Legislative Update: May 2012
Carol Shippy, AFHE Legislative Liaison
Every year our legislature has a goal of completing their work in 100 days. This year they adjourned on May 3, 2012 after 115 days. Governor Brewer completed signing or vetoing bills on May 15, 2012.
AFHE followed a number of bills on behalf of homeschoolers with the goal of preserving our freedom to homeschool. Arizona is recognized nationwide as a wonderful place to homeschool and our laws reflect the confidence our legislature has in parents to direct the education of their children.
Below is a legislative update regarding several bills introduced during the 2012 Arizona legislative session.
HB 2439: Accreditation of Homeschools
This bill was introduced by Representative Gowan and would have required that homeschools be accredited with the Department of Education.
He was contacted by a constituent who believed that in order to gain admission to the three state universities a homeschooled student needed a state accredited diploma. When AFHE spoke with Representative Gowan and explained that no such diploma is required nor prevents homeschooled students from attending the state universities, he withdrew this bill.
HB 2747: Expansion of Compulsory Education Age
This bill, introduced by Representatives Patterson, Campbell, Meyer, Pancrazi, and Tovar would have increased the compulsory education age to eighteen.
This is the sixth year in a row that this bill has been introduced. When it was given a hearing several sessions ago, there was also an amendment offered that would have lowered the compulsory education age to four in addition to increasing it to eighteen.
AFHE has opposed any change to the compulsory education age from its current range of 6-16. This bill was not given a hearing this year. We wish to thank Representative Goodale, House Education Committee Chairman, for not hearing this bill.
HB 2622: Empowerment Scholarship Account Expansion
This is the most significant piece of legislation to homeschoolers passed this session. Introduced by Representative Lesko, this bill expanded Empowerment Scholarship Account eligibility to include children in the public schools whose school is rated as having a “D” or an “F” in terms of performance; the dependents of active duty military personnel; and foster children who are in the process of being adopted.
You may recall that in 2011 the ESA program was instituted for special needs children. The current program and the expanded program run through the public school system and only students who have spent at least 100 days in public school the school year prior to applying are eligible to be considered. There is more information on the Department of Education website http://www.azed.gov/esa about this program if you are interested in doing more research.
The expanded program will not go into effect until the 2013-2014 school year. However, the significant change is that HB 2622 has created a new category of school choice to better describe students whose parents sign an ESA contract with the state. In the past there were four categories of school choice for parents to choose among in satisfaction of the compulsory education law. Now with the signing of HB 2622, A.R.S. 15-802 specifies five categories of school choice: public, charter, private, homeschooling, and new language adding that the parent may choose to “SIGN A CONTRACT TO PARTICIPATE IN AN ARIZONA EMPOWERMENT SCHOLARSHIP ACCOUNT PURSUANT TO SECTION 15-2402.”
The parent who chooses to sign one of these contracts with the state will not be homeschooling nor will they submit an Affidavit of Intent to Homeschool to the county school superintendent.
One additional point that homeschoolers need to consider when evaluating this program is that the law added some broad new wording to A.R.S. 15-2402(G) which now reads: “The department (meaning the Arizona Department of Education) may adopt rules AND POLICIES necessary for the administration of empowerment scholarship accounts.”
AFHE is supportive of parental choice and school choice in Arizona as homeschooling was one of the first major waves of school choice innovation in the modern era. Our distinction has been our independence and hard-fought existing homeschooling laws reflect the desire of parents to make independent choices, especially surrounding curriculum, schedule, and testing. The Empowerment Scholarship Account, as a diversion of state funds, are a different model entirely and are overseen by the Department of Education.
We encourage parents to do their homework before signing a contract for one of these ESA accounts to understand very thoroughly the responsibilities involved. Homeschooling is codified in a number of places in our state laws and there are both benefits and protections that conflict with the Empowerment Scholarship Account model. HB 2622 recognizes the need to keep the two options distinct so that those wishing to homeschool can do so and vice versa.
AFHE Wishes to Thank
AFHE thanks Representative Debbie Lesko for her floor amendment to HB 2622 that preserved homeschooling as it has existed for the past 30 years!
AFHE also wishes to thank the Center for Arizona Policy for their on-going support of our legislative work.
We commend Tim Keller of the Institute for Justice for his specific and valuable assistance on HB 2622. Others who played an important role and to whom we are grateful are Sydney Hay of the American Federation for Children and Jonathan Butcher of the Goldwater Institute.
Mike Smith, President of Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), provided counsel to AFHE during this session and we express our sincere gratitude.
Finally, Governor Jan Brewer has been a particular ally of homeschooling and we cannot express how much we have appreciated her declaring Homeschool Week, speaking at our convention the last two years, and signing bills that we supported. She has been a friend to homeschooling families!