By Daniel Stefanski |
Some Arizona special interest groups and legislative Democrats were furious with the state’s budget compromise this week, and Governor Katie Hobbs may be feeling their wrath for months to come.
As details of the finalized budget negotiations were unveiled, outrage ensued over the protection of Arizona’s historic ESA program, which Hobbs and most other Democrats have vowed to dismantle or cap while in office. Senate President Warren Petersen, House Speaker Ben Toma, and other legislative Republicans had accomplished their primary mission to defend and sustain the ESA program for existing and new families, despite the Grand Canyon State’s divided government.
Before the votes in both chambers, the two Democrat leaders for the House and Senate issued a statement, calling on negotiations to continue, in large part, due to the uncapped and very-much-so protected ESA program.
A coalition (consisting of the Arizona High School Democrats, Arizona State University Young Democrats, Keep Arizona Blue Student Coalition, Maricopa County Young Demcorats, Northern Arizona University Young Democrats, University of Arizona Young Democrats, and the Young Democrats of Arizona) wrote a letter to the state’s chief executive, urging her “to go back to the drawing board and reject any budget that does not include a cap on ESA vouchers.” The student-led letter asserted that “continuing this reckless expansion would have a detrimental effect on public education in our state.”
Save Our Schools Arizona Director Beth Lewis wrote an op-ed for a local publication, stating, “For Hobbs and legislative Democrats, this budget is a must-win game that will decide the future of public education in our state. Will they rise to the challenge and play full court press, or will they fail to deliver on their campaign promises to public education? We’ll know soon.”
The organization also reminded Hobbs of her recent call (on March 22) to roll back the ESA program in the latest budget, tweeting, “We couldn’t agree more, Governor Hobbs! AZ’s budget **must** roll back ESA vouchers, or the state cannot fulfill its constitutional responsibility to fund our public schools.”
The lobbying from Save Our Schools and others turned to desperation and politicized grief as both the House and the Senate passed the budget bills over Tuesday-Wednesday, ensuring that Arizona’s ESA program will continue to benefit tens of thousands of families attempting to control their children’s educational pursuits and objectives. After the state senate approved of the K-12 Education budget bill, Save Our Schools AZ tweeted, “Under cover of night, the Senate votes 25-5 to pass the K12 portion of the budget with zero progress towards a cap on unfettered ESA vouchers.”
And after the Arizona House gave a green light to the same K-12 budget bill, Save Our Schools AZ responded, “BREAKING: AZ House passes the K-12 budget 43-16, betraying AZ public schools by failing to cap the universal ESA vouchers that threaten to bankrupt AZ. Thank you to the 16 #PublicSchoolProud lawmakers who took a principled stand by voting NO. Fighting for what’s right matters.”
After the dust settled on the votes, Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts opined, “Hobbs, in her State of the State speech, called for a repeal of the universal voucher program but the more likely prospect was a spending cap, to ensure it doesn’t suck the lifeblood out of the public schools that the vast majority of Arizona children attend. Instead, she negotiated a budget that protects the Republicans’ signature universal voucher program. Instead of standing tough and insisting on a budget that could draw legitimate bipartisan support, she teamed up with Republicans and steamrolled her own stunned allies.”
On Wednesday, the Arizona House Majority Communications sent out a press release, announcing the creation of an Ad Hoc Committee to Examine ESA Administration – due to “discussions between the House Speaker and the Minority Leader.” The purpose of the new committee is “to provide clarity and ensure that the governance and administration of ESAs is appropriately designed to manage a growing and complex program.”
Democrat Senator Catherine Miranda seemed to see it as an opportunity to quell her fellow Democrats’ complaints and applauded the news of the new committee, saying, “It was our last piece of hope to get SOMETHING to at least have ESA CAP talks. This will allow that path.”
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.