Proposition 305 – Related to Empowerment Scholarship Accounts – Citizens’ Referendum

What is the ballot measure? Proposition 305 would approve Senate Bill 1431, a bill passed by the legislature in 2017. This bill expands the state Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) program to all public school students, allowing any student enrolled in K-12 education to apply for an ESA.

A “NO” vote would stop Senate Bill 1431, which was signed by the Governor, from going into effect.


Background: In 2009, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that a state school voucher program was unconstitutional because it caused public funds to go to private religious schools. In response, the state established the ESA program in 2011. ESAs provide public funds directly to parents of qualifying students -- not directly to schools -- to purchase educational services, including paying private and religious school tuition. Initially, eligibility for the program was limited to children with disabilities. In 2017, the state legislature passed SB 1431 to expand ESA eligibility to all K-12 students in Arizona. Perceiving a threat to public education, a coalition of education advocates called Save our Schools Arizona, organized a veto referendum (Prop 305), which by voting ‘no’ will veto SB 1431.


Impact:

If passed, Prop 305 would allow for the expansion of the ESA program to all K-12 students in Arizona, up to a cap of 30,000 students, allowing them to receive educational services outside the public school system, including at private or religious schools, while being publicly funded at 90% of what the state would have allocated for them at a district or charter school.


Arguments For:

  • Proposition 305 gives financial help to families who might otherwise be unable to afford private or religious schools or other education options outside the public school system.
  • It gives families more flexibility to find an education that addresses the particular, sometimes unique, needs of their child.
  • Students using ESAs receive only 90% of the funding a student in public school receives; so ESAs save money for Arizona taxpayers.
  • Funds for schooling should belong to the child, not the state.

Arguments Against:

  • Public funds are intended for public schools, not private or religious schools. Expanding ESAs would further reduce money available for public schools, which are already underfunded and are where 95% of Arizona students get their education.
  • Every tax dollar spent on an ESA is a tax dollar taken out of our neighborhood public schools. In 2018, $253 million public tax dollars went toward ESAs and tax credits for private and religious schools. The cost to taxpayers will rise as the number of ESAs expands, in phases, until the 2020 school year.
  • Three out of every four ESA dollars are subsidies for wealthy families, who can already afford private school. Meanwhile, because ESAs rarely cover the full cost of a private school, middle, and lower income families will still be shut out because they can’t afford the balance of the cost.
  • The expansion will crowd out students originally targeted for ESAs as enrollment will be on a first-come, first-served basis for a limited number of ESAs.
  • Private schools can and often do discriminate in the students they accept, and therefore should not be receiving public funds. Public schools take in all who come.
  • In contrast to public schools, Prop 305 requires less accountability from recipients -- whether they are for-profit schools, religious schools or individual families — on where the money goes, how it is spent, or what their educational outcomes are.

Proponents:

  • Arizona Free Enterprise Club
  • Bishops of the Arizona Catholic Conference
  • Center for Arizona Policy
  • Goldwater Institute

Opponents:

  • Save Our Schools Arizona Coalition - $65K
  • Arizona PTA
  • Greater Phoenix Leadership
  • League of Women Voters of Arizona
  • Secular Coalition for Arizona
  • Southern Arizona Leadership Council
  • Stand for Children
  • Voices for Education