Arizona lawmakers have a slate of education ideas before them in 2017. Most importantly, Legislators should continue their efforts to make sure every child has the chance at a quality education and that such laws are effectively implemented.
SB 1281 gives lawmakers such an opportunity. Sponsored by Sen. Steve Smith, SB 1281 clarifies important rules regarding education savings accounts. These accounts give families and students multiple learning options according to a child’s needs. The state deposits a portion of a child’s state education funds in a private account that parents use to buy educational products and services like online classes, textbooks, personal tutors, and even private school tuition.
Here are some key parts of this legislation:
- The bill clarifies eligibility for incoming kindergarten students—a change originally made to the law in 2013 but has caused confusion for the Arizona Department of Education.
- The bill prevents misuse of the accounts by stipulating that students cannot use a tax credit-funded private school scholarship while they are using an education savings account. This protects taxpayers by preventing fraud.
- The bill also creates a path for parents to deposit savings accounts funds in a college savings account. The existing process parents have been using to save for college using an Arizona education savings account no longer functions properly, so the changes in this bill will give families access to this valuable option.
- SB 1281 removes an ineffective process for diagnosing services for children with special needs using the accounts. This process has not helped existing account holders.
Arizona’s savings accounts are among the most innovative learning options in the nation. In fact, Arizona was the first state to enact the accounts, and lawmakers in five other states have replicated the law since 2014. Some 10,000 students are using the accounts today across Arizona, Florida, and Mississippi. Research from Arizona and Mississippi already finds high levels of parent satisfaction among participating families.
Lawmakers will also be considering legislation this year to make the accounts available to every Arizona child. SB 1281 helps make the accounts work effectively for students, while the expansion bill brings us closer to the day when every student has the chance at a quality education and the American Dream. Both bills are necessary and fit together—expanded eligibility is less effective if families cannot use the accounts as intended.
Improving the accounts and how the law is carried out will help Arizona parents better serve students and promote student success.