Accuse, Confuse, Misinform

If you can’t win an argument on the merits – accuse, confuse, and misinform. That seems to be the strategy of educational freedom opponents trying hard to undermine the popular Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program. ESAs give parents options, put students first, and save the state money. It’s hard to argue with that kind of success. So, opponents cherry pick stats, ignore inconvenient facts, and call their assessment a “report.”

Governor Katie Hobbs recently released such a “report” that conveniently supports her argument against educational choice and in favor of a public-school-only option.

Heritage Foundation’s Matthew Ladner took apart Hobbs’ argument piece by piece:

Claim: ESAs may cost up to $943,000 a year and take $319,000 from the general fund.

Truth: This claim assumes 100,000 students will use an ESA by next year. A highly unlikely scenario considering it currently stands at fewer than 60,000 students long after the private school enrollment period.

Even if true, $943,000 is about 1% of $80.5 billion – what Arizona spent in fiscal 2022. “Educating 8% of the state student population for approximately 1% of state expenditure constitutes a good deal for taxpayers.”

Claim: Universal ESAs result in “increased costs to taxpayers.”

Truth: The claim ignores local and federal revenue sources, focusing only on state revenue. Taxpayers save money overall when a student uses an ESA because the cost of educating that student is about $7,000 compared to the $14,000 in state, local, and federal dollars to educate a student in public school.

Opponents of ESAs would have taxpayers “up in arms because the $7,200 came from one pot of the taxes they pay, and utterly blasé about the $14,381 coming from all three of the types of taxes they pay.”

Claim: About 40,000 students that did not receive state funding now will cost the state under universal ESAs (this includes non-state aid district students, existing private school students, and homeschool students).

Truth: The claim ignores the fact that a majority of private school students were receiving financial assistance from scholarship tax credit programs through School Tuition Organizations (STOs). Scholarship tax credits provided more than 98,000 scholarships worth $218 million in Fiscal Year 2022. “It is entirely inappropriate to score them as a new cost to the state.” Yet, Hobbs counts them among the additional 40,400 universal ESA recipients now receiving aid from the general fund.

Recipients include:

  • Low-income students (received 37% of total scholarship tax credit funds)
  • Middle-income students (received 34%)
  • Higher-income students (received 29%)

Claim: Universal ESAs now include non-state aid district students, existing private school students, and homeschool students.

Truth: “Few Arizona school districts have so much local property wealth that they do not receive state aid,” and fewer than 3% of Arizona students are homeschooled.

When a student transfers from a district school to a charter school, there is a slight increase in cost to the state, but an overall savings to the taxpayer when local and federal dollars are taken into account.

Public school enrollment stands at 80,000 fewer students than estimated prior to the Covid pandemic. So, taxpayers are funding fewer students in public schools.

While opponents of educational choice such as Hobbs are repeatedly telling taxpayers that ESAs will bankrupt the state, Ladner puts it in perspective with this conclusion: “The balance of Arizona’s budget will depend upon the amount of revenue collected and the amount of spending on all programs, not merely a program very likely to cost well below 1% of total state funding next year.”

Read my op-ed countering other false claims against ESAs here.

Update: Save Women’s Sports Legal Fight

Arizona House Speaker Ben Toma and Senate President Warren Petersen are asking the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to allow the CAP-supported Save Women’s Sports Act to go into effect pending the appeal of a recent ruling striking down the law.

A Tucson judge last month blocked the law, which ensures girls and women athletes do not have to compete against males.

Toma and Petersen intervened in the lawsuit back in May after two trans-identified males filed suit against the law. Arizona Women of Action and three Arizona mothers joined a motion to intervene on behalf of their daughters who could be forced to compete against boys under the judge’s ruling.

Toma and Petersen are asking the court to set an expedited schedule, pointing out that the ruling has “harmful, real-world consequences for female athletes.”


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