Arizona Senate president on school voucher repeal: ‘Not going to happen’

Jan 17, 2023, 11:54 AM | Updated: 12:20 pm

Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen looks on as Gov. Katie Hobbs delivers her the State of the...

Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen looks on as Gov. Katie Hobbs delivers her the State of the State address on Jan. 9, 2023. (Facebook Photo/Governor Katie Hobbs)

(Facebook Photo/Governor Katie Hobbs)

PHOENIX — Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen said the Republican-led Legislature won’t let Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs roll back the state’s universal school voucher program.

Hobbs’ budget proposal, released last week, calls for repealing last year’s expansion of the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program.

“It’s not going to happen,” Petersen, a Republican, told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show on Tuesday. “You need the Legislature to make it happen.”

In July 2022, then-Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, signed a law that gives every parent in Arizona the option of taking public money earmarked for the K-12 public school system and spending it on their children’s private school tuition, homeschool materials or other education costs.

The Arizona Department of Education said nearly 46,000 students were using the program as of Tuesday. An official with the department’s previous administration told KTAR News recently that about 75% of the applicants had no prior record of attending public schools in Arizona.

Opponents of the expansion argue that it lacks oversight and diverts much-needed funding from public schools. They also say it primarily benefits families wealthy enough to afford private school expenses above what the ESAs cover.

In 2018, Arizona voters rejected a similar voucher expansion by a 65%-35% margin. An effort to delay last year’s expansion until it could go before voters in 2024 fell short of the required signature threshold.

The ESA program was previously limited to children with special needs, students at low-performing schools, military families and residents of Native American reservations. Hobbs wants to return it to that level.

During her first State of the State address last week, Hobbs said the expansion will cost Arizona $1.5 billion over the next decade and “will likely bankrupt the state.”

Petersen said there is no way Hobbs can undo the expansion without the Legislature’s approval. Republicans hold slim advantages in each chamber, 31-29 in the House and 16-14 in the Senate.

“We are the most powerful branch of government, and I can tell you that this isn’t going to go away without us allowing that to happen,” the East Valley Republican said.

Petersen said Hobbs’ proposal could alienate voters on both sides of the aisle.

“It would be a huge debacle and mistake for her to eliminate the ESA program because you have a ton of minorities and you have ton of low-income people — you have a lot of her base — that benefit very much from the ESA — and from our base, from all of our base,” he said.

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Arizona Senate president on school voucher repeal: ‘Not going to happen’