Save Our Schools Arizona political action committee filed an initiative today with the Arizona Secretary of State that would limit Empowerment Scholarship Account expansion and require unused voucher money to be returned each year.
Right now, the ESA program provides $110 million per year in public K-12 education funding to pay for private school education and personal educational expenses for 7,000 Arizona students through debit card or wire transfer of funds to their parents. About 60 percent of students with ESAs, also called vouchers, have disabilities or special needs.
The initiative “will bring some much-needed reform to the ESA program,” said Raquel Mamani, chair of the Save Our Schools Arizona political action committee and a former special education teacher. “What we would like to do is cap it, make sure that it serves the students that it was meant to serve, which is special ed students – it gives them priority – and it gives the program a much-needed transparency of how the money is being spent.”
Volunteers must gather 237,645 signatures by July 2, 2020, to get the Save Our Schools Act initiative before voters on the general election ballot in November 2020.
Video by Morgan Willis/AZEdNews: Save Our Schools Arizona launches initiative to limit ESA expansion
The Save Our Schools Act initiative would also limit the size of the ESA program to 1 percent of the total Arizona student population, give priority access for ESAs to students with disabilities, and require that all private schools, tutors and aides paid with ESA voucher funds be located in Arizona.
“The act is the first in the nation of its kind. It will allow voters to once and for all to protect public education,” said Beth Lewis, director of Save Our Schools Arizona, a fifth-grade teacher and a mother.
The initiative is not going to knock anybody off the ESA program that is currently part of it, Mamani said.
“We want to make sure that people know that this will help kids on the Native American reservations. It will help people in under-served communities, which is what the program was initially meant to do,” Mamani said.