Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs says ESA program ‘unsustainable’ amid director’s resignation

Jul 25, 2023, 4:18 PM | Updated: Jul 27, 2023, 10:48 am

Katie Hobbs...

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs. (KTAR News Photo/Taylor Tasler)

(KTAR News Photo/Taylor Tasler)

PHOENIX — A day after the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program’s director resigned, Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs issued a memo Tuesday stating the program is unsustainable and could cost taxpayers nearly $1 billion.

Christine Accurso resigned saying she’s choosing to move on from the position because she has successfully cleaned up the program, according to a statement Tuesday from the Arizona Department of Education.

“I achieved much of what I set out to accomplish, but it is time for me to move on and pursue opportunities to engage citizens, especially parents, to fight for school choice and the other issues they believe in, for the future of our state and of our nation,” Accurso said in a statement released on Twitter.

“She worked tirelessly managing the ESA operation during a period of unprecedented growth and confronted the various challenges that accompany the transition from a limited program to one available to all Arizona parents. We wish her well in her next opportunity,” the ADE release stated.

John Ward, internal auditor for the Arizona Auditor General’s Office, will replace Accurso as director.

Tom Horne hired Ward as an auditor when he took office as superintendent of public instruction.

What is the Arizona ESA program?

The ESA program allows parents to use school vouchers for a campus they chose for their child.

Taxpayer dollars that would have gone to the K-12 public schools and instead be used for private school tuition, homeschooling, tutoring and other educational expenses.

More than 60,000 students have received benefits from the program as of Tuesday, July 24, according to the ADE.

Arizona ESA program not sustainable, Hobbs says

In May, Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs delivered a notice to the state treasurer’s office stating a $50 million grant to private schools in the final hours of the Ducey Administration is illegal and valid.

Hobbs said the grant agreement attempted to improperly use federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to fund all-day kindergarten for ESA recipients. The state funds only half-day kindergarten for public school students.

“Illegally giving $50 million to private schools while failing to properly invest in public education is just one egregious example of the previous administration’s blatant disregard for public school students,” Hobbs said in a release.

In a memo from Gov. Hobbs Tuesday, she expressed the state’s school voucher program could cost the state over $934 million, with over 53% of all new K-12 education spending going towards only 8% of Arizona’s students.

She emphasized the program is unsustainable.

“Unaccountable school vouchers do not save taxpayer money, and they do not provide a better education for Arizona students,” Hobbs said.

“We must bring transparency and accountability to this program to ensure school vouchers don’t bankrupt our state. I’m committed to reforming universal vouchers to protect taxpayer money and give all Arizona students the education they deserve.”

Horne disagrees

Tom Horne, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, disputed Hobbs’s stance on the program.

“The Arizona Department of Education submitted a report to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) on May 30th outlining our estimates for the number of students that will participate in the ESA program by the end of the 2024 Fiscal Year,” Horne said in a press release.

Horne explained the projections ADE released were almost exactly the same as Gov. Hobbs’s memo with only a .008% difference.

“Questioning our methodology and our commitment to integrity in this process is unfair and unnecessary,” he said in the release.

The superintendent pointed out his administration is handling the ESA program in accordance with the law.

He said the law was not strictly followed under his Democratic predecessor.

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Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs says ESA program ‘unsustainable’ amid director’s resignation