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Arizona House Adopts Measure To Mandate Statewide 'Choice'

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Arizona parents would be allowed to send their children to any public elementary or secondary school in the state under a bill passed by the state's House of Representatives.

The open-enrollment plan, which is scheduled to be considered and possibly voted on by the Senate education committee this week, would remove all geographic limitations on school attendance. Observers say its chances for passage by the full Senate remain uncertain.

The bill, which was approved by the House last month after its third introduction in the chamber in three years, would not provide funds for transporting students to schools in districts outside their place of residence.

State per-pupil aid would be increased proportionately for schools that accept students under the plan, and would be reduced for those that experience enrollment declines.

Under the measure, overcrowded schools could refuse to admit additional students.

In addition, only student transfers that improve racial balance would be allowed in the four Arizona districts now under court order to desegregate. About 93,000 of the state's 548,000 public-school students attend school in those districts.

Schools also would not be required to accept special-education students. But if they did, they would be allowed to charge the student's home district for the cost of educating the child.

Proponents of the bill argue that open enrollment would foster competition among districts, and thus improve the overall quality of education. Among the bill's biggest supporters is the Arizona Chamber of Commerce.

In contrast, education groups have voiced opposition to the plan.

"We really believe that this serves to undermine local support for improving schools,'' said Barbara Robey, a lobbyist for the Arizona School Boards Association. "You're probably not going to support more taxes in your own district if you can send your children elsewhere.''

Judy Richardson, the education department's director of school finance, said the department had not yet taken a position on the bill.

She said, however, that some districts might face administrative problems in admitting additional students, and that the parents of some children who were denied admission to a school might "get lawsuit-happy if they feel that their rights have been violated.''--EF

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