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ESA Advocates Respond With Facts To Attacks

June 11, 2023

By Daniel Stefanski |

Advocates of Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) are responding to recent attacks on the program.

Last week, Democrat Governor Katie Hobbs launched a political assault on ESAs, reacting to a recent memo from the Arizona Department of Education, which detailed the expected cost for the upcoming fiscal year. Hobbs tweeted, “the school voucher program in its current form is not sustainable, and Republican legislators need to explain why they are forcing this runaway spending on Arizona taxpayers. We need to bring an end to this out of control and unaccountable spending, and I will work tirelessly to make that happen.”

The first-year governor has been working tirelessly to assuage angry members of her own party since she agreed to a negotiated state budget last month with Republican leaders of the Arizona House and Senate. Though she railed against ESAs on the campaign trail and leading up to the budget compromise, Hobbs signed the package that left the historic school choice expansion untouched and uncapped, leaving Democrats and interest groups opposed to ESAs to question her commitment to adhere to such a prominent platform of her administration.

Proponents of Arizona’s ESA program were ready for Hobbs’ – and other Democrats’ – attack, publishing national and local opinion pieces to assure people of the facts. Jason Bedrick and Corey DeAngelis, two national leaders of the school choice movement, wrote a commentary for the Wall Street Journal, entitled “School Choice Saves Arizona Money.” The advocates clarified the cost for ESAs in Fiscal Year 2024 ($900 million) “is barely 2% of total Arizona state spending of $80.5 billion in 2022. Arizona public schools spend about $14,000 per pupil, or $1.4 billion for 100,000 students. If the department’s enrollment projection is reached, school choice would serve roughly 8% of Arizona’s students for 6% of the $15 billion that Arizona will spend on public schools.”

They pointed to a report published by the Common Sense Institute, which found that “current enrollment in Arizona public district and charter schools combined is over 80,000 students below pre-pandemic projections,” saving Arizona $639 million.

Another opinion piece, written by Jon Gabriel for the Arizona Republic, stressed that “the critics of Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts keep claiming the program is too expensive. At the same time, they insist the state spend far, far more on education.” Gabriel highlights that “an ESA student is only allowed 90% what that student would receive in a traditional public school,” arguing that Democrats “are galled to see education funding going directly to students and parents instead of to bloated public school administrations and teachers’ unions.”

Matthew Ladner took his defense of ESAs to Twitter to make a comparison with the Mesa Unified School Direct. He posted, “Mesa Unified was budgeted for $1.3 billion last year to educate 54,000 students. I’m having a hard time getting too excited about less money for 100,000 students. Let’s call ESA ‘a bargain for taxpayers.’”

As of the Arizona Department of Education’s update on June 2, 58,253 students are currently enrolled in ESAs.

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.

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