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Gov. Doug Ducey signs school voucher fix for group of Navajo students

(AP Photo)

PHOENIX – Gov. Doug Ducey on Thursday signed legislation allowing a group of Arizona Navajo Nation students to continue using school vouchers outside the state.

The bill was crafted quickly last month after an Arizona Department of Education audit revealed that seven Navajo children used Empowerment Scholarship Account funds on tuition in a New Mexico Christian school.

The existing ESA voucher law requires the vouchers to be used in Arizona.

House Bill 2758 allows students in the program who live on Native American reservations to use the funds outside Arizona within 2 miles of state line.

The allowance is restricted to the students already enrolled out of state, and it lasts until July 1, 2020.

The new law, which passed both houses without opposition, also says tuition money already spent out of state doesn’t have to be repaid.

“I look forward to working with the Legislature to pass a permanent fix that will provide certainty and stability to these children, and for all of the Arizona children living in the Navajo Nation,” Ducey wrote in a letter explaining his decision.

The plight of the seven children rocketed to lawmakers’ attention when the school-choice advocacy group American Federation for Children released a video about a week before the Legislature adjourned on Memorial Day.

It showed parents blasting the Education Department for letters demanding they repay the money illegally spent out of state.

The students involved have been attending Hilltop Christian School in Tse Bonito, which is less than a mile from the Arizona state line.

The ESA program provide funds to the parents of a limited number of qualified students – including those living on reservations and kids with disabilities – to pay for home-schooling or private schools.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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