As with candidates, San Tan Times will not tell you how to vote. We will simply try to get you non-biased information about the proposition so that you can become a more well-informed voter.
Arizona Proposition 305, the Expansion of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Referendum, is on the ballot in Arizona as a veto referendum on November 6, 2018.
A “yes” vote is to uphold the contested legislation, Senate Bill 1431, which would phase in an expansion of the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) program to make all public school students eligible to apply for an ESA.
A “no” vote is to repeal the contested legislation, Senate Bill 1431, which would phase in an expansion of the state’s ESAs program to make all public school students eligible to apply for an ESA.
What is an ESA?
The original program allowed parents or guardians of students with disabilities to sign a contract to opt out of the public school system and instead receive an ESA from the Arizona Department of Education (DOE) that could be spent on private education, homeschooling, or other non-public education. An ESA is funded at 90 percent of what the state would have paid for the student in a district or charter school. Parents or guardians use a prepaid bank card to pay for education-related tuition and fees, textbooks, tutoring, educational therapies, and curriculum. Recipients of ESAs are required to submit quarterly spending reports to DOE. Between 2011 and 2017, the program was expanded to cover students meeting other specified criteria. Arizona was the first state to establish an Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program.
How would Proposition 305 change the ESAs program?
A “yes” vote on Proposition 305 would uphold Senate Bill 1431 (SB 1431), which was designed to make all K-12 students eligible to apply for an ESA. The expansion would phase in over four school years. A “no” vote on Proposition 305 would overturn SB 1431. Approval of Proposition 405 would phase in the expansion of ESAs as follows:
- For 2017-2018, students in kindergarten or grades 1, 6, and 9 would be eligible for ESAs.
- For 2018-2019, students in kindergarten or grades 1, 2, 6, 7, 9, and 10 would be eligible.
- For 2019-2020, students in kindergarten or grades 1 through 3 and 6 through 11 would be eligible.
- For 2020-2021, all K-12 students would be eligible.
Proposition 305 would cap the number of new students allowed to receive ESAs at 0.5 percent of the total number of students enrolled in school districts and charter schools per year through school year 2022-2023. For school year 2023-2024 and thereafter, the number of new ESAs per year would not exceed the number approved for school year 2022-2023. A student whose family is at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty line would be eligible for an ESA with 100 percent, rather than 90 percent, of what the state would have paid for the student in a district or charter school.
Are ESAs the same as vouchers?
Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts are often referred to as a school vouchers program. In 2013, the state Court of Appeals outlined the differences between ESAs, which were upheld as constitutional, and school vouchers, which the state Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional four years earlier, in Arizona. In Niehaus V. Huppenthal, the Court of Appeals said that vouchers earmarked state funds for private and sectarian schools, whereas ESAs earmarked state funds for parents of qualifying students to purchase educational services. Vouchers, according to the court, violated Section 10 of Article 9 (Aid Clause) of the Arizona Constitution, which prohibited state aid to private and religious schools. The court said ESAs do not violate the Aid Clause because “none of the ESA funds are preordained for a particular destination.”
Kim Martinez of the American Federation for Children, an organization that advocates for school choice policies, said the difference between vouchers and ESAs is notable, as “ESAs are much more comprehensive than a voucher program and they allow parents to control their child’s state-funded education dollars.” Tim Walker of the National Education Association, a teachers’ professional association and labor union, referred to ESAs as school voucher doublespeak, stating, “The intent is to obscure the fact that these spruced up proposals still produce the same result: less taxpayer money for public schools, more taxpayer money for unaccountable private schools that can, and do discriminate.”