Goldwater Institute Education Expert Fact-Checks Hobbs’ ESA Claims

August 7, 2023

By Daniel Stefanski |

One of Arizona’s most-influential organizations is bringing facts to the conversation surrounding the state’s historic school choice expansion program.

Last month, the Director of Education Policy for the Goldwater Institute, Matt Beienburg, responded to the latest political attacks against Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) program, releasing a comprehensive fact-check to promote the truth.

Beienburg’s fact-check came after the Governor’s Office issued a memo, which targeted the ESA program, showing that it “could cost the state over $943 million, with over 53% of all new K-12 education spending going towards only 8% of Arizona students.” In conjunction with the release of that memo, Democrat Governor Katie Hobbs said, “The universal school voucher program is unsustainable. Unaccountable school vouchers do not save taxpayer money, and they do not provide a better education for Arizona students. 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.”

The fact-check from the Goldwater Institute refuted three claims made against the ESA program. First, that “spending on ESA vouchers could account for 53.25% of all new K-12 education spending in the FY2024 budget going towards only 8% of Arizona students.” Beienburg put forward three facts in opposition to the claim: that “total spending on universal ESA students makes up just 2% of total Arizona K-12 spending,” that “Arizona public school districts are projected to receive over 60% (more than $570 million) of all new K-12 funding in FY 2024, despite making up 0% of the growth in students served this upcoming year,” and that “even under the Arizona Department of Education’s (ADE) highest projections, the ESA program would be funding the education of roughly 8% of Arizona’s students (including a disproportionately high percentage of students with severe disabilities) for less than 6% of the total taxpayer cost of educating Arizona’s students.”

The second claim refuted by Goldwater was that “there is an increased cost to the State when a student leaves a public district school and enrolls in the ESA voucher program. This occurs because the ESA award amount is based on the state funding provided to charter school students, which is higher than the state funding provided to district school students.” Goldwater issued one fact in opposition to this claim – that “the average savings per ESA student is even higher when including other (non-formula) spending on public school students. In total, JLBC reports over $3 billion (roughly $3,000 per student on average) of additional spending by state and local taxpayers per public school student outside the basic funding formula. ESA students receive none of this funding.”

The third – and final – claim refuted by Goldwater was that “new estimates indicate the ESA voucher program may cost taxpayers up to $943,795,600 annually, resulting in a potential $319,795,600 General Fund shortfall in FY 2024.” Goldwater issued four facts in opposition to this claim, including that “Gov. Hobbs’ office itself does not believe the report that it is using as the basis for these figures;” that “Gov. Hobbs’ office mistakes the cost ESA awards by thousands of dollars per student;” that “the nonpartisan JLBC continues to project ESA costs in line with the state budget; “ and that “even if the higher enrollments and total ESA award amounts estimated by ADE do materialize, they would not represent the net cost to taxpayers of the program.”

Beienburg closed his fact-check, writing, “Arizona’s ESA program now offers tens of thousands of families an opportunity to pursue the best education possible for their children at a lower cost than traditional public schooling. The governor and her budget office owe it to parents and the public to provide the facts about ESAs free of manipulation.”

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

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