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Hobbs: Arizona’s school voucher system could cost nearly $1 billion, is ‘unsustainable’

AP, file
A new memo released by Gov. Katie Hobbs’ office this week says Arizona's universal school voucher program could cost Arizona nearly $1 billion.

Arizona Democrats worry that the expanded universal school voucher system could be on track to bankrupt the state. A new memo released by Governor Katie Hobbs’ office this week says it could cost Arizona nearly $1 billion.

The governor's office says the price tag for Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program will be more than $943 million, leading to a budget shortfall of almost $320 million next year.

"Unaccountable school vouchers do not save taxpayer money, and they do not provide a better education for Arizona students," Hobbs said in a statement. "We must bring transparency and accountability to this program to ensure school vouchers don’t bankrupt our state. I’m committed to reforming universal vouchers to protect taxpayer money and give all Arizona students the education they deserve.”

Hobbs says the voucher system that was expanded to all Arizona students by the legislative Republicans in 2022 benefits only 8% of children while accounting for more than half of the state’s education spending.

The program has grown to about 60,000 students, a five-fold increase from the 2021-2022 school year. The governor’s memo estimates it could balloon to nearly 100,000 enrollees this year.

Arizona schools chief Tom Horne says the numbers released by Hobbs are accurate, but blamed his predecessor for mismanaging funds.

The average ESA award is about $10,000 and can be used for private school tuition and other educational costs in lieu of attending public or charter school. Arizona consistently falls below the national average for per-pupil school funding. A 2022 report from the Education Law Center ranked it last out of all U.S. states.

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.