Arizona Children Deserve Better Than Hobbs’ Plan
After months of lockdowns and countless learning loss due to the COVID pandemic, will Arizona families take another step backward when it comes to providing children a quality education? That sad fate could happen if the state’s new governor, Katie Hobbs, gets her way.
Hobbs has proposed undoing the changes to Empowerment Scholarship Accounts that the previous governor, Doug Ducey, and Legislature passed just last year. That law expanded eligibility for ESAs to include all 1.1 million Arizona K-12 students.
More than a decade ago, Arizona led the way in creating the nation’s first education savings account (ESA) program. For the uninitiated, ESAs give parents a portion of the funding that the state would have spent on their child’s public education. The money gets placed into an account that families can use on qualified educational expenses, ranging from things like books for homeschooling to private school tuition, extra one-on-one tutoring, and more.
As the mother of a child with cystic fibrosis, I fear the impact of Hobbs’ proposal on special needs children. Many parents with special needs kids find ESAs a godsend, because the account mechanism allows families to seek out the specialized services—from tutoring to behavioral therapy to curricular aids—that many public schools struggle to provide. Each child deserves an education personalized to their needs, and ESAs provide the best form of customization possible.
In addition to allowing families to choose the best educational option or options for their children, ESAs also save taxpayer funds, making Hobbs’ argument that last year’s ESA expansion will “cost” Arizona $1.5 billion completely untrue. In Arizona, the state’s contribution to a family’s ESA equals 90% of state spending on the child’s education. By definition, therefore, the state cannot “lose” money from higher ESA participation, when families selecting this option get only a fraction of the funds the state otherwise would have spent on their education.
In fact, this allegation of school choice “robbing” public schools holds little merit, whether in Arizona or elsewhere. The most recent comprehensive analysis of 40 different private school choice programs nationwide, including but not limited to ESAs, found that they collectively saved taxpayers as much as $28.3 billion. The savings come because, in all cases, families received school choice scholarships that did not equal the public district’s per-pupil spending, meaning taxpayers came out ahead in the equation.
In Arizona, Hobbs’ argument that school choice “costs” taxpayers comes with a particularly noteworthy level of irony. In the same budget in which Hobbs proposed gutting the ESA program, she also asked the Legislature to appropriate $40 million to fund an expansion of subsidized college for undocumented immigrants. The fact that Hobbs would prioritize giving a university education to illegal immigrants, even while cutting off opportunities for Arizona families struggling to find a good K-12 school, speaks volumes about the new governor’s skewed priorities.
America’s children continue to suffer from a crisis in learning after teachers’ unions kept public schools locked down for far too long. Amidst all this suffering, Arizona families deserve better than to see a governor crush their children’s chance to receive a quality education — to fund more services for non-citizens. The Arizona Legislature should see through this attempt to turn the state’s children into second-class citizens, and reject the governor’s proposals.
This article was published by Independent Women’s Forum and is reproduced with permission.