Arizona Governor’s Budget Proposal Aims to Tackle Budget Deficit Through School Voucher Overhaul

Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, has unveiled a budget proposal addressing the state’s growing deficit by suggesting significant changes to the school voucher program. The proposal aims to curb rising costs and reduce program participants by requiring students to attend public school for 100 days before becoming eligible for the voucher initiative.

This proposal is a key element of Governor Hobbs’ budget, released amid financial challenges. The state is grappling with a forecasted deficit that has surged from $400 million to $835 million this year and is expected to reach $879 million next year. Contributing factors include a substantial drop in revenues following a significant tax cut last year and increased expenditures due to the expansion of the school voucher program.

In addition to modifying the voucher program, Governor Hobbs is advocating for measures such as the return of unspent money by state agencies, delaying state construction projects, and cutting over $400 million in previously approved transportation projects. Another proposed measure is discontinuing school tuition organizations that provide tax credits for private school tuition, estimated to save $185 million.

However, some of Hobbs’ proposals, particularly those related to the voucher program and repealing tuition organizations, face opposition from the Republican-majority Legislature.

Christian Slater, spokesperson for Governor Hobbs, defended the proposals, emphasizing the need for accountability to taxpayers. He stated, “They want to see their money used wisely, so we think that this is something that we’re going to put forward, and we’re really hoping that this is something we can get passed.”

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Republican Senator John Kavanagh, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, views the proposals as either a negotiating strategy or a move to appease the governor’s base before serious legislative discussions. He expressed concern that the proposals, if extreme, may alienate Republicans.

The school voucher program allows parents to use public funds for private school tuition and other education costs. Initially, it began in 2011 for disabled children but expanded over the next decade until all students became eligible in 2022. Critics argue that the expansion strains the state’s finances and subsidizes private school tuition, while proponents contend that it gives parents the freedom to choose the best educational options for their children.

Governor Hobbs anticipates that implementing her proposed changes would reduce program costs by $244 million next year. She emphasizes accountability, stating that the program should not fund luxury items like ski resort passes and pianos.

One notable change is the proposal that students receiving vouchers must attend a public school for 100 days before remaining eligible for the program. However, Republican lawmakers, including Senator Kavanagh, express resistance to this requirement, setting the stage for potential negotiations behind the scenes.

The budget proposals reflect Governor Hobbs’ ongoing commitment to bringing accountability to the voucher program, despite previous dissatisfaction expressed by Democratic lawmakers over the lack of caps on expansion in previous negotiations. The budget is now poised for further discussions and potential adjustments in the legislative process.

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