Free Rein Over ESA Leads to Continued Criticism and Financial Errors

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

April 24, 2023 (PHOENIX) — The taxpayer-funded Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program in Arizona now boasts that 51,849 students receive the education award. In 2022, the universal expansion added one more route to obtain the scholarship monies, universal ESA expansion via HB2853, which rapidly increased program participation. On April 17, 2023 the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) launched the updated ESA application which allows resident parents and guardians to request awards for the current 2022-2023 school year ending June 30, 2023 and the 2023-2024 school year beginning July 1, 2023. However, parents claim this application discriminates against students and could have far-reaching consequences for an already troubled education administration that continues to violate state and federal laws. 

Tom Horne Is Only Along for the Ride 

Tom Horne stands by the woman he appointed as Arizona’s school choice director. Yet, confidential sources within Horne’s inner circle claim his support for the self-proclaimed citizen-activist is unraveling and cites his increasing irritation with parent concerns about the ESA program and revisions to its handbook. Horne supported the Republican school choice game plan to win the 2022 election, but sources say the second-time Superintendent of Public Instruction has become weary of the relentless drama in ADE’s executive offices related to universal ESA expansion. 

Nevertheless, Horne needs to focus on the other one million students in Arizona and resolve mounting fiscal challenges within his department. Sources familiar with reports from ESA parents about continued financial irregularities indicate that funding calculation errors for universal ESAs may have occurred through funds management vendor ClassWallet and recent ADE missteps. 

ESA Director Is Disrespectful and Disruptive 

Sources claim Horne has allowed Christine Accurso to tie his hands with special interest entanglements, including American Federation for Children (AFC) and Center for Arizona Policy (CAP). Horne surrendered “the gold standard of educational freedom” to Christine Accurso and has failed to exercise oversight, claim multiple sources. Individuals close to the Harvard-educated attorney say this was a mistake. Accurso continues to pursue political aspirations through speaking engagements and campaign appearances while performance of the ESA program suffers.  

Parents who use ESAs to educate their children disclose that participating in the school choice enterprise has come with a price and admit feeling more abused than empowered. Parents assert that the ESA director has been “disrespectful and disruptive” in managing the complex education program and has created administrative bottlenecks that only further slowdown purchase processing.  

Accurso claims in e-mails to ESA account holders that she is aligning the ESA program “with the law.” Parents say Accurso is reinterpreting state and federal laws for the more than decade-old scholarship that first became available in 2011 for students with disabilities, resulting in administrative violations. Some parents have even demanded she be fired. 

Universal ESA Is Strategy and Its Growth Is the Tactic

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs continues to wrestle with Republicans to pass a FY2024 state budget and the outcome could adversely affect students with ESA awards under universal. But Republicans have told school choice constituents that funding education as one line-item in the budget is a winning strategy for funding school privatization efforts under universal ESA.  

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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