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Attorneys Battle Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs Over School Choice

Hobbs unilaterally cancelled a $50 million grant allocated to fund the state's ESA program

Attorneys are pushing back against a recent attempt by Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs to singlehandedly claw back a school choice initiative that passed before she took over the governor’s office.

In July 2022, then-Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law H.B. 2853, which was the most expansive school choice legislation in the country, at the time.

The bill established Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) that provided up to $7,000 per year for any eligible child to attend the educational institution of their choice. The legislation expanded education access to more than 1.1 million kids.

After the bill was signed into law, Ducey sent a letter to Hobbs, who at the time was Arizona Secretary of State.

“Today, I proudly signed H.B. 2853,” Ducey wrote, adding that Arizona was the first state in the nation to offer ESAs, and the first to make them available to all K-12 students.

Hobbs responded by attempting to employ a veto referendum, but failed to obtain enough signatures. State law requires five percent of the signatures from the most recent gubernatorial election turnout within 90 days of the law’s enactment to place the measure on the general election ballot.

Opponents of the ESA legislation fell short by roughly 40,000 signatures amid the program’s massive popularity among Arizonans, in part because of a parent-led effort to educate the public.

School choice and ESAs were instituted in compliance with the law.

After winning her race in the 2022 midterm elections and becoming governor, Hobbs moved to strip the ESA program of all funding, which attorneys for the Goldwater Institute say is illegal.

In May, Hobbs reversed the $50 million federal grant allocated for the ESA program, arguing it violated equal protection, gift’s clause and maintenance of the public school system.

“Illegally giving $50 million to private schools while failing to properly invest in public education is just one example of the previous administration’s disregard for public school students,” Hobbs said at the time. “Today, we averted a violation of federal law and the State Constitution. In my administration, we are committed to deploying federal funds lawfully and equitably.”

Attorneys at Goldwater say Hobbs cannot legally just “cancel it,” and explain that her assertion the program violates the law is baseless.

“It’s simple: the governor does not have a right to lawlessly renege on promises made to Arizona families,” John Thorpe, Staff Attorney at Goldwater, said in a statement.

In a letter dated June 14 sent to State Treasurer Kimberly Yee, Thorpe urged the department to push forward with the program — “both as a legal obligation and for the sake of the parents and children who are relying on you and Governor Hobbs to implement the duly-enacted program to provide ESA grants for all-day kindergarten.”

Thorpe stated that after the ESA law passed, the governor’s office “made a binding commitment to go forward with the program unless certain specific conditions justified cancellation. No such conditions justify the Governor’s recent attempt to unilaterally cancel the Agreement, and her legal arguments against the Agreement’s validity are baseless.”

He added, “We urge your office to proceed with the grant program.”

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