Bill would mandate school-choice guide

By Anne Ryman
The Republic |

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.

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