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NV conservation group supports FERC's transmission planning rule; Memorial Day weekend includes Tornadoes and record-high temperatures; A focus on the Farm Bill for Latino Advocacy Week in D.C; and Southeast Alaska is heating homes with its rainfall.

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U.S. Supreme Court allows South Carolina gerrymander that dilutes Black voters, Sen. Ted Cruz refuses to say if he'll accept 2024 election results, and Trump calls Mar-a-Lago search an attempt to have him assassinated.

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Smokey Bear thought only "you" could prevent forest fires, but decomposing mushrooms may also help, a Native American community in Oregon is achieving healthcare sovereignty, and Colorado farmers hope fast-maturing, drought-tolerant seeds will better handle climate change.

Proposed voucher accountability rules nixed by AZ Republicans

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Friday, April 5, 2024   

Arizona Superintendent of Public Education Tom Horne and the State Board of Education have rejected a move to enact a new ESA Voucher Handbook.

Proposed by the Arizona Department of Education, the handbook would have set safeguards to ensure responsible spending of taxpayer funds for what are known as Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. Instead, they stuck with last year's book.

Beth Lewis, director of Save Our Schools Arizona, said she's disappointed. She thinks Arizona voters now need to look to the Legislature and Gov. Katie Hobbs to prioritize accountability for the controversial ESAs. Lewis sees it as a missed opportunity to give taxpayers more transparency about the funds put into vouchers.

"There are all of these incredibly extravagant expenditures that are being approved," she said. "These laws weren't going to do a lot, but they were going to provide a bare minimum of accountability there."

Lewis said having rules in place would also have been helpful for parents using the vouchers to know what is allowed and what isn't. She's heard of instances of spending funds on waterpark tickets, TVs, Apple watches and expensive musical instruments.

In a letter to the State Board, state Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, argued the handbook "overstepped" the Legislature, which "has not set any restrictions" on items that can be purchased with ESA vouchers.

Lewis contended that Arizona's public schools are good stewards of taxpayer funds, because when they make purchases, they're seen as investments for years to come.

"So, it's not just one child who owns that trombone forever," she said. "That is utilized, year over year. And that is just the perfect example of why public funds are pooled together for public schools, and why the voucher program really doesn't work when you put it under a microscope."

According to recent polling from Education Forward Arizona, most voters are concerned that teachers are underpaid and public schools are underfunded in the Grand Canyon State.

Lewis called Arizona's ESA voucher program a "complete black box," and contended the proposed safeguards were what she terms "common sense."


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