Earlier in the week, it was reported by multiple sources that Navajo students in Window Rock, spurred on by the right-wing pro voucher Education group called the American Federation for Children, used the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) they qualified for to enroll in a private school (Hilltop Christian School) two miles inside New Mexico.
This was clearly not how the Empowerment Scholarship legislation was meant to be implemented. Arizona dollars should be spent on Arizona schools, not out of state ones.
Advocates from public education support groups like Save Our Schools understandably protested.
Right-wing leaning organizations like the Goldwater Institute called on the legislature to create a loophole labeling the New Mexico school the students attend, one that provides “teaching services”
Governor Ducey, to his credit, called for calm while the legislators and the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s office worked on a compromise.
Fortunately, Superintendent Kathy Hoffman and the legislators from Legislative District Seven (State Representatives Mryron Tsosie and Arlano Teller along with State Senator Jamescita Peshlakai) have fashioned compromise legislation (HB2758 and SB1545) that will allow the students to apply ESA funds towards enrolling in the New Mexico HillTop Christian School until July 2020. After July 2020, the still qualifying ESA students could only use those earmarked funds for private schools in Arizona.
This sensible compromise will hopefully pass the legislature on a bipartisan basis in the next few days.
This is the second time in two weeks (the first was on the issue of school safety) that Superintendent Hoffman has taken the initiative and led on solving an issue created by the actions or inactions of others.
Writing on her Facebook page, Superintendent Hoffman wrote that:
“My administration has worked diligently to find a resolution to the situation affecting several Native American families using ESA funds to send their children to a private school across the New Mexico border. Legislation just introduced in the Senate is a bipartisan effort which does not punish the families and provides adequate time for them to determine the best next step for their children’s education.”
The Superintendent also commented, as reported by AZ Central, that the American Federation for Children “exploited” the ESA children in order to push their agenda in expanding their pro-voucher agenda.
The organization Save Our Schools also issued a statement on their Facebook Page, stating that:
“Thanks in large part to public interest and outrage, the original proposal to expand ESA vouchers out of state has transformed into a bipartisan, reasonable set of bills that will assist the affected Navajo families while respecting AZ voters who support AZ tax dollars for AZ schools and oppose ESA voucher expansion. A win for Arizona!”
The Republican legislators can learn from the compromise forged because of this controversy and apply the lessons when working with the Democrats on the budget and other important matters.
Hopefully, they will learn.