By Brian Washington
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has recently signed into law a bill to expand the state’s voucher scheme to include kindergarteners—a move that could rob the state’s public schools of $65 million within the next several years.
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Senate Bill 1363 uses public dollars for private education by setting up so-called “Empowerment Scholarship Accounts” (ESA) for students to attend private and religious schools throughout their K-12 education.
According to the Arizona Education Association, which represents educators from across the state, the financial impact of the program is expected to be higher than $7.2 million in the first year and could reach $65 million by its fifth year.
Educators say the legislation doesn’t include any accountability measures to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not going to waste.
“The AEA strongly believes these dollars are better invested in public education where there are multiple accountability measures in place which help to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being properly spent,” says AEA President Andrew F. Morrill.
“Opening this program to allow kindergarten students who may have never enrolled in public schools to immediately start receiving these funds, will be a net loss to the state over the student’s entire K-12 education.”
The legislation also ensures that parents, who always intended to send their children to private schools, will forever have a voucher to help pay the cost. The new law also increases state funding for the current voucher program—increasing the amount per student by $1,600 for those students who previously attended a charter school.
A coalition of education groups—including the AEA—is currently involved in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law.
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