State Legislature Could Expand School Voucher System

Apr 17, 2014

Up to 120,000 more youngsters living in low-income neighborhoods could soon qualify for taxpayer-funded tuition to private and parochial schools. Arizona Public Radio’s Howard Fischer explains.

Senate Minority Leader Anna Tovar
Credit Emily Johnson,

The program is now available only to students with special needs or attending failing schools. The pool of eligible youngsters is about 60,000, though current enrollment is less than 800. The measure pushed through the Senate Wednesday by Sen. Kimberly Yee would make vouchers available to all children living in zip codes where average household income is below about $44,000 a year.

“Parents deserve the ability to place their child in a school that best fits their child’s education needs, and that is why I support Senate Bill 1236,” Yee said.

The expansion drew questions from Senate Minority Leader Anna Tovar. She said there’s no evidence the money already being spent actually is resulting in better education, what with no requirement for those getting vouchers to take standardized tests.

“How can we measure the program’s effectiveness if we have no yardstick? Let’s assess these students and begin the conversation anew after we have this data,” Tovar said.

The House will consider the same proposal later today, with even some Republicans like Rep. Heather Carter opposed because the measure was pitched as saving money for taxpayers.

“The way I am watching all the amendments come forward, there actually are going to be additional costs to the general fund to do this program. And that’s not the way this program was originally designed,” Carter said.