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.”
PHOENIX – Prominent leaders from the valley’s Black Community gathered at the state capitol today in a call-for-action to support minority children when it comes to education in the wake of the pandemic.
They’re supporting Senate Bill 1452, introduced by Senator Paul Boyer, which would expand the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program to include low-income students.
“The time for equal opportunity in education is now,” Boyer said before today’s committee hearing on the issue.
A recent study shows that low-income and minority students nationwide are up to 5 months behind their peers and could be as far as 16 months behind academically by the end of the school year.
Pastor Drew Anderson, from the Legacy Christian Center in South Phoenix, led today’s group of SB 1452 supporters. Anderson, a former NFL player, says his success in life would never have come about had it not been for the educational opportunities he was given growing up in Chicago.
Anderson is attempting to unite party lines, saying, “We are in a battle not of Republicans, not of Democrats, but we are in a battle for young souls. As a registered democrat I support this bill, as a registered democrat I support anybody who supports making sure all minority children are given an opportunity to be properly educated.”
Since the pandemic began and schools across America were closed, one report puts the number of missing children, students who have not been getting any type of schooling, mostly from low-income families, at three million children. The challenges to low income families are many including poor to no internet access for virtual learning. Anderson tells of seeing families in McDonalds restaurants so their children could have access to their school work.
In addition, a survey from the Urban Institute found that 75 percent of low-income parents were unable to work from home. Which in many families means no one is available to help these students with distance-learning. Aggravating that statistic is Arizona’s ranking of 14th in the nation for single parent households.
In an effort off-set these disadvantages, Black Leaders believe lawmakers need to take action through the expansion of the existing ESA program. The proposal introduced today would help low income parents overcome disadvantages from the digital divide to unsupervised distance learning.
The measure under consideration would make funding available for a parent to pay for tutoring, educational materials, homeschool and micro-schools or money for private schools.
Janelle Wood, with the Black Mothers Forums in Arizona says she’s fought the battle for supportive and safe learning environments for “our sons and daughters”. Speaking out today, she said, “Our children deserve and opportunity, their parents, their mothers, deserve an opportunity to find a place where those children are safe and supported.”
The group contends letting minority students fall behind will create issues for the state for years to come. Right now, by expanding the established ESA program, the state’s Black Leaders say Arizona’s legislature has the option to change the course of what could be an educational disaster. Hoping to offset what is known as the prison pipeline because of a lack of education, Reginald Steele, a Pastor from Kingdom in the Valley said a better use of our monies would be investing in education, especially the school choice option.
“I would rather see us building more Penn States then Penitentiaries,” Steele said.
Senate Bill 1452 would give parents up to $7000 in ESA funds to spend on their children’s education, and cut the approval and waiting time for parents to 30 days instead of 100.
“School Choice is no longer something that can be on the back-burner,” Drew says, “but it’s actually the Civil Rights Movement of this era.”