Hobbs’ Budget Fails to Deliver for Arizona Kids
The budget negotiated by Gov. Hobbs and Arizona Republicans last week is deeply disappointing.
Universal Vouchers Left Unchecked
With this budget, Gov. Hobbs abandoned her vow to repeal or slow the growth of the universal ESA voucher program. This inaction will accelerate the dismantling of public education, bankrupt our economy, and siphon desperately needed funds for schools and other essential public services. This year’s budget offers a modicum of support for public schools while diverting hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to vouchers, draining the budget for subsidies to the wealthy. The total failure to address the growth of Arizona’s exponentially growing ESA voucher program spells economic doom for our state and the public schools that 92% of Arizona families choose.
Unchecked ESA voucher growth poses an imminent threat to local public schools and our state.
By voting for this budget, lawmakers are allowing ESA vouchers to continue to spiral at a rate of over 1,000 enrollees per week; over 80% of enrollees have never attended a public school, representing an entirely new cost to the state. This means the program is on track to double by this time next year, growing this year’s $500 million expenditure to a projected $1 billion next year. With pro-voucher special interest groups pouring marketing dollars into Arizona to advertise vouchers prior to the new school year, the program will soon become so entrenched that a future rollback becomes less and less possible.
Public School Funding
- Siphons an additional $200 million for unbudgeted ESA voucher costs for a total of almost $500 million yearly – and growing
- One-year override of the Aggregate Expenditure Limit (AEL)
- $368 million in one-time funding for school facilities
- $300 million in one-time funding for district and charter schools based on weighted student count (can be used for M&O and/or capital expenses)
- Repeal of Ducey’s backward and inequitable results-based funding model, which redistributed $68.6 million to base funding
- Raises the 2% mandatory annual increase for inflation to 2.9%
- $36 million in one-time investments (including $15.5 million for dual enrollment classes, $10 million for music and art supplies, and $2 million for menstrual hygiene products)
ESA Voucher Program
- Puts into statute the reporting requirements already being followed by ADE, including whether a recipient previously attended public school, disaggregation by disability category, grade level, English Learner status, and average award amount — but fails to gather information on where expenses are being directed, student demographics or family income.
- Does nothing to improve academic accountability or financial transparency of the program
- Does not include any additional safety measures such as background checks or fingerprinting
- Does not include any cap on ESA voucher enrollment or a rollback of any eligibility provisions
- Creation of an ad hoc committee to study “appropriate governance and oversight” for the program, with members appointed by House Speaker Toma, a strong proponent of the program remaining as-is; the committee has no obligation to make any changes
The Future of Public School Funding
Federal COVID relief funds are set to end in September 2024. School districts have been relying on this funding to hire aides, provide tutoring and targeted academic interventions, and plug the many other holes left by the chronic lack of state funding. This, paired with only a one-time increase in K-12 spending, means school districts must prepare for a harsh impact for the 2024-25 school year.
Lawmakers have spent every cent of the more than $2 billion in surplus funds, leaving nothing for future years. Due to Ducey’s flat tax and universal ESA vouchers, the JLBC projects future budgets will have little to no surplus. The budget does not invest in the Rainy Day Fund, a reserve of money the state can tap in the event of a recession. That fund only contains enough money for about three months of state expenses; it simply won’t cover the additional costs of subsidizing private school and homeschool for families already choosing those options.
The money for this snowballing government subsidy must come from somewhere. The next step on this path is slashing school budgets. Despite claims from universal voucher expansion advocates that families are fleeing to vouchers, public school enrollment is holding steady. Budget cuts ultimately mean teachers and staff will be let go, classrooms will close, and neighborhood schools will be shuttered.
Please tell Gov. Hobbs how you feel about this budget using this form.