November 7, 2019
By Jenna Bentley
Today, dozens of Arizona families face the possibility that their student will not be able to continue with the education they need to succeed.
Every quarter, Arizona parents whose children receive Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) funds must submit expense reports to account for the books, tuition, tutoring, curriculum, therapies, and other teaching tools that they purchased through their ESA. Parents are under strict deadlines to submit these forms in order to have their accounts renewed each year and have new funds disbursed to them each quarter. In turn, these parents rely on the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) to promptly disburse the ESA funds to them so that they can continue to provide those much needed goods and services to their children.
Unfortunately, many Arizona families are currently waiting for ADE to release these funds. Signed contracts from ADE guaranteed that families would receive their second-quarter disbursements between October 15 and 30. But today—a full week into the month of November—at least 126 families are still without funding. This puts these families in a position of either having to pay out of pocket for educational services (they are then unable to seek reimbursements for those expenses) or go without critical services like speech therapy. For some, this also means losing placement in programs. The inability to pay for an online school has left one Arizona ESA family in danger of having their child’s account locked.
These are not just new ESA applications that have not had sufficient time to be processed, either. Many of the parents are renewing their account and have even been told their information was approved, but they still do not have the funds that they rely on every year.
In response to ADE’s failure to disburse these funds as required, we have sent the department a letter demanding that the state release the funds owed to these ESA parents.
It is our hope that ADE does the right thing and comes into compliance, so that ESA families can move on with their educational plans. However, the Goldwater Institute is ready to defend these families to ensure this vital program is protected.
Jenna Bentley is the Director of Government Affairs at the Goldwater Institute.