Empowerment Scholarship Accounts

More from this show

We’ll take a deeper dive into Empowerment Scholarship Accounts as lawmakers seek to expand that program to eventually allow all Arizona students to use ESAs, which give parents taxpayer money to use at private schools. Chuck Essigs, the Arizona Association of School Business Officials director of government relations, and Chris Kotterman, director of governmental relations for the Arizona School Boards Association, will take about how ESAs work and how far and how fast the program can be expanded.

TED SIMONS: THE STATE LEGISLATURE IS LOOKING AT EXPANDING EMPOWERMENT SCHOLARSHIP ACCOUNTS, ESAs. WHAT ARE THEY AND HOW DO THEY WORK AND WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF ALLOWING ALL ARIZONA PARENTS TO PAY FOR PRIVATE SCHOOLS WITH TAXPAYER MONEY? FOR THE ANSWERS, WE WELCOME CHUCK ESSIGS, THE DIRECTOR OF GOVERNMENT RELATIONS AT THE ARIZONA ASSOCIATION OF SCHOOL BUSINESS OFFICIALS, AND CHRIS KOTTERMAN, DIRECTOR OF GOVERNMENTAL RELATIONS FOR THE ARIZONA SCHOOL BOARDS ASSOCIATION. GOOD TO HAVE YOU BOTH HERE. THANKS FOR JOINING US. LET'S GO REALLY BASIC HERE, WHAT IS AN EMPLOYMENT SCHOLARSHIP ACCOUNT.

CHUCK ESSIGS: EMPOWERMENT SCHOLARSHIP ACCOUNTS THAT PARENTS CAN APPLY FOR. THAT GIVES THEM A DEBIT CARD FOR ANYWHERE FROM $5,200 TO $5,900 TO USE TO PAY FOR TUITION TO A PRIVATE SCHOOL, BUT TO USE FOR A VARIETY OF OTHER EDUCATIONAL OPTIONS FOR THEIR CHILDREN.

TED SIMONS: EMPOWERMENT SCHOLARSHIP. SO -- I MEAN, IT'S SO COMPLICATED AND WE'VE GONE THROUGH SO MANY ASPECTS OF THIS. WHEN IT STARTED, NOW, THESE ESAs WERE DESIGNED FOR A SPECIFIC GROUP OF CHILDREN, CORRECT?

CHRIS KOTTERMAN: YES, THEY WERE ORIGINALLY DESIGNED FOR STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES FIRST. SO A STUDENT WITH A DISABILITY COULD QUALIFY FOR AN ESA AND OUT OF THE DISTRICT SCHOOL, THEY HAD TO HAVE ATTENDED A DISTRICT SCHOOL FOR A HUNDRED DAYS PRIOR. THAT'S THE MAGIC NUMBER THAT GENERATES THE FORMULA FUNDING. THEN LATER YEARS, WE ADDED FOSTER CHILDREN, STUDENTS WHO LIVE ON NATIVE AMERICAN RESERVATIONS, STUDENTS ATTENDING D OR F SCHOOLS AND WE EXPANDED TO STUDENTS OF MILITARY FAMILIES. AND NOW WE'RE AT A PROPOSAL TO EXPAND IT TO EVERY STUDENT NO MATTER WHAT.

TED SIMONS: EVERY STUDENTS' PARENT WOULD GET $5,200 SOMEWHERE ALONG THOSE LINES.

CHUCK ESSIGS: FOR ELEMENTARY AND $5,900 FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS.

TED SIMONS: TO DO REALLY WITH IT WHAT THEY CHOOSE TO A CERTAIN DEGREE.

CHUCK ESSIGS: THERE'S CERTAIN PARAMETERS THAT THEY MUST USE THE MONEY FOR, FOR SOME EDUCATIONAL TYPE PROGRAM. I THINK ABOUT 85% OF THE PARENTS CURRENTLY USE IT FOR PRIVATE SCHOOL TUITION. BUT THEY COULD USE IT FOR A VARIETY OF OTHER OPTIONS TOO.

TED SIMONS: THE GOAL WAS TO HELP POOR KIDS, PARENTS, DISADVANTAGED KIDS, ESCAPE FAILING SCHOOLS. IS THAT NOT A GOAL THAT COULD STILL BE ATTAINED?

CHUCK ESSIGS: WELL, THERE'S A LOT -- AS CHRIS SAID, THERE'S A LOT OF SPECIFIC PROGRAMS THAT ARE AVAILABLE NOW. YOU KNOW, THEY ALWAYS TALK ABOUT THE CAMEL'S NOSE UNDER THE TENT. THIS EMPOWERMENT SCHOLARSHIP EXPANSION PASSES, THERE'S NO LONGER A TENT. THE WHOLE HERD OF CAMELS TAKE OVER.

TED SIMONS: WHAT HAPPENS IF THE WHOLE HERD OF CAMELS TAKE OVER?

CHRIS KOTTERMAN: A LOT OF TALK IS GIVEN TO STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES AND HOW BENEFICIAL THE PROGRAM'S BEEN FOR THEM. WE'RE NOT TALKING ABOUT STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES HERE. THEY ALREADY HAVE THE ESA. NO ONE'S GOING TO TAKE IT AWAY FROM THEM. WE'RE TALKING ABOUT EXPANDING IT TO ALL STUDENTS. AND THE PROBLEM WITH THAT IS ONCE YOU DO THAT, YOU'RE PLACING A LARGE BURDEN ON THE STATE GENERAL FUND BECAUSE PROPERTY TAXPAYERS SHARE IN THE COST WHEN THE STUDENT IS ATTENDING THE DISTRICT SCHOOL. ONCE THEY GO TO THE ESA, THE STATE GENERAL FUND HAS TO PICK UP THE WHOLE $5,200, THE WHOLE $5,900. IF TOO MANY STUDENTS GET ON THE PROGRAM, THE STATE ENDS UP PAYING A LOT OF MONEY IT DOESN'T CURRENTLY HAVE.

CHUCK ESSIGS: WE'VE LOOKED AT EVERY SCHOOL IN THE STATE AND EVERY ESA STUDENT GETS MORE MONEY UNDER THIS PROGRAM THAN WHAT THE STATE'S PROVIDING TO THE SCHOOL DISTRICT. AVERAGES 1,000 FOR AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL STUDENT AND AN EXTRA 1,200 FOR A HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT.

TED SIMONS: SO WHEN LAWMAKERS SAY- AND WE'VE HAD LAWMAKERS ON OUR SHOW SAYING THE PROGRAM WILL SAVE THE STATE MONEY, YOU SAY?

CHUCK ESSIGS: COST THEM $1,000 ON AVERAGE FOR EVERY ELEMENTARY AND $1,200 FOR EVERY HIGH SCHOOL. THAT'S ALL AN EXPENSE ON THE STATE GENERAL FUND.

TED SIMONS: I WOULD IMAGINE SOME OF THE STATE LAWMAKERS WOULD SAY, OKAY, I GUESS WE MAY HAVE BEEN WRONG REGARDING THE COST OF ALL THIS, IT'S STILL BETTER BECAUSE IT GIVES PARENTS A CHOICE.

CHRIS KOTTERMAN: SURE. I MEAN, THERE IS THAT ARGUMENT. AND FROM THE SCHOOL BOARD ASSOCIATION'S PERSPECTIVE, PUBLIC SCHOOLS ARE NOT AFRAID OF CHOICE. WHAT WE BELIEVE FUNDAMENTALLY IS THAT THE STATE'S FUNDAMENTAL OBLIGATION FIRST IS TO FUND ADEQUATELY PUBLIC SCHOOLS. DISTRICT SCHOOLS AND THEN OBVIOUSLY IN ARIZONA WE HAVE CHARTER SCHOOLS. BUT WITHOUT FUNDING ADEQUATELY DISTRICT SCHOOLS AND CHARTER SCHOOLS WHICH WE'RE NOT, WE'RE CURRENTLY OPERATING WITH A $1 BILLION ROLLOVER, $400 MILLION REDUCTION IN FORMULA FUNDING, WE HAVE PROBLEMS PAYING TEACHERS IN THE STATE, NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO SHIFT FUNDING FROM DISTRICT SCHOOLS AND CHARTER SCHOOLS TO ESA AND PRIVATE OPTIONS.

TED SIMONS: AGREE WITH THAT OBVIOUSLY?

CHUCK ESSIGS: JUST THE CUT TO DISTRICT CAPITAL FUNDING AND CHARTER CAPITAL FUNDING IS 380 MILLION DOLLARS. DISTRICTS ONLY HAVE 15% OF WHAT THEY SHOULD BE GETTING FROM THE STATE AND CAPITAL FUNDING AVAILABLE TO THEM. THEY'RE IN DIRE STRAITS ACROSS THIS STATE.

TED SIMONS: I KNOW THERE'S A CAP. TALK ABOUT THE CAP THAT EXISTS RIGHT NOW AND WHERE THAT CAP WOULD GO.

CHUCK ESSIGS: THE CAP ALLOWS 5,500 NEW STUDENTS TO COME IN EACH YEAR OVER THE NEXT TWO YEARS. AFTER THE NEXT TWO YEARS, CAP'S GONE. SO THE CAP IS NOT -- IT'S KIND OF LIKE YOU DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD AND YOU GO THROUGH TWO STATES AND GET TO THE THIRD STATE, THERE'S NO LONGER A SPEED LIMIT. THAT'S KIND OF WHAT HAPPENS WITH THIS. WHEN YOU GET TO THAT THIRD YEAR, THERE'S NO CAP. IT COULD BE WHATEVER NUMBER APPLIES AND GET APPROVES FOR.

TED SIMONS: THIS EXPANSION KIND OF PHASES ITSELF IN THE NEXT THREE, FOUR YEARS TO WHERE IT'S FINALLY IN THERE FULLY, CAP ADIOS.

CHRIS KOTTERMAN: EXACTLY. THE BIG THING TO WATCH OUT FOR, IT PHASES IN, BUT THERE'S A CURRENT PROVISION FOR STUDENTS WHO MEET THE ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS IF YOU NEVER HAVE ATTENDED PUBLIC SCHOOL BUT YOU'RE ELIGIBLE TO ENROLL IN KINDERGARTEN, YOU CAN COME IN STRAIGHT AWAY. PARENTS WHO ARE GOING TO SEND THEIR CHILDREN TO PRIVATE SCHOOL ANYWAY, CAN START THEIR STUDENTS IN KINDERGARTEN ON ESA AND JUST COLLECT THE MONEY FROM THE STATE AND SUBSIDIZE THEIR STUDENT'S PRIVATE SCHOOL EDUCATION. THAT'S WHAT WE'RE CONCERNED ABOUT.

TED SIMONS: IF THE CAP WERE EXTENDED, MORE PALATABLE?

CHRIS KOTTERMAN: FROM OUR PERSPECTIVE, WE DISAGREE ON A FUNDAMENTAL LEVEL. BUT GIVEN IF WE WERE FORCED TO ACCEPT THEM, THEN YES A CAP IS MANDATORY.

CHUCK ESSIGS: IF YOU'RE GOING TO CAP IT, KEEP IT WHERE IT IS TODAY UNTIL YOU WANT TO EXPAND IT AND ALLOW SIGNIFICANT MORE NUMBERS TO BE INCLUDED.

TED SIMONS: WHAT DO YOU REALLY THINK IS GOING ON HERE?

CHUCK ESSIGS: I THINK THERE'S A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO WANT TO SEE PUBLIC SCHOOLS DIMINISHED. THEY EITHER DON'T LIKE PUBLIC SCHOOLS AND THE WAY THEY'RE RUN OR THEY WANT TO GIVE PARENTS CHOICE. WE'RE ALL IN FAVOR OF CHOICE, BUT YOU NEED TO HAVE -- 85% OF ALL THE STUDENTS IN THE STATE CURRENTLY GO TO TRADITIONAL PUBLIC SCHOOLS. THE STATE SHOULD BE FUNDING THOSE FIRST, FUNDING THEM ADEQUATELY, NOT AT 48th IN THE COUNTRY BUT AT A HIGHER RATE THAN WHERE WE CURRENTLY ARE, BEFORE YOU START LOOKING AT OTHER OPTIONS TO EXPAND PROGRAMS TO OTHER AREAS.

TED SIMONS: WOULD THAT 80 PLUS PERCENT RATE STILL EXIST IF PARENTS DID HAVE THESE EMPOWERMENT SCHOLARSHIP ACCOUNTS AND DID HAVE THE EXTRA CHOICE?

CHRIS KOTTERMAN: WE ARE CONFIDENT THAT OUR PUBLIC SCHOOL OPTION COMPETES FAIRLY WELL FOR MOST PARENTS WITH ALL OTHER OPTIONS WHICH IS WHY WE'RE NOT AFRAID OF CHOICE. THE IDEA HERE IS THAT BY ALLOWING STUDENTS TO -- ESPECIALLY ALLOWING STUDENTS WHO HAVE NEVER BEEN ENROLLED IN PUBLIC SCHOOL WHOSE PARENTS PLAN TO SEND THEM TO PRIVATE SCHOOL ANYWAY, TO TAKE PUBLIC MONEY AND USE THEM FOR A PRIVATE OPTION, WE'RE PHILOSOPHICALLY OPPOSED THAT THAT. IT JUST SIPHONS RESOURCES AWAY FROM THE STATE'S PRIMARY RESPONSIBILITY. WE'RE NOT AFRAID OF CHOICE BUT WE WANT TO COMPETE ON AN EQUAL PLAYING FIELD. WE WANT TO PAY TEACHERS A MARKET COMPETITIVE SALARY, RENEW SCHOOLS AND NOT HAVE TO KICK STUDENTS OUT LIKE THEY DID IN GLENDALE FOR SIX WEEKS BECAUSE THEY HAD TO REPAIR THE BUILDING. IT'S JUST NOT THE TIME TO DO THIS KIND OF THING.

TED SIMONS: SAME QUESTION I ASKED CHUCK, WHAT DO YOU THINK IS REALLY GOING ON HERE?

CHRIS KOTTERMAN: I THINK THERE ARE PEOPLE THAT ARE LEGITIMATELY COMMITTED TO THIS IDEA THAT ALL SCHOOLS, ALL EDUCATIONAL OPTIONS SHOULD COMPETE ON A LEVEL FREE MARKET PLAYING FIELD. BUT THE FACT OF THE MATTER IS, THE SYSTEM IN ARIZONA ISN'T RESOURCED TO MAKE THAT POSSIBLE. THERE IS NO EQUAL COMPETITION WHEN ONE SCHOOL CAN TAKE STATE MONEY AND STILL CHARGE TUITION ON TOP THE PRIVATE SCHOOL AND ONE SCHOOL IS OBLIGATED TO BE THERE 24/7, 365 TO EDUCATE ALL COMERS IN A HIGH QUALITY FASHION. IT'S JUST NOT AN EQUAL PLAYING FIELD.

TED SIMONS: AGREE WITH THAT?

CHUCK ESSIGS: WE LEAD THE NATION IN CHOICE, BUT WE ALSO ARE WAY AT THE BOTTOM OF HOW WE FUND THE CHOICES THAT PARENTS HAVE. WE NEED TO LOOK AT PROVIDING ADEQUATELY FUNDED CHOICES FOR PARENTS, NOT UNDER-FUNDED CHOICES.

TED SIMONS: REAL QUICKLY. YOU'VE BEEN AT THE LEGISLATURE A LONG TIME. YOU THINK THIS IS GOING TO PASS?

CHUCK ESSIGS: I THINK THERE'S -- HOPEFULLY THERE'S SOME LEGISLATORS, ONCE THEY SEE THE COST OF THE STATE GENERAL FUND, SAVINGS ARE NOT THERE, THEY REALIZE THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO MAKE THIS TYPE OF MOVE. THAT'S MY WISH. WHETHER THAT WILL COME TRUE OR NOT, THAT WOULD BE MY WISH.

TED SIMONS: GENTLEMEN, GOOD TO HAVE YOU BOTH HERE. WEDNESDAY ON "ARIZONA HORIZON," ARIZONA REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN JOINS US IN STUDY YOU TO DISCUSS A NEW DEPORTATION RULES AND OTHER ISSUES AND STATE LAWMAKERS WILL JOIN US FOR OUR WEEKLY LEGISLATIVE UPDATE. THAT'S ON THE NEXT "ARIZONA HORIZON." THAT IS IT FOR NOW. I'M TED SIMONS. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US. YOU HAVE A GREAT EVENING.

Chuck Essigs: Arizona Association of School Business Officials director of government relations
Chris Kotterman: Director of governmental relations for the Arizona School Boards Association

Barry Gibb singing (Bee Gees: In Our Own Time)
airs Feb. 24

Bee Gees: In Our Own Time

A cute little duckling with text reading: Arizona PBS Ducks in a Row Event
March 6

Getting Your Ducks in a Row to Avoid Conflict When You Are Gone

Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson
aired Feb. 23

The Highwaymen: Live at Nassau Coliseum

A photo of Henry Louis Gates Jr. and photos of his books

Join the all new PBS Books Readers Club!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch
with azpbs.org!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: