“You can’t just get away with giving ‘a little bit’” when it comes to your education. Words of wisdom from a grandmother. Wanda Taylor should know, since she is one, and an Arizona foster parent, to boot.
Wanda has been fostering her two grandchildren, Jessie and Henry* since last October. “They are excited now about schooling, and I want them in a school that is excelling,” Wanda says.
SB 1431, sponsored by Sen. Debbie Lesko, will give Wanda and her grandchildren this chance. According to the bill, every child attending an Arizona public school will have the option to use an education savings account to choose where and how they learn. With an account, the state deposits a portion of a child’s funds from the state funding formula into a private account that parents and guardians use to buy educational products and services for their children. Parents can hire a personal tutor for their child; pay for online classes or private school tuition; and save for college, for example—all at the same time.
Under current law, approximately 1 out of every 5 Arizona public school students can use an account, under strict eligibility criteria. Children with special needs and children attending failing public schools are eligible, along with children attending schools on Native American reservations. SB 1431 simplifies the eligibility rules, making the application process easier for families.
Over the course of four years, SB 1431 phases-in Arizona public school students by grade level. In 2017-18, children in the key transitional grades of 1st (the beginning of elementary school), 6th (generally the beginning of middle school), and 9th (the beginning of high school) will be eligible. Additional grade levels will phase in until the 2020-21 school year, giving state agencies such as the department of education and state treasurer time to adjust as students and families make decisions about how best to provide a quality education for their child.
Such choices are common to Arizona families. As noted in the Arizona Capitol Times two weeks ago, thousands of Arizona families already choose charter schools, a public school different from their assigned school using open enrollment, or use private school scholarships. Yet just 3,500 students currently use education savings accounts, which makes up 0.3 percent of the total Arizona public school population.
The accounts give families a flexible way to find an education for their child. We cannot predict how an education savings account may benefit students from different walks of life—but all deserve the chance to succeed. Wanda knows the accounts will give her grandchildren the chance at a bright future.
“You need a diploma just to wash dishes now,” Wanda says. “They’ll have a better chance in life if they get what they need now as far as learning.” Indeed.
*Names changed to protect these children because they are wards of the state.