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Arizona Senate Finance Committee approves two school charter bills

Posted at 8:10 PM, Feb 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-14 20:40:12-05

PHOENIX — After nearly four hours of debate, the Senate Finance Committee voted 6-4 in favor of a bill supporters claim will fix problems in Arizona's Empowerment Scholarship Account. Opponents say the bill is an expansion of charter school funding and flies in the face of what voters want.

This past November, voters overwhelmingly rejected Prop 305. The measure would have expanded the scholarships, which help students pay for tuition at private schools. Sixty-five percent of Arizona voters said no.

A second bill sponsored by state Senator David Livingston takes the authority to administer the ESAs away from Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman and give it to the State Treasurer. That bill also passed out of committee by a 6-4 vote even though Mark Swenson, a deputy State Treasurer, told the committee his office did not seek the new responsibility.

Should the measure be approved and signed by Gov. Ducey, the treasurer's office would need more money for space and the hiring additional staff to do the job, Swenson said in his testimony.

Hoffman, who attended the hearing, said she is against both bills and announced the formation of an Empowerment Scholarship Account Taskforce. It will include representatives from the governor's office, the treasurer's office and the Save Our Schools advocacy group, among others.

Hoffman said lack of funding has limited the Department of Education's ability to manage the program. While Republicans applauded the task force, it was not enough to change anybody's vote.

The committee opted instead to side with parents of special needs students, who said the bill would address problems with the program that prevent the addressing of their children's educational needs.

The bill's sponsor, state Senator Sylvia Allen, says she will change the wording of the proposed legislation to ensure it will not expand the number of people who are currently eligible for the scholarships.