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Proposition 305 poses question about use of state funds for private schools

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This week, KTAR News 92.3 FM will highlight the five ballot initiatives that will be on the Arizona ballot for the midterm elections next month. On Thursday, KTAR News’ Ali Vetnar will break down Proposition 305.

PHOENIX — With plenty of recent attention focused on education in Arizona, Proposition 305 is under the spotlight for November’s election.

In April 2017, a law was passed by the Arizona Legislature and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey that would expand the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program, which provides state funds for parents who choose to send their children to private schools.

Public school students who have special needs, are in foster care, are in military families, are a sibling of a student in the program, live on an Indian reservation, or have a parent who is legally blind or deaf are currently eligible to apply for the program.

The 2017 law would eventually make all of Arizona’s public school students eligible to apply.

If Proposition 305 passes, the expansion would continue. If it fails, it would be repealed.

“We know that kids are not one size fits all,” said Jenny Clark, a supporter of 305. “Not every child fits in a district or charter school, and we believe all children should have the opportunity to make that choice.”

Clark said her son needs the ESA vouchers because their school district does not offer resources for her son’s dyslexia and dysgraphia.

The Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix-based think tank, is among 305’s supporters.

On the opposing side, people argue that Proposition 305 would poke holes in the funding bucket of public education.

Grassroots organization Save Our Schools Arizona gathered around 111,540 signatures to put the issue in front of voters.

“Proposition 305 is only on the ballot because regular Arizonans like me, like thousands of others, said we don’t want politicians to do things we don’t believe in,” said Dawn Penich-Thacker, co-founder of the group.

“We collected signatures and helped people understand that these Empower Scholarship Accounts are really just handouts, most of the time for families who are just using it to reduce their private school tuition,” she added.

Save Our Schools Arizona believes the funding for ESA expansion is money that is taken away from the public and charter school systems, loaded onto a Visa debit card and handed to parents to do with what they please.

“Most people don’t think that we should just hand our tax paying dollars over to other people and say, go for it,” Penich-Thacker said.

“We need to keep our tax dollars accountable, transparent and responsible. And Prop. 305 is none of those things.”

Both candidates running for Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, Democrat Kathy Hoffman and Republican Frank Riggs, oppose Proposition 305.

Hoffman was against the ESA expansion all together, while Riggs said low-income families should be favored in the scholarship process.

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