In 2018, Arizona voters rejected school voucher expansion by 1.5 million votes, nearly a 2-1 margin. Once again, Governor Ducey and the Legislature ignored public sentiment and in 2022, the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) bill was signed into law. State officials estimated that only 4,500 students would participate at a projected cost of $31.5 million. Currently, 57,849 students are reportedly enrolled at a cost of over $405 million. Apparently, there is no precise method of identifying the actual cost but Save Our Schools AZ projects the amount to rise to $619 million by next year. 

Recently, State School Superintendent Tom Horne sent a letter to the State Board of Education citing a need to tighten the ESA expenditure process. This was primarily focusing on parents who used the money for “educational therapies” (home schooling). His letter noted that already ESA money had been spent on items such as water slides, above ground pools, kayaks, a baby grand piano, a large greenhouse, and motorized go carts. He also stated that his predecessor did not enforce provisions in the law to ensure that tutoring or teaching services provided by an individual or facility were accredited by a state, regional or national accrediting organization. Horne went on to say, “Because the prior administration did not enforce this statute, it would be too disruptive to require that all employees of the facility have a college degree. If facilities do not have accreditation because the law was not enforced, we as a state agency, can give them accreditation. All they need to do is fill out an attestation form.” 

I’m not an attorney like Mr. Horne, but to me that means I can submit an attestation form to ADE and receive accreditation for my facility, which could be my home, garage or outhouse and by doing so, I can employ pretty much anyone who has a high school diploma to teach my child. Since there are no requirements to measure progress such as an annual achievement test, no one will know if my “educational therapies” are working. In fact, no one will know if my child’s tutor and/or I spend the money on firearms and fentanyl or God forbid, teach critical race theory instead of the 3 R’s. As Mr. Horne noted in his letter, “It takes a lot of staff resources to review receipts and… simply cannot be done without additional staff, far in excess of what the legislature has authorized.” Essentially, the law created over 50,000 mini school districts with virtually no fiscal or operational oversight. 

In 2000 the Republican Speaker of the House, Jeff Groscost, sponsored a bill that would provide tax money to convert vehicles to propane. It was estimated that the program would cost less than $5 million a year to implement but within months it was costing over $500 million with no end in sight. Republican Governor Jane Hull convened a special session to stop the bleeding by imposing a moratorium. While current Governor Hobbs is willing to do the same, the House and Senate leadership have stated, “no changes will be made on their watch.” 

In his attempt to address the voucher dilemma, State School Superintendent Horne has been blaming his predecessor for inaction. It should be noted Kathy Hoffman was opposed to the ESA bill and also lacked the necessary staff to monitor the fiasco. Perhaps the most revealing of Horne’s statements was his expressed fear that the ESA program could fall into disrepute and jeopardize Arizona’s role as first in the nation in school choice. 

Recently, the Education Law Center released its annual report. Arizona now ranks 51st out of all states and D.C in cost adjusted revenue per pupil. Again, the problem with electing politicians to run public schools emerges. Any bona fide educator would be concerned with securing adequate resources and ensuring they are spent to educate students. In contrast, we have a politician who worries more about surrendering our national ranking as first in choice, albeit bad ones.