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School voucher reform won't pass the Legislature. Hobbs is pushing it anyway in election year

Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs acknowledged that her proposal to reform Arizona's school voucher program is unlikely to gain traction with Republicans at the state Legislature. But that won’t stop the governor from making the pitch to lawmakers — and voters.

Hobbs introduced a plan on Tuesday that includes measures designed to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent appropriately. It would also require teachers at private schools that receive voucher dollars to pass a fingerprint background check and meet minimum education standards, and calls on the Department of Education to publish graduation and absenteeism rates for those schools.

GOP opposition holds firm

Republicans quickly came out in opposition to the program, with Arizona House Speaker Ben Toma (R-Peoria) telling the Arizona Republic the plan is “unserious.”

Because Republicans hold a majority of seats in both the Arizona House and Senate, leaders like Toma and Senate President Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert) can block Hobbs' proposed legislation.

But the governor says she still needs to make the case that reforms are necessary to rein in voucher spending. 

“This is one of those issues where, despite the likely opposition, we can’t not make the case,” Hobbs said.

In her State of the State address last January, Hobbs’ called for a complete roll back of voucher expansion passed by Republicans in 2022 that expanded eligibility for the program to all students — and caused the program’s budget to balloon to nearly $1 billion, according to estimates from the Governor’s Office. 

But those calls made little progress in the face of Republican opposition.

'I’m not going to deny the politics of that'

This year, Hobbs’ acknowledged her proposal is a campaign pitch of sorts to Arizona voters who will decide which party controls the Legislature next year.

“It is an election year; I’m not going to deny the politics of that,” Hobbs said. “I would be making this case whether or not it was an election year, because I think it’s the right thing to do for Arizona and for taxpayers.”

In 2023, Capitol Media Services reported Hobbs committed to raising $500,000 to defeat Republican legislative candidates in an attempt to flip control of the Legislature. A nonprofit operated by Hobbs’ campaign manager also pocketed over $1 million from businesses that contributed to the governor’s inaugural campaign fund, and that money can be used for political purposes.

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Wayne Schutsky is a broadcast field correspondent covering Arizona politics on KJZZ. He has over a decade of experience as a journalist reporting on local communities in Arizona and the state Capitol.