School Choice Scholarship Expansion Passed By Senate

School Choice Scholarship Expansion Passed By Senate

By Corinne Murdock |

In a party-line vote on Wednesday, the Arizona Senate approved a bill to expand the state’s K-12 school choice scholarships: the Arizona Equal Opportunity Education Act. 

SB1657 expands Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program eligibility by allowing more classifications of students to participate. That includes those with: disabilities identified by public school systems in other states; a parent that is a veteran, first responder, or full-time health professional; income that qualifies for federal free and reduced-price lunch programs; a household that receives benefits from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or Section 8 Public Housing Assistance; participation in federal Title I services for low-income students under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA); residence in the attendance boundary of a school that qualifies for schoolwide Title I Program funding under ESSA or whose governing board submitted a plan to the School Facilities Oversight Board within the last two years requesting additional construction or funding due to exceeding existing capacity; or current or past participation in the Education Recovery Benefit Program, Open for Learning Recovery Benefit Program, or any successor state grant program. It also would entitle participating children to access Classroom Site Fund (CSF) dollars. 

Additionally, permissible ESA expenditures would include public transportation services; educational devices such as calculators, laptops, telescopes, microscopes, and printers; and consumable educational supplies like paper, pens, and markers. The legislation also ensures that school districts cover expenses for independent educational evaluation from qualified examiners obtained by parents, like psychiatrists. 

American Federation for Children (AFC) Arizona State Director Steve Smith asserted on “The Conservative Circus” that the legislation marked the largest expansion of school choice in state history. Smith cited polling numbers that 78 percent of minorities in Arizona support school choice.

“I’m still trying to figure out why Democrats voted against this,” remarked Smith. “We’re talking about the kids that need the help the most, the Democrats — who I’m told over and over again are always helping the downtrodden — continue to vote no.”

Smith called out the three House Republicans who killed a similar bill last year to expand school choice: State Representatives Michelle Udall (R-Mesa), Joanne Osbourne (R-Goodyear), and Joel John (R-Buckeye). 

State Senator Paul Boyer (R-Glendale), the bill sponsor, argued in last week’s Senate Education Committee that opposition to the bill concerning a reduction in public school spending was reducing children to dollar signs. He cited that Arizona has invested over $8.6 billion into public education since 2016, and that the state set an all-time record with its latest per-pupil spending: well over $14,000. 

“I can’t tell a parent, ‘Sorry, we haven’t done enough on the funding side,’ when we really have. And at one point we have to say, we have to let every child who wants to go to the school of their choice, they should have that opportunity, too,” said Boyer.

Boyer insisted that the greater issue at hand was allowing parents to choose the best educational options for their child.

As AZ Free News reported, the legislation earned the backing of NFL Alumni Association chaplain and Phoenix-based pastor Drew Anderson; he credited school choice for his escape from the school-to-prison pipeline. Anderson insisted that school choice defined a “civil rights movement of our era.” 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to

ESA Bill For Children From Lower-Income Families Passes Arizona Senate

ESA Bill For Children From Lower-Income Families Passes Arizona Senate

After a heated floor discussion on Monday, the Arizona State Senate passed Senate Bill 1452, a bill which will expand educational opportunities for children from low-income homes. The bill passed long party lines.

The bill, if passed in the Arizona State House, is expected to bring educational choice options to an estimated 700,000 low income students who are currently part of the Federal free and reduced lunch program and/or are attending Title I schools.

Earlier this month, prominent leaders from the Phoenix valley’s Black community gathered at the Arizona Capitol in support of the bill and school choice for minority children.

“School Choice is an extension of the civil rights movement because it gives parents, especially low-income and minority parents, the rights and resources to choose any school their child needs. School Choice equals freedom.” – Rev. H.K. Matthews

Democrats argued that the bill would take money away from the currently mostly closed public schools. Across the state, public schools have been forced to deny educational opportunities to students due to resistance from teachers, who are refusing to return to their classrooms.

The American Federation for Children cites data showing that low-income students are anticipated to be up to 12 months behind by the end of this current school year. SB1452 will give low-income parents resources and funds to find an in-person private school, join micro-schools, hire tutors and teachers, purchase homeschooling curriculum, and pay transportation costs.

“This extension to Arizona’s ESA program is so badly needed right now due to the COVID school closures. Thank you to Senator Paul Boyer for sponsoring this crucial legislation and thank you to the Republican caucus in the Senate for passing this bill in the best interest of low-income parents and children all over the state,” said Steve Smith, Arizona State Director for the American Federation for Children, in a press release. “But most of all, thank you to civil rights icon, Rev. H.K. Matthews for his powerful words quoted today during the senate debate, as well as minority leaders across the state. Your willingness to advocate for equality and justice on behalf of minority and low-income families is nothing short of inspiring. We look forward to working with our Arizona Representatives in the House to make every education option available to the children who need the most help right now.”