By Tom Reardon / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ
(Pinal County, AZ) The Arizona State House of Representatives passed a measure yesterday allowing school vouchers to be extended to all 1.1 million Arizona students who attend private schools, including religious institutions.
District 8 representatives Neil Carter, Teresa Martinez, and David Cook all voted yes on House Bill 2853 in the June 22nd vote. The final tally was 31-26 with only Republican support for the bill.
HB2853 would allow every student in Arizona to be eligible for the Empowerment Scholarship Account program which is also known as ESA. Initially instituted in 2011, the legislation was, according to the Arizona Department of Education’s website, created to “give eligible parents public funding to pursue flexible options for customizing their children's education.”
While only a fraction of eligible students currently makes use of these funds, HB2853 would expand the coverage to any educational opportunity outside of the public school system, as well. This would include both secular and non-secular schools which is currently a hot-button issue in the United States.
Chants of “Shame” reportedly filled the House chamber when voting was completed on Wednesday as dissatisfied community members voiced their disapproval. Concerns about misappropriations of school funding fuel the outrage as well as the potential for blurring between the traditional barriers between church and state.
A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to allow two families in Maine to use public funding to help pay for tuition at Christian schools, so there is considerable concern here in Arizona and across the nation about tax dollars being used for secular education. It is possible that a bill like HB2853 could open the door for similar litigation.
Currently there are several non-secular private schools in Pinal County that could be affected by this legislation. These include Florence Baptist Academy (Florence), St. Anthony of Padua Catholic School (Casa Grande), Logos Christian Academy (Casa Grande), and Compassion Christian Academy (San Tan Valley).
Now HB2853 will pass to the Arizona State Senate where it is currently being read by state senators and is expected to pass. Governor Doug Ducey, who has historically been an ESA supporter, would then have the option of signing it into law.