By Corinne Murdock |
Attorney General Kris Mayes has claimed that universal school choice will bankrupt the state, despite expenditure data showing that school choice saves the state money.
Mayes made the claims in a Saturday letter threatening to sue Gov. Katie Hobbs and the state legislature over last year’s universalization of the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program. Mayes blamed the ESA Program for the state’s decision to deny her office ongoing funding, claiming that the program was a “catastrophic drain” on state resources.
The state budget reached an unanticipated increase to $2.5 billion despite the 40,000 leap in ESA Program enrollments. Total ESA enrollments reached nearly 52,000 in March. At present, there are nearly 54,000 students enrolled.
ESA Program students provide a cost-saving measure for the state. Each student receives up to $7,000 in scholarship funds — about half of what the average public school spends on each student.
Current ESA Program participation reflects a cost savings of about $363 million. Originally, those students without universal school choice would cost the state about $725 million.
Although Mayes named Hobbs as an opponent on this issue, Hobbs wouldn’t side with the slim-Republican majority supporting school choice in this fight over ESA Program funding. Hobbs has previously proposed rolling back the ESA Program on the grounds that it would cost the state $1.5 billion over the next decade.
Hobbs omitted the fact that the Arizona public school system costs $15 billion annually. If every one of the estimated 1.15 million students joined the ESA Program, the cost would be just over $8 billion annually.
After Mayes’ letter, other Democrats joined in on the call to roll back the ESA Program. State Rep. Judy Schwiebert (D-LD02) insisted that the ESA Program funds were taken away from other, more important issues.
“We need to fight the fentanyl crisis; protect our children; combat elder abuse; fund our secure & safe elections, and deal with the homelessness, housing, teacher & water crises,” stated Schwiebert.
State Rep. Austin Smith (R-LD29) countered that claim, declaring that ESA Program funding would cause bankruptcy was untrue.
Mesa Public Schools (MPS) Board Member Rachel Walden shared that MPS had more funding at present than they had prior to the ESA Program universalization.