Governor Hobbs Announces Plan for ESA Accountability and Transparency

This week, Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs introduced an initiative in order, to what she believes, will make the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts voucher program more accountable and transparent.

This year he program saw a substantial growth in the number of students taking advantage of the program, since it became available to everyone. It began with 11,000 enrollees and has now grown to include 73,000.

The plan, which will be introduced in the upcoming legislative session and executive budget, will increase student safety, promote financial accountability, and hold private schools receiving taxpayer dollars to similar standards as public schools.

Governor Hobbs’ plan will increase transparency and accountability by:

  • Increasing Student Safety: just like public schools, educators at private schools that receive taxpayer dollars will be required to pass a fingerprint background check in order to provide instruction to ESA students. This common-sense measure ensures a safe learning environment for every student.
  • Protecting Rights for Students with Disabilities: require private schools to provide accommodations and services in accordance with an ESA student’s Individualized Learning Plan or Section 504 Plan.
  • Requiring Accountability for Taxpayer Dollars: 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.
  • Expanding Auditor General Authority: create audit authority for the Auditor General to monitor and report on how ESA voucher money is spent by private schools. This critical oversight mirrors practices at public schools.
  • Prohibiting Price Gouging: stop private schools receiving taxpayer dollars from hiking the cost of tuition and fees at a rate higher than inflation.
  • Raising Educational Standards: require private schools receiving taxpayer dollars to have minimum education requirements for classroom educators that provide instruction to ESA students.
  • Establishing Program Transparency: require the Department of Education to disclose the parental and student rights that are relinquished when leaving the public school system for the ESA voucher program and report graduation and chronic absenteeism rates.
  • Reinstating Eligibility Requirements: students participating in the universal ESA voucher program must have attended a public school for 100 days at any point in their education prior to becoming eligible for the ESA voucher program.

“The ESA program lacks accountability and transparency,” said Governor Katie Hobbs. “With this plan, we can keep students safe, protect taxpayer dollars, and give parents and students the information they need to make an informed choice about their education. Arizonans deserve to know their money is being spent on educating students, not on handouts to unaccountable schools and unvetted vendors for luxury spending. My plan is simple: every school receiving taxpayer dollars must have basic standards to show they’re keeping our students safe and giving Arizona children the education they deserve.”

State schools chief Tom Horne issued the following statement in response to Gov. Katie Hobbs’ proposal for potential changes to the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program:

“My job is to administer the ESA program in line with state law, and if changes are made the Department of Education will follow them. 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. In 2023, we rejected several thousand ESA applications for lack of adequate documentation and 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.”