PHOENIX – A state lawmaker wants to remove a requirement that children of active-duty military members attend public school for 100 days before applying for a state program that helps families pay for educational alternatives.
Rep. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, author of HB 2150, said the requirement to take advantage of the Empowerment Scholarship Account is burdensome for students transferring into Arizona schools because of a parent’s military service.
“Yes, it kind of moves them ahead of the line a little bit, but we make exceptions for a lot of people,” said Borrelli, a Marine Corps veteran.
The program allows parents to apply for state funds to educate their children through other means, be it private schools, tutors or educational supplies. About 750 families received funding in the 2013-2014 school year.
Among other requirements, a student receiving funding must be either: diagnosed with a disability; the child of an active-duty military parent; a ward of juvenile court residing in foster care; a ward of juvenile court who has been adopted; or a student at a letter grade D or F public school during the prior school year.
Arizona Department of Education spokeswoman Jennifer Liewer said the average qualified child receives about 90 percent of the state funding that would be going to the public school. The average amount for a disabled child is $13,500, while a non-disabled child’s average is between $2,500 and $4,500.
Christina Martinez, CEO of Adelante Public Affairs and Communication and the child of an Army family, approached Borrelli and other members of the bipartisan veterans caucus after meeting a child who could have benefited from the program had it not been for the 100-day rule.
The child was living in Texas with his active-duty mother. She was killed in combat, and the child relocated to his closest relatives in the West Valley.
“He has several learning disabilities – behind in reading, behind in language, behind in things,” she said. “Now he’s really suffering with the fact that he lost his only parent tragically.”
When searching for education options, his new guardians found public schools couldn’t offer the special attention they sought while a private school could.
“If we require this child to go to a temporary, a transition school before they go to the school they need to be at, we’re just creating more problems, more burdens, more anxiety,” she said. “We have an opportunity to pull that scenario and make it better, and that’s what we want to do.”
HB 2150, which was assigned to the House Education Committee but had yet to receive a hearing, has 25 lawmakers of both parties as primary sponsors and co-sponsors.
“They almost kind of run over each other trying to sign on,” Borrelli said. “It makes sense. What’s the downside?”