Hobbs tells kids their school-choice scholarships will 'bankrupt' state

Hobbs tells kids their school-choice scholarships will 'bankrupt' state

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs smiles as Democrats give her a standing ovation at her Jan. 9 state of the state address. In the speech, she vowed to roll back a popular school-choice program because it will "bankrupt" the state.

Hobbs tells kids their school-choice scholarships will 'bankrupt' state

Arizona’s new governor is being ripped for her first proposed state budget that would roll back a popular school scholarship program that made headlines last year for becoming the country’s largest of its kind.

The budget released Jan. 13 by Gov. Katie Hobbs asks the state legislature to roll back an expansion of the school voucher program, known as Empower Scholarships, that is currently available for more than 1 million students. Last summer, then-Gov. Doug Ducey signed a law that expanded the voucher program beyond a small pool of students and now more than 45,000 students are enrolled, The Daily Caller reported.

The per-student scholarship is generous, $7,000, which covers most private school tuitions.

Reacting to the budget proposal, Arizona school board member Amy Carney told Fox News she has two children happily enrolled in public schools. That is not the case, she said, with many other families.

“Because right now,” Carney warned, “people are leaving in droves from our public schools and seeking the education that they need and deserve.”

If parents aren’t happy with a public school, she added, they should have the opportunity to find the education that “works best” for their children.

Democrats in the Arizona legislature gave Hobbs a standing ovation last week when she denounced the expanded school-choice program in a state of the state speech to legislators. The scholarship program, she warned, could “bankrupt the state.”   

According to the Governor’s budget proposal for public education, rolling back the Empowerment Scholarships saves taxpayers $1.5 billion over 10 years. The budget proposal then lists proposed expenditures:

  • $332.2 million deposit in Building Renewal Grant funding to address crumbling and inadequate school infrastructure

  • $198.6 million to retain critical education staff, increase the Base Support Level for schools by 3.04 percent

  • $172.7 million in new school construction for three schools already in progress, construction of nine new schools, as well as land and site condition projects

  • $40 million to expand the Arizona Promise Program and make higher education more accessible for an additional 10,200 students regardless of financial background or resources

  • $40 million to establish a new tuition scholarship program for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival eligible students

  • $20.5 million to establish a new Dual Enrollment support and advancement program

  • $15 million to address the enrollment increase for the Arizona Teacher’s Academy

  • $13 million to provide Free or Reduced Price Lunch at schools in low-income areas

  • $10.9 million to adjust District Additional Assistance formulas for inflation and reinforce critical funding for classroom resources such as textbooks, materials and technology

  • $10.3 million in restored STEM and workforce aid funding to Maricopa, Pima, and Pinal Community Colleges

  • $14 million to double investment in rural community colleges

  • $5 million to support the development of fast and reliable broadband service in schools

  • $4.4 million to increase the state’s funding to students with a developmental disability, emotional disability, mild intellectual disability, or specific learning disability

  • $1 million in one-time funding to develop and implement a plan to conduct in-person inspections of school facilities.

Reached by AFN about Gov. Hobbs' education budget, Jason Bedrick of The Heritage Foundation says Arizona's public schools actually benefit financially from school choice. Citing taxpayers' cost of educating a child in a public school classroom, an analysis by the Common Sense Institute, he says, suggests the state is currently saving $500 million after students moved to a private school classroom.

"Gov. Hobbs has been tied to the teachers' unions for a long time," he explains. "She even put the president of the state chapter of the Arizona Education Association on her transition team along with some other union types."

In the same Fox News interview, Steve Smith of school-choice group American Federation for Children said Gov. Hobbs is picking a fight with “tens of thousands” of parents in her first week in office. That should scare parents who are witnessing her priorities, he said. 

Editor's Note: This story has been updated with comments from Jason Bedrick of The Heritage Foundation.