Time for Change! Arizona Lawmaker Seeks Changes to School Voucher Program, but Key Architect Remains Silent

Time for Change! Arizona Lawmaker Seeks Changes to School Voucher Program, but Key Architect Remains Silent

Phoenix — Despite some colleagues’ silence, a Republican legislator has stated that the state’s universal school voucher program should be changed. Since the program’s expansion nearly two years ago, there has been an increase in the number of families traveling to school districts to request special needs evaluations for their children in private schools. Republican State Senator Ken Bennett, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said it is a “legitimate concern.”

“School districts shouldn’t be having to pay one or two thousand dollar evaluations for students not attending their school district,” Bennett told reporters on Wednesday.

Bennett said some lawmakers are aware of the specific financial load placed on school districts, but he is unsure whether legislative leaders intend to address it.

“I haven’t spoken to the (Senate) president or the speaker specifically about this issue, but it has been bubbling around now for a year or two since the ESA was expanded,” Bennett was quoted as saying.

Dr. Curtis Finch, superintendent of one of the Valley’s major districts, says the evaluation can cost up to $6,000, depending on the complexity of the case. Finch suggested that legislators find a mechanism to reimburse districts from the general fund or through ESA funding.

“The legislature needs to find the money to pay these bills since they aren’t my kids,” Finch went on to say. “Clearly, ranking 49th in the nation for per-pupil funding does not help. This intensifies the competition for every buck.”

The ESA program provides families with public cash for their children’s private education. Families who have a child with one or more diagnosed disabilities are eligible for greater annual support.

Federal law requires school districts to give disability evaluations to families who live within their limits, regardless of whether they attend public school.

However, detractors said that the law is out of date.

“The statutes are built on a 40-year-old model,” Bennett stated. “Obviously in the current landscape of more choice, charter schools, and ESAs, this needs to be looked at and taken care of.”

Republican House Speaker Ben Toma of Glendale is the architect of the ESA universal extension, and his legislative district covers the DVUSD boundaries. Toma has not responded to multiple requests for comment. He has rejected proposed ESA amendments in the last two legislative sessions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *