The Arizona Legislature’s Senate Education Committee gave due pass recommendations today to bills that would provide up to $80 a month for charter and open enrollment students’ transportation costs and would ban school boundaries for attending district schools.
Senate Bill 1683, sponsored by Senate Education Chair Sen. Paul Boyer, would appropriate $10M per year from the general fund to the State Board of Education to create a Transportation Support for Enrollment Options Grant program that parents who send their children to charter or open enrollment district schools can apply to for a monthly transportation grant not to exceed $80 per month.
Parents would be eligible to apply for the grant if they need financial support to transport their child from home to school and back or if they live within 20 miles of the school district boundary of the selected schoo, but a bus program is not available to pick up the students in the parent’s neighborhood. School districts and charter schools may apply to participate in the program as well.
Senate Bill 1685, also sponsored by Sen. Paul Boyer, would ban attendance boundaries for district schools, require schools to give enrollment preference to students residing in their enrollment area, pupils returning to the school from the prior year, and siblings of pupils already enrolled.
Senate Bill 1685 would also require schools with enrollment that exceeds capacity to use an equitable selection process such as a transparent lottery , with the exception that preference shall be given to sibilings of a pupil selected through the equitable selection process.
Arizona Capitol Television: 2/9/21 Senate Education Committee Bills 1683 & 1685
Also, SB 1452, also sponsored by Sen. Paul Boyer, which received a due pass recommendation along party lines from the Senate Education Committee last week, will be sent for a full vote on the Senate floor on Wednesday, Feb. 10.
Click here for contact information for your senator, then call or email and let them know what you think about SB 1452
SB 1452 revises Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program to expand eligibility to students who attend Title I schools and take part in the federal free- or reduced-price lunch program, which is about 70% of Arizona students.
This move to expand vouchers that use public tax dollars to fund students’ private school costs, comes just two years after Arizona voters rejected expansion of Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts by voting against Prop. 305.
It would also divert Classroom Site Fund money from teachers’ pay and local funding for schools to students’ Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, or vouchers.
SB 1452 would also require taxpayers in 60 Arizona school districts that do not receive state aid to continue to pay for students who have left the district and require the payment of sales tax dollars for teacher pay to voucher accounts.
In addition, it would expand ESA eligibility to Pre-K students, who have never enrolled in school before, include transportation costs in eligible expenses, and allow ESA recipients in grades 9-12 to also double-dip with an STO scholarship for a private school.
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SB 1118 expands School Tuition Organization voucher eligibility to students who are homeschooled, who have just moved to Arizona, or have had an ESA but did not renew it or accept it in order to accept a scholarship or tuition grant.
While there are 15 people who have requested to speak in favor of the bill, there are at least five times that many who have signed up to speak against it.
If Senate Bill 1118 is approved, the amount of the taxpayer subsidy would increase by more than 35 percent, ballooning to $5,600 for PreK-8 students and $7,500 for students in grades 9-12, with an automatic escalator so that the program would grow exponentially each year, according to Arizona State Senate Research staff memos to the Senate Appropriations Committee on 2/5/21 and on 2/8/21.
Update 5:45 p.m.- The Senate Education Committee will begin discussing Senate Bill 1683 after a dinner break.
Update 6:27 p.m.-The Senate Education Committee has resumed to discuss Senate Bill 1683.
Sheila Ellis, a paren who spoke in favor of the bill, said “Too often black people are disparitively impacted by what society determines is best for us. We should be able to determine what is best for us.”
Ellis noted that this bill will help her children go to the school opportunity best for them.
Ivette Rodriguez, the founder and executive director of the Phoenix International Academy, a charter school, spoke is support of the bill saying that 95 percent of their students need transportation to get to their school in South Phoenix.
“When we realized the vast number of our students were going to need transportation we decided to provide it,” Rodriguez. “But that decision, although it it the right one, comes at a substantial cost. We pay thousands more for transportation than we do to lease our facilities.”
“I’m pleased to see this bill to allow schools and districts to pilot ideas and see what might work to fix the broader system,” Rodriguez said
Emily Anne Gullickson, founder and CEO of Great Leaders Strong Schools said an optimal student transportation system in Arizona should meet students needs.
“A choice is not a choice if you can’t get there,” Gullickson said and urged committee members to vote yes on the bill.
Meghaen Dell’Artino, representing the Education Finance Reform Group, said the problems that we see in this bill that charters do receive transportation dollars and districts also receive money to transport students and we don’t want to pay twice for the same student to be transported.
“Under your bill we don’t define financial means,. I know that’s defined by the state board. We want to discuss who has access to these dollars,” Dell’Artino said.
Beth Lewis with Save Our Schools Arizona spoke in opposition to Senate Bill 1683.
“Allowing thousands of parents to hire to private transportation is an issue,” Lewis said.
“Why are we not providing $10 million to improve transportation for all our students around the state, not to create grants parents have to apply for,” Lewis said.
“I’m trying to help many many needy families as possible who would like to go to the school of their choice, but do not have the option of doing so,” Sen. Boyer said.
Sen. Sally Anne Gonzales asked if Uber and Lyft would be allowed to transport students if there was an adult traveling with the child.
“This is designed not for parents but for students, and it would be from the residence to the school,” Sen. Boyer said.
Sen. Boyer said it would cover costs for students driving to school on their own, carpools and transit fares.
Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai asked if the parents would have to submit receipts each month for these travel costs or what kind of reporting or monitoring their would be to ensure the money was being used for transportation costs.
Part of that is included in the bill that each charter or district school would report that to the Arizona Department of Education each month, Sen. Boyer said.
The reporting requirements are not explicitly stated in the bill but the State Board of Education would have the ability to develop those requirements, a Senate staffer said.
“This does perpetuate the inequity in our state,” said Sen. Peshlakai as she explained her vote.
The Senate Education Committee gave Senate Bill 1683 a due pass recommendation with a vote of 5 ayes, 3 nays, 0 not voting.
7:32 p.m.: The Senate Education Committe began discussion on Senate Bill 1685.
Sen. Christine Marsh asked why attendance boundaries can not be used to require students to attend a school, while later in the bill it gives students that reside within a school’s boundary a preference for enrolling in that school.
“Parents are more active than ever in seeking the best enrollment opportunity for their children,” Sen. Boyer said.
Sen. Marsh said she was concerned about the questions schools cannot ask to determine if a student will be placed in the least restrictive environment such as if a student has an Individual Education Plan.
“If we are not getting the appropriate information at registration, what are missing here,” Sen. Marsh asked noting that her concern was for special education students.
Carla Phillips said open enrollment must be a viable option for students with disabilities and said this bill would support that.
Sheila Ellis , a parent, said if this is an opportunity to change the environment and change the atmosphere and give everyone the opportunity to be treated fairly and equitably each day.
Sen Gonzales said we want to help low-income families and everyone else in your neighborhood to benefit from these bills and “that’s why we do what we do here.”
Beth Lewis with Save our Schools Arizona spoke in opposition to the bill.
“We believe this bill will put undue consequences on districts and may double down on segregation,” Lewis said. “These policies have resulted in a mass exodus of white students from diverse schools.”
“These bills are destroying the fabric of our communities our public schools,” Lewis said.
“School choice is not a dirty word, it gives parents like Sheila an option to send their students to,” Sen. Boyer said.
Sen. Peshlaki said Mesa Unified School District, Vail School District, Chandler Unified School District, Arizona School Administrators Association, Arizona Association of School Business Officials, Arizona School Boards Association as well as more than 500 people signed in to the Arizona Legislature’s Request to Speak system against this bill, while just 40 people are signed in to support it.
Sen. Gonzales asked why Arizona School Boards Association is opposed to the bill.
“The number one thing is the conflict between eliminating attendance boundaries for students, except when a school reaches capacity, and that school’s don’t adjust capacity to account for students,” Chris Kotterman with Arizona School Boards Association.
Sen. Gonzales said another key is for schools to provide programs that students are interested in.
Sen. Peshlakai asked why parents don’t submit anything until after enrollment is granted.
‘It seems backwards. You don’t just grant someone walking in off the street enrollment and then don’t ask them any questions,” Sen. Peshlakai asked.
“There’s a reason they do that,” said Becky Hill with Yes. Every Kid.
Sen. Peshlakai said, “I don’t believe someone should have to move to go to a different school.”
When you bring up open enrollment to Native and other families in rural and remote areas in Arizona with just one school there are none of these options, it’s about breaking up nuclear families, it’s about acculturation and about separating children from their siblings to send them to a better school, Sen. Peshlakai said.
“That’s out everyday. That’s the history and the baggage that we have lived with,” Sen. Peshlakai said.
“These are the communities that can’t access the RTS system or email us or speak to us since English is a foreign language,” Sen. Peshlakai said.
This bill package will help some students and their families but does not provide these choices to thousands upon thousands of Arizona children, Sen. Gonzales said as she voted no on the bill.
“I think what you’re hearing tonight from a lot of us is frustration from being in underfunded districts with large teacher turnover and seeing money put aside for these bills,” Sen. Marsh said as she voted no.
“Allowing people their ability to cross into schools that are a better fit for them is the fundamental purpose of this bill,” Sen. Pace said as he voted for SB 1685.
The Senate Education Committee gave Senate Bill 1685 a due pass recommendation with a vote of 5 ayes, 3 nays and 0 not voting.