It’s national “school choice” week, and right-wing advocates in Louisiana are gearing up to push for Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) during the upcoming legislative session. But a strong cautionary tale comes from Arizona, where a universal voucher program is helping to drain the state budget by forcing state taxpayers to underwrite private school tuition for families that can afford to pay on their own. A recent report from Save Our Schools Arizona Network explains: 

After universal expansion, ESA vouchers are on track to cost Arizona taxpayers over $900 million this school year — nearly 1400% higher than initially projected. The legislature could have used this funding for teacher and staff salary increases, building safety, 21st-century learning, and so much more. Instead, Arizona school districts are already looking at cuts and school closures. 

Some Arizona lawmakers have already expressed regret for supporting ESAs, while other red state lawmakers have criticized similar programs as welfare for the wealthy. 

In explaining his opposition, Texas Republican Rep. John Raney said, “I believe in my heart that using taxpayer dollars to fund an entitlement program is not conservative, and it’s bad public policy. Expanding government-defined choice programs for a few without accountability… undermines our constitutional and moral duty to educate the children of Texas.” 

Louisiana moms, kids at risk of losing WIC benefits 
More than 91,000 Louisianans who participate in a federal program that finances healthy foods and other support for pregnant and postpartum women and their children are in jeopardy of losing benefits or being put on waitlists. While congressional leaders recently approved a stopgap spending bill to avoid a government shutdown, the deal did not include additional funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The crucial program now faces a billion dollar shortfall and could run out of funding by August. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Joni Hess reports

“We simply cannot turn a blind eye to hungry children,” said Teresa Falgoust, director of data and research at New Orleans-based Agenda for Children. “If you’re worried about where your next meal is coming from, learning, playing, building new friendships — the very building blocks children need to live happy lives — all take a back seat,” she said…. Falgoust said program cuts would go beyond waitlists and could include shortened clinic hours and more staff vacancies. It could also mean reduced outreach efforts, she said, which are critical as thousands of first-time parents each year may not be aware they are eligible for WIC. 

Louisiana’s high rates of child poverty and infant mortality makes it one of the least healthy environments in the country for kids and parents.  

Dodging a recession
It is looking more likely that the U.S. economy will pull off an elusive “soft landing.” While many economists predicted a recession in 2023 as the country transitioned from the supercharged, post-pandemic economy, declining inflation, low unemployment and the prospect of interest rates cuts have quieted those gloomy forecasts. But as the New York Times’ Ben Casselman explains there are still a few things that could go wrong. 

Many families were able to shrug off higher rates because they had built up savings or paid off debts earlier in the pandemic. Those buffers are eroding, however. The extra savings are dwindling or already gone, according to most estimates, and credit card borrowing is setting records. Higher mortgage rates have slowed the housing market. Student loan payments, which were paused for years during the pandemic, have resumed. State and local governments are cutting their budgets as federal aid dries up and tax revenue falls. 

Wage inequality
A decline in the U.S. stock market led to a decrease in wage inequality in 2022, according to new analysis from the Economic Policy Institute. But as Elise Gould and Jori Kandra explain, the progress had more more to do with higher losses from the super rich: 

Average inflation-adjusted annual earnings fell across the board in 2022, but the losses were far smaller among the bottom 90% of wage earners. The disproportionate losses for the highest earners—driven by stock market declines—led to a compression in the overall wage distribution over the year.

As Gould and Kandra explain, the wage growth of the 1%  have vastly outpaced everyone else over the last four decades. 

Over the long run, however, earnings growth was vastly unequal (see Figure A). Between 1979 and 2022, annual earnings for the top 1% and top 0.1% skyrocketed by 171.7% and 344.4%, respectively, while earnings for the bottom 90% grew just 32.9%. On an annualized basis, bottom 90% wages grew less than 0.7% per year, compared with 2.4% and 3.5% annualized wage growth for the top 1% and top 0.1%, respectively.

Number of the Day
$900 million – Amount of money that Arizona’s universal school voucher program will cost the state this school year. The total is nearly 1400% higher than what was originally projected and is significantly contributing to the state’s massive budget deficit. (Source: Save Our Schools Arizona Network)