents argued that introducing competition through vouchers would lead to more significant innovation, improved educational outcomes, and increased accountability.

Early Voucher Programs

The first voucher program was implemented in 1990 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This program, targeted at low-income students, allowed eligible families to use publicly funded vouchers to cover tuition expenses at private schools. Milwaukee's program was a pilot for other voucher initiatives across the United States.

Expansion of Voucher Programs

Since the inception of the Milwaukee program, voucher programs have expanded in various forms and have been implemented in multiple states, including Arizona, Florida, Indiana, and Louisiana, among others. Each program has its unique features, eligibility criteria, and regulations.

It is important to note that establishing and expanding voucher programs have generated ongoing debate and legal challenges. Critics raise concerns about equity, accountability, the potential for public funds to support religious schools, and the potential impact on the overall quality of public education. Overall, voucher programs emerged as a response to concerns about educational quality, the desire for increased choice, and efforts to address issues of segregation and inequality. The ongoing discussions and debates surrounding vouchers continue to shape the education landscape in the United States.

This video looks at the pros and cons of voucher programs.

Arizona Laws and Framework

Arizona has established a robust framework to govern the implementation of vouchers within the state. One of the key laws is the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) program, enacted in 2011 and expanded several times since then. The ESA program allows eligible students to receive a portion of their public education funding for private school tuition, homeschooling expenses, online learning programs, and various educational therapies.

Additionally, Lexie's Law passed in 2020, expanded the eligibility criteria for the ESA program to include students from low-income families, students attending failing schools, students with disabilities, and children of military members. This expansion significantly broadened the reach of the program, making it accessible to a larger segment of the population.

  1. Pros of Vouchers in Arizona: a. Increased educational choice: Vouchers empower parents to select educational options that best align with their children's unique needs, allowing them to opt for private schools or alternative educational settings that might offer specialized programs or curricula.

Addressing failing schools

Vouchers allow students in underperforming public schools to escape environments that may hinder their educational progress. In addition, by allowing parents to transfer their children to private schools, vouchers can incentivize struggling public schools to improve their offerings.

Customized learning experiences

Vouchers allow families to choose schools that align with their values, religious beliefs, or educational philosophies, ensuring a tailored learning experience for their children.

Cons of Vouchers in Arizona

Equity concerns

Critics argue that vouchers can exacerbate educational inequalities, as wealthier families are more likely to take advantage of them, leaving disadvantaged students behind in underfunded public schools.

Quality control

Unlike public schools, private schools are not subject to the same level of oversight and accountability. Critics contend that this lack of regulation may compromise educational standards and student well-being.

Diversion of public funds

Opponents argue that vouchers divert public funds away from public schools, potentially weakening the overall quality of public education by reducing available resources.

Analysis and Controversies

The voucher system in Arizona has been a subject of intense debate and legal challenges. Critics argue that vouchers undermine public education by siphoning off funding and potentially favoring certain religious or ideological institutions. On the other hand, proponents emphasize the importance of parental choice and the potential for improved educational outcomes through increased competition and innovation.

This video reports on Arizona's voucher program.


The Arizona Republic

The Arizona Republic, a prominent local news outlet, has highlighted various criticisms of the voucher program, including concerns about equity, lack of oversight, and potential religious discrimination. In addition, they have reported on legal challenges and voiced skepticism about the impact on public schools.

Education Law Center

The Education Law Center, a national advocacy organization focused on education equity, has expressed concerns about the voucher program's impact on low-income students and students with disabilities. They argue that vouchers can perpetuate inequalities in access to quality education.


Goldwater Institute

The Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank, has been a vocal supporter of the voucher program in Arizona. They argue that vouchers increase educational options, empower parents, and foster competition, improving student outcomes. In addition, they emphasize the importance of parental choice in education.

The Heritage Foundation

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank focusing on public policy, has published articles supporting vouchers to expand educational opportunities and improve outcomes. They argue that voucher programs empower parents, increase competition, and drive innovation in education.


To access comprehensive information regarding the current state of vouchers in Arizona, please refer to the following sources:

Arizona Department of Education

Official website providing details on the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) program and eligibility criteria.

Arizona Revised Statutes

Section related to the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) program and other relevant legislation.

The Arizona Republic

The Arizona Republic offers a local news outlet covering ongoing developments, debates, and controversies related to vouchers in Arizona.

Arizona School Boards Association

Non-profit organization representing school boards and providing resources on education policies and advocacy.


The voucher system in Arizona, primarily facilitated through the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program, has both proponents and opponents. While vouchers offer increased choice and the potential for improved educational outcomes, concerns regarding equity, quality control, and the diversion of public funds persist. Policymakers, educators, and parents must continue examining the impact of vouchers and work towards creating an education system that benefits all students while addressing the diverse needs of Arizona's population.

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#EducationChoice #SchoolVouchers #ArizonaEducation

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