Despite proposal to shutter Arizona school choice program, Hobbs doesn’t have authority to do so

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs’ first budget proposal to lawmakers included the dissolution of the state’s new program allowing parents to spend some tax dollars tied to their child’s public school education on a school of their choice. Although governors wield immense authority, Hobbs can’t do that alone, according to one authority on state education policy.

Former Gov. Doug Ducey ushered through the Arizona Legislature an expansion of the Empowerment Scholarship Account program to apply to any student, not just those whose parents are low-income or have a disability. The ESA program allows around $7,000 for parents to either spend on private school tuition or on educational materials approved by the State Department of Education.

The program rapidly expanded when it was opened to all of the state’s 1.1 million students and now has more than 30,000 children participating.

Hobbs said in her State of the State address that the program would bankrupt the state’s budget.

“Funding this expansion is poised to cost Arizona taxpayers an estimated $1.5 billion over the next 10 years if left unaddressed,” she said.

As Goldwater Institute Director of Education Policy Matt Beienburg stated in a Friday post, Hobbs can aim to abolish the program, but her hands are tied due to the legislative process handing the reins to other statewide officers.

“Policymakers should remember that the only Arizona incumbent to lose a statewide race (of either party) in Arizona this past cycle was the left-leaning champion of the teachers unions who opposed school choice and ESAs, and who voters replaced with State Superintendent Tom Horne, who has pledged to uphold and protect the program,” he said. “And fortunately, the continued distribution of funds for ESA families rests squarely with the offices of Superintendent Horne and school choice champion Treasurer Kimberly Yee – neither of whom report to the governor.”

He added that Goldwater is ready to challenge the governor’s office in court should she attempt to hinder the ESA program via executive order.

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