ARIZONA NEWS

Arizona Senate bill aims to expand education opportunities for students

Feb 2, 2017, 6:04 AM
(Flickr/PAL LTER)...
(Flickr/PAL LTER)
(Flickr/PAL LTER)

PHOENIX — A new bill seeks to expand a program that allows parents to take tax dollars that would otherwise go toward public schools and use them to send their children to private schools.

The Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program was launched in 2011 and was limited for children with special needs. Since then, it has expanded to benefit others, including children in failing schools and children living on tribal lands.

Now, Senate Bill 1431 proposes to make all public-school students eligible for the ESA program.

Starting in the 2017-2018 school year, students in kindergarten, first, sixth and ninth grades would qualify for the program. By the 2020-2021 school year, all students would qualify.

“To me it’s really about improving education,” State Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, the lead sponsor of the bill, told KTAR. “The ESA program is just another option for parents to choose the best education they can for their child.”

The program is currently capped at about 5,500 students. Under the bill, that cap would remain. About 3,400 students are benefiting from the program this school year.

On average, non-special needs students get $5,200 in tax funds to use toward private school tuition or other approved education-related expenses, including tutoring and homeschooling.

Public education advocates worry the bill would take tax dollars away from public schools. Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas said tax dollars should not be used to fund private schools.

“We believe we should put our limited tax dollars into our public schools, where the majority of our kids go,” he said, adding that public schools “desperately” need money to reduce class sizes and to give teachers raises.

He also said the estimated $5,200 that students get through the ESA program would not be enough to cover tuition at most private schools in Arizona. The average cost to attend a private elementary school in Arizona is close to $6,000. But for private high schools, the price tag rises to about $18,000.

The bill comes after a state audit report that found more than $102,000 in ESA funds were misspent between August 2015 and January 2016.

Some parents, for example, bought non-educational items with the ESA funds. Those items included a snow globe, a World of Warcraft calendar, a sock monkey, and The Walking Dead board game.

Lesko said she was disturbed by the audit’s findings and pointed out that Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, introduced a bill that would demand more accountability from the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts.

“I’m working with Senator Smith to make sure that the ESAs are accountable and that money will not be misspent,” Lesko said. “And if there is some fraudulent person out there misspending the funds, they will be caught and penalized.”

Lifetime Windows & Doors

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

(Casa Grande Police Department via AP)...
KTAR.com

Weekend wrap-up: Here are the biggest Arizona stories from Sept. 30-Oct. 2

Here are some of the biggest stories that headlined the Arizona news cycle over the weekend.
19 hours ago
Bryan Patrick Miller (Photo provided by Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)...
Associated Press

Bench trial for man accused of killing 2 women in Phoenix to begin Monday

A bench trial is scheduled to begin Monday for a man accused of sexually attacking and fatally stabbing two young women in separate killings.
19 hours ago
(Pixabay Photo)...
KTAR.com

2 men dead after shooting breaks out at party in Gila Bend

Two men ages 25 and 26 are dead after a shooting broke out at a party in Gila Bend Saturday afternoon, authorities said.
19 hours ago
(Arizona Department of Public Safety Photo)...
KTAR.com

Silver Alert issued for 77-year-old man last seen in Queen Creek

A Silver Alert was issued Sunday for a 77-year-old man last seen near Queen Creek Road and South Meridian Road.
19 hours ago
(Petrified Forest National Park Photo)...
Alex Weiner

Triassic reptile discovered at Arizona’s Petrified Forest named after former park superintendent

A Triassic reptile species discovered at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona was named after former park Superintendent and wife.
19 hours ago
(City of Phoenix Photo)...
Kevin Stone

New trash pickup days start this week for most of Phoenix

New pickup days go into effect Monday for 80% of the Phoenix's trash, garbage and green organic pickup customers.
19 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.
...
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
...
Sanderson Ford

Don’t let rising fuel prices stop you from traveling Arizona this summer

There's no better time to get out on the open road and see what the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer. But if the cost of gas is putting a cloud over your summer vacation plans, let Sanderson Ford help with their wide-range selection of electric vehicles.
Arizona Senate bill aims to expand education opportunities for students