tom horne
Horne On ESA Report: “Nothing Is Being Withheld”

January 2, 2024

By Daniel Stefanski |

The holiday season didn’t bring holly and jolly to the ongoing feud between Arizona’s Democrat Governor and Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction.

In the days leading up to Christmas, Governor Katie Hobbs and Superintendent Tom Horne exchanged press releases over their dueling perceptions of the due date of the quarterly Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) report.

On December 21, the Director of the Governor’s Office of Strategic Planning & Budgeting, Sarah Brown, transmitted a letter to Horne, asking him to send the FY 2024 Quarter 1 Report for the ESA Program to statutory recipients by the following day. Brown opined that this “late report comes after a number of stories showing a concerning lack of accountability and transparency in the ESA program.”

Governor Hobbs posted a short statement to her “X” account, asserting that “Arizonans deserve to know how their taxpayer dollars are being spent. We need true accountability and transparency in the ESA voucher program.”

Horne wasted no time in responding to the latest attack on the program he guides and stewards, saying, “The Department of Education has been in contact with the Governor’s Office for nearly three weeks regarding this issue. They are fully aware that we are preparing the report she has requested. Nothing is being withheld.”

Brown also accused Horne of essentially mismanaging dollars in his budget, highlighting the Department of Education’s spending of “millions of dollars advertising the program even with the escalating costs that threaten to crowd out critical spending from the State budget.”

The superintendent’s marketing efforts for the ESA program were practically mandated and empowered earlier this year with the passage of the State’s budget between Governor Katie Hobbs and Legislative Republicans, when freshman Senator Janae Shamp reportedly earmarked $10 million for school choice advertising at the Arizona Department of Education. On August 24, Shamp responded to a critical piece about the targeted funds, writing, “Families are not getting the REAL facts. So called ‘reporting’ by the left and their media henchmen fails to acknowledge the true winners of this money well spent…THE KIDS! Now they will receive education that meets their personal needs.”

Before Shamp’s allocation, Horne had executed marketing campaigns for the ESA program, though at far less expense than the levels he obtained after the latest State budget.

The Governor’s Office also pointed out the revelations of ESA dollars being used to fund “ski passes and luxury car driving lessons.” In his response to this criticism, Horne retorted that those “frivolous ESA spending approvals occurred under the administration of the Governor’s friend, Kathy Hoffman.” He added that his department had “reviewed more than 15,000 ESA applications, rejecting thousands that were incomplete in the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2024 alone.”

As he closed his statement, the Republican schools chief wished his readers a “Merry Christmas!”

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

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