PHOENIX - One of the more contentious issues in Governor Katie Hobbs' new budget proposal is a proposal to undo the state's massive school voucher program expansion.
The expansion, one of Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s biggest accomplishments, extended the voucher program to every child in the state. Under current rules, a child can get about $7,000 in ESA funding, and nearly 40,000 students in the state currently take part in the program.
The governor’s office said the expansion is siphoning money from underfunded public schools, and would cost $1.5 billion dollars over the next decade. Hobbs' staffers estimated the move would save the state $135 million next fiscal year.
The Governor's budget does include a total of approximately $9 billion for education spending.
On Jan. 17, dozens of parents gathered at the Arizona State Capitol to call on Gov. Hobbs to keep the school voucher program, also known as Empowerment Scholarship Accounts.
State Sen. Wendy Rogers was among the politicians who spoke at the protest.
"Rural Arizona relies on ESA. It's often our only alternative for parental freedom. These are our children. It is up to us on how they will be educated," State Sen. Rogers said.
Parents and homeschool students also spoke during the rally.
"[This] is us being able to access our own tax dollars that would go to pay for a seat in a public school, and funding whatever education we need," said Michael Greene, who is homeschooled.
"I hope Governor Hobbs is ready to get with the ESA program, because we parents, we are not backing down," said open mother at the protest.
Others, like Beth Lewis with Save Our Schools Arizona, criticized the ESA expansion.
"The previous legislation did nothing to cover these funds, because the money is not following the child," said Lewis. "It's going to students who were not already choosing public schools, there's no money for them, so the legislature wrote a really bad bill."
Arizona State Capitol