Tea Party of Scottsdale, AZ
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Ducey signs Voucher Bill – A Win for Arizona Parents

Presented by Chêrie L.  Harbaugh,

Good Evening. This evening I will be giving you an update on SB 1431/HB 2394- Empowerment Scholarships; Expansion; Phase-In ; Revisions.  The ESA Voucher Bill.  

However, before I address the bill I wanted to first talk a little about Arizona’s overall Education ranking and the issues we face today.  Arizona was ranked the fourth worst in the US in education for this year again.  We received a D+ in a state report card in education week. Arizona again scored near the bottom in the average ACT scores by its students.  Arizona is currently and has been over the past several years below average in school graduation for high school rates in addition the dropout rate for low income students is far below average.  In 2014 we were ranked No. 51 for academic and work environment and no. 45 in the 10 yr. range of teacher salaries. In 2008 on a NEA study Ranked Arizona as the 36 in the nation for salary for public school teachers.  We were paying our teachers approximately $43,000 a year in 2008.  The average Salary in 2007-8 for public school teachers across the country was $72,000.  

Even though we have an open enrollment system in place throughout our state, which means that any parent can enroll their child any school regardless of school district during that time.  The fact remains that Arizona has 

a 22.8 student average for every teacher in the public school setting. This is the statewide average including good and bad schools. In addition Arizona is growing more rapidly than any other state. This deduces that back east they are losing population and we are increasing. We can conclude that our classrooms are going to become more crowded and more teachers are going to be needed.  In addition larger classroom sizes are on the horizon.  We face the problem of needing increased funding to attract more teachers and better teachers. School choice is a fundamental need here in Arizona and our school choice will be another attraction to those coming from the east.

Even with the approval of proposition 123 which was on the ballot May 17, 2016.  Many school districts will utilize those funds to help with the teacher shortage among other issues that remain in the educational system including changes on how students are counted and the loss of dollars that some schools have to spend to meet discretionary orders.   There are still many school-funding issues that this Proposition did not fund.  

Ducey incorporated a 2 percent raise for all teachers in ESA Program.  However, we are currently well below the national average.  Arizona starting pay is approximately $46,026 .   The BLS reports for high school teachers nationwide the median annual salary was $57,200 in 2015.  The top paid 10%  of  educators made approximately $91,190 while the bottom 10% made dismal $37,800.  Like most jobs, the market bases compensation on years of experience and education level.  We currently have a teacher shortage of 2,166  statewide.  A new study found that 1,088 teachers in Arizona either abandoned or resigned from their position within the first four weeks of the school year.  This is according to the Arizona School personnel Administrator Association.  They also stated Arizona’s teacher pay is “much lower” compared to other professions that require a college degree. 

Educating our children must be a priority.  They are our future which is why what Gov. Ducey did in the expansion of the ESA program was in the right direction to broaden the ESA Voucher program.  One of the top three schools in Arizona is Basis, which is a charter school and is recognized as one of the nation’s best high schools right here in Phoenix. This school among other charter schools, private schools along with other religious schools have long waiting lists.  This is because they offer a much-needed higher education than that of our current public school offers.  They have never offered the basic common core curriculum. They went well above and beyond those standards. They expect more from their student and the students performed.  Many parents want this for their children which should say something to our Education Board.

There was a ruling in 2009, the Arizona Supreme Court struck down the Arizona Scholarship Program for Pupils with Disabilities and the Displaced Pupils Choice Grant Program, which provided grants for students with special needs and those in foster care to attend private schools. However, the Court noted that, “[t]here may well be ways of providing aid to these student populations without violating the constitution.”

This laid the ground work for the new bill.  The new architects followed the Supreme Court’s direction, then in 2011 Arizona legislature passed SB 1553, establishing the empowerment accounts for students with disabilities.  The empowerment accounts disburse 90% of the funds the state would have paid for that student at a charter school or public school into an account that parents can use on specific needs for the child for the new school such as: tuition at a qualified school, textbooks, curriculum, and even fees for standardized tests.  Arizona leads the nation in education with this program it was the first of its kind.  Arizona’s innovation in education was placing students’ needs first. That is what this bill is about.

Several groups, challenged the ESA program by filing lawsuits and sought an injunction to freeze funds awarded students for their education. Despite the challenge the program was upheld in superior court and was unanimously upheld by the Arizona Court of Appeals.ii   This decision in the Arizona Supreme Court was then appealed on March 21, 2014.  The Court denied consideration of the case effectively upholding the constitutionality of the ESA program. 

The program Empowerment Scholarship Account program began in 2011 to help parents of students with learning disabilities and expanded to include students from poor performing schools.  The move to open it to public school students came at an opportune moment for its key supporters and architects. This program allows certain students in underserved  and  low income populations the funding necessary the opportunity to pursue an education that will help them achieve their fullest potential.  The new expanding changes to the program provide equal access for all Arizona students by phasing in eligibility by grade level for current public and charter school students over the next four years.  The bill also addresses a few areas that were in need of more definition in order to achieve the primary purpose of the program in meeting the primary needs and objectives of the students.

Implementation of the ground-breaking   ESA program for parents and students is one of Arizona great achievements as we were the first state in the nation to implement the program.  Its original creation was to help children with disabilities.  Parents sign a contract to enroll a student in the ESA program, in turn this releases the public system from educating the student or providing additional services. The ESA program currently only covers certain classes of students: children with special needs, children in foster care or adopted out of foster care, children assigned to failing schools, children of active duty military members or military members killed in action, children living on tribal lands, and children whose parents are legally blind or deaf. 

An estimated 5500 additional students will be enrolling each year but no more than 30,000 could sign up by 2022. The program is currently capped at a lower number than originally proposed.   The Goldwater Institute who was one of the driving forces behind the bill was disappointed with the cap placed on the bill, as many states have no cap. They hope someday that all Arizona parents that wish to benefit from this new voucher system can. Arizona along with 11 other states has a voucher program serving low income families offering them the opportunity of school choice. This law comes at a time with considerable national momentum behind school choice. 

The ESA program seeks to expand eligibility to all public and charter school students over a four-year period, and it addresses a few areas of the program’s rules and operations that need refinement in order to better fulfill the purpose of the ESA program. The bills as amended include these provisions:

1. Key points of the Expansion of Program:

  1. In 2017-2018, students in kindergarten and grades 1, 6, and 9 may apply.
  2. In 2018-2019, students in grades 2, 7, and 10 may apply.
  3. In 2019-2020, students in grades 3, 8, and 11 may apply.
  4. In 2020-2021, all public and charter school students (K-12) may apply.
  5. ESA funds: 90% of what the state would have spent on that student in a school district or a charter school setting, depending on whether the student was previously enrolled in a school district or charter school. For low-income students, 90% is increased to 100%. A low-income student is a dependent of a family whose adjusted gross income does not exceed 250% of the federal poverty level guidelines or is a student who is or was a ward of the juvenile court for that same year.
  6. Allows students to continue in the ESA program until they graduate, obtain a GED, or reach age 22 if they continue to attend a qualified school, just like public school students with disabilities are permitted to do.
  7. Number of new ESA students each year capped at .5% of total number of students enrolled in school districts and charter schools. The cap does not have an expiration date. Beginning in 2022-2023, the number of ESA accounts approved by the ADE may not exceed the total number of ESA accounts approved by the ADE during the 2021-2022 school year.

2. Key points of Refinement of Program:

a. Each student in the program who pays tuition as a full-time student at a qualified school, grades 3-12, must take a national norm-reference standardized test, an advanced placement exam, or a college entrance exam each year, and the results must be reported to the student’s parent. This requirement is met by taking an examination chosen and administered by a qualified school or a parent may choose any separate examination pursuant. Students may use ESA funds to pay for the exam.

  1. Children at least 4 years of age and under 7 are eligible to enroll in kindergarten.
  2. Eliminates ability to use ESA funds for college savings plans.
  3. Use of funds included school tuition, textbooks required for qualified schools, educational therapies from licensed or accredited practitioners, educational aid, tutoring or teaching services provided by an individual or facility accredited by the state, tuition or fees for nonpublic online learning programs, uniforms, technology devices, school supplies.
  4. A parent must renew the qualified student’s empowerment scholarship account on an annual basis. Once a student who was previously qualified for the empowerment scholarship account they shall remain eligible to apply for renewal until the student finishes high school notwithstanding any changes to the student’s multidisciplinary evaluation team plan.
  5. ADE has 45 days to review applications for eligibility and requires ADE to notify parents of the specific deficiencies in the application if an application is denied.
  6. Parents may appeal a decision from ADE regarding enrollment eligibility, removal from the program, determinations of allowable expenses, and requires ADE to notify parents of the right to appeal any administrative decision at the time of the decision
  • Every child should have the opportunity to meet their full potential. In the every growing environment of our current public school system not all children thrive in the same educational environment.  Parents are in need to have several options available to them. Seven-year-old Savana is a great example.  This little girl struggled with ADHD in an Arizona public classroom of 30 children.  Now with the help of the ESA program she thrives.  She even reads in front of her class at a private school.  With the right environment every child can thrive, and every Arizona family deserves that chance.
  • We have seen the success of the ESA program. Tim is a father of five adopted foster children, all of whom attend a local private school where they get the extra attention they need. Children in foster care sometimes need this extra attention and they are thriving in the private school they attend.  Tim would never have had the financial ability to send his children the private institution without the ESA program. This is just one example of how the ESA program will help those in the future and today.  Every family deserves the same opportunity to give their children a great education.  Don’t they?
  • Every parent has the right to choose how best to educate his or her children – whether that is public school, private, charter or homeschooling. Parents should be making that decision.  The ESA program provides an opportunity to give that choice back to more parents.
  • This program has made a significant difference in the lives of children, especially those with special needs. All students deserve this opportunity. The changes in the ESA program only improve the overall operation of the program so that meeting the needs of students stays a top priority.

 Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program allows all parents the flexibility needed regarding their children’s education to best meet the needs of each child. Critical aid is givent to children whose needs are best met which this program provides in a nontraditional private school environment. With the praise of the U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, Ducey know that it is now the time to give each parent the opportunity to have choice for this pioneering program that has benefited so many children.

 i Cain v. Horne, 220 Ariz. 77, 84, ¶ 29, 202 P.3d 1178, 1185 (2009).

ii Niehaus v. Huppenthal, 233 Ariz. 195, 310 P.3d 983 (Ct. App. 2013), review denied (Mar. 21, 2014).

Fischer, H. (2017, April, 13)  Governor signs massive school voucher expansion into law.  Arizona Capital times. From: http://azcapitoltimes;com/news/2017/04/07/ governor -signs –massive- school –voucher- expansion –into- law/

Russell, J. (2017, April, 17) Arizona didn’t pass school vouchers, but it did go bold on school choice. Washington Examiner.com Retrieved from: https://washingtonexaminercom/author/jason-russell

Sanchez, Y.W, O’Dell R., Ran, A. B. (2017,  April, 7)  Gov. Doug Ducey signs expansion of Arizona’s school-voucher program. The Republic.  Retrieved by: http://azccc/2p8cGA

Family Issue Fact Sheet No. 2017-01 SB 1431/HB2394- Empowerment Scholarships; Expansion; Phase-in; Revisions. (2017, Feb, updated April 2017) The Center for Arizona Policy. Retrieved from www.AZpolicy.org

State of Arizona (2012)  House Bill 2622.  Retrieved from: www.azleg.gov

Silva, C. & Mackenzie, S. (2017) Rural schools: Ducey’s proposed education budget just a fraction of what they need. Arizona Capitol Times; Arizona Sonora News Service Retrieved From: http://azcapitoltimes;com/news/2017/04/11/rural-schools-duceys-proposed-education-budet-just-a-fraction-of-waht-they-need/

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published this page in Scottsdale School District 2017-05-03 16:41:59 -0600