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Goldwater Institute Urges Yee To Protect ESA-Related Monies

July 19, 2023

By Daniel Stefanski |

A fight for the future of some federal grant dollars for Arizonans appears to be brewing.

Last week, John Thorpe with the Goldwater Institute sent a letter to Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee, expressing the organization’s “concern about Governor Hobbs’ purported cancellation of ESA-related grants that would enable children to attend all-day kindergarten” and urging Yee’s office “to go forward with the program as a legal obligation and for the sake of the parents.”

The Goldwater Institute’s letter references Hobbs’ action in May, which determined that “a $50 million grant made to the Treasurer in the final hours of the Ducey Administration is illegal and invalid.” Hobbs said at the time, “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.”

After receiving the governor’s notice earlier this year, Treasurer Yee released a statement, writing: “It is clear Governor Hobbs does not care about what is best for Arizona kids or respect the rights of parents to determine the best environment to educate their child. Instead, she is using these children as pawns in a desperate and transparent attempt to win back support from union bosses and her ultra-progressive base. Educational choice is the civil rights issue of our time, and unfortunately, Governor Hobbs thinks she knows better than parents. I fundamentally disagree, and so do Arizona families.”

In that statement, Yee also said that her legal team was “currently reviewing the lawfulness of the governor’s move and determining next steps.”

The Goldwater Institute’s June 14th letter to Treasurer Yee states that “on January 1, 2023, the Governor’s Office entered an Interagency Service Agreement with the Treasurer’s Office to provide up to $50,000,000 in federal grant money from the American Rescue Plan (ARPA), via the ESA program, to children in kindergarten starting with the 2023 academic year…In exchange for your office’s commitment to administer and report on the grant program, the Governor made a contractual commitment to provide the funds and to ‘work with’ your office ‘to establish a cadence whereby [the Governor] will transfer funding to [the Treasurer] to then disburse to grant program recipients.’ The Agreement was, and is, a legally binding contract.”

Thorpe’s letter also asserts that “nothing in the Agreement or in state law permits unilateral termination by the Governor,” calling Hobbs’ prior justifications “groundless,” adding that “the Governor has no right to simply cancel an agreement based on unfounded speculation that the agreement violates the law.”

The first-year Arizona governor had touted that by taking this action, her office had “adverted a violation of federal law and the State Constitution.”

The attorney for the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation also communicated that “we find it troubling that Governor Hobbs is attempting this rollback of the ESA program after a long history of campaigning against, and promising to end, the Legislature’s recent expansion of the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship program.” He continued, “Having already failed in her bid to defund the ESA program through the budget process earlier this year, it appears Governor Hobbs is attempting to cancel the all-day kindergarten grants, not in order to comply with state or federal law (as described above, the program is entirely lawful), but as part of a transparent effort to harm and undermine the ESA program wherever possible.”

In a supplemental post, Thorpe added, “It’s simple: the governor does not have a right to lawlessly renege on promises made to Arizona families. Goldwater will never stop fighting to empower parents, expand choices in education, and to hold government officials accountable – in Arizona and throughout the country.”

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

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