After failing in her multiple attempts to block and remove Arizona’s universal school choice opportunities for families, Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs is now looking to layer endless bureaucracy onto the state’s thriving Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program.
To justify tearing down the program, Hobbs disingenuously declared that it “lacks accountability and transparency.” Her proposed plan would require private schools to meet endless regulations and mirror public schools on a host of fronts. Essentially, it would strip away autonomy from private schools in the free market education landscape that Arizona families value.
Hobbs claimed, “Arizonans deserve to know their money is being spent on educating students, not on handouts to unaccountable schools and unvetted vendors for luxury spending.” Yet, no accountability of public school spending or vetting of public school vendors is occurring as Arizona public schools spend, on average, $15,000 per student. This is more than double the average $7,000 ESA amount provided per student accessing an alternative education avenue. Hobbs also seems to turn a blind eye to the staggering additional $800 million pumped into Arizona public schools this school year.
Unfortunately, Arizona Senate Democratic Leader Mitzi Epstein backs Hobbs’ tactics, stating, “The Republican expansion of government to universal ESA vouchers has put our state’s financial security at risk, and our students at risk without any safeguards.”
In reality, the ESA program provides enormous savings to the state, and the more families that use the program, the greater the savings will be. It’s basic math — the cost of $7,000 per student through the ESA program versus $15,000 per student public school spending unquestionably helps, not hinders, the state’s bottom line.
But for Hobbs, ensuring high-quality education for the children of Arizona is not the priority, nor is it lower costs for the state. Instead, her priority is to pay dividends to the teachers unions who got her elected. The Arizona Federation of Teachers endorsed her, as did the Arizona Education Association (AEA) after she “struck a ‘deal’ with the teachers union during her gubernatorial race.” According to the AEA Legislative Liaison Isela Blanc, “having Hobbs is the ‘key’ to the union’s agenda.”
Without question, the teachers unions controlled Hobbs since their endorsements were made back in 2022. That year, while campaigning for the governor’s seat and working as Arizona’s Secretary of State, Hobbs led the charge to collect signatures attempting to overturn Arizona’s historical universal school choice bill signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey. Her effort failed resoundingly.
And upon becoming governor in 2023, Hobbs immediately sought to reverse the universal ESA bill. In her State of the State Address, she attempted to invoke fear but claimed that the program “lacks accountability and will likely bankrupt this state.” Instead of giving parents educational freedom to select the best learning option for their children, which also saves the state massive amounts of money, Hobbs insisted that the state must “truly invest in public schools.” For Hobbs, the schools run by the teachers’ unions need ever-increasing funds—regardless of any accountability for student learning or curriculum transparency.
Hobbs was unsuccessful in 2022, 2023, and will be again in 2024 in reversing ESAs in Arizona. Republican lawmakers hold majorities in both the state House and Senate and aren’t falling for her latest tactic to undermine parental choice in the education of their children.
Arizona House Speaker Republican Ben Toma made it clear: “Empowerment Scholarship Accounts are wildly popular with Arizona parents because they leverage private sector solutions to offer the best educational opportunities for their children.” Toma continued, explaining that the governor and Democratic Party are looking “to strangle ESAs and private education with bureaucracy and regulation.”
On the Senate side, Education Committee Chairman Republican Ken Bennett, while not opposed to enhancing the ESA program, asserted, “…we will not add layers of bureaucratic red tape, as some of the governor’s proposals suggest, or discourage parents from participating in ESAs.”
Hobbs’ would be wise to listen to these lawmakers, cut ties with the corrupt teachers unions, and grow the number of families using ESAs in Arizona. The positive financial benefits and workforce development byproducts for the state would be transformational.