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Colorado City family losing ESA voucher after school moves across state lines

By: - July 29, 2019 5:26 pm

A family in the polygamous enclave of Colorado City appears likely to lose the vouchers it was using to send three children to private school because that school has moved across the state line and now is in Hilldale, Utah.

The Arizona Department of Education has informed the family the childrens’ school is not eligible for the Empowerment Scholarship Account program, which provides some families who pull their children from public schools with a voucher to do things like attend private school, hire tutors or buy educational materials. Stefan Swiat, a spokesman for the department, said the family can appeal the decision. 

State law only allows for ESA money to be used at private schools that are within Arizona. 

The legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey recently tackled a similar issue with 10 Navajo students in Window Rock who had been using their ESAs to attend a school just across the state line in New Mexico, but still on Navajo tribal lands.

After the Arizona Department of Education informed the families that they were violating state law and threatened to attempt to recoup the ESA money, the legislature, Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction agreed on compromise legislation to remedy the situation. The students will be able to continue using their vouchers within two miles of the state line, but only for the 2019-20 school year.

But that legislative fix won’t help the Colorado City family. That temporary law applies only to students who live on tribal lands. Native American students who live on reservations automatically qualify for the ESA program. 

In a signing statement for the ESA legislation, Ducey wrote that he looks forward to working with the legislature “to pass a permanent fix that will provide certainty and stability to these children, and for all of the Arizona children living in the Navajo Nation as they seek the appropriate educational setting and delivery necessary for their individual learning needs.”

A spokesman for Ducey did not say whether the governor would like to expand that law to include non-tribal students.

Hoffman told the Arizona Republic in June that she opposes making the temporary fix for tribal students permanent

The school choice advocacy group American Federation for Children championed the cause of the Navajo students during the last legislative session and was a vocal proponent of the legislative fix that allowed them to continue attending their private school in New Mexico. Steve Smith, who runs the group’s Arizona chapter, didn’t take a position on whether state law should be changed to allow the Colorado City family to send their children to school across the state line, though he questioned why the legislature would allow ESA families to purchase education materials out of state, which the law permits, but not send their children to schools out of state.

“Where are the families most comfortable in terms of their choice for sending their kids to school? And the best education should be presented to every family in the state of Arizona. And I’ll let the legislature decide what that means,” Smith said.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”