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Arizona lawmakers advance expansion of school vouchers

Arizona Legislature to debate big school voucher expansion
Posted at 5:17 PM, Feb 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-03 20:24:56-05

PHOENIX — In Arizona, fewer than 10,000 students participate in empowerment scholarship accounts, school vouchers. Foster children, children who live on reservations and those attending public schools with a D or an F rating are among the 250,000 students the Department of Education says are eligible.

Pastor Drew Anderson was one of several black clergy and parents who came to the State Capital in support of Senate Bill 1452.

The bill is Republican Senator Paul Boyer’s attempt to expand the state’s school voucher program to 670,000 thousand students; roughly half the number of children currently enrolled in Arizona public schools.

The bill passed thru the Senate Education Committee Tuesday night. “There are generations of kids who have been failed by their local schools,” Senator Boyer (R) Phoenix District 20 says, “We’ve waited long enough, it’s time. Experts are telling me because of the pandemic these kids are 12-16 months behind their white counterparts.”

Senate Bill 1452 allows any student who meets certain standards to receive more than $4,300 a year of tax money to attend private or parochial school. “I believe as a mom of eight that I should have the opportunity and the action to send my children to the best place possible to get the best education,” Sheila Ellis said.

Critics argue expanding vouchers takes money out of an already underfunded and overburdened public school system. “No one wants to talk about how there’s not enough private school capacity to serve all the students who want it,” Chris Kotterman of the Arizona School Board Association said. “The only system that’s designed to serve all students free of charge is the public district system.”

It appears there may be little opponents to SB 1452 can do to stop it. The bill has the support of the Republican majority in the Senate, where there will be a vote next week. Boyer is confident but uncertain how the bill will fare once it gets to the House of Representatives. But the Republican majority certainly won’t hurt its chances of passage.

“We want to impress upon the members of the legislature that this is something voters have had before them and they have rejected it,” Kotterman said.

But opponents may have to go back to voters and ask them to support an initiative preventing the legislature from going behind their backs and ignoring their will. Kotterman expects the lawmakers already considered that when they signed on to the bill. “The legislature is clearly banking on the fact that schools in distance learning in a pandemic will change their perspective. And they won’t be so mad about them this time.”