"Do School Vouchers Only Benefit the Wealthy?" asks an article this month in Governing. Like too many headlines, the implication is that school choice is a scam that disproportionately benefits wealthy students who already live in high-performing districts. The Governing story suggests that Arizona's education savings accounts (ESAs)––publicly-funded savings accounts that parents can use to pay for private school tuition or other education services for their children––rarely help out those who authentically need assistance, favoring already-privileged children instead.
The article cites a 2017 report from The Arizona Republic which found that 75 percent of the ESA money went to students leaving districts that had an "A" or "B" ranking, and only 4 percent of the money followed students opting out of districts rated "D" or lower.
But these numbers hardly even hint at the full story. Arizona's ESA program can only be used by specific groups of disadvantaged students. In fact, Arizona Department of Education data from 2017 reveals that 82 percent of ESA recipients were students with special needs, from military families, or students from D/F rated schools. The discrepancy between the Republic data and the department data arises from the fact that ESA awards vary between $3,000 and $32,000, based primarily on the severity of a student's special needs. It is likely that students leaving D/F schools were receiving smaller awards because they were leaving for reasons other than having special needs, writes Christian Barnard in his latest for Reason.
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