House GOP seeks school funding overhaul and voucher expansion | National government and new policies

PHOENIX (AP) — Majority Republicans in the Arizona House are working to finalize a deal that would dramatically increase funding for K-12 public schools and enact a major expansion of the state’s private school voucher system. ‘State.

Republicans who hold a majority in the House have yet to agree, but it’s close enough that they made a procedural move on Monday that would allow bills to be introduced late. Rules Committee approved permission to introduce up to two bills on school funding and one on Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, the official name of the state program giving parents money to pay private school tuition.

Two Democrats on the panel opposed the move.

Republican Majority Leader Ben Toma said the law provides flexibility to take necessary action. Toma is a major proponent of “school choice” and wants vouchers to expand.

The legislature has stalled for more than two months as Republicans who control the House and Senate struggle to break the impasse over the state budget. With single-vote majorities, any member of the GOP can block any bill if all Democrats oppose it.

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GOP Sen. Paul Boyer pushed for a “big deal” that would include much of the $900 million in voter-approved funding that Proposition 208 would have provided if the The Arizona Supreme Court did not declare it unconstitutional.. He has also been pushing since last year for a major expansion of the voucher program.

But some Senate Republicans have publicly opposed any additional school funding.

Senate Republican leaders did not include Boyer in their budget discussions, but he spoke with House leaders. But he said over the weekend that “he had no idea” what the House was trying to do.

Republican Rep. Michelle Udall de Mesa, who chairs her chamber’s education committee and presented a major school funding overhaul billwas heavily involved in talks with Toma and other House GOP leaders.

She said on Monday they were trying to reach a compromise that would address concerns she has about the lack of accountability on school vouchers and ensure they only go to families who cannot afford school fees. in private schools.

“We’ve had discussions about accountability and resource testing and that’s still part of the ongoing discussion,” Udall said.

She also said she wants to see a very big new investment in K-12 schools, “a pretty big chunk” of the $900 million Boyer wants.

The state is brimming with cash, sitting on an unprecedented surplus of more than $5.3 billion. That’s even $1.7 billion in income tax cuts enacted by the Legislature against the United Democratic Opposition last year.

The actual tax cuts had been put on hold because opponents collected enough signatures to block them until voters could approve or reject them in November. But the The Arizona Supreme Court ruled in April that voters cannot block them, although the court did not explain its reasoning and they are now in effect.

The current budget is $12.8 billion and Republican Gov. Doug Ducey had proposed increases for the fiscal year that begins July 1, bringing spending to $14.3 billion.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected a universal school voucher plan endorsed by GOP lawmakers and Ducey in 2018. That hasn’t stopped efforts to expand the system.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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