FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 2, 2023
Contact: Tyler Kowch, 602-321-7290
ESA Vouchers Surpass Budget in 3 Short Months; SOSAZ Calls on State Leaders for Immediate ActionToday, Save Our Schools Arizona delivered an urgent memo to Arizona legislative leadership, Governor Hobbs, Superintendent Horne, and Treasurer Yee, conveying an accurate and up-to-date accounting of taxpayer dollars spent through the ESA voucher program and demanding a plan to deal with its massive overspending. In the first three months of this fiscal year, irresponsible and unaccountable ESA vouchers have already blown through their FY2024 budget and are now projected to cause a $300 million shortfall by the end of the fiscal year, in line with projections from both Supt. Horne and OSPB.
In May, the Legislature passed a budget that appropriated $624 million for the most expansive private school voucher program in the nation. At the time, Save Our Schools Arizona warned that costs would far exceed that appropriation this year. As of this week, the ESA voucher program is $22,945,005 in the red, with 67,935 enrollees (according to azed.gov/ESA) receiving an average amount of $9,523 (according to the ADE’s Q4 2023 ESA Voucher Report). At the current rate of growth, an additional 737 students are approved to use vouchers each week – the majority of whom are current private school and homeschool students who could previously afford this option and whose education was never before subsidized by public monies. The program’s cost is currently growing by $7,018,451 per week — or $30 million monthly.
By the end of this school year (and fiscal year), the voucher program is on track to cost Arizona $296.6 million more than the legislature budgeted, meaning the program will be 47.5% over budget. No other state program has unbudgeted costs snowballing so dramatically. The harsh reality is that, with the Ducey flat tax in place, Arizona has no surplus funds left to cover these unbudgeted costs.
Arizona state leaders should be extremely concerned by these numbers and must urgently develop a plan to address overspending. Yet, the Republican-controlled legislature seems to have no desire to focus on a strategic plan for covering these skyrocketing costs, instead relying on a sham “oversight” committee to examine costs divorced from solutions. It was shocking to learn at the first hearing how little data is being collected on the universal ESA voucher program.
Executive Director Beth Lewis of Save Our Schools Arizona stated, “Our state leaders must face reality and rein in the out-of-control ESA voucher program before it bankrupts the state and siphons $1 billion from our already underfunded local public schools. It is irresponsible to continue doling out state money to vouchers with no budget, no oversight, no safety measures and no accountability. Arizona’s ESA voucher program is seen nationally as an utter disgrace, and legislative leadership must act now — before it’s too late.”