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 corinne@azfreenews.com.