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Arizona House, Senate Pass K-12 Budget Bill After Settling On ESA Amendment, Nixing Civics Education

The Arizona House and Senate passed a final version of the K-12 budget bill after settling previous policy differences that arose last week. 

Last Friday, lawmakers in the House voted down Sen. Paul Boyer's proposed expansion of the state’s school voucher program known as the Empowerment Scholarship Account. Instead it adopted a provision for a statewide civics education curriculum.

On Wednesday, Boyer introduced a new amendment that got rid of that provision and reintroduced changes to the school voucher program. It’s not quite the expansion he was hoping for, but it would allow students who receive free or reduced lunch and live in the boundaries of a D- or F-rated school to qualify for the program without spending time at a public school. 

Hear Rocio Hernandez's Interview With Host Lauren Gilger On The Show


“Low-income children in particular are hit hard. Here’s why: the digital divide, working parent issues and single parent homes. This is a life preserve for those kids," Boyer said. 

Boyer's amendment also changes the amount of time any student has to spend at public school before they can qualify for an ESA from the first 100 days to any 45 days. It allows ESA funds to be used for additional services such as "educational therapies from a provider not covered by a health insurance policy, if the expense is partially paid by insurance for the qualified student."

Rep. Michelle Udall, one of the three Republican lawmakers who joined House Democrats last week in voting down the ESA expansion, gave her support to this amendment on Wednesday. 

“What this is is a focus on helping low-income kids. But I also, in negotiating this, received a promise from the governor’s office to increase by $20 million the amount that they are paying to help improve low-income D and F schools," Udall said. 

The amendment does not change the number of students who are currently eligible for the program, about 200,000, she added. 

In addition, the K-12 bill includes legislation that bans schools from requiring face masks and COVID-19 vaccines for students and staff. It also bans teaching so-called controversial topics.

The Arizona Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, expressed disappointment in the state budget. 

“This budget fails to fund full-day Kindergarten. It fails to provide schools with enough resources to repair their buildings and build new schools when needed. It fails to address Arizona’s shortage of teachers,” said AEA President Joe Thomas. “This budget will have devastating consequences for our students and educators for decades with the expansion of the private school voucher program and permanent loss of $3 billion in state revenue over the next few years.” 

For an overview on the Legislature's decision, The Show spoke with KJZZ's Rocio Hernandez.

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Rocio Hernandez was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2020 to 2022.