Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Governor signs groundbreaking school-choice plan

"Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law yesterday the expansion of an Arizona school choice program, explicitly making children of active military members eligible to participate -- a first nationwide," the Friedman Foundation reports.
The expansion of the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program also makes students in failing public schools or school districts and those adopted out of the state foster care system eligible starting in the 2013-14 school year.

Currently, Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) are available only to Arizona children with special needs. The program allows parents to withdraw their children from public district or charter schools and receive 90 percent of their state funding deposited into an account. Children’s ESA funds can go toward private school tuition, online courses, tutoring services, textbooks, and even future college expenses. Qualifying families do not have to meet income requirements.

"For decades, members of the armed forces have benefited from the GI Bill in higher education, and to give similar freedom to their children in K-12 education is the right move," said Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. The Friedman Foundation was started by the late Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, who first introduced the idea of universally available school choice in 1955. "Military members nationwide, and all families for that matter, deserve the ability to choose the schools, public or private, that work best for their children," Enlow added.

The Arizona-based Goldwater Institute estimates some 11,500 school-age children of active military members and more than 94,000 students in public schools or school districts graded D or F by the state will be ESA-eligible. Currently, 125,000 students with special needs qualify for ESAs.

"This expansion gives more parents the ability to customize their children’s education," said Jonathan Butcher, Goldwater’s education director. "Empowerment Scholarship Accounts are a 21st century model for education other states would be wise to consider."

Eighteen states, including Arizona, and Washington, D.C., provide private school choice through ESAs, vouchers, or the tax code, according to the Friedman Foundation. This year, Arizona lawmakers already increased the cap on tax-credit contributions to private school scholarship organizations; Florida leaders also increased their state’s tax-credit program. In addition, the Virginia and New Hampshire legislatures -- neither of which allows private school choice -- passed similar proposals.

The ESA expansion passed Arizona's House and Senate by wide margins.

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