Arizona Leaves School Choice Expansion Out Of Budget

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The Arizona House of Representatives voted down an expansion of the state’s school voucher program, the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA), one of the state’s 2021 budget amendments.

The Senate voted by party line on June 23 to attach the expansion to the state’s annual budget, but HB 2898 could not get majority support in the House, failing on Friday by a 28-28 vote with four senators not voting. Three Republicans, Rep. Michelle Udall of Mesa, Rep. Joel John of Buckeye, and Rep. Joanne Osborne of Goodyear, joined House Democrats in voting against the bill.

The bill was controversial because voters vetoed a similar plan in 2018.

The proposed amendment to the budget would have expanded the ESA program, making it available to a group of as many as 720,000 students in Title I schools in addition to the currently eligible 9,700.

Empowerment Scholarship Accounts allow eligible parents to redirect most money that would have funded their child’s public school education to pay for private school. Students who qualify get 90% of the funding that would have gone to their school districts, with the tax dollars loaded onto debit cards for private school tuition or other costs.

Liz Dreckman, president of the Arizona School Choice Trust, believes that the COVID-19 pandemic made the necessity of Arizona’s school voucher program even more apparent.

“If the Covid year taught us anything, the ability of parents to choose the best educational option for their children is paramount,” Dreckman told The Center Square. “While charter and private schools stayed open the past year, many district schools stayed closed for more than a year without any options for many students. We need to continually extend options for families.”

The House did pass several other education policy changes on Friday. They included a prohibition on schools from requiring face masks, creating grants to cover school transportation costs, penalizing teachers with losing their teaching certificate if they taught critical race theory, adopting a civics curriculum focused on founding principles, and increasing spending for special education by $50 million.

The House also passed a bill requiring parents to opt their children into sex-education classes and preventing sex-education instruction to students before fifth grade.


This article was published on June 27, 2021 and is reproduced with permission from  The Center Square.


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