Gov. Katie Hobbs nixes full-day kindergarten funding for ESA students

Gov. Katie Hobbs speaks to reporters on April 12, 2023. By Cameron Arcand | The Center Square contributor

Gov. Katie Hobbs is pulling back a $50 million federal grant allocated by former Gov. Doug Ducey that paid for full-day kindergarten for students using Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts.

Hobbs announced on May 24 that Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Accounts are invalid under the purpose of the American Rescue Plan Act, thus, the state can’t spend ARPA funds on it.

According to Hobbs, the $50 million grant cannot be used toward ESAs until the state has fully funded all-day public kindergarten. The governor views ESA funding as giving private schools government funding before public schools.

Under Ducey’s administration, the American Rescue Plan Act funded ESAs allowing Arizona families to decide where they wanted to fund their education. As of July 2022, Arizona became the first state to enforce universal school choice.

“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. “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.”

Hobbs said that the ESA grant agreement violates equal protection, gift’s clause, and maintenance of the public school system. In opposition to Ducey, she believes it goes against the American Rescue Plan Act’s goal of alleviating educational disparities.

Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey’s former chief of staff, said the move is purely political.

“Everyone knows what this is about. Katie Hobbs is kowtowing to her far-left base because other statewide Democrats are getting way more publicity than her,” he said. “First, Hobbs canceled summer school. Now she’s against kindergarten. Katie Hobbs’ record is stacking up, and it’s one that hurts real kids. That’s on her.”

Treasurer Kimberly Yee also responded to the news. 

“Governor Hobbs has just denied thousands of Arizona kids access to kindergarten through this politically driven and belligerent decision,” she said. “As has become the norm for this governor, my office first learned of her action through a press release prior to receiving the letter, and we have yet to receive any communication from the Governor or her team on this matter other than the letter. Our legal team is currently reviewing the lawfulness of the governor’s move and determining next steps.”

Republished with the permission of The Center Square.