Brewer vetoes expansion of voucher-like program, other education bills still in play - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Brewer vetoes expansion of voucher-like program, other education bills still in play

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Posted: Friday, April 6, 2012 6:21 am

Arizona parents will not be able to request their children be advanced to the fourth grade if they’re not reading at grade level after the governor signed a bill that eliminated that “loophole” in state statute last week.

SB1258 was one of several education bills to go through the state Legislature this year. Some died, others are now laws, and a few are making last-minute rounds at the state Capitol.

In 2010, the state mandated that all third-graders in public schools – beginning with the 2013-2014 school year – prove their literacy skills or risk being retained. But the bill allowed an exemption where parents could request the school’s governing board move the child onto the fourth grade, anyway.

SB 1258 – sponsored by Mesa Republican Sen. Rich Crandall and signed by Gov. Jan Brewer on March 29 – changed that. It still allows for exceptions for students in special education and English language learners.

Crandall’s bill also requires charter schools and public school districts to offer at least one intervention strategy and at least one remedial strategy for students with reading deficiencies. A previous exception that allowed children with reading deficiencies to move on to fourth grade if they’d been retained two times previously was also struck from the law with Crandall’s bill.

Arizona’s lawmakers are still working to finalize bills this legislative session, with their eyes toward working next on the budget.

The status on a few of the more prominent education bills this session:

Charter schools

With SB 1424, another Crandall-sponsored bill, charter schools seeking renewal or going through review from any authorizer – not just the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools – will have to prove they’re making academic progress. Five groups can authorize charters in Arizona: the state charter school board, (which has taken the lead), the state Board of Education (which hasn’t done so recently), school districts, and community colleges or universities.

Charter schools are now reviewed every 5 and 10 years, with the first renewal at 15 years.

“Pretty much every five years you’re going to have a high-stakes review,” said Eileen Sigmund, CEO of the Arizona Charter Schools Association.

“This bill allows consistency among authorizers,” Sigmund said.

The bill was also needed because the association received a $45 million grant to open 92 charter schools and the federal government is “really looking at state laws to make sure academic achievement is used by the state when the state gets these federal dollars,” Sigmund said.

Another bill directed at charter schools is HB 2501, which was sent to the governor Wednesday.

Should she sign it, charter schools will be unable to hire teachers whose certification has been surrendered to the state Board of Education unless it was reinstated. Previously, the law only read that charter schools could not employ teachers whose certification had been revoked. Charter school teachers, however, are still not required to hold state certification.

Tax credits

On Wednesday, Brewer vetoed a bill that would have expanded the current education scholarship accounts available only to special needs students. The voucher-like program gives families of children currently in public schools 90 percent of the funding the state would have used to educate a child. In return, the child must withdraw from the public school system. The funds must be used for educational activities, such as private school tuition, homeschooling curriculum or special services.

HB 2626 would have opened the program to students classified as gifted, children of military families, and children who attend a failing school.

One other tax credit proposal, aimed at changing how a current public school credit can be used, may get connected to the budget discussions, school leaders say. Right now, taxpayers can get up to a $400 tax credit (per married couple) for donating to a public school for extracurricular activities. The bill – SB 1373 – would change that to “educational activities sponsored or sanctioned by a public school.”

Education reform

The governor has signed into law SB1255. With it, the state Board of Education can approve career and college readiness programs that are competency based. The law will allow students in grades seven through 12 to receive school credit when they can prove their knowledge of a subject, rather than just through “seat time” in a class.

It’s a continuation of the “Move on When Ready” program the state approved a few years ago that created the Grand Canyon Diploma.

One last Crandall-sponsored bill is still being discussed. SB 1259 will allow students in grades seven through 12 to take at least two online classes a year and sets up the funding guidelines to make that happen.

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