Summer camp funding continues – too late for some 

summer camp, Hobbs, Ducey

The Arizona Science Center says that money from Gov. Katie Hobbs’ office means it is covering the costs of summer camp again this year. The camps at the science center started June 5 and run through July 28. (Photo courtesy of Arizona Science Center via Facebook)

Summer camp funding continues – too late for some 

Arizona’s free summer camp program is continuing this year, still funded by federal Covid dollars, but some camp operators that offered free programming last year aren’t participating this time around.

That’s in part due to changes in program eligibility, they said, but also because Gov. Katie Hobbs’ team didn’t actually make grants until very recently – late in the game for making summer plans.

Last year, one of the biggest operators of the free summer camps was the Grand Canyon chapter of the Boy Scouts. Last year, somewhere between 400 and 500 kids went to Boy Scouts camps for free thanks to the state allocation, according to chapter CEO Andy Price. And Scouts and leaders stood alongside state officials like former Gov. Doug Ducey when they announced the summer program funding.

This year, however, the Scouts camp, which still attracts more than 2,000 youths each summer, won’t offer any free spots.

summer camp, Hobbs
Andy Price

“This year they restricted some of the areas that could be covered to where we would have direct costs to deliver those programs,” Price said. “And then also the timeline was very [tight] – we only learned this about two weeks ago, and there wasn’t time to try to put something together.”

Price said he wasn’t assuming that last year’s one-time grant funding would come in for another summer, but he was still disappointed that the group wouldn’t be able to offer free camp again in 2023.

The summer program uses federal Covid dollars to make select summer schools or camps free for Arizona children. Ducey announced it as “AZ On Track” back in January 2022, suggesting the state would run educational summer camps for up to 200,000 students.

In the end, the program mainly paid the bills for existing summer camp providers like the Boy Scouts, as well as public and charter schools. Ducey’s office said it paid for about 70,000 kids to participate in more than 600 different summer programs.

Critics noted that the program was dotted with bizarre-sounding camps and some that failed to meet the governor’s own criteria.

Then, last year, Ducey allocated $100 million for another year of summer camp and cut a $75 million contract with a group run by former state schools superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan – A for Arizona – to oversee the program. A for Arizona was expected to distribute most of that money to actual summer camp operators.

But Hobbs ditched that contract as part of a larger contract cancellation announced earlier this year and later announced she was opening $37.5 million for summer camp grants and would take applications from March 16 to April 13.

At a May 15 press conference, a reporter asked Hobbs about the summer program. “We should be making awards in the next week or two,” Sarah Brown, Hobbs’ budget director, said at the time.

That means the money still hadn’t been handed out until long after many young Arizonans’ summer plans are already figured out.

Parents start looking for programs around spring break, and camps make their own planning timeline accordingly, said Cassidy Campana, a spokeswoman for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley.

“Our camps are pretty full now because parents needed to make decisions weeks ago about what their kids would be doing during the summer. You have to budget for that, you have to get signed up. You have to be approved,” Campana said. “There’s a long runway to get there.”

Campana’s organization got money from the program last year, but she said new size limitations put in place this year meant the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley wouldn’t have been eligible for the money even if they’d applied. Other Boys & Girls Club branches including Tucson, Sun Corridor, Colorado River and Bullhead City did get money this year, she added.

A spokesman for Hobbs didn’t respond to requests for information about the summer program grant process.

In one case, free summer camp was announced the same day that summer camp started.

In a June 5 email, the Arizona Science Center announced that money from the Governor’s Office means it will cover camp costs again this year.

“Thanks to funding awarded by Governor Katie Hobbs, Arizona Science Center is proud to be able to offer summer camps at no cost to families this year,” the center wrote in an email to parents that noted the camp is scheduled to host 2,000 children. The Science Center’s “Camp Innovation” runs through July 28, according to the email.