Does Arizona’s universal school voucher program save the state money?

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Backers of Arizona’s universal school voucher program have widely touted it as a money saver for the state. But for most potential participants, the program adds to the state’s costs, a new analysis shows.

The analysis from the Arizona Association of School Business Officials broke down the different categories of students eligible for the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program and showed savings come only when charter school students transfer into the program.

In every other situation, whether the student comes from a public school district, a private school, a homeschool or micro-school environment, there is an extra cost to taxpayers for the ESA voucher, the analysis shows. The costs can range from $425 if a student leaves a public school district to $7,148 if the student already attends a private school or home school. Chuck Essigs, Director of Governmental Relations at the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, discussed the details of this analysis.

“There’s a couple of different categories. Where it does save money is if it happens to be a charter school student going into an ESA,” Essigs said. “The most expensive is two situations. One is if the student was already in a private school and now they go to an ESA, there’s obviously not a penny of savings. And if they were already in home school and they go into the ESA, there’s not a penny of savings.”

If a child is already in a private school, there’s really no argument not to go for an ESA, Essigs said. However, there’s tuition tax credits that can be retrieved, but not with an ESA.

“State revenue appears to be in trouble because the sales tax is down, income tax is not raising nearly as much money. And you have all of this additional expense. Basically, for all of the students in private schools and home schoolers, you’re paying 100% of the cost of that student. In school districts, there’s at least some help from local property tax,” Essigs said.

Chuck Essigs, Director of Governmental Relations at the Arizona Association of School Business Officials

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