PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- A Senate panel approved two bills Wednesday that critics of the state's school voucher program say thwart the will of the voters.
The Senate Finance Committee passed the Republican-backed proposals along a party-line vote (6-4) after hearing nearly four hours of testimony from the public.
SB 1396 expands the number of kids eligible for Arizona's school voucher program, known as the Empowerment Scholarship Account, that allows parents to send their kids to private school with taxpayer money.
This comes just three months after voters roundly rejected Proposition 305, a ballot measure that greatly expanded school vouchers.
Before the hearing, Sharon Kirsch, a critic of vouchers, said lawmakers should respect the people’s decision.
"People voted no on Prop. 305 by a two-to-one margin, so the fact there is a bill being heard that would expand vouchers again is just astonishing to me," she said.
The packed hearing room was evenly split between supporters and opponents of the legislation.
Jenny Clark, who uses vouchers to pay for the education of her children, said there are elements of the bill that improve the program.
"It helps parents like me who have kids in the program with improvements like being able to purchase certain services devices that some of our special-needs kids have," she said.
Lawmakers also approved SB 1320, which takes powers away from the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction to oversee the program.
Kathy Hoffman, the newly elected Democratic schools chief, was elected last year on a platform that was critical of vouchers.
The bill would give the Republican state treasurer, Kimberly Yee, the authority to oversee how the voucher money is spent.
Yee is a longtime supporter of vouchers going back to her days as a state lawmaker.