Arizona Senate To Vote On Private School Voucher Legislation This Week

Published: Monday, February 20, 2017 - 7:57am
Updated: Monday, February 20, 2017 - 3:18pm

Legislation aimed at opening the state’s private school voucher program, also known as Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, to any Arizona student is expected to go before the full senate this week.

The vote will likely be close.  

Senate Bill 1431 has proved to be controversial since it was introduced last month. When it went before the state Senate Education Committee a few weeks ago, people waited for hours just for the opportunity to testify before state lawmakers.

"I believe in giving parents choice," said Debbie Lesko, a Republican from Peoria and the bill’s sponsor.

Right now, ESA’s are only available to a limited group of students like kids with disabilities and kids going to an under-performing public school.

If passed, Lesko’s bill would open the program to all students by 2021.

"This basically works just like what would happen now," Lesko said. "If a student in a district school left the district school and moved to a charter school. The money moves with a child to the charter school"

The same thing happens with an ESA.

Lesko said it will save taxpayers money considering local, state and federal taxes together.

But a report from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee shows when looking at just the cost to the state general fund, sending a child to a private school with an ESA is more expensive than a public school.

"The ASBA is opposed to ESAs in all forms," said Chris Kotterman with the Arizona School Boards Association. The ASBA is one of several education groups opposed to the bill.

"It’s inappropriate for the state to fund private means of education when the public schools are still below their normal funding levels and suffering funding cuts and problems. such as teacher retention and capitol needs," Kotterman said.

Republicans hold a 17-13 lead in the senate, but the vote will likely be close. One senator has already come out against it and, at least, one other has told reporters they’re on the fence.

The governor’s office has also not commented on whether Doug Ducey would sign the bill if it passed.

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