When Parents Have Options, Kids Win
Last night, Governor Ducey signed legislation to expand educational freedom in Arizona, guaranteeing that families and children have access to the best educational opportunities available regardless of where they come from or what zip code they live in.
All Arizona families can now utilize Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, allowing them to choose the best form of educational delivery for their children. Previously, the program was only available to targeted student populations.
Senate Bill 1431 passed both chambers of the Legislature after adoption of an amendment that adds transparency, accountability, and fiscal responsibility while targeting additional resources to students most in need.
“The quality of a child’s education should not be determined by what neighborhood their parents can afford to live in,” said Governor Ducey. “Through Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, thousands of Arizona students have benefited from an education that’s customized to their unique needs and circumstances. Today, we lead the nation again with a bill that’s fiscally responsible, improves accountability and transparency, and prioritizes low-income students and families. When parents have options, kids win.”
What the bill does:
- Mandates the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) publish all expenditures made as a result of the ESA program, providing transparency on how dollars are being spent.
- The changes also require ADE to update financial figures monthly and provide enrollment data.
- The bill is estimated to provide a net savings to the General Fund by extending the temporary cap through 2022, fixing ESA enrollment at 2021-2022 levels in FY 2023, and basing ESA funding on whether a student previously attended a charter or public school.
- The nonpartisan Joint Legislative Budget Committee estimates these changes will save the state $3.4 million by FY 2021.
- Requires schools that enroll at least 50 ESA students and administer examinations to make public the aggregated test scores of all students.
Enhanced Access For Low-Income Students
- Provides 100 percent of a student’s funding, rather than 90 percent, for students whose families have incomes at 250 percent of the federal poverty level or less, which is roughly $60,000 for a family of four.
- Based on input from an Auditor General report, creates new administrative efficiencies and guidelines to prevent fraud and abuse. Allows ADE to confirm with students’ schools that no child is concurrently accepting a School Tuition Organization scholarship and ESA, something prohibited by law.
- The reforms allow ADE to request documentation to confirm a student’s previous public school attendance, and directs public schools to reply within 10 days. In addition, the amendment requires ADE issue award letters within 30 days, rather than 45.
- Requires ESA funds be deposited monthly, rather than quarterly, enabling ADE to better oversee distributions.
- Removes as a qualifying expense contributions to Coverdell Education Savings Accounts, ensuring parents are spending dollars on current student needs.
- Mandates the Treasurer contract with a private financial management firm to manage ESA accounts.
- Allows ADE to request additional documentation regarding eligible expenses.
- The reform proposal responds to Auditor General feedback by establishing an ESA oversight council to provide input to the legislature and ADE and review ADE actions.
- The amendment also establishes a process for parents to appeal administrative decisions made by ADE and requires public input and a public process for ADE policy formation.