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Arizona Poised to Expand Voucher Program

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Arizona lawmakers have approved an expansion of the state's "empowerment scholarship account" program to include not just the special-needs population but also students in low-performing schools.

Currently the state program allow families of special education students to use "education savings accounts" for private school tuition, as well as for school materials and services. Students receive 90 percent of the per-pupil amount that goes to traditional public school students.

The legislation, House Bill 2626, would make students eligible to use public funds for private schools if their school districts have been assigned a D or F letter grade by the state. In an interesting twist, children of U.S. military personnel would also be made eligible for the program.

In delving into private school choice, Arizona is hardly an outlier. Republican lawmakers around the country oversaw the passage of a wave of voucher legislation into law last year, and they've been pressing a similiar agenda in 2012.

The GOP-backed measure in Arizona now goes to the desk of Gov. Jan Brewer. The Republican governor signed into law the original savings-account measure last year, though she also disappointed voucher supporters by vetoing a tax-credit measure for private school scholarships, citing concerns about its financial impact on the state.

The American Federation for Children, which backs vouchers, praised the legislation in a statement as "first-of-its-kind," and said it will give families in the state an "unprecedented level of choice" in their children's education.

"This program is already groundbreaking, and now even more children will benefit as a result of this important expansion," said Betsy DeVos, the American Federation for Children's chairwoman.

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