Arizona governor OKs school voucher fix for Navajo children

PHOENIX — Legislation giving a handful of Navajo children from Arizona another year to use their vouchers for tuition at a private New Mexico school was signed Thursday by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.

The House and Senate approved the legislation without opposition late last month.

The bill sidesteps a law requiring vouchers to be used at Arizona schools and was quickly crafted after the Department of Education discovered seven children were using vouchers out of state.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman says it gives the families another year to figure out their next steps without expanding the voucher program.

But Ducey said the measure is only a temporary solution for specific students. He suggested he’ll seek legislation next year allowing them to continue indefinitely at the school — and for more Navajo children to use vouchers on the other side of the state line.

“I look 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,” Ducey wrote in a letter explaining his decision.

The plight of the seven children rocketed to lawmakers’ attention when the school-choice advocacy group American Federation for Children released a video about a week before the Legislature adjourned on Memorial Day.

It showed parents blasting the Education Department for letters demanding they repay the money illegally spent out of state.

The affected children used their vouchers at Hilltop Christian School in Tse Bonito, New Mexico, less than a mile from the Arizona state line. The legislation, which has strong bipartisan support, ensured the parents don’t have to refund past tuition payments and allows the children to continue at Hilltop for another year.

Hoffman said her staff discovered the vouchers were being used in New Mexico during a routine audit. She called the legislation a good compromise that gives the affected families time to figure out their next steps while respecting the will of voters, who last year rejected an expansion of the voucher program.

She disagrees with Ducey, saying last month the children should be able to use their voucher at an Arizona school or seek private funding to stay at Hilltop after next school year.

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