Arizona bishops laud signing of state school choice bill

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First-grade students finish an assignment at St. Ambrose Catholic School in Tucson, Ariz., in this 2014 photo. (CNS file photo/Nancy Wiechec)

PHOENIX (CNS) — The Catholic bishops of Arizona issued a joint statement lauding the passage and signing of a bill intended to expand school choice throughout the state.

The law, among other things, extends Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program to all children in the state regardless of family income.

“We strongly support a quality education for all children in Arizona and believe it is best to have good district schools, charter schools, private schools and home-school options,” said a July 7 statement from the Arizona bishops.

The bill “will increase school choice substantially, which is a very good thing,” they added.

“Parents are the primary educators of their children and know what schools best fit the needs of their families,” the bishops said. “By making the ESA program eligible for all students, many more families will now have a more meaningful option.”

Signing the statement were now-retired Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix, Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevarez of Phoenix, Bishop Edward J. Wiesenberger of Tucson, and Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup, New Mexico. Half of the Gallup Diocese is in Arizona.

Arizona families who participate would receive more than $6,500 per year per child for private school, home-schooling, “micro schools” — which provide a smaller learning community, tailored to the needs of each student — tutoring or any other kind of educational service that helps meet the needs of students outside the traditional public school system.

The bill, signed July 7 by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, is the latest piece of legislation designed to enhance the state’s educational portfolio.

Other actions taken earlier this year included an additional $1 billion in year-over-year spending, with total K-12 spending for this year reaching $8.45 billion; $329 million to raise the base support level of education spending, representing the single largest dollar and percentage increase in per pupil funding in 20 years; $183.3 million to maintain school facilities; and $100 million in special education funding for Arizona public schools; and $50 million in ongoing funding for school safety.

Ducey had called for greater school choice in his State of the State address earlier this year.

“Many of our poor kids and children of color are trapped in a failing school. It’s time to set these families free,” he said then. “Let’s think big and find more ways to get kids into the school of their parents’ choice. Send me the bills, and I’ll sign them.”

Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service has reported from the Vatican since the founding of its Rome bureau in 1950.