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Senate committee approves bill expanding school vouchers to all Arizona public school students

Posted at 6:16 PM, Feb 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-10 20:18:43-05

The Arizona Senate Education Committee passed a bill 4-3 that would expand the Empowerment Scholarship Account or ESA Program to all 1.1 million Arizona public school students by 2020.

The ESA Program gives parents money to spend on private tuition or other education costs like tutors. 

Arizona Senator Debbie Lesko, a sponsor of the bill, says this gives parents another option to choose the best education for their child while saving taxpayer money. 

Lesko says public schools receive $9,500 per student per year and an average school voucher costs $5,200 per student per year saving taxpayers over $4,000.

However, Tucson Unified School District Superintendent Dr. H.T. Sanchez says this bill will hurt public schools. 

"Not only would you fund vouchers which potentially sends money to private schools, you would also give them an additional $1,000 on top of what regular K-12  education kids get in public schools," said Sanchez. "So a K-12 public school student would, in essence, get $1,000 less than what this voucher would provide."

Sanchez says if this passes, it will have a $35 million negative impact. 

"What this legislation also proposes is it's not only a matter of expanding the voucher program, but taking away the oversight from the Arizona Department of Education and giving it potentially to a private panel of people who are getting those vouchers to oversee the program which makes absolutely no sense," he said. 

The ESA program began six years ago and provided educational options for students with special needs outside of the public school system. 

The program has since expanded to include students attending D and F schools, foster care children and children in military families. 

The bill will now go to the Senate floor for voting.