Arizona Freedom Caucus Confirms Plan by Gov. Hobbs to ‘Dismantle’ School Choice is ‘Dead on Arrival’

The Arizona Freedom Caucus, parents, and activists rallied on Monday at the Arizona Capitol Lawn against the plan recently unveiled by Governor Katie Hobbs (D) they warned would “dismantle” Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs), the popular school choice program that boasts more than 70,000 students. Organizers planned the rally to coincide with the first day of the 2024 legislative session in Arizona.

Arizona Freedom Caucus founder Senator Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek), who spoke at the rally, told The Arizona Sun Times, “I have a message for Katie Hobbs on behalf of the Arizona Freedom Caucus and every legislative Republican: your attempt to destroy educational opportunities for more than 74,000 Arizona children is dead on arrival at the legislature.”

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Arizona Lawmakers, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne Push Back of Gov. Hobbs’ ‘Half Cocked Attempt to Destroy’ the ESA Program

Tom Horne

Multiple Arizona lawmakers and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne have pushed back on the plan by Governor Katie Hobbs to place heavy restrictions on the state’s popular Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program.

Hobbs on Wednesday revealed her plan to place a series of new restrictions on the ESA program, including new state requirements for private school educators and schools, additional scrutiny for ESA contracts before funds are dispersed, a ban on “price gouging,” “minimum standards” for schools, which would apparently be set by the state, and modified eligibility requirements for students, among other new requirements and reforms.

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Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Will Use AI to ‘Scale Up’ After 50,000 Students Join in One Year

The new director of Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program announced plans to use artificial intelligence (AI) to “scale up” the program’s operations after 50,000 students joined the school voucher program.

Arizona now has nearly 62,000 students enrolled in the ESA program, according to Arizona Capitol Times, including about 12,000 students who enrolled in the last three months. The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) previously estimated another 50,000 students could join over the next year.

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Speaker Toma Promises Arizona GOP Will Protect ESA Program Because ‘Parents Want Choice’

Arizona state House Speaker Ben Toma (R-Peoria) promised Republicans in the legislature will not relent in the partisan fight over Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs), even as Governor Katie Hobbs and Arizona Democrats claim the growing school choice initiative is draining the state budget.

Toma said critics of the ESA program are “disingenuous” in their claims for political reasons, asserting that Republicans instead believe it is “the state’s responsibility” to provide education for all children, and “[p]arents want choice” in the matter, during a Friday interview with Arizona Capitol Times.

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Arizona Gov. Hobbs Calls ESAs ‘Unsustainable’ over $320 Million Shortfall Despite May Warning

Governor Katie Hobbs launched new criticisms against the Empowerment Savings Accounts (ESA) program, the school choice initiative allowing all Arizona families to direct education spending to charter or private schools, calling ESAs “unsustainable” and “unaccountable” after reporting the program is estimated to cause a shortfall in the Arizona General Fund.

Total costs for the program are estimated to be $943 million, according to the governor. This will leave the General Fund with a potential shortfall of $319.8 million. Revenues for the General Fund are estimated to be $17.9 billion.

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Arizona Department of Education Cries Foul over Attorney General Mayes’ ESA Warning

The head of the Arizona Department of Education pushed back on a press release issued by Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes, who warned that students participating in the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) program, Arizona’s growing school choice initiative, lose some rights and face unscrupulous vendors or scams after leaving the public school system.

A press release issued by Mayes’ office warned Arizonans that students entering the ESA program “give up rights,” especially from bills aimed at protecting children with disabilities and to access to their children’s educational records. Mayes lamented, “Families should not be denied admission or kicked out of private schools because of a child’s disabilities” and said she wants “families to know that if vendors or private schools” are abusing the program, “the Attorney General’s Office will investigate to the fullest extent of our authority.”

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$2 Million in Awards Granted to Six Arizona Education Providers to Expand Parental Choice as ESAs Move Forward

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) and Janine Yass, the founder of the Yass Prize, revealed Tuesday the winners of the STOP for Arizona Education Awards, which is granting a total of $2 million, to six of the state’s education providers with the best developed plan to meet the demands of the rising numbers of parents eager to make use of Arizona’s new Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs).

The awards are presented following an announcement, by the office of Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D), of results of a campaign by an anti-parental choice group that attempted a referendum to repeal HB 2853, the ESA law.

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Arizona’s School Choice Expansion Very Likely to Be Halted as Signatures Mount for ESA Blockage

Arizona’s historic legislation expanding school choice to every child in the state appears likely to be placed on hold right now, as a ballot measure aimed at stopping the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) expansion will probably make the 2024 ballot. Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ) said its signature collectors turned in 141,714 signatures for “Stop Voucher Expansion” to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office on Friday. Only 118,823 valid signatures were required by Sept. 24, leaving plenty of room for error with bad signatures.

Jenny Clark, the founder of Arizona-based Love Your School and a new appointee to the Arizona State Board of Education whose children participate in the ESAs, told The Arizona Sun Times, “Today 11,000 Arizona students had the opportunity of an ESA put on hold. Every day that a child struggles in a school that’s not working for them is detrimental. But this is far from over. We will be monitoring the signature verification process, and continuing to walk alongside Arizona families and their children.”

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Michelle Ugenti-Rita Fires Back at Save Our Schools Arizona Director After Being Called a ‘MAGA Extremist’

Arizona State Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale) fired back at the Director of Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ), Beth Lewis, after being called a ‘MAGA extremist’ Sunday.

“Expressing our beliefs is the foundation of democracy not interfering with it. Instead of name calling try using substantive and persuasive facts to sell your perspective. Otherwise you simply come off as a simpleton,” Ugenti-Rita tweeted.

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Arizona Attorney General’s Office Asked to Take Actions Against Local School Board Event

The Arizona-based Goldwater Institute (GI) made a request to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office (AGO) Wednesday, asking it to take action against a school board event that would use taxpayer dollars to oppose school choice.

“Arizonans should be appalled to learn that school districts are using taxpayer resources to have district employees participate in an event clearly geared toward a political objective,” said GI Senor Attorney Scott Day Freeman. “All Arizona families should be free to make educational choices for their children without having the government work against them by rigidly defending a status quo that protects bureaucrats and government unions.”

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Arizona Legislature Considering ‘Most Expansive Education Savings Account Program in the Nation’

The 2022 Arizona legislative session is almost over, but there are still a few key bills policy watchers say have a good chance of making it into law. One is HB 2853, which would expand school choice by opening Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) to all K-12 students in the state.

Cory DeAngelis, a national education policy expert who serves as national director of research for the school choice organization, American Federation for Children, tweeted, “This would be the most expansive education savings account program in the nation. All families would be able to take their children’s education dollars to the education providers of their choosing.”

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Arizona Republican State Legislators Ask Governor to Take Action Regarding School Districts Violating Law on Mask Mandates

Doug Ducey and Jake Hoffman

Twenty-six Republican members of the Arizona Legislature signed onto a letter drafted by Rep. Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek) asking Arizona Governor Doug Ducey to take four steps of action in regards to several school districts that appear to be violating state law by imposing mask mandates in schools. A high school biology teacher recently filed a lawsuit over the mandate implemented by Phoenix Union High School District. The school districts contend that the law, A.R.S. 15-342.05, doesn’t apply yet since bills do not go into effect until 90 days after the end of the legislative session, but the bill contains a retroactive clause. 

“It borders on anarchy and destabilizes the very foundation of our society to have local governments effectively refusing to comply with the law. It must not be allowed to stand,” the legislators said. “Any local government that willfully and intentionally flaunts state law must be held accountable.”

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