Education has been a hot-button issue in Arizona in recent years, and Gov. Doug Ducey has been at the heart of much of it.
Ducey has approved bills that give parents access to school reading materials, internal school communications regarding their child, and restricted the presentation of sexually explicit material to younger students.
Another area Ducey has championed during his eight years in office is school vouchers. Four years ago, voters by a 2 to 1 majority rejected a massive voucher expansion plan.
Nevertheless, the Arizona Legislature this summer sent to Ducey what is regarded as the largest, most sweeping school-voucher expansion program in the nation. All students, without regard to financial need, are eligible to use it and there is no mechanism for accounting for use of the roughly $7,000 per student that parents can receive.
Ducey signed it, although waiting until the last possible day to do so, knowing that each day reduced the time opponents had to collect signatures to send it back to voters as a referendum in 2024.
The signature drive came up short last month, and the expanded school-voucher program is now law.
Our weekly poll dealt with the issue, asking, “Do you approve of Arizona’s expanded school voucher program that Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law?”
Nearly half of our 187 voters favor it.
The leading answer in this week’s InMaricopa reader poll was, “Yes, school choice is crucial and who better than parents to decide how best to educate their children?” with 48.7% of the votes.
The opposite response, “No, there is no mechanism for accountability of its use, and it will harm public-school districts,” garnered 35.8% of the tallies.
Those who could see both sides of the argument responded with, “It would be great for low-income families but I’m uncomfortable with the kids of millionaires being eligible for it,” accounting for 13.4% of the vote. Just 2.1% were not sure.
Regardless of opinions on the issue, charter-school enrollment is growing at a meteoric rate.
In the 2019-20 school year public charter schools nationally had more than 3.4 million students enrolled in about 7,700 schools and campuses. That accounted for about 7.2% of all public-school students, or one in 14 according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The NAPCS also said that the number of charter school students has more than tripled in the past 15 years, and the number of charter schools and campuses has more than doubled.
In Arizona, percentages are much higher.
According to the Arizona Department of Education, more than 237,000 students attended more than 700 charter schools statewide in 2021, a new record high. The number of charter school students has grown by about 10,000 students per year over the past decade and now sits at 21.3 percent of the state’s students attending charter schools.