Arizona Gov. Hobbs announces ESA plan designed to increase accountability, transparency

Jan 2, 2024, 3:00 PM | Updated: 3:06 pm

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs revealed her ESA program plan on Jan. 2, 2024. (Photo by Michael Loccisano...

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs revealed her ESA program plan on Jan. 2, 2024. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

(Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs revealed on Tuesday her universal school voucher program plan to improve accountability and transparency.

Hobbs said her plan will increase student safety and financial accountability. The Democrat added that her goal is to have private schools benefitting from the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program to be held to the same standards as public schools.

The plan will be introduced in the upcoming legislative session and executive budget.

“Arizonans deserve to know their money is being spent on educating students, not on handouts to unaccountable schools and unvetted vendors for luxury spending,” Hobbs said in a press release.

“My plan is simple: every school receiving taxpayer dollars must have basic standards to show they’re keeping our students safe and giving Arizona children the education they deserve.”

What are the specifics of Hobbs’ ESA plan?

Hobbs released an eight-point plan for the program she said she would make her No. 1 priority in the 2024 legislative session.

The governor wants educators at private schools that receive ESA funding to be required to pass a fingerprint background check. Public school educators currently have to pass the check to teach.

Hobbs also wants manual approval for purchases over $500. The goal is to ensure purchases for academics and not for luxury, according to Hobbs.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, in response to Hobbs, said measures are already in place to review purchases over $500. Horne said over 12,000 purchase order requests were rejected in 2023.

“My job is to administer the ESA program in line with state law, and if changes are made the Department of Education will follow them,” Horne said.

Giving audit authority to the auditor general to monitor how ESA money is spent is another part of Hobbs’ plan that aims to increase financial accountability.

Additionally, Hobbs wants students to have attended public school for at least 100 days before entering the ESA program.

Other points of her plan are:

  • Require private schools to accommodate students with disabilities in accordance with specialized plans.
  • Stop private schools receiving taxpayer dollars from increasing tuition and fees at rates higher than inflation.
  • Require private schools to have minimum education requirements for teachers providing instruction to ESA students.
  • Require the Department of Education to disclose parental and student rights that are forfeited when moving from public school to the ESA program.

“The ESA program lacks accountability and transparency,” Hobbs said. “With this plan, we can keep students safe, protect taxpayer dollars and give parents and students the information they need to make an informed choice about their education.

How many Arizona students are receiving ESAs?

As of Tuesday, 72,949 students were receiving ESAs, according to the Arizona Department of Education, surpassing the estimate of 68,380 used to calculate funding for the program.

In July, Hobbs’ office issued a memo warning that ESA costs could approach $1 billion annually.

The state budget for the current fiscal year (July 1, 2023-June 30, 2024) included $624 million for the ESA program. It’s not clear how much has been spent so far.

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Arizona Gov. Hobbs announces ESA plan designed to increase accountability, transparency