State lawmakers vote in favor of expanding Empowerment Scholarship Accounts
Today, the Arizona Senate and House passed SB1431, expanding educational opportunity to every child through the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program.
The American Federation for Children, the nation’s voice for educational choice, praises the state legislators who have once again brought Arizona into the education forefront today by passing a bill which would allow all parents to customize the education for their children. Previously, only specific groups of kids were eligible for ESAs. SB1431 makes every child eligible to enter the ESA program and would be phased in over the next four years, subject to enrollment caps.
Statement from Kim Martinez, Arizona Communications Director for the American Federation for Children:
“This is a monumental day for parents who were just handed the power to access any school or learning environment for their child. We are so thankful to Sen. Debbie Lesko, Governor Ducey, and the House and Senate Leadership who led the charge to expand ESAs and support the learning needs of each individual Arizona child.”
Statement from Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, who sponsored the universal ESA expansion bill and has fought tirelessly for SB1431 at the state legislature all session, with the purpose of bringing school choice to all Arizona families.
“This next generation of school choice will empower parents and children, not only in Arizona, but throughout the country, for today Arizona once again exerts its leadership as the education innovation catalyst for America. States across the country have followed our lead on school choice and they will now also follow our lead on providing families with true educational freedom.”
ESAs allow parents to use 90 percent of the education tax dollars assigned to their child for the customized education they deem the best fit. The program includes covering private school tuition and a variety of other educational expenses or curriculum. SB1431 opens up eligibility of ESAs to all children attending a public school, subject to an enrollment cap of about 5,000 children a year. The bill also adds greater academic and financial accountability into the program. There will be standardized testing for ESA children with public reporting of the aggregate results. Also, financial transparency that rivals or exceeds that of any other state program will be added, allowing the public to examine how ESA funds are being spent. ESAs can be used to pay private school tuition, online curriculum, home school expenses, educational therapies, tutors and more.
Currently, ESAs can only be used by specific pockets of children – those with special needs, in D or F-rated schools, children living on tribal lands, those in foster care or children with active-duty military parents. There are approximately 3,500 children in the program, mostly with special needs.
SB1431 next goes to Gov. Ducey’s desk for his signature.