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House set to introduce bill to allow vouchers for out-of-state schools

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The House Rules Committee on Monday granted permission for the late introduction of legislation to allow parents to use Empowerment Scholarship Accounts out of state.

Over the weekend, House Majority Leader Warren Petersen and Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray promised to introduce legislation in response to the Arizona Department of Education rescinding participation in the ESA program from families on the Navajo Nation because funds from the accounts were used at a private school in New Mexico.

“We will be introducing legislation as soon as possible to allow these kids to continue to utilize their ESAs,” the pair said in a press release. “While details are still being finalized, we have bipartisan support in both the House and Senate to correct this outrage.”

ESAs, or vouchers, allow parents or guardians to use taxpayer money that would have gone to a student’s public school on private school tuition, tutoring and home-school curriculum. The ESA program began in 2011 specifically for special needs students, and has since grown to allow an array of students – from failing schools and children whose parents are in the military.

Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill in 2015 giving all Native children who live on the reservation ESA access.

Richie Taylor, the communications director for ADE, said the department only found out the funds from the accounts were being used out of state within the last few months while conducting a routine audit.

He said the funds were wrongly approved during the previous administration, but not directly by former Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas. Taylor chalked it up as an oversight “likely due to being short staffed.”

Taylor said things were approved “in bulk” and the approval happened in error.

Under state law, ESA funds cannot be spent on out-of-state tuition. ADE sent letters to the families most-affected telling them the situation in hopes they would get in touch with the department or that they could work out a solution, Taylor said.

Ducey tweeted Sunday to say he was working closely with Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman and the Legislature to resolve this issue.

Correction: A previous headline erroneously stated the House introduced a bill to allow vouchers for out-of-state schools. The House Rules Committee actually allowed for the late introduction of the bill, which at the time of publication had not been introduced. 

 

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