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Education Department violated trust, mismanages voucher program

Bad business advice concept as a path with a 3D illustration fork in the road falsely guiding off a cliff as a metaphor for incompetent or fraudulent financial consultation or mismanagement direction.

The Empowerment Scholarship Account program hate groups want to make this week’s issue about money!  Their “slush fund” argument is ridiculous and falls flat quickly when looking at the facts.

A parent applies for an ESA and once it is approved, a contract is sent with an award designated by the state.  There is no negotiation.  The state calculates the award based on what that student would cost at a public school and then grants them 90% of that cost.

Gilbert parent Christine Accurso in a video produced by the American Federation for Children describes long wait times in trying to get her child signed up for the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program. (Photo courtesy of YouTube)

Christine Accurso

If a parent ends up with more money than needed at the end of the year, then that just shows the overspending of public schools. It’s not the family’s fault that the parent-driven education their child receives is administered more efficiently and for less money. In the rare cases that a family ends up with more money in their account at the end of the year, it can be used the following year, but it is still solely dedicated to the child’s education.

The higher balances just prove that public education is more expensive and less efficient.

However, that is not the issue at hand today! The gross incompetence and negligence of the Arizona Department of Education, in the one year that this administration has been managing the ESA’s, is abhorrent. The litany of problems just keeps getting longer and something needs to be done. In the past year, these are the issues we have had:

Customer Service – The department can’t handle incoming phone calls from families and leave people on hold all day.

Human Resources – The department can’t manage the staffing problems.  There have been multiple people on the ESA staff out on leave, some are part time and others are focused on auditing rather than helping our families. It appears that they have had about 1/3 staff handling what a full team should be handling.

Bullying – The Navajo Families that were targeted to return monies and a military family was denied a contract, when they were eligible. These actions make it obvious that someone is trying to trip up the law that the legislature put in place many years ago.

Handbook – This year’s ESA handbook is constantly referred to as the leading document that should be treated as law, when in fact it has been adjusted to bind parent’s hands. So many of the requirements are confusing and not in accord with state statute. Many families are now restricted on what we can spend money on, so we haven’t spent it yet.

ESA Task Force – Superintendent Hoffman started this group to help with ESA issues, but it is so disingenuous when you have people that sit on the task force that hate the program and want to see its demise. If you are going to deal with issues, people who have the best interests of the children, the law and the program, need to be the only ones in the group.

Violations of family privacy – This is the worst of all!  The department has completely violated the privacy of ESA families and even more importantly, their trust. The data that was illegally sent out through a data request was received by members of the media (who admit they were tipped off) and the anti-ESA group that wants to see the program’s demise.

Again, if their intent was to reveal some of the balances in our accounts, then it backfired on them because it just proves that it is better for a child to have a parent-driven education and obviously less expensive!  They can just calm down because these tax dollars are restricted to be used for nothing more than a child’s education. Now, let’s submit a data request to see if every public school district has a zero balance in their account at the end of each year.

Christine Accurso is a Gilbert resident.

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