State fails to distribute Empowerment Scholarship Account funds critical to education

PHOENIX, Ariz. (Nov. 14, 2019) – An Arizona family has initiated legal action against the Arizona Department of Education for failing to follow state law regarding Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA). The Department is required by law to make quarterly deposits of scholarship dollars into parents’ accounts, but more than 120 Arizona families have been waiting weeks for the money.

Attorneys for the Liberty Justice Center and the Goldwater Institute have filed a Notice of Claim against the Department on behalf of a military family who uses ESA funds.

“These families are trying to do what’s best for their children, and Arizona’s ESA program was designed to help them do that. But the Arizona Department of Education has been so slow and unresponsive to parents’ needs that it is now causing serious disruption to the education of these kids, and serious financial hardships to these families,” said Timothy Sandefur, vice president for litigation at the Goldwater Institute. “We urge the Department to give these parents the money they’re entitled to under this program, and to cease these pointless and even illegal delays.”

It is unclear what is causing the delay, but the manner in which the ESA program is administered appears to have changed significantly in recent months. ESA families submit quarterly receipts to prove scholarship funds are being used for educational services, but despite providing timely receipts from the previous quarter, many families have not received ESA funds for the current quarter almost two weeks after the most recent deadline. The Department’s failure to follow through on its legal obligation in a timely manner is a real burden for families, which depend on these scholarships.

“The Arizona Department of Education needs to do right by these families and promptly make their deposits,” said Daniel Suhr, senior associate attorney at the Liberty Justice Center. “There is no excuse for failing in a basic obligation that puts hundreds of kids’ educations at risk due to the department’s failure.”

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The Liberty Justice Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, public-interest legal aid firm that seeks to protect economic liberty, private property, free speech, and other fundamental rights through precedent-setting litigation. The most notable example of the Liberty Justice Center’s success in this arena is its 2018 U.S. Supreme Court victory in Janus v. AFSCME. The Liberty Justice Center defends parental choice in education in legal settings nationwide.

The Goldwater Institute drives results by working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and strengthen the freedom guaranteed to all Americans in the constitutions of the United States and all 50 states. With the blessing of its namesake, the Goldwater Institute opened in 1988. Its early years focused on defending liberty in Barry Goldwater’s home state of Arizona. Today, the Goldwater Institute is a national leader for constitutionally limited government respected by the left and right for its adherence to principle and real-world impact. No less a liberal icon than the New York Times calls the Goldwater Institute a “watchdog for conservative ideals” that plays an “outsize role” in American political life.

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