I was excited to start my sophomore year at University High School. However, my concern grows as the new school voucher program threatens to take away needed funds from the public schools in Tucson. This year, parents and students are reassessing their options, given the developments in Arizona’s school voucher program. While my parents and I had an easy decision to make regarding where I would continue my education, many do not. The new law, signed by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey in April, has expanded the preexisting school voucher program.
The policy allows parents to apply their students’ state education money toward private school, online education, or homeschooling. Essentially, government taxpayer money that once funded public schools can now be used to benefit private education. These so called “empowerment scholarships” are now available to 1.1 million public school students in Arizona. The Arizona Daily Star reports that “For the 2017-18 academic year, [enrollment] is open to children in kindergarten, first, sixth and ninth grades…. By the 2020-21 school year, all students in grades kindergarten through 12 will be eligible to apply.” Total enrollment in the program will be capped at 30,000 students in 2022. This plan is endorsed by President Trump and his secretary of education, Betsy DeVos. DeVos is a big supporter of school choice (choosing alternative schooling options) and plans to use the school voucher program to further its goals– allowing parents to use government funds to subsidize private education.
The question then arises: is this a good or bad choice for Arizona’s students? According to the Arizona Daily Star, “For children with special needs, the money can be used to help pay for vocational or life-skills education, psychological or educational evaluations, assistive technology rentals, and braille translation services.” School vouchers can also be used to pay for textbooks, tutoring, and tuition fees for expensive private schools. This can take a lot of financial pressure away from parents. Supporters assert that the voucher program will allow low income students to escape “failing” public schools. Additionally, if students leave public schools as predicted, the Arizona tax burden will be reduced by 2021. I attend University High School (UHS), a public school in Tucson, Arizona. It, like the other public schools in the Tucson Unified School District, is funded directly by the state. If the school voucher program proceeds as expected, funds from my school, as well as other public high schools in Tucson, will be cut and channeled towards charter and private schools.
While it is true that some public schools currently fail to meet certain state requirements, should we be transferring needed funds away to benefit the private schools? This transfer will have even more negative effects on the public school system. Arizona State Senator Juan Mendez agrees. Not every student can get a scholarship, and even if they did, many would still not be able to afford the costs of private education. Those who remain at the “failing” schools will be left with fewer resources as governmental money is funneled to the private schools. Unlike Arizona public schools, the private schools will not have to report on the performance of subgroups such as racial minorities, low-income students or English Language Learners (ELLs) who use the vouchers. While I am not affected by these specific struggles, many at my high school will be. The redistribution of funds could also lead to a cut in extracurriculars that many hardworking and dedicated students participate in. I myself am part of my school’s tennis and cross country team and participated in math club last year. Could my school cease to offer these activities during my remaining years in high school or for future students?
Clearly, the issue is not black and white, and parents will have to assess their options going forward in Arizona’s school system. However, one must think about the overall effect of the bill. If the concept of vouchers persists (progress goes as predicted), a lot of state funds for public schools will be redirected. Given that a majority of public school funds come directly from the state, this could have dire effects on the schools and the communities that rely on them. As a student relying on my state’s public school system, I encourage parents and voters to make choices that will support and strengthen the future of students like me.