By Anne Ryman
The Republic | azcentral.com
A bill in the state Legislature would require the Arizona Department of Education to mail a “howto” guide of educational options each year to the parents of 1 million children.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, envisions a 12page handbook that would outline K-12 educational choices besides a child’s assigned public school. Options include charter schools, private schools, open enrollment, homeschooling, a tax credit and a voucher-type program. Each option would include contact information for the state agency overseeing that area.
Only days after being introduced, Senate Bill 1285 is drawing criticism from some educators. They say school-choice information is already available on websites, including one maintained by the Governor’s Office. Arizona is viewed nationally as a leader in school choice. Charter schools are increasingly popular.
The state recently expanded a voucher-type program for disabled students to include students at poorly performing schools.
“One of the things that’s been lacking is a way for people to find out about the options they have regarding their child’s education,” said Ward, a newly seated legislator.
She outlined the bill at a news conference Thursday on the House lawn. She was accompanied by parents and children andformer state superintendents of public instruction, Lisa Graham Keegan and Jaime Molera.
Ward estimates it would cost up to $1.5 million to mail pamphlets each year. Money would come from Title 1, a pot of federal funding that goes to schools with high percentages of low-income families.
But critics, including Arizona Education Association President Andrew Morrill, say the bill appears to be a marketing ploy to use public funds to increase the customer base for private schools.
“This is unnecessary and probably would run into some legal challenges down the road,” Morrill said.
The Arizona School Boards Association also has “significant concerns.” The information is already available on the Web, and with education funding being tight, “we just don’t think that’s a wise investment” of money, said Janice Palmer, the group’s lobbyist.
Bill supporters say federal funds are an appropriate use.
Parents, including families whose children attend poorly performing schools and can apply for a voucher-type program, would be informed of their choices.
The bill, as written, likely would need changes to be implemented. The legislation requires the education department to mail pamphlets to parents. The department doesn’t have a database of parent names and addresses; schools keep that information.