On February 8, the Arizona Senate Education Committee listened to compelling testimony in favor of a bill, SB 1657, that expands school choice for Arizona families. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Paul Boyer, passed on 5-3 party line vote.
Lawmakers and lobbyists alike were enthralled with the testimony of Pastor Drew Anderson. Anderson, lead pastor of Legacy Christian Center, chaplain of the NFL Alumni Association, and former NFL player, spoke passionately about the “many black and brown kids, who are chained to public schools.”
Pastor Anderson, who is a registered Democrat, described school choice as the “civil rights movement of my era.”
Sen. Boyer discussed the growing popularity of school choice.
“I just have to mention this – and I don’t normally talk about voters in the chamber – but it’s been brought up twice now,” explained Boyer. “I have a poll from last year, Signal, considered the most accurate pollster by the New York Times. Once voters heard the description of this particular bill last year, they supported this. Seventy percent support. That was last year. This year, again when the particulars of this program were described, 74 percent. It’s an increases of 4 percent just this year, with strong majorities among Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.. This is simply what the public wants and what the parents want.”
SB1657 will expand Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) eligibility and permissible expenditures including:
1) qualifying tuition or fees;
2) textbooks, curricula and supplementary materials; and
3) outlined goods and services.
A qualified student for an ESA account includes a:
1) child with a disability;
2) student attending a D or F school or school district;
3) previous ESA and Arizona Scholarships for Pupils with Disabilities Program recipient;
4) child of a parent in the U.S. Armed Forces who is on active duty or was killed in the line of duty;
5) child who is or was a ward of the court with a permanent guardian or prospective permanent guardian;
6) sibling of a current or previous ESA recipient;
7) resident of an Indian reservation in Arizona; and
8) child of a parent who is legally blind, deaf or hard of hearing.
ESAs are sometimes referred to as vouchers.