Late Thursday night, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law an expansion of the state's Empowerment Scholarship Account program, his spokesman said, which will allow any student to use taxpayer dollars to pay private-school tuition or for other educational expenses.
The legislation, sent to Ducey by Republicans in the Legislature after a marathon session Thursday, is not as expansive as the original proposal, which would have allowed all 1.1 million public-school students to use the program by 2021. Instead, the legislation will allow within several years all students to apply for the program but limits the number who could become eligible.
An estimated 5,500 additional students would be allowed to sign up each year, but no more than about 30,000 could sign up by 2022. While the program would be capped at a lower number than originally proposed, Democrats and moderate Republicans seized on the expansion as evidence of conservatives' desire to "dismantle" public education because the ESA program takes money from public schools and directs it to private and sometimes religious schools.
The debate drew public-school advocates to the Capitol on Thursday, where dozens protested against the proposal outside the executive tower. As the House wrapped up its vote Thursday night, some people watching from the gallery shouted, “Shame! Shame! Shame!"
Ducey was not publicly visible, but his influence on the legislation was felt in both chambers as he and his administration met with key lawmakers to press for their support.