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AZ lawmakers to consider education savings account expansions this week

By   /   February 28, 2014  /   No Comments

By Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org

Arizona lawmakers are expected to vote soon on bills that would expand eligibility criteria for the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts.

That’s according to 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.

Arizona State Rep. Sonny Borrelli

Arizona State Rep. Sonny Borrelli

Education savings accounts, or “education debit cards,” allow parents to tailor their child’s education to his or her actual needs. The state deposits a certain amount in the account and parents can spend the money on private school tuition, private tutoring, therapy, textbooks, or other educational expenses. Money rolls over year to year and can even be saved for college.

A bill to allow more military families to use the program was slated for a voice vote Thursday, and a final vote is expected early next week. If it passes the house, it will move to the Senate committee, then to the entire Senate for a vote.

Children whose parents are in active-duty military service are eligible for ESAs, but they are required to spend a year in a public school first and are not eligible if their parents are killed in action. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Sonny Borrelli, would grant ESA eligibility to all children of active-duty military servicemen and children of servicemen killed in action.

Another House bill, expanding eligibility to children in poverty, will likely be voted on next week, Hay said. The state’s Senate Education Committee is considering a companion bill, and if the bills pass both legislative bodies without changes, they could meet together and land on the governor’s desk.

This bill, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Lesko, would allow all students attending Title I schools to be eligible for ESAs. At least 40

Arizona State Rep. Debbie Lesko

Arizona State Rep. Debbie Lesko

percent of students at Title I schools live in poverty.

“They were uncomfortable in this era where people are concerned about databases and private information. They didn’t want us to have the sense that they were going to have to be inquiring of families about their tax returns or some other way of verifying their income,” Hay said. “If we could just do all kids in Title 1 schools, we’d be (targeting) the same basic population — (kids who are) at risk and could not afford a private education or another option.”

Contact Mary C. Tillotson at mtillotson@watchdog.org.

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Mary C. Tillotson is a national education reporter for Watchdog.org. She has reported for School Reform News, published by the Heartland Institute, and The St. Ignace News in northern Michigan. Contact Mary at mtillotson@watchdog.org.