School vouchers will bankrupt Arizona? Let’s debunk that and 4 other myths. Empowerment Scholarship Accounts won’t bankrupt Arizona. Nor do they only serve rich kids or leave students with no academic accountability.

There has been much discussion lately around the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program, and unfortunately, much of it has been false. It’s time we get the facts straight. To properly understand this debate, we must understand what the ESA program is. ESAs simply allow parents to utilize their child’s education dollars toward the education model that they believe is best (for example, home-based curriculum, online learning, private school tuition, tutoring).

In other words, the money follows the student. Many states are following Arizona’s exampleLast year, the Arizona Legislature passed an ESA program that allows every K-12 child to participate. This means no longer is a high-quality education reserved only for high-income families. After this monumental bill was enacted, many states across the country have modeled our law, starting a wave that is sweeping the nation.

However, instead of embracing education options, some opponents have intentionally misrepresented ESAs. Below are the facts debunking the 5 most common myths being spread about Empowerment Scholarship Accounts.

Myth 1: ESAs will bankrupt the state

This is political rhetoric. As a former Arizona senator who helped craft 16 state budget sand served on the Appropriations Committee, I can confidently tell you that ESAs will not bankrupt the state. Let’s look at the numbers. The average total per-pupil funding for a K-12 district public student in Arizona is about $14,000 per year (this includes state, federal and local tax dollars). Compare that to the traditional ESA student who receives approximately $7,000 per year (which is derived from 90% of the state funding). This means that a typical ESA student literally receives half of the education funding they would have received if they attended their district public school. How can a program meeting the needs of only about 60,000 kids — when the overwhelming amount of state funding pays for 1.1 million other students enrolled in public schools — bankrupt Arizona?

Myth 2: There is widespread fraud.

This is not accurate and is misleading. A recent review of the ESA program by the Arizona auditor general found that less than 1% of the overall reimbursement expenses were considered “improper,” and in many of those cases it was due to parents simply not understanding the ESA guidelines. Furthermore, in most cases where there was a misunderstanding of what was an allowable education expense, the funds were returned or reallocated. This audit proves that “widespread fraud” is not being committed by parents.

Myth 3: Only wealthy parents use ESAs

This could not be further from the truth. A recent analysis of Arizona Department of Education data by the nonprofit San Juan Diego Institute shows that most of the students using ESAs live in ZIP codes that are below the average state median income In other words, the majority of ESA students come from the poorer half of our state.

Myth 4: ESAs only help white families

We have heard this claim repeated in the media several times, but the facts show otherwise. First, state Superintendent Tom Horne stated at a press conference last month that additional bilingual staff was needed at the ESA department to address the influx of calls from Spanish speaking parents.

Additionally, a recent statewide poll commissioned in part by American Federation for Children shows the highest support for ESAs comes from Arizona’s Hispanic population with a whopping 76% in support.

Myth 5: Private schools lack accountability

This is deceiving. An in-depth survey of private schools, along with data extrapolated from Private School Review, shows that more than 96% of the most populous private schools in Arizona offer norm-referenced testing, such as the SAT, so that students in private schools can be compared to their peers. (The remaining 4% use alternative metrics). Furthermore, while some private schools choose to post testing results publicly, many others (according to surveys shared with the American Federation for Children) provide testing and academic information directly to parents via daily or weekly progress reports, so that they know exactly where their child stands academically.

Today, the ESA program is helping more than 60,000 students out of the total 1.1 million K-12 population. In Arizona, we as taxpayers fund the student, not the system. As a state, we should stand strong against false rhetoric and deceptions that threaten the freedom and flexibility of Arizona parents who are, thanks to the ESA program, successfully evaluating every education model and finding the best fit for their children.

Steve Smith is a former Arizona legislator and former Arizona state director for the American Federation for Children.

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