Friday, April 7, 2017

Arizona's Neo-Vouchers: The Camel is in the Tent

NEPC's Kevin Welner called them "neo-vouchers": tax credits and "scholarships" that attempt to hide their intent behind deceitful labels.

On Thursday night, April 6, 2017, a Republican dominated Arizona Legislature passed a significant expansion of a voucher program that has been in effect since 2011. Governor Ducey, founder of the ice cream parlor chain Cold Stone Creamery, promised to sign the bill into law.

The Empowerment Scholarships -- vouchers by another name -- were originally available only to a highly limited number of students: those with special needs; children of military personnel stationed in areas of conflict, and a few others. But in classic camel's-nose-under-the-tent fashion, each year the Legislature pushed the limits a little broader: students on Indian reservations, for example. The "scholarships" may be redeemed at private schools, religious or otherwise. Recent research has established that the vouchers are going primarily to upper-middle class families.

The bill that will soon become Arizona law will gradually expand the program to all sorts of students until a cap of 30,000 is reached in a few years. But expect the boundaries to expand further as an emboldened Legislature introduces future bills.

With a sizable portion of its students being Hispanic and a sizable portion of its taxpayers being White retirees, look to Arizona to be the leader in the destruction of the public school system.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
University of Colorado Boulder
National Education Policy Center
San José State University

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, University of Colorado Boulder, nor San José State University.


  1. With the implementation and expansion on the use of vouchers in the state of Arizona, is this going to help student gain access to education or separate and increase the achievement gap? In particular, it is mentioned that a sizable portion of students are of Hispanic decent and taxpayers being White retirees, how will this affect that population of students? Furthermore, what kinds of effects will results as the allocation of these funds are removed and disbursed into other schools.

    My initial thoughts are that this is more about promoting the privatization of private/charter schools. Where in this mix does public education have any sort of benefit? Not only that with our already underfunded schools this could have a detrimental affect in our teacher shortage situation that already exists. In a report by the Learning Policy Institute: A Coming Crisis in Teaching?, Arizona was named the "least attractive state for teaching." According to the report teachers in Arizona leave the profession at a rate that is 3 times the national average. Policies such as the expansion of vouchers that direct focus onto private/charter schools should be reconsidered as this will only attribute to driving teacher out of public education and worsen conditions.

  2. This legislative cycle at the Arizona capitol has been devastating to PUBLIC education. This is just one example of the dismantling of the public school system. In addition, SB1042 passed through the House last week. this bill begins to lighten the requirements to become a certified teacher in Arizona. While top districts will be able to recruit teachers from teacher preparation programs, rural and lower SES school districts will continue to struggle to hire and retain the best prepared educators. This will only contribute to the educational inequities we are seeing in Arizona.
    Next month ASU will be releasing a report on the current state of the teaching profession in Arizona and the early data releases are grim.
    We need to put funding into the hands of our teachers via salary increases. This most recent report shows that from 2001 to 2015 that the average teacher salary dropped 14%. (Inflation rates were controlled in the study.)
    It is time to invest in PUBLIC educators!