After their lawsuit failed to block Arizona families from choosing how and where their children learn, district school interest groups are trying again to stop parental choices in education.
The Arizona teacher’s union and school board association filed a suit in 2011 trying to keep children in their government-assigned schools, even if the child was struggling in that school.
But the Arizona Supreme Court upheld a ruling that said the state’s education savings accounts are constitutional, a decision that has allowed families to customize their children’s education according to their needs.
Now, the union and other special interest groups are supporting efforts to repeal an expansion of the accounts.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation this year making education savings accounts available to all Arizona students.
With an account, the state deposits a portion of a child’s funds from the state formula into a private account that parents use to buy educational products and services. Families can pay for multiple learning opportunities simultaneously, like online classes, personal tutors, and educational therapy.
Arizona lawmakers made their state the first to offer families access to the accounts in 2011.
Lawmakers made children with special needs eligible and expanded the accounts in later years to include children assigned to failing public schools, Native American students, and children in military families, to name a few.
Earlier this year, the governor and legislators enacted a law that gives all public school students the opportunity to apply for an account, phasing in student eligibility according to grade levels over four years.
Some 3,500 Arizona children are using the accounts today, with another 9,000 using similar options across Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee. North Carolina lawmakers enacted a new law this summer.
In February 2017, the Arizona Republic featured the story of Lanae Enriquez, mother of two with another on the way, and how her family would benefit from access to an account.
Enriquez explained that her stepson is struggling in high school, and she traces his challenges back to fundamental skills he didn’t learn in elementary and middle school. She came to the realization that he had just been “passed along” from grade to grade.
She said she wants something better for her 5-year-old, Addison. “I would love to have her in the best school that I possibly could,” Enriquez says.
Enriquez stopped working due to the pregnancy, and their single-income family cannot afford the learning option Enriquez has chosen for Addison. With an account, though, Enriquez would be able to keep Addison with her teachers and friends in a local Montessori school.
But opponents to parental choice in education in Arizona have gathered signatures to put a repeal of the state’s expanded law on the 2018 ballot. This repeal may stifle Enriquez’s aspirations for her daughter—and similar opportunities for thousands of other Arizona children.
Yet the repeal effort is already facing accusations that signature gatherers violated the law. A group called the Public Integrity Alliance has filed a complaint with state officials saying those behind the repeal illegally used public school resources to help their cause.
Arizona rules prohibit political campaigns from colluding with district schools and using school resources. Groups supporting parental choices in education plan to review the petitions to watch for other violations.
Local news reported dozens of families and students rallied at the state capitol Tuesday afternoon to show their support for education savings accounts.
Enriquez is depending on the accounts to give Addison the chance at a great future. “It’s heartbreaking for us as parents that we’re not eligible for an education savings account,” Enriquez said in an interview.
“I just hope [Addison] can be educated now so that she can be successful as a teenager and adult.”