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Arizona voucher programs expanding, picking up steam | Deseret News National
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Ross D. Franklin, Associated Press
Education

Arizona voucher programs expanding, picking up steam

For years, school tuition voucher advocates have struggled to gain traction at the state level to test their notion that states can both save money and improve parental satisfaction by giving them more control over their children's public education dollars.

Arizona now looks poised to fill that role.

Applications for next year's tuition voucher program have soared, reports Newstimes.com, after the state expanded eligibility and launched an aggressive public awareness campaign. The number of applicants for the 2014-2015 year has jumped to 2,479, up from 1,100 last year.

After starting with a "camel's nose" voucher program, aimed at a very small number of special needs students, legislators last year expanded the program to reach students in failing schools and children whose parents are actively serving in the military, Arizona Capitol Times noted.

And they have conceptual even further to go if they choose, after a March 21 state Supreme Court ruling that sustained a lower court ruling in favor of the program, the Arizona Daily Star reported.

The spring the Arizona legislature has been working on a bill that "expands eligibility for the program to siblings of students who are current or past recipients and to those who have not previously attended public school, azcentral.com reports. "Current rules require students to attend public school before being eligible."

Last years changes also increased the per-pupil funding limits.

"Under the program," Education Week reports, "students receive vouchers for 90 percent of the state's basic per-student funding for public schools. Parents can use the money to help pay for private school tuition, home-schooling and certain other expenses such as tutoring."

While the statute allows parents 90 percent of what it would pay for their kids to attend public school, there is some ambiguity about whether that should be measured against charter school costs or regular public schools. Arizona actually allocates more for charter school students.

"But the department of education says the wording in the statute is vague," Education Week adds, "and they decided to grant the additional funding to all students this year. The department has given out $1,684 to $1,963 in extra funding to each student in the program. The extra money is based on what students who attend charter schools receive, which is higher than the public school rate. Democrats and education advocates say this violates state statute."

Email: eschulzke@desnews.com