Arizona Parents Battle School Choice Program for Access to Student Scholarship Funds

Press Release | Arizona Coalition of Parents for Equal Student Access (AZCP.ESA)

February 24, 2023 (PHOENIX) — Arizona was crowned school choice leader last year when the state expanded its Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program to every K-12 student. But current ESA account holders in contract with the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) for 2022-2023 say the scholarship program has reached a breaking point and worry the program will soon implode.

Parents who rely on the funds to educate their students claim ESA program leadership who report to Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) Tom Horne (R), who in 2022 secured a narrow election victory over incumbent Kathy Hoffman (D) with his support for school choice, are wreaking havoc on student access to instruction. Parents blame interruptions in tutoring and educational therapies for students with disabilities on newly introduced but unclear accreditation standards and delays in home education on months-long wait times to receive department pre-approvals for curriculum and supplies.

Sources within ADE and the Arizona State Board of Education (SBE) indicate the state agencies have been inundated with communication from concerned parents, from phone calls and e-mails to help desk tickets and administrative appeals. Parents report calling the ESA program and being placed on hold for hours and say they have received little to no response to their concerns.

Parents plan to bring their concerns before the Arizona State Board of Education (SBE) on Monday, February 27, 2023 during the 10am public meeting. Hundreds of parents have already submitted written comments which SBE will post on the board’s agenda by 5pm on February 24, 2023.

Parents claim ESA executive director Christine Accurso, a long-time ADE critic who lobbied in 2022 for the ESA program’s universal expansion, has become laser-focused on adding program participants since assuming the position on January 3, 2023, while ignoring the needs of students already in the program. Some parents believe Accurso favors private schools evidenced by prioritizing tuition payments and seeks to eliminate “complex-spending” as an allowable option that many parents use to individualize their child’s education, something that parents have found critical for their students with disabilities.

Since January 2023, Accurso has added close to 2,000 students to the ESA program and parents worry the rapid expansion while simultaneously neglecting the needs of current program participants is already causing irreparable harm to the school choice effort.

In e-mails to ESA account holders, Accurso has relayed ill-timed and substantive changes to program policies that parents say are inconsistent with the 2022-2023 ESA Program Handbook and even Arizona statutes and rules that govern the ESA program. Parents also describe challenges with unclear accreditation requirements, chronically late payments to tutors and long-overdue reimbursements to account holders for allowable expenses and say the chaos has created undue stress, confusion and financial pressure for families who just want to spend their time educating their children.

On February 21, 2023, the Arizona Department of Education posted on its website that 48,108 Arizona students now benefit from an Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA). Correspondence from Accurso to SBE President Dr. Daniel P. Corr states that ADE received 16,883 new applications from October 2022 to December 2022 for the ESA program which represents close to 50% growth over the previous quarter. The unreleased Q2 report, dated February 21, 2023, covers the time-period October 2022 to December 2022. Accurso writes that 2022 ended with 46,187 students in the ESA program. Accurso is expected to present the Q2 report on Monday, February 27, 2023 during the SBE’s regular board meeting.

Parents say the same complaints Accurso had about the ESA program in 2020 have only multiplied and worsened since she took the helm in January 2023. Ironically, Accurso complained in an OpEd published in Arizona Capitol Times on February 25, 2020 that “The gross incompetence and negligence of the Arizona Department of Education … is abhorrent. The litany of problems just keeps getting longer and something needs to be done.”


Transmitted on behalf of Arizona Coalition of Parents for Equal Student Access (AZCP.ESA) 

Arizona Coalition of Parents for Equal Student Access (AZCP.ESA) is an advocacy-driven effort that prioritizes individuals (over agendas). AZCP.ESA works to ensure Arizona parents and their eligible students have timely access to scholarship funds, individualized education options, reasonable accommodations, and adaptive equipment. 

Contact Arizona Coalition of Parents for Equal Student Access
Twitter: @azcpesa

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