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Arizona Lawmakers Pass Bill to Make Students on Reservations Eligible for ‘Empowerment Scholarship Accounts’

April 3, 2015

Phoenix—Today the Arizona legislature passed SB 1332, a bill to make all students living on Native American Reservations eligible for the state’s “Empowerment Scholarship Account” program. The bill will allow approximately 55,000 students to use their share of state school funding on educational services that best meet their needs. The bill passed with bipartisan support and was sponsored by Senator Carlyle Begay, a Democrat whose district includes parts of the Navajo and Hopi reservations.

“Congratulations to Senator Begay on this monumental achievement for native American students,” said Jonathan Butcher, the Goldwater Institute’s education policy director. “Native American students should have access to a great education, just like every other student in Arizona. It’s past time they are given the opportunity to attend a school that will best meet their needs.”

Native American students have some of the lowest educational attainment outcomes of any demographic group. They scored lowest on the most recent AIMS test and they have the lowest graduation rate. This bill is aimed at giving Native American students the opportunity to attend schools, or customize their education through online learning, that will help boost student learning and graduation rates.

Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program has been in place for four school years. It provides students with a portion of their state school funding in a bank account that can be used on a variety of educational products and services, including tutoring, educational therapies, and private school tuition. The Goldwater Institute developed the concept and worked with lawmakers and several other organizations to craft the program.

The program has been limited to students with special needs, students in failing schools, adopted children, and students in active-duty military families. Approximately 1,250 families are using the accounts this year. Arizona and Florida are the only states with these programs in place now, but Mississippi lawmakers just passed a similar bill a few days ago.

“Every child deserves an education that meets his or her needs. And parents need to be empowered to choose what’s best for their children. With an Empowerment Scholarship Account, parents can have a flexible approach to their child’s learning. And that will give every child the chance to reach his or her full potential. We are thrilled to see this important program become available to all students on reservations,” said Butcher.

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