tom horne
Horne Pushes Back Against Hobbs’ ESA Claims With Independent Cost Analysis

August 9, 2023

By Daniel Stefanski |

Another week brings another school choice battle between Arizona’s Governor and Superintendent of Public Instruction.

On Monday, the state’s schools chief, Tom Horne, issued a statement to continue to push back against Governor Katie Hobbs political assaults over the historic Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program, calling her recent attacks “unfounded.”

The release touted an “independent analysis by education analyst, Dr. Matthew Ladner, of how much the ESA program will cost, showing the dire predictions made by Governor Hobbs and other opponents of the program are incorrect.”

Last month, Governor Hobbs’ Office issued a memo, highlighting that the ESA program “would cost the state over $943 million, with over 53% of all new K-12 education spending going towards only 8% of Arizona students.” Hobbs stated, “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.”

Horne has been extremely proactive in responding to all of Hobbs’ attacks on the ESA program, and the fight over the veracity of the Governor’s memo has been no exception. Horne wrote that the author of the analysis, Dr. Ladner, “has studied the issue thoroughly and without political bias. His analysis should be read to reassure taxpayers the ESA program saves tax dollars and is sustainable.”

The Republican schools chief concurred with Dr. Ladner “that the costs of the ESA program will never be $943 million.” However, he pointed out that “even if it were, that would be only about one percent of the fiscal 2022 state budget of $80.5 billion.”

He then took two routes to defend his argument that the cost of the state’s ESA program would not reach the controversial $943 million mark. First, Horne reasoned that “taxpayers pay both state and local taxes. Combined they contribute about $13,000 per student for every student in public school. If a student leaves a public school for a private school, and obtains a payment from ESA of $7200, that is a savings of about $6000 per student to the taxpayers.”

Second, Horne argued that “if the student was never in a public school but was already in a private school when the ESA program was adopted, there is still a benefit to the state for the following reasons: many students in private schools are beneficiaries of the tax credit available for contributors to the student’s tuition. If they choose to take the $7200 from the ESA program, they have to give up that tax credit. This increases revenues to the state, because the tax liability that previously was erased by the tax credit now has to be paid to the state.”

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

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