Arizona Gov. Signs ESA Expansion Bill in Window Rock
By Kim Martinez
Today Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey was welcomed by Native American parents in Window Rock when he visited the Navajo Nation Museum to help kick off the school year with a ceremonial bill signing of SB1332. The new law expands eligibility into the Empowerment Scholarship Account program helping low-income Native students escape low-performing schools.
“School choice is critical for not only the kids but their parents, there are kids all over the state that are trapped in a low-performing school,” said Gov. Ducey. “What the choice movement has done is provide excellent alternatives for these kids to go to a place where they will actually learn and that is what we are seeing here on Navajo.”
The law took effect in June giving families living on tribal lands access to the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program.
Right after the bill signing, the Governor also helped hand out 200 backpacks to tribal students who are getting back to school this week and talked with Navajo parents attending the event.
“The wonderful and life-changing ESA program gave me and my children hope,” added Sonya Gordon, a Window Rock mother using ESAs for the first time this year for her three young Navajo daughters. “This program can offer them multiple opportunities – challenging them and changing their educational path.”
According to the Arizona Department of Education, Native American children have the lowest high school graduation rate in the state at 61% making Native children less likely to graduate than any other ethnicity or group including students with special needs.
Arizona has the second largest Native American Student population in the United States with approximately 55,000 students who mostly live or attend schools on their reservation. The new ESA law gives students living on tribal land the option to use the program.
The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Carlyle Begay, D-Ganado, who also worked closely with the Arizona Department of Education to make the program accessible to families immediately after the law went into effect so they could start using the scholarships this current school year.
ESAs can be used to pay for private school tuition, online curriculum, home school expenses, books and educational therapies. The average funding for an ESA is $5,000.