AZ to consider four school-choice expansion bills
Posted By Mary C. Tillotson On January 13, 2014 @ 9:10 am
By Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org
With at least four school-choice bills likely on the table this session, Arizona families next year could see more options in education.
Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, or education savings accounts – often praised by reformers as being “school choice 2.0” – function much like health savings accounts. Eligible families receive a debit card and can spend their allotted money – 90 percent of the state’s per-pupil spending – on private school tuition and fees, private tutoring, curricula, textbooks, education therapy and other education-related expenses. Money rolls over year-to-year and can go toward college.
Critics say the program is virtually indistinguishable from vouchers, which the state’s highest court struck down in 2009.
A previous expansion allowed students of active-duty military families to participate but excluded children whose parents were killed in action and required students to attend public school for a year before becoming ESA eligible.
“Military families are the last-thought-of people when transferring around,” said Republican Rep. Sonny Borrelli, who is sponsoring a bill to address those issues. “Sometimes you’ve got orders to transfer and you’ve got only two, three months to do it, to relocate your family and put them on a waiting list. It’s really hard on those families to adjust to the mainstream.”
Borrelli is a retired Marine; at least three of his family members are current or former Marines.
“I was one of the fortunate ones. I didn’t have to do that with my family, but I saw it happen numerous times – families moving from East Coast to West Coast. I’d see those families struggle … then go ahead and compound it with a child of a parent killed in action. They move to another state; the grandparents have to watch the kid. So it gets rough.”
Borrelli’s bill would allow students of active-duty military families to be eligible for ESAs without spending a year in public school first, making the transition easier. The bill would also expand ESA eligibility to families of soldiers killed in action.
“Military life is tough on the service member, but sometimes it’s tougher on the family,” he said.
Special needs students
Students with special needs were the benefactors of the original ESA law, and Republican Rep. David Livingston is working on a bill to refine the program to better suit their needs.
Many children entering preschool or kindergarten have only recently been identified as having a disability. Students with disabilities are eligible for ESAs after spending a year in public schools, but sometimes that puts them one more year behind, said Sydney Hay, a government affairs representative for American Federation for Children who has lobbied and worked with Arizona lawmakers on school-choice bills since 1997.
The bill would make siblings of students with disabilities eligible for ESAs as well. Some families may drive 25 miles to drop a child off at a school specializing in autism, so it can be a challenge for parents to make sure their other children get to their neighborhood public school on time, Hay said. ESAs would allow the siblings to attend schools that make better geographic sense.
The Foundation for Blind Children approached him to suggest the legislation, he said. He declined further comment and directed Watchdog’s media request to Hay.
The details of Rep. Debbie Lesko’s bill haven’t been ironed out, but its focus is to expand ESA eligibility to students
qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches.
“My goal is to improve education, and I really don’t think it matters where that education takes place, because every child is different,” Lesko said. “I don’t really care if the education takes place in a traditional public school like I chose, an online school, a private school, or homeschooling, as long as the child gets the best education possible.”
Her own children are thriving in their local public schools, but not every child does, she said.
“Students learn in different environments and in different ways,” she said. “The more alternatives we give parents and their children, the better.”
Her bill may also include eligibility for families of first responders and others.
Lesko, a Republican, has been involved in ESAs since the beginning and didn’t sponsor the original 2011 legislation only because she lost a coin toss with another representative who wanted to sponsor the bill, she said.
Rep. Warren Petersen is working on a bill that would allow school districts to grant every student an ESA, if the school board votes for it.
“I am always interested in ways to expand school choice and empower students and parents with educational options,” the Republican said in an email. “This will allow districts to decide if they want to implement an ESA program in their district.”
He sponsored the bill after a local school district chairwoman approached him about it, he said.
“It’s a complicated bill to craft,” Hay said. “It won’t just involve a percentage of state funding but also of the district funding, so the financial funding mechanism is more complicated.”
Making it official
The deadline for “dropping” bills — making them official so they can be assigned a bill number and begin the lawmaking process — is Jan. 16.
The state’s ESA program is limited — only a half a percent of the total public school population can join the program each year, which is about 5,600 new ESA students, Hay said. None of the bills lift the cap, though future legislation could. The district expansion bill does not have a cap, Petersen said. Arizona is the first and still only state to offer ESAs.
Hay said she’s excited to see so much expansion proposed this year.
“There’s just tremendous enthusiasm for this program. Folks are realizing that in just its first few years, parents are terrifically satisfied that students are doing well,” Hay said. “Lawmakers are hearing from their families and it’s just becoming an extremely popular and successful program for being so new.”
Contact Mary C. Tillotson at [email protected]
Article printed from Watchdog.org: http://watchdog.org
URL to article: http://watchdog.org/123434/arizona-school-choice/
URLs in this post:
 Educating America: http://watchdog.org/series/educating-america/
 Image: http://watchdog.org/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/2014/01/az-leg-sonny-borrelli.gif
 Image: http://watchdog.org/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/2014/01/az-leg-david-livingston.gif
 Image: http://watchdog.org/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/2014/01/az-leg-debbie-lesko.gif
 Image: http://watchdog.org/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/2014/01/az-leg-warren-petersen.gif
 New Orleans tops school choice index: http://watchdog.org/123270/school-choice-index/
 Florida family ‘blessed’ to be apart of scholarship program: http://watchdog.org/122856/florida-scholarship-program/
 Arizona mom won’t give up on special needs kids, no matter what state says: http://watchdog.org/106956/arizona-empowerment-scholarships/
 Reviving a 1970s lawsuit, DOJ would keep black students in failing schools: http://watchdog.org/107099/reviving-a-1970s-lawsuit-doj-would-keep-black-students-in-failing-schools/
 Relocating sexually abusive teachers would be more difficult under Pennsylvania bill: http://watchdog.org/107730/relocating-sexually-abusive-teachers-would-be-more-difficult-under-pennsylvania-bill/
 DOJ backpedals on Louisiana voucher lawsuit: http://watchdog.org/107931/doj-backpedals-on-louisiana-voucher-lawsuit/
 Court says charter schools won’t pay for Atlanta’s pension debts: http://watchdog.org/108070/charter-schools-atlanta-pension-debt/
 Biggest education impact from shutdown? Furloughed bureaucrats: http://watchdog.org/108270/biggest-education-impact-from-shutdown-furloughed-bureaucrats/
 Appeals court upholds Arizona school choice program: http://watchdog.org/108633/appeals-court-upholds-arizona-school-choice-program/
 Indiana’s voucher program expands; diversity a factor in one family’s choice of school: http://watchdog.org/108901/indianas-voucher-program-expands-diversity-a-factor-in-one-familys-choice-of-school/
 ‘Vouchers don’t do much good for students’ claim is false: http://watchdog.org/109580/vouchers-dont-do-much-good-for-students-claim-is-false/
 NYC mayor’s race could affect school choice: http://watchdog.org/109726/nyc-mayors-race-could-affect-school-choice/
 Vermont public school goes independent, raises ire from state bureaucracy: http://watchdog.org/110206/vermont-public-school-goes-independent-raises-ire-from-state-bureaucracy/
 Arizona education savings accounts aren’t vouchers, study says: http://watchdog.org/110369/arizona-education-savings-accounts-arent-vouchers-study-says/
 Legal institute fights Alabama union’s attempt to repeal school tax credit: http://watchdog.org/111115/legal-institute-fights-alabama-unions-attempt-to-repeal-school-tax-credit/
 Experts: School choice improves education in public schools: http://watchdog.org/112121/experts-school-choice-improves-education-in-public-schools/
 SC school-choice program helps special needs kids, could expand: http://watchdog.org/112320/sc-school-choice-program-helps-special-needs-kids-could-expand/
 DOJ wants Louisiana parents out of voucher lawsuit: http://watchdog.org/112755/doj-wants-louisiana-parents-voucher-lawsuit/
 U.S. House passes bill to prevent ‘passing the trash’: http://watchdog.org/113092/u-s-house-passes-bill-prevent-passing-trash/
 ‘Non-traditional’ journalists barred from viewing tax-funded test results early: http://watchdog.org/113178/non-traditional-journalists-barred-viewing-tax-funded-test-results-early/
 New center hopes to help charter schools help kids with special needs: http://watchdog.org/113359/new-center-hopes-help-charter-schools-help-kids-special-needs/
 Charter school advocate to Philadelphia schools: Listen to parents: http://watchdog.org/113580/charter-schools-offer-alternative-philadelphia-families/
 $45 million not enough for Philadelphia teachers’ union: http://watchdog.org/113637/philadelphia-teachers-union/
 Study: Rhode Islanders support school choice: http://watchdog.org/114090/study-rhode-islanders-support-school-choice/
 Study: Choice would help failing Chicago schools: http://watchdog.org/114652/choice-chicago-schools/
 Scholarships could lift SC school dedicated to real-life, hands-on learning: http://watchdog.org/114895/columbia-students-scholarship/
 Parents make good school choices, study says: http://watchdog.org/115905/parents-make-good-school-choices-study-says/
 Divisive charter school reform bill headed toward vote in PA: http://watchdog.org/116714/charter-school-reform/
 In Louisiana school voucher lawsuit, DOJ changes gears: http://watchdog.org/116761/louisiana-voucher-doj-change/
 Opponents sue Washington to overturn charter school law: http://watchdog.org/117785/washington-charter-school-law-sued/
 School choice proponents’ challenge? Educating parents: http://watchdog.org/117544/word-out-school-choice/
 Judge: Federal oversight may not hamper school voucher program: http://watchdog.org/117987/doj-louisiana-school-voucher/
 PA lawmakers push to amend tight teacher furlough policies: http://watchdog.org/118517/pa-teacher-furlough/
 College ready: A Milwaukee inner-city school success story: http://watchdog.org/118513/hope-christian-school/
 Proposed economic furloughs could slay sacred cow of seniority in Pennsylvania schools: http://watchdog.org/118703/pa-teacher-seniority/
 What is Massachusetts doing right?: http://watchdog.org/118763/high-standards-transparent-accountability-and-school-choice-are-keys-to-massachusettss-pisa-success/
 Goldwater to appeal Louisiana school voucher decision: http://watchdog.org/119048/goldwater-to-appeal-louisiana-school-voucher/
 Want to end poverty? Educate the kids: http://watchdog.org/119077/education-poverty/
 Breakdown in Philly schools not only about the money: http://watchdog.org/119207/philly-schools-money/
 North Carolina scholarship program on firm legal footing, attorney argues: http://watchdog.org/120320/nc-scholarship/
 Philadelphia school district threatens charters: http://watchdog.org/120318/philly-charters/
 Belief in student ability key to success at Milwaukee charter school: http://watchdog.org/120876/student-ability-milwaukee/
 Three things to know about Philadelphia’s school budget: Debt, pensions and safety: http://watchdog.org/121163/philadelphia-school-budget/
 Choosing to sue: Here’s a look at some 2013 lawsuits involving school choice: http://watchdog.org/121391/school-choice-lawsuits-2013/
 Philly charter schools outperform district counterparts: http://watchdog.org/121760/philly-charter-schools/
 California students sue state over ineffective teachers: http://watchdog.org/122324/california-students-sue/
 Study: Public supports parent choice in education: http://watchdog.org/122675/public-support-choice/
 Under new management, Philly Renaissance Schools show growth: http://watchdog.org/122962/renaissance-schools-philly/
 PA lawmakers put education at top of agenda in election year: http://watchdog.org/123873/education-election-pa/
 Louisiana: Feds ‘more interested in skin color than … education’: http://watchdog.org/124176/louisiana-skin-color/
 Charter school for Philadelphia foster children will not be renewed: http://watchdog.org/124418/charter-foster-children/
 Governor ties proposed PA education funding to targeted grants: http://watchdog.org/127933/pa-grants/
 WA’s first charter school serves children, families of ‘extreme poverty’: http://watchdog.org/128226/first-charter-school-serves-children-families-extreme-poverty/
 Vermont attempts to take independence from independent schools: http://watchdog.org/128628/vermont-independent-schools/
 Philly stumbles on way to simplifying enrollment system: http://watchdog.org/128811/universal-enrollment/
 Plan for Philly schools keeps charters in check: http://watchdog.org/129395/philly-plan-schools/
 Missouri ballot initiative would increase funding for public, private schools: http://watchdog.org/129460/missouri-school-choice/
 New York charter school focuses on family, community: http://watchdog.org/129522/new-york-charter-school-focuses-family-community/
 NC school vouchers on hold: http://watchdog.org/129815/nc-school-choice/
 WI voucher bill would help special needs students denied open enrollment: http://watchdog.org/130039/wi-students-denied/
 Philadelphia schools will end another year in red: http://watchdog.org/130001/philadelphia-schools-feb/
 PA universities expect state, students to pick up tab on rising tuition: http://watchdog.org/130450/pa-universities/
 Two ESA bills get House support in AZ: http://watchdog.org/130629/arizona-house-esa/
 Thousands rally to support New York charter schools: http://watchdog.org/130985/new-york-charter-schools/
 California’s defense begins in Vergara trial: http://watchdog.org/131228/california-vergara-trial/
 Accountability or overregulation? Charter supporters split over Minnesota bill: http://watchdog.org/131521/minnesota-charter-school-bill/
 PA considers empowering universities to authorize charter schools: http://watchdog.org/131757/charter-school-authorizer/
 Bill would make Florida students eligible for scholarships: http://watchdog.org/131744/florida-scholarships/
 To test or not to test? Florida school choice proponents split: http://watchdog.org/132582/school-choice-test/
 Philly school district broke, but the pay is good: http://watchdog.org/132881/philly-district-pay/
 Philadelphia charter school sues public school district: http://watchdog.org/133090/charter-sues-district/
 Colorado Supreme Court to hear school voucher case: http://watchdog.org/133414/colorado-school-voucher/
 Vermont to reconsider education funding formula: http://watchdog.org/133633/vermont-education-funding/
 Arizona Supreme Court allows school choice program to stand: http://watchdog.org/133941/school-choice-arizona/
 Massachusetts charter school bill revived: http://watchdog.org/134629/massachusetts-charter-schools/
 Quality schools matter more than racial integration, black leaders say: http://watchdog.org/134954/black-leaders-school/
 FL again takes up school-choice bill: http://watchdog.org/135191/fl-takes-school-choice-bill/
 Choice Media’s videocast tackles host of education issues: http://watchdog.org/135395/lawsuit-overspending-charter/
 Ending teacher seniority rules beyond Philly requires legislative action: http://watchdog.org/135500/teacher-seniority-pa/
 New website helps Detroit parents choose schools: http://watchdog.org/135808/school-choice-media/
 Philly schools caught on funding merry-go-round: http://watchdog.org/136086/philly-funding-april/
 Louisiana bill would coordinate school choice programs: http://watchdog.org/136233/louisiana-school-choice/
 New D.C. charter school lottery eases but doesn’t eliminate waiting lists: http://watchdog.org/136254/dc-charter-lottery/
 Federal bill attempts to help replicate high-quality state charter schools: http://watchdog.org/136514/federal-bill-attempts-help-replicate-high-quality-state-charter-schools/
 Philadelphia schools awaiting taxes from city, state: http://watchdog.org/136705/school-tax-philly/
 ACLU alleges discrimination in 138 NJ districts: http://watchdog.org/136787/aclu-alleges-discrimination/
 MN anti-bullying bill could have unintended consequences: http://watchdog.org/137238/mn-anti-bullying-bill-unintended-consequences/
 Mississippi’s special needs bill to return next year: http://watchdog.org/137514/ms-special-needs/
 Illinois considers three-year ban on virtual charter schools: http://watchdog.org/137849/illinois-virtual-charter-ban/
 Violent Philly high school source of worry: http://watchdog.org/137995/violent-philly-school/
 Auditors examining troubled Philadelphia school district: http://watchdog.org/138355/state-audit-philly/
 Civil liberties organization sues to overturn anti-bullying law: http://watchdog.org/138625/sues-anti-bullying/
 Legal conflict over teacher seniority in Philly heats up: http://watchdog.org/138956/philadelphia-seniority/
 Academics, culture help mom choose private school: http://watchdog.org/138771/tennessee-mother-school/
 PA cyber charter schools could be funded by state, not districts: http://watchdog.org/139607/pa-cyber-charter/
 Arizona expands school choice program: http://watchdog.org/139927/arizona-school-choice-2/
 The sticky statistic of statewide charter school performance in PA: http://watchdog.org/140032/statewide-charter-school/
 Louisiana offers new vocational technical program: http://watchdog.org/140459/louisiana-vocational-technical/
 Benefits are driving high personnel costs in Philadelphia schools: http://watchdog.org/140494/benefits-philly/
 Educators look to grow with expanding Hispanic demographic: http://watchdog.org/140856/educators-look-grow-expanding-hispanic-demographic/
 Philadelphia flexes muscle over charter schools: http://watchdog.org/140963/charter-schools-april/
 Philly school district facing another bleak budget: http://watchdog.org/141256/philly-budget-april/
 Andre Agassi dedicates Indianapolis charter school: http://watchdog.org/141339/andre-agassi-charter-school/
 For PA and neighboring states, school spending and graduation rates don’t add up: http://watchdog.org/141566/pa-graduation-rates/
 At long last, PA school buses could be getting a boost: http://watchdog.org/141770/pa-buses/
 Arizona charter schools need funding fix, proponents say: http://watchdog.org/141982/arizona-charter-schools/
 Progress reports for Philadelphia schools show uneven achievement: http://watchdog.org/142343/progress-reports/
 Teachers union opposes ‘Bad Teachers’: http://watchdog.org/142729/teachers-union-opposes/
 Governor’s plans to boost education funding falls short: http://watchdog.org/142858/shortfall-education-pa/
 Georgia’s school-choice program draws legal challenge: http://watchdog.org/142980/georgia-school-choice/
 Missouri parents want more choice in education: http://watchdog.org/143264/missouri-parents-choice/
 U.S. lawmakers to consider charter school bill: http://watchdog.org/143535/federal-charter-school/
 Florida’s school choice expansion awaits governor’s signature: http://watchdog.org/143754/florida-school-scholarship/
 PA charter schools may see drop in funding with new special education formula: http://watchdog.org/144041/pa-special-education/
 In Nevada, your child’s school records could cost $10K: http://watchdog.org/144081/nevada-school-records-10k/
 AG, lawmakers propose similar updates to PA charter school rules: http://watchdog.org/144202/auditor-charter-pa/
 NC school voucher program gets temporary green light: http://watchdog.org/144721/school-choice-voucher/
 Philly school district’s lack of transparency frustrates families: http://watchdog.org/145066/transparency-philly/
 Bullying motivates many parents to home-school, attorney says: http://watchdog.org/145101/public-school-bullying/
 Philadelphia City Council gambles to fund schools: http://watchdog.org/145550/gamble-philadelphia/
 PA Supreme Court pushes forward charter school’s lawsuit against Philly: http://watchdog.org/145856/lawsuit-school/
 Feds consider joining school choice game: http://watchdog.org/147626/federal-school-choice/
 Florida’s new school choice law likely to spark others: http://watchdog.org/155758/florida-school-choice/
 California teacher reform lawsuit sparks copycat, more likely to come: http://watchdog.org/156980/teacher-reform-lawsuit/
 School choice is popular — when parents know about it: http://watchdog.org/157993/school-choice-popular/
 What can private schools learn from charters?: http://watchdog.org/158738/private-school-charter/
© 2016 Watchdog.org. All rights reserved.