Ariz. Legislature passes bill giving Native American students on Tribal Lands access to Empowerment Scholarship Accounts

SB1332 brings unprecedented educational choice options to families living on reservations

PHOENIX (April 2, 2015) — The Arizona Federation for Children, the state’s voice for educational choice, praises the Arizona state legislature for a bi-partisan majority vote in favor of expanding the state’s innovate Empowerment Scholarship Account program to offer badly needed educational options to all students living on tribal lands.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Carlyle Begay, D- Ganado, who is concerned for the children being educated on the state’s 22 Indian Reservations.

“We are very proud of Sen. Begay for fighting on behalf of Arizona’s Native American children living in the tribal areas of the state, where there are far too many failing schools and almost no other educational options,” said Kim Martinez, communications associate for the American Federation for Children. “This legislation has the potential to spark real change because Native American parents will become empowered to choose their child’s best education.”

SB1332 adds a new eligibility qualifier to the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program that includes any child living on tribal lands.

Begay was born on the Navajo Nation, represents 8 Native American tribes in his legislative district and is the only tribal member in the Senate. He sponsored the bill due to the limited educational options offered to most students who attend schools on tribal lands. A 2013 report by Education Week found that while nearly all demographics saw demonstrable increases in graduation rates in recent years, only Native Americans have not, and nationally average only a 51 percent graduation rate, 23 percent lower than the national average.

“While we often find ourselves debating at the Capitol whether to support public schools versus school choice, there are Native American students across Arizona slipping through the cracks,” said Sen. Begay. “Giving Native families school choice should not be considered a political game, but rather a badly needed opportunity to help students find the best education possible. I think it’s crucial that we support the education needs of children and their parents over any one education system and this ESA bill is a start toward putting the power into parent’s hands.”

According to the Arizona Department of Education, most of the 55,000 Native American students in Arizona, attend school on or near their reservation. The intent of SB1332 is to give these families on tribal lands, mostly in rural areas, the opportunity to customize their children’s education. Parents can choose how to use their state-funded education accounts and can pay for options like private school tuition, online classes, homeschooling, or other education related expenses.

Current ESA eligibility includes: students in D or F rated schools, students with special needs, students in adoptive care, students with an active-duty military parent, and siblings of an ESA recipient.

SB1332 passed the Senate this morning with a bi-partisan 20-10 vote. Yesterday the bill passed the House, 31 to 28. The bill now goes to Gov. Ducey for his consideration.

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The Arizona Federation for Children is a state affiliate of the American Federation for Children.