A bill that would allow some Native American students to use the state’s school vouchers for a private New Mexico religious school advanced in the Arizona senate this week.
Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, introduced Senate Bill 1224 with support from fellow Republican lawmakers and other pro- school voucher advocacy groups.
SB1224 is said to provide a permanent fix for Native American students who use the state's school voucher program to attend a New Mexico Christian school miles across the state border.
The students have used their state Empowerment Scholarship Accounts to attend the school, however, it’s a violation of state law.
Allen and her Republican allies intend to change the law to permit the use of vouchers on Native American reservations by carving out exemptions for these students which permit the use of vouchers outside but within two miles of the Arizona-New Mexico State line.
The legislature’s Indigenous Peoples Caucus unanimously oppose SB 1224, citing the shared belief among the caucus members that the expansion of the voucher program for just a few students will continue to take critical education funding from Navajo Nation schools.
"The schools on the Navajo Nation need investment to help improve performance,” said Rep. Myron Tsosie, D-Chinle. “This bill would only continue to drain those resources, and direct taxpayer money out of state. The effort to expand vouchers against the voters' wishes would not stop if this bill passes, it would be a wedge in the door to keep expanding the program.”
“Our Tribe is being used to advance a political agenda,” Tsosie added.
“We must truly prioritize the education of our Native American students by adequately funding their public schools, not just use them as an excuse to advance an agenda of expanding school vouchers against the wishes of Arizona voters,” said Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tuscon.
SB 1224 advances through the legislature’s bill-making process with party line support.
If the bill passes both chambers of state legislature, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey already announced that he would sign it into law.