State Capitol News
8:59 am
Tue January 7, 2014

Move Underway to Expand State Education Voucher Program

Supporters of an existing limited voucher-like program for students are now moving to expand the plan to perhaps more than 400,000 youngsters statewide. Arizona Public Radio's Howard Fischer reports.

Credit New York Times

A 2011 law provided parents of special-needs children with what lawmakers called “empowerment scholarship accounts” — essentially checking accounts on the state treasury to buy education services wherever they want. Last year that expanded to students in schools rated D and F. Courts have so far rejected claims the plan violates a constitutional ban on aid to private and parochial schools. Now Rep. Debbie Lesko is pushing to allow any student eligible for the free or reduced lunch program to get such an account.

“I believe that students should have the best possible options on their educational choice. My goal is to improve education,” Lesko said.

Lesko said for some parents that might include home schooling or even private schools. But, Andrew Morrill of the Arizona Education Association said parents already have other options like charter schools and open enrollment.

“What this is a matter of is directing badly needed public funds into private education and just finding rhetorically convenient ways to do so,” Morrill said. “It’s a bad policy. This is expansion of a bad policy that has shown no track record for improving the system overall, which is how it was touted.”

One potential legal hurdle remains: The state Supreme Court has yet to decide if the program is constitutional.