By Daniel Stefanski |
The weather outside may be cooling in Arizona, but the political heat between the state’s governor and Superintendent of Public Instruction continues to rise.
Last week, Republican Superintendent Tom Horne fired back a response to Democrat Governor Katie Hobbs over his administration’s handling of Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools (EANS) funds. Horne’s communication followed a letter from Hobbs from the week before.
In the initial letter to Horne, Hobbs accused the state’s schools chief of refusing “to follow federal law and transfer unobligated EANS funds from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act or cooperate with the Hobbs administration to assist in the disbursement.” The Governor’s Office alleged that “if funds are not obligated by September 30, 2023, Arizona schools will lose nearly $6 million that will be forfeited to the federal government alongside an additional $22 million in September 2024.”
Hobbs said, “For months, Superintendent Horne has played political games while my administration has fought to deliver millions of dollars of funding to Arizona schools. This must end. Horne needs to put his partisan politics aside and do what’s right for the education of Arizona’s children. By not following federal law, Horne is sending a clear message that he believes his politics are more important than giving every Arizona student the education they need to thrive. It’s a gross dereliction of duty and it needs to come to an end, immediately.”
The superintendent didn’t see the situation through the same lenses employed by the governor, informing Hobbs that “Section B-5 of the United States Department of Education’s official guidance for the EANS funds states: ‘By accepting an EANS award from the Department, a Governor automatically designates the SEA (State Education Agency, in this case the Arizona Department of Education) to administer the EANS program. The SEA will be the payee or fiscal agent in G5 for purposes of accessing Federal funds on the date of award.”
Horne revealed that his office had been in contact with the Governor’s team since April 2023 “to collaborate on the best way to ensure these monies are spent in accordance with the law and to avoid reversion of funds to the federal government.” The Republican shared that his June 12th proposal was rejected by Hobbs because of her assertion that “it was in violation of federal law.” Horne argued that his office was “following the guidance” from the U.S. Department of Education in delivering a proposal that made the Arizona Department of Education the designated fiscal agent, and that under his proposal, the governor “would have had decision-making power for the $22 million of undisbursed money.”
Superintendent Horne challenged Hobbs to prove that her stipulation was legal, adding, “If you produce something in writing from the federal government that says that your proposal will be acceptable to them, we will gladly agree to it. In that case, it will be your responsibility to administer the program, and we can wash our hands of it. Alternatively, you can still accept our proposal to make the transaction legal and you will still have decision-making power over the $22 million.”
According to the governor, though, her Office has already received some sort of an endorsement of her proposal from the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE), claiming that “USDOE agreed with our interpretation of federal law and, accordingly, has reverted all EANS funds to our control in the federal grant management system.” Hobbs pointed to a suggestion by USDOE as the path forward to resolving this conflict, which would be “a simple written agreement between our Offices that will enable OSPB to disburse funds to ADE for disbursement to its non-public school grantees.”
Horne ended his letter to Hobbs by expressing dismay over how this situation has deteriorated between the two offices, stating, “There is no reason that a meeting between our staffs could not have worked this out. There is no earthly reason for you to have publicized a personal attack on me over this technical issue that could have been resolved by a meeting of our staffs.”
Last week’s communication from Horne was his second over EANS funds in the past two weeks. After receiving the governor’s letter, Horne issued a lengthy statement to quickly set the record straight. In that statement, Horne said, “Due to her own actions, the governor now needs to take care of this problem, and not pass the buck to the Department of Education inasmuch as she arranged for the federal government to change the fiscal agent from the Department of Education to the governor. The governor arranged with the federal government to be the fiscal agent for this program for private schools. The Arizona Department of Education has no ability to pay anyone for work done, or to authorize further work, because the governor has now become the fiscal agent.”
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.