Legislators approve voucher expansion & hold school takeover bill - AZEdNews
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Legislators approve voucher expansion & hold school takeover bill

The House Education Committee Discusses Bills On Tuesday, March 22, 2022. Photo Courtesy Arizona Capitol Television

Arizona Legislators approved expansion of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, or school vouchers that pay for private education with public taxpayer money, today and a student exchange program bill yesterday, but held bills on school takeovers and one that would prohibit classroom discussion of race, ethnicity, equity and systemic racism as well as amend sections of the Arizona Constitution about preferential treatment, discrimination and education.

Senate Bill 1657, sponsored by Senate Education Chair Paul Boyer, would expand ESAs, also known as school vouchers, to children who meet the income eligibility requirements for the national free- and reduced-price school lunch program, whose families receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan, who resides within the boundaries of a Title I school, who participates or previously participated in an educational recovery benefit program, who resides within the boundary of a school district that submitted a plan for the construction of a new school in the past two years, whose parent is a first responder or a health professional.

“Those individuals who are opting to get the private school option through the district schools, I believe they are paying about $30,000 to $40,000 plus transportation, because as a taxpayer we are funding the transportation too, so I do like the idea that this ESA proposal does have a transportation component. That is one thing that holds people back from being mobile and getting to another school,” said House Ways & Means Chair Shawnna Bolick as she voted for the bill.

Senate Bill 1657 was approved by the House Ways & Means Committee Wednesday morning.

Arizona Capitol Television: House Ways & Means Committee – 3/23/2022

Student exchange program bill passes House Ed Committee

The House Education Committee approved a student exchange program bill yesterday.

Senate Bill 1361, sponsored by Senate Education Chair Paul Boyer, which is the subject of a strike everything amendment now would allow district or charter schools to include exchange students from other countries in their student count and obtain state funding for them.  

SB 1361 would also provide certificates of educational convenience for students who are precluded by distance, lack of adequate transportation facilities or parents’ or  guardians’ employment from attending a school in the school district of county of the students’ residence or who reside in an unorganized territory to attend school in an adjoining school district or county within or outside the state.

Arizona Capitol Television Video: House Education Committee meeting – 3/22/22

Melissa Bahati, an intern at the Ahrens Company, spoke in favor of the bill on behalf of Ahrens Company clients’ the Arizona Association of County School Superintendents and Apache County.

“We’ve been working on this bill for the past couple of years with the Chairman and we’re hoping to get it to the finish line this year,” Bahati said.

The bill is for “parents and students that live in a county that borders a state and it just so happens that the closest school is in the other state,” Bahati said.

“A lot of times parents will choose they want their child to attend the school that is in the other state and that may be because it’s the closest to the house or the closest to where the parent works, and that makes it easier for the parent to take their child to and from school every single day, and it also makes it easier for them to be involved in their school activities and so on,” Bahati said.

SB 1361 makes it so that the home school districts can count the student for its Average Daily Membership and it also makes sure that the student can get the certificate of educational convenience, additionally it also makes it possible for the school the student will attend to charge their home district so their home district has enough funds to pay for it, Bahati said.

The amendment to take out the J-1 visa program from SB 1361 was added in the Senate, “we don’t mind it being part of the bill and we don’t mind it being taken out,” Bahati said.

A J-1 visa allows a person to come to the United States to teach, study, conduct research, demonstrate special skills or receive on the job training for periods ranging from a few weeks to several years.

David Howell, who serves on the Rotary Youth Exchange Program, asked the committee to reject the Senate amendment that would remove the J-1 visa portion of the bill.

“We would ask the committee to reject that amendment,” Howell said. “We’re doing our best to get a situation corrected that we think is a barrier to both Arizona students going outbound as J-1 exchange students and inbound students coming and attending public high schools here.”

“One of the misconceptions is that the kids who come here are free that they’re getting a free year of education,” Howell said. “They’re only here for a year, it’s a State Department program, but the reality is these students live with host families.”

“I can’t tell you how many kids in other countries know me as their American Dad and my wife as their American Mom,” Howell said. “They live with us as our children for that school year and we’re taxpayers. We’re paying the taxes into the system and it is literally one of our children that we are hoping can take advantage of the schools in their neighborhood rather than fish around the city for a school that will take a student that they can’t count as part of their average daily attendance number or their head count, if you will.”

These students are essentially our adopted child for the year, Howell said.

“It is my preference to keep the J-1 visa portion in here,” Senate Chair Boyer said. “I know there was some confusion. This is a program that has been around since World War II. These kids are vetted by the State Department. It’s a wonderful exchange program that we send our kids overseas, they get to stay with a family and vice versa. This was brought to me by Sen. Shope.”

Senate Ed holds school takeover & classroom discussion on racism bills

The Senate Education Committee discussed several education bills, but Senate Education Chair Paul Boyer held House Bill 2284, which has been amended to include updated contents of an earlier school takeover bill, and House Concurrent Resolution 2001, which would prohibit classroom discussion of race, ethnicity, equity and systemic racism as well as amend sections of the Arizona Constitution about preferential treatment, discrimination and education.

House Bill 2284, which is the subject of a strike everything amendment and now includes the updated provisions of the school takeover bill HB 2808, sponsored by House Education Chair Michelle Udall and Rep. Timothy Dunn, which received a do pass recommendation by the House Education Committee on Feb. 15, and the House Committee of the Whole gave the bill a do pass as amended recommendation on Feb. 24.

The newly amended HB 2284 would  require any school operated by a school district with a letter grade of D or F for three consecutive years to initiate either a district partnership school or a fresh start school operated by another high-performing school district or close or consolidate the school.

Arizona Capitol Television Video: Senate Education Committee meeting – 3/22/22

HCR 2001, sponsored by Representatives Steve Kaiser, Shawnna Bolick, Timothy Dunn and five more co-sponsors, proposes to amend sections of the Arizona Constitution about preferential treatment, discrimination and education to prohibit classroom discussion of race, ethnicity, equity and systemic racism.  

HCR 2001 came after the Arizona Supreme Court overturned a law prohibiting teaching about race in public schools that was included in the budget bills approved by the Arizona Legislature last year and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey, noting that the laws violated the single-subject title rule for bills.

Educators have voiced concerns to Legislators that HCR 2001 would constrain and limit viewpoints  and materials teachers could include in classroom discussions about slavery, the removal of Native Americans from their homes, the Holocaust, Japanese-American internment, literature, current events and more.

HCR 2001 would prohibit public education institutions from compelling or requiring students or employees to affirm or profess an idea contrary to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and limits the discussion of Critical Race Theory and systemic racism to community college, college or other postsecondary courses.

HCR 2001 received a due pass recommendation by the House with a vote of 31 ayes, 28 nays and 1 not voting on Feb. 17 with Republicans for the bill and Democrats opposed. The bill was transmitted to the Senate on Feb. 18 and assigned to both the Senate Education and Senate Rules Committees on Feb. 21.

HCR 2001, named by its sponsors as the “Stop Critical Race Theory and Racial Discrimination in Schools and Other Public Institutions Act,” would limit implementing an affirmative action policy for eligibility for a federal program for outreach advertising or communication efforts, prevent the state from disadvantaging an applicant, student, employee or contract recipient on the basis of race or ethnicity for hiring, contracting, promotion or admission, and prohibit public education institutions from implementing disciplinary policies or actions that treats students differently based on race or ethnicity.

In addition, HCR 2001 would allow the Arizona Legislature to prescribe a penalty for violations, including compelling or soliciting an applicant, teacher, employee, student or pupil to identify a commitment to or make a statement of personal belief in support of any ideology or movement that promotes the differential treatment of any individual or group of individuals based on race or ethnicity, including any initiative or formulation of diversity, equity and inclusion beyond upholding the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the fourteenth amendment of the united states constitution or any theory or practice that holds that systems or institutions upholding the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the fourteenth amendment of the united states constitution are racist, oppressive or otherwise unjust.

HCR 2001 would also penalize schools or organizations for giving preferable consideration to an applicant, teacher, employee, student or pupil for opinions expressed or actions taken in support of another individual or group of individuals, in which the institution’s consideration is based on the race or ethnicity of those other individuals.