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Senator Lesko's SB 1431 maximizes parental choice, and it won't cost as much as you think

The report by the Legislature’s budget staff that universal vouchers as proposed in Senate Bill 1431 will cost the state General Fund money is being hailed by opponents as a death blow.

In the first place, there is nothing really new here. The staff has reached the same conclusion about previous universal voucher proposals.

Moreover and more importantly, what the staff analysis really does is to illustrate how inexpensive it would be to maximize parental choice in K-12 education. The staff estimates necessarily rely on numerous assumptions. The legislative budget staff is one of the jewels in state government, highly competent and impartial. Given their position, the assumptions they made are the appropriate ones. Still, there’s reason to believe that reality will turn out differently.

We'd need a lot more private schools

The real lesson from a staff report on vouchers is how inexpensive maximizing parental choice would be. Currently, Arizona’s version of an education voucher, an Empowerment Scholarship Account, is available to only about 17 percent of public school students. Of those eligible, only 2.6 percent are opting to receive the voucher.

The staff assumes that the same participation rate would prevail if the opportunity were made available to all students. That would result in about 25,000 additional students transferring from public to private schools. However, there are just 45,000 students in Arizona private schools today. So, accommodating the projected increase would require an increase in private school capacity of more than 50 percent.

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