Horne Schools Hobbs On Policies Involving ESA School Choice Program

Hobbs
Governor Katie Hobbs [Photo via Office of the Governor]

Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne is schooling Governor Katie Hobbs on the state’s school choice plan, better known as the Empowerment Scholarship Account program, after she released proposed reforms to it on Tuesday.

“My job is to administer the ESA (Empowerment Scholarship Account) program in line with state law, and if changes are made the Department of Education will follow them,” said Horne of Hobbs’ proposed changes. “However, one proposal stands out because it’s already in place: The governor recommends a manual review of ESA purchases over $500. My office already reviews all expense requests regardless of amount, unlike the previous superintendent who approved many frivolous requests.”

According to Horne, in 2023, under the leadership of ESA administrator John Ward, who came to the Department of Education from the Auditor General’s Office, several thousand ESA applications were rejected “for lack of adequate documentation.” The Department also “suspended almost 2,200 accounts totaling $21 million because the student was enrolled in a public school.”

“We’ve also rejected more than 12,000 ESA purchase order requests,” said Horne in a press release.

The key figure behind Arizona’s historic expansion of school choice, Speaker of the House Ben Toma, vowed to protect school choice against Hobbs’ relentless attacks, which she has launched largely on behalf of the teacher’s union.

“Empowerment Scholarship Accounts are wildly popular with Arizona parents because they leverage private sector solutions to offer the best educational opportunities for their children,” said Toma. “Meanwhile, Governor Hobbs and Democratic Party legislators now seek to strangle ESAs and private education with bureaucracy and regulation. I won’t allow that to happen.”

Hobbs says her plan will be introduced in the upcoming legislative session and executive budget. She claims it “will increase student safety, promote financial accountability, and hold private schools receiving taxpayer dollars to similar standards as public schools.”

Some of Hobbs’ proposals may not face significant opposition in the Arizona Legislature, like the requirement that “private schools that receive taxpayer dollars will be required to pass a fingerprint background check in order to provide instruction to ESA students.”

Other suggested reforms seem based on myths repeated by the teachers’ union and its fringe support group known as Save Our Schools (SoS).

Hobbs reiterated some of those lies in her Tuesday announcement under the heading, “Requiring Accountability for Taxpayer Dollars.” She claimed that this reform would “end spending on luxury expenses like ski passes and luxury car driving lessons and require manual approval of purchases over $500 to ensure purchases are utilized for an academic purpose.”

However, as the Arizona Daily Independent previously reported, in late November 2023, Horne called out the progressive SoS after the group admitted to falsifying information related to parents’ purchases through the ESA program.

Horne refuted the series of lies being spread by the group on social media and showed the organization was using deceptive tactics.

“Contrary to a falsified document tweeted by Save Our Schools, no ESA parent has been reimbursed $500 to buy Legos. To be clear, district, charter and ESA students are allowed to use Legos. The issue here is a pattern of lying. Save Our Schools admitted they fabricated a document to make it look like a parent made a $500 purchase when she did not. By doing so they have misled both the Governor and a prominent newspaper columnist, both of whom have retweeted this lie,” said Horne at the time referring to Hobbs’ claims and those made by progressive columnist with the Arizona Republic, Laurie Roberts.

“This is a longstanding pattern by Save Our Schools,” continued Horne. “They continue to say that outlandish purchases such as trips to Disney parks, personal vacations, food items, ocean cruises and the like are being approved as ESA expenses when they are not. The interesting thing is that Save Our Schools not only lied and fabricated but turned the actual facts on their head. Approvals like those came during the prior superintendent’s administration led by a friend of the leader of Save Our Schools, and one of my first acts in office was to put an end to it.”

One of Hobbs’ recommendations, prohibiting price gouging, echoed the concerns of many ESA parents. There has been some inflation is private education choices, however it is unclear if the ESA program is contributing to it or if it is largely the inflationary policies of the Biden administration.

Hobbs’ recommendation that “private schools receiving taxpayer dollars have minimum education requirements for classroom educators that provide instruction to ESA students,” sparked ridicule, given the significantly improved results those schools are generating for their students.

Former Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas scoffed at the idea that traditional public-school teachers, who usually have degrees from traditional colleges of education, but whose students are too often failing and being left behind, have met “meaningful” education requirements.

“Gov. Hobbs apparently needs to familiarize herself with ARS 15-161 prohibiting state control over private schools – for very legitimate reasons,” said Douglas. “Assuming she defines “minimum education requirements” as a degree from a college of education and state certification one needs to look no further than the abysmal AZ Student Achievement Assessment results to realize these requirements are already proven failures.”

“Arizona families are overwhelmingly grateful to have school choice! Once again, Katie Hobbs and the Democrats show disdain for families and the challenges of raising kids. Adding additional regulations to an already well-monitored program will weaken school choice,” said Kim Miller, Director of Arizona Women of Action, a family advocacy organization. “Democrats want all forms of education under the government’s thumb, therefore hurting vulnerable kids and families who need education choices for their children.”

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Horne Calls Out Save Our Schools For Lying About ESA Purchases

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