Arizona Lawmakers Look to Expand Eligibility on Controversial "Empowerment Scholarships"

Categories: I'm Only a Bill
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A bill introduced this week could let a majority of Arizona students become eligible to receive state money to attend private school.

Senate Bill 1236 would considerably expand the qualifications for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs), especially lower-income families. ESAs provide debit cards pre-loaded with state money to parents, who then can spend the money on private school tuition, books and other school-related fees.

ESA was created by state law in 2011, originally so children with physical and mental disabilities could attend schools with resources better suited to their needs. In 2012, a law enabled foster children, children with one or more parents on active-duty in the military, and children enrolled in public schools that received grades of "D" or "F" from the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) to also apply for ESAs.

SB 1236 would increase eligibility in the 2016-17 school year to allow children in the free or reduced price lunch program to apply, adding families who are 15 percent above the economic eligibility standards in the following year, and an additional 15 percent each year following. In the 2017-18 school year, children of emergency-response teams like police officers and firefighters would qualify, as would siblings of children already in the program.

"It could be upwards of 700,000 or 800,000 students, which is the majority of students in Arizona," ADE legislative liaison Aiden Fleming said. "It'd be harder to say who's excluded than who's included."

The bill doesn't expand the number of people in the program, just the number eligible to apply. The program caps new ESAs at 0.5 percent of the total number of students enrolled in school districts and charter schools throughout the state during the previous school year. The growth cap will continue through 2019. Even this school year, a relatively small number of students are enrolled; about 700 of the 200,000 children who are currently eligible have active ESAs.

Parents also may chose not to participate because ESAs don't cover every expense. According to ADE, children with disabilities receive around $13,000 on average, while children who otherwise qualify receive an average of $5,000. Depending on the school and the amount they receive, families might need to pay out of their own pocket as well.

But the scholarship program is not without controversy. Public education groups like the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) are taking the case to the Arizona Supreme Court, on the grounds that ESAs violate the state constitution because public money goes to private schools.

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled in 2012 that ESAs do not violate the law because the money first goes to the parents, who can then decide how to spend it. The Arizona Court of Appeals upheld the ruling in October 2013. But ASBA has additional concerns.

"It's like putting your money in a black hole," said Tracey Benson, ASBA's spokeswoman."When you provide taxpayer dollars to send kids to private schools, we have no idea of the outcome."

According to ASBA, it's too soon to tell whether ESAs will hurt public schools down the line. But Republican Senator Rick Murphy believes even public schools will improve as a result of the scholarships.

"In areas where school choice is more concentrated, the public schools in that area get better as well; they have to in order to convince the kids to stay there," Murphy said. "I think [the bill] will benefit all children."

Fourteen Republican legislators have signed on in support of the bill, which has received committee assignments.

An additional bill, SB 1237, was also introduced this week to more clearly define ESA school instruction and money regulation.

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25 comments
biteme508
biteme508

Private religious schools should support themselves, NO taxpayer money.

jonnyquest
jonnyquest topcommenter

Private schools in AZ are free to set their own standards for staff and curriculum. Teachers aren't required to have a degree, be certified, or even speak English. If you want to send your child to such a place, do so...with your own money. ANY school that receives public money should meet the same standards. If a school can achieve good results without standards, remove standards from ALL schools. http://www.azed.gov/private-schools/

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

Anything to get kids out of the dead-end, union controlled, failing government schools.

danzigsdaddy
danzigsdaddy topcommenter

@fishingblues  union or public, i would just like to see more kids actually in school and finishing their education.

when i went to school, dropouts were the minority, now it seems more people are dropping out, some go for the GED and some dont even make that effort. 

jonnyquest
jonnyquest topcommenter

Bet your doctor went to a dead end, government school. Remember that the next time he sticks a finger up your ass.

valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

@fishingblues  

Unions don't control the schools in Arizona.  They have no power at all.  Teachers don't even have tenure.

My tax money may NOT be used to support religious schools.

 

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@danzigsdaddy   dad, completely agree.  If you asked a conservative like me, I would blame it on the "entitlement" mentality.  To many people becoming dependent on the government instead of themselves.  This destructive mentality is now being passed down generationally.  


If you  asked a liberal, I'm sure they would find a way to blame it on George Bush.  (That's a bit of levity.)    

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@jonnyquest  When you said "dead end school" in reference to "finger up your ass", was that a purposeful pun?  If so, much credit to the author.  If not, keep trying.  You have a bit of a "cheek" to your style, which I believe to be a good thing.


Keep in mind however, sarcasm does not translate well on the written page.  

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@valleynative @fishingblues  So, valley, are you saying that the NEA and NFT have no presence in Arizona whatsoever?

Are good teachers paid what they are worth and bad, indifferent, lazy and incompetent teachers shown the door?

Does the considerable money spent on education go directly to the students education or is it skimmed off by the administrators and unions?


I went to a parochial school.  I received a better education than any I could have received in government school.  I simply disregarded the religious aspect at a fairly early age.  I would rather have taken Spanish than Latin, but it probably didn't hurt me.  


What is wrong with "choice" in education.  Right now your tax dollars are primarily going to a failed system.  

jonnyquest
jonnyquest topcommenter

Thank you. But most walking behind me say I have more than a "bit of cheek".

jonnyquest
jonnyquest topcommenter

Isn't Cronkite News produced by ASU School of Journalism? Is that irony or sarcasm?

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@valleynative @fishingblues  C'mon dude.  you are rationalizing and generalizing.  

Many parents get "help" putting their kids in private school.  Many parents think that private school is the ultimate answer and therefore they don't have to help educate their child.  

There is no such thing as "all" (parents) and you should never say "never".  

Don't compare private schools to public schools, if it is too painful.  Compare relative educations and stop the nonsense.  One receives a better education in a private school.  There is really no comparison. 

Religion has absolutely nothing to do with it, so stop using it as an excuse.  


Now, do you really need me to answer the question, "why do you think they "work"?" or was it rhetorical.  You know as well as I why public schools are failing.  The fact that you refuse to admit it adds no gravity to the facts. 


valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

@fishingblues @valleynative 

Why do you think they "work"?  Remember that the students all have parents who care about their education, at least enough to put some thought into what school they should go to, and generally enough to actually pay for it.  That makes direct comparisons to public school students meaningless.

You can't give my tax money to churches for any reason.

 

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@valleynative @fishingblues  Valley, you are smart enough to know that only the apologists and excuse makers blame spending.  The US spends far and away more than any other country.  It is not the amount of money spent.  It is how the money is spent.


I don't consider it "redirecting".  I would consider it investing in educational systems that work.  More money will not cure the failures of the  public education system.   

valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

@fishingblues @valleynative 

If you actually read the report at that link, you see that it's mainly based on per-student spending, not on the performance of kids who care about their education.    Redirecting funds to private schools is not a solution.


valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

@fishingblues @valleynative 

Parents aren't the whole problem, but are a much larger problem than the schools.

Despite what you may think of Arizona schools, of those students who care enough about their education to take the SAT and ACT tests, we score above average.  That tells me that the schools are doing the job for those students who care to take advantage of them, and the primary factor in determining whether or not a student cares is whether or not his parents care.

 

It's pretty well established that one of the best things you can do to improve your child's success in school is to read to them as preschoolers.

 

The last time I looked at the Education Department's statistics, 50% of incoming kindergarten and first grade students in Arizona did not speak English in the home.


So nobody reads to them in English.  Nobody helps with their schoolwork.  Often the parents are afraid to have any contact with the schools.

A surprising number of these parents aren't even literate in their own language.


Do you suppose those kids put an extra burden on the schools in Arizona?

 

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@valleynative @fishingblues  

Teachers Unions: The 5 Strongest and 5 Weakest in AmericaJust how much power do teachers unions have? Here’s a state-by-state comparison.


#51. Arizona (One of the 5 Weakest)

Due to a lack of political involvement, unfavorable state policies for teachers, and little to no influence on education policy, the teacher unions in Arizona are the weakest in the country. Also taken into consideration is teacher evaluations and layoffs. According to the study, "Arizona law requires that student achievement data significantly inform teacher evaluations, and it does not allow districts to consider seniority in determining layoffs—positions typically opposed by unions."


Count yourselves lucky.  However, I don't think Arizona is proud of their education system.  What's wrong with a little competition?  

Obviously, indifferent parents are a problem.  They are only one part of the problem.  Blaming everything on the parents is a mistake.   

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@Reggievv  Jazus!  How could anyone respond to something like that.  

I sure hope you aren't a teacher.

Reggievv
Reggievv

Why do you insist that ALEC and their pawn, the Goldwater Institute, control all education in Arizona? Why do you insist that unelected and unaccountable for-profit corporations, who want their hand in the taxpayers pocket for money, run education in Arizona. Tax money should not go to for profits, or religious schools. All because you hate teachers unions, who have almost no power in Arizona. There are thousands of successes everyday in Arizona public schools. But if you haven't been in any public school in 40 years, what would you know.

valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

@fishingblues

I know several teachers.  None belong to any union.

When was the last time you heard any talk of a teacher's strike in Arizona, even when they were cutting funds?


The school system is not the problem.  The problem is the parents.  Children of parents who care enough to actually choose a school, whether parochial or government, are likely to do much better than average, which makes private schools appear to be better statistically.



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