Gov. Katie Hobbs proposed new regulations for Arizona’s school choice program that its supporters are calling a “cheap shot.”
Hobbs has been a virulent critic of school choice since her election and even accused parents of using education dollars for “luxury spending.”
“The ESA [education savings account] program lacks accountability and transparency,” read the governor’s press release on Jan. 2. “Arizonans deserve to know their money is being spent on educating student, not on handouts to unaccountable schools and unvetted vendors for luxury spending.”
The list of proposed restrictions would:
- Mandate special education services that participating private schools must offer;
- Restrict how much private schools can increase their tuition and fees;
- Regulate which teachers private schools can hire;
- And require students attend public school before receiving an ESA.
However, education policy expert Matt Beienburg explained line-by-line why Hobbs’ policies would be extraneous – or even harmful – to education.
“[Her proposals] amount to little more than an attempt to undermine state law and subjugate parents and private school operators to the bureaucratic compliance machinery of public education,” Beienburg wrote. “Arizona law is extremely clear that families and private schools are not to be micromanaged by the state, nor treated as incapable of pursuing an education that best serves the needs of their child.”
In other words, Hobbs wants private schools to be more like public schools – but families often send their children to private schools because they aren’t like public schools.
State Superintendent Tom Horne also took issue with Hobbs’ desire for a funding approval process which would be duplicative.
“My office already reviews all expense requests regardless of amount,” Horne said, adding that his office rejected 12,000 individual purchase requests in 2023.
“This department reviewed more than 15,000 ESA applications, rejecting thousands that were incomplete. We also suspended 2,200 accounts because the child was enrolled in public school, saving $21 million,” he added in a press release.
“The latest figures show that current overall public education spending has a surplus of no less than $57 million, proving the ESA program has not impacted the state budget,” Horne concluded.
Other Arizona leaders were critical of Hobbs’ proposed reforms, too.
He accused Hobbs of attempting to “kill [ESA] by bureaucracy” and explained her fundamental misunderstanding of the program.
“ESAs are not an agreement between the state and private schools. ESAs are an agreement between the state and the parent,” Toma said.
“The bottom line is that Gov. Hobbs does not trust parents,” school choice advocate Jenny Clark added. “She doesn’t trust parents to decide what’s best for our kids.”
In reality, Arizona’s ESA program is wildly popular.
Before it became universal, enrollment plateaued at roughly 12,000. But now that it is available to all, over 70,000 children are taking advantage of newfound educational opportunities.