Senate Bill (SB) 1332: empowerment scholarship accounts; reservation residences
This bill expands ESA eligibility to include all children residing within the boundaries of Native American lands. ASBA opposed this bill. The ESA program, or Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, is a voucher system that relieves schools of the money and responsibility to educate a child and send that money to the child’s parents who can then use it for home-schooling or private school tuition costs. Currently, only a small number of Arizona kids are ESA enrollees. However, the existing cap on enrollment expires in 2020 and public school advocates worry about the potential rise of ESA enrollees and further loss of funds for public schools.
House Bill (HB) 2174: empowerment scholarship accounts; grandchildren
This bill would have expanded ESA eligibility to all Arizonan children being raised by a grandparent. ASBA opposed. Though the ESA program was initially designed exclusively for parents of special needs children to have the ability to enroll in private schooling that might better serve their child, the criteria determining ESA eligibility have expanded every session and now can cover over 250,000 Arizona students.

School Standards

SB 1289: schools; letter classification; transition process
For some time the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) has given out letter grades to schools and school districts using a chosen set of academic performance indicators. This bill stopped this from happening any longer and directed ADE, with approval from the State Board of Education, to come up with a new system of evaluating our schools to identify schools with below-average student performance.
HB 2190: schools; common core; replacement
This bill would have prevented the State Board of Education from implementing our state’s version of Common Core – the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards.

Funding

SB 1469: general appropriations; 2015-2016
This was the overarching budget bill passed last session that kept tax giveaways to large corporations in place, refused to raise revenue or tap into the Rainy Day Fund, and cut funding for social services and education.
SB 1406: schools; audit findings; financial penalty
Both the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) and the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) are permitted to conduct various audits of our public and charter schools, to include financial, compliance, and performance audits. If any of these audits found non-compliance in their audits, this bill would have allowed the State Board of Education or the Superintendent of Public Instruction to withhold up to 10 percent of the monthly amount of state aid given to a school failing to take action to correct the non-compliance within 60 days.
HB 2246: statewide assessments; parental opt-out
This bill would have allowed parents to opt their children out of taking statewide assessments. Currently, parents can keep their children at home during test day but cannot legally opt out of having their children take state assessments. This is because state law mandates that at least 95 percent of a school’s students take state assessments in order to study academic performance and also to be in compliance with requirements for federal education funding.

Local Control

HB 2483: school tax credit; classroom expenses
Though it is substantially less than tax credits given to those donating to STOs, individuals can get up to a $200 tax credit ($400 if filing jointly) for money given to a public school. However, prior to this bill they had to donate far earlier than when individuals start to think about filing their income taxes; thereby, leading to less donations. This bill moves the date to April 15th – or tax day – to match their STO counterparts. The bill also requires that STOs, if they have a website – to display the percentage of scholarship money given to students whose family income could be considered low or middle-income.
HB 2079: local bonding; property tax measure
This bill would have required all election materials mailed out or given to voters by a political subdivision (county, city, school district, etc) to include “property tax measure” on the material. By making this requirement advocates argued that citizens would not be confused about whether what they were voting on was indeed a tax. Opponents argue that the goal was to get voters to just read “property tax measure” and automatically vote “no”.
SB 1173: schools; bonds; overrides; funding sources
This bill would have required information given out to voters concerning a school district’s request for a bond or a bond override to include all funding sources (federal, state, and local) the district received in the previous year. Advocates claim that taxpayers should be absolutely clear about what financial position a school district is in. Opponents claim that during a time when the state has cut public education spending as much as it has this is just an attempt to block school districts from succeeding in making up for some of that lost state aid by coming to their local community members for aid.

State Fund Trust Info

SB 1173: schools; bonds; overrides; funding sources
A federal law called the Enabling Act gave Arizona statehood in 1912. It also gave the state the ability to control and raise revenue from lands set aside to be held in trust by the state, which currently stands at more than 9 million acres. The purpose of the selling and renting of state land is to raise revenue for the 13 land trust beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state’s public education system. The state government is required to fund public education via state land trusts by Article XI, Section 10 of the Arizona State Constitution. In addition, the section notes that:

“In addition to such income the legislature shall make such appropriations, to be met by taxation, as shall insure the proper maintenance of all state educational institutions, and shall make such special appropriations as shall provide for their development and improvement.”

The last part “for their development and improvement” suggests that our state’s constitutional drafters saw the issue of financing public education not as one of keeping pace with earlier years of funding but of enhancing it.

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