Friday, March 16, 2012

Vote for Expansion of ESA Program Likely Next Week

Last year we brought you news of a first-of-its-kind school choice program in Arizona: education savings accounts (ESAs).  Now, the Arizona legislature is poised to vote on a bill that would expand the ESA program, thereby making thousands more children eligible to participate.

Arizona enacted its fourth school choice program and the nation’s first education savings account in April 2011. Under the program, the Empowerment Savings Account Program, students who are identified as having a disability are eligible to receive 90 percent of the per-pupil expenditure to use on a variety of educational tools, including tuition and fees, textbooks, educational therapies, and tutoring.  According to the Alliance for School Choice’s 2011-12 Yearbook, 142 families currently participate in the program. You'll recall that, back in December, we told you the story of Aaron, who is thriving because of the ESA program.

While many are inspired by stories like Aaron’s, others are more interested in protecting the educational status quo.  Special interests evensued to have the program dismantled. Thankfully, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge rejected the lawsuit, saying that “the exercise of parental choice among education options makes the program constitutional.”

Fast forward almost two months, and we're on the cusp of seeing the program expanded.  

As early as next week, the Senate will vote on House Bill 2626, which would dramatically increase the number of students who would qualify for ESAs. The bill passed in the House by a 38-16 vote.

Under the new legislation, qualified students would now include those meet any of the following criteria:

  • Attend a school or school district rated a “D” or “F” by the state department of education
  • Received a scholarship though Lexie’s Law
  • Is a child of a member of the U.S. military member
  • Identified as gifted
  • Attended a public school and was eligible to receive a scholarship through a scholarship tax credit program
School Choice Now! will follow along as the Senate considers the bill, and we're hopeful that they side in favor of expanding this groundbreaking program. We'll be sure to keep you up to date on Arizona’s next steps and what this could mean for the school choice movement at large.

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MSG

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