Yes For School Choice, Yes On Prop 305

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On November 6, 2018, Arizona voters will head to the polls and cast their ballots for such candidates for public office like Governor, Secretary of State, US Senator and many more important positions. Those offices get a lot of attention in the media but there are important decisions to be made on the down ballot, as well. For example, there are Propositions where the voter will choose ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to either changing our state’s Constitution, imposing increasing taxes on the citizens, or removing a parent’s right to choose which type of education their child needs. One of these Propositions on the ballot is Arizona Proposition 305, Expansion of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Referendum (2018).

From Ballotpedia:

Arizona Proposition 305, the Expansion of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Referendum, is on the ballot in Arizona as a veto referendum on November 6, 2018.

A “yes” vote is to uphold the contested legislation, Senate Bill 1431, which would phase in an expansion of the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) program to make all public school students eligible to apply for an ESA.

A “no” vote is to repeal the contested legislation, Senate Bill 1431, which would phase in an expansion of the state’s ESAs program to make all public school students eligible to apply for an ESA.

We at Teachers Parents Advocates United (TPAU) interviewed Jenny Clark; education advocate, ESA parent, and co-founder of the group #yesfored regarding the facts surrounding this Proposition.

TPAU: Please tell us who the current ESA system serves?

Clark: “Under current law, the ESA program serves students with disabilities, students in foster care, students living on an Indian reservation, students in failing or underperforming school districts, students with a parent who is on active military duty or was killed in the line of duty, students who a parent who is legally blind, deaf, or hard of hearing and students with a brother or a sister who is a current or former ESA recipient.”

TPAU: Common perception is that ESA’s are only for the needy. Is this true and what is the truth on financial status?

Clark: “There is no financial requirement or financial disclosure required for current ESA students. There is no income information collected by the state in order to apply.”

TPAU: Can family use ESA money toward tuition at a private school or to help offset home\school costs?

Clark: “Since its inception in 2011, the Empowerment Scholarship Account program has allowed tuition as an approved expense, along with private tutors and therapists for a home educating environment. Currently, the Autism Academy is the number one private school that parents have chosen for their children.

[Most are schools that benefit kids with special needs or specific learning disabilities]

For a list of the top 10 schools receiving ESA funds – click here.

TPAU: Many people focus on the 30,000 student cap being placed on the ESA program. How many families currently utilize the ESA program?

Clark: “The Department of Education ESA department is the only one with the exact number. It is our current understanding that around 5,000 students currently benefit from the empowerment scholarship.”

TPAU: What are the requirements of eligibility regarding public schools and ESA applicants?

Clark: “The Empowerment Scholarship requires applicants to have completed 100 days in a qualified public school (district or charter). For online schools, the state measures the requirements in hours which are equivalent to the 100 days, dependent on the grade level. This doesn’t apply for kids who are kinder age, or who are part of a military family, or who may already qualify under displacement or disability.”

TPAU: How important are ESA’s to the education of a child whose family does not want their children to attend public school?

Clark: “A child must attend a public school in order to qualify, but they can apply for ESA and “switch” out of their public school into an educational environment that meets their needs.”

TPAU: Explain the importance of ESA’s in regards to school choice?

Clark: “School Choice in Arizona involves open enrollment, charter schools, home school, online academies (public) and the two school choice scholarships, the ESA program and STO program. Empowerment Scholarships are one of only two ways students can get scholarships to help pay for their education. There are around 5,000 Arizona students who currently benefit from Empowerment Scholarships. Some of their stories can be read at www.yesforedaz.org/stories

TPAU: If Prop 305 is approved by the voters, what advice do you have for parents moving forward, to successfully get approved for the program?

Clark: “Prop 305 opens up the ESA program to students grades K – 12 during a four year phase-in period. Parents would simply meet the basic requirements, and apply online through the Department of Education.”

TPAU: If Prop 305 is voted down, what implications will this have on current ESA participants?

Clark: “If Prop 305 is voted down, the argument could be made by opposition groups that this shows Arizona voters are no longer in favor of school choice. This may embolden anti-school choice groups to push for legislation to roll back the gains made in school choice here in Arizona, especially with regards to ESAs and STOs.

A note that you may want to touch on or not, depending on whether you think it’s easy to positively address:

A common critique of Prop 305 is that it does not give “priority” to special needs applicants. However, this is a non-issue. The program has been in place since 2011, and students with disabilities plus non-disabled students in the other categories have not maxed-out the existing program. Many current ESA parents know what a benefit the program has been to their own children, and would like to see other students in Arizona have the same opportunities. Their stories are available on our website: www.yesforedaz.org

If #Redfored, Democrats, the AEA (Arizona Educators Association), district union/teacher associations, and SOSAZ has their way, Proposition 305 will fade into the distance with a resounding ‘No’. Upon speaking with certain elected Arizona officials, their concern with a failure mirrors Mrs. Clark’s concerns. Please watch as elected Gilbert Town Council member and Small Business Alliance contributor Aimee Rigler, explains very clearly the history of ESA’s and the importance of a ‘Yes’ vote:

In light of the April 2018 teacher strike/walk-out which was organized by out of state unions and Socialist agitators, and fomented by a group called #Redfored, parents all across our great state of Arizona have begun to explore many options other than public schools. Parents and children have since developed a distrust of public school teachers and administrators who tolerate the constant political propagandizing; slogans written on vehicles, wearing of red t-shirts often with slogans, distributing of fliers at school events, and constant complaining about their profession and pay.

Contrary to opponents’ claims, an ESA does not take money away from the public school system but allows the already contributed and apportioned tax dollars, to follow the child. It has been decided that a resounding ‘Yes’ vote on Proposition 305 will help to expand parent choice should a family choose to have their child educated in a different manner than a traditional neighborhood, public school.

About Jennifer Leon Hill 6 Articles
Jennifer Leon Hill is an education activist in Arizona. She frequently shares her experience in education on the pages of the Arizona Daily Independent. Ms. Leon Hill is the founder of Teachers Parents Advocates United (TPAU).