Katie Hobbs says ESA program pushes education budget close to $1 billion

She is basing this on new estimates calculated by her office
The governor's office estimates that the cost of ESAs is double what supporters initially said it would be.
Published: Jul. 25, 2023 at 8:59 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Arizona’s current Empower Scholarship Accounts program, which can be used to pay for private schooling, could push the state’s finances into the red, according to numbers released by Gov. Katie Hobbs. The governor’s office now estimates that the cost to taxpayers will approach $1 billion, almost double last year’s education budget.

In May, the governor and legislature brokered a deal to fund about 68,000 students in the voucher program at $624 million. However, according to the governor’s new projections, enrollment will balloon to more than 97,000 students for the school year, pushing costs to more than $940 million. If Gov. Hobbs’ numbers are accurate, the state could find itself nearly $320 million over budget, digging a deep hole in its current spending plan.

Marisol Garcia, President of the Arizona Education Association, called the voucher program a “Billion Dollar Boondoggle,” saying, “As a mom of a public school student, I’m alarmed. As an educator and as someone who works with educators every day, it’s disappointing that we are going to continue to see taxpayer funds to very small groups of people and not helping ensure our community schools are strong.”

House Speaker Ben Toma strongly supports the ESA program and disagrees with the governor’s analysis. He said in a statement, “The governor’s estimates are baseless and come just weeks after she signed the bipartisan state budget, which fully funds all Arizona’s School Choice Programs, including ESA.”

Beyond warning of the costs, Hobbs also wants to work with the legislature to achieve more transparency and accountability from private schools that take taxpayer money.

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