Press Release | Arizona Coalition of Parents for Equal Student Access (AZCP.ESA)
April 29, 2023 (PHOENIX) — The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) and its Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program continues to create mayhem for account holders, recipient students and those who provide educational services for program participants. The phone has been ringing and ringing at the ESA office since 3pm on Friday, April 28, 2023, as parents and vendors contact the school choice program to resolve concerns about payments to service providers. ESA administration deactivated more than 900 approved vendors in the ClassWallet funds management system, according to an e-mail sent to scholarship parents.
ESA account liaison Christine Sbarcea, also an ESA parent, informed parents on April 28, 2023 that tutoring and teaching vendors were deactivated for failure to provide required attestations. But parents report the removed service providers submitted acceptable credentials to ESA multiple times.
This is the latest nightmare for Arizona families who use the state-funded education option and the vendors who serve ESA students. Just last week the Arizona State Board of Education (SBE) voted 6 to 2 to approve the 2023-2024 ESA program handbook, which becomes effective July 1, 2023. The Board rendered its decision just minutes after scholarship families urged the Board to reject the deficient document at the April 24, 2023 meeting.
Sources within ADE assert that school choice program manager Christine Accurso directed staffers to deactivate the vendors. This administrative decision has made it impossible for parents to upload invoices from vendors and initiate payment requests in the ClassWallet system. Some of these vendors have pending payments but are unable to retrieve those funds due to deactivation.
Parents continue to face unequal access to debit cards and most families are unable to afford reimbursement. This makes direct to vendor payment through ClassWallet the only viable method to use ESA funds. Parents worry the sidelined vendors, whose business operations have been interrupted by the pandemonium, will stop providing services to ESA students with disabilities. More than 3,500 vendors are listed in the ClassWallet system for Arizona.
Now that 910 businesses have been removed as options, students with the most complex educational needs have even fewer choices and are the most affected by the change. The inactive vendors include service providers who offer necessary tutoring and teaching services for children with disabilities, including reading specialists, music studios, aquatic therapists, visual impairment programs, and mental health providers. Parents say this administrative action violates the rights afforded to students with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Service providers complete a sign-up and verification process to be compensated with ESA funds through ClassWallet. This includes providing valid credentials and linking a checking or savings account to accept ACH payments. The instructions in ClassWallet detail the qualifications for ESA program vendors and link to the 2019-2020 ESA program handbook. Many of these direct pay vendors have been in the ClassWallet system since ClassWallet began managing funds for the ESA program in 2020. ClassWallet indicates only ADE can approve vendors and says the ESA program has administrative tools within the platform to activate and deactivate vendor participants.
Parents and vendors called the ESA department on Friday and throughout the weekend They encountered long hold times just to be told that ESA director Christine Accurso could not be reached, and ESA third-party vendor and treasurer liaison Linda Rizzo was out of the office.
Parents claim Christine Accurso is retaliating against parents and vendors who have expressed concerns about maladministration during her 4-months as ESA program director. These concerns are expressed through speaking at SBE meetings and participating in a private Facebook group for ESA parents.
Parents say screenshots from the private group have been shared with the director, and agenda-driven school privatization efforts including American Federation for Children (AFC). The director even referenced the Facebook group as spreading “misinformation” in an e-mail on April 6, 2023 to account holders for more than 50,000 ESAs. Parents claim the ESA program director actively maligns students with special education needs and initiates efforts to silence parents, including using group admins to censor the message about school choice to align with AFC.
Other parents say the citizen-activist exhibits narcissistic tendencies rather than integrity in leadership and is sabotaging the entire ESA program.
Parents who use the education program, including Democrats, Independents, and Republicans say Republicans overlooked something in their failed attempt to fast-track the special interest school privatization agenda in Arizona. This is that parents will disrupt and disrespect anyone who threatens the education options that best meet the needs of their disabled children.
The nation is watching Arizona, “the gold standard” in education.
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