January 29, 2020

On Monday, the shocking news broke that the Arizona Department of Education had inadvertently compromised the personal information of the nearly 7,000 families that make use of the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time the Department has shown poor management of the ESA program—and the Goldwater Institute is fighting back to ensure that ESA students get the education they deserve.

“Mistakes do happen, but I don’t think that’s good enough as an excuse. That doesn’t undo the damage, the harm to these families,” Goldwater Institute Director of Education Policy Matt Beienburg explained today on KJZZ’s “The Show.” “These are families with deeply personal life circumstances, these are kids with special needs diagnoses, and this information is now essentially made available to be dragged out into the public.”

The extent of the Department’s data breach is staggering. On Monday, it was revealed that the Department released a spreadsheet that included the account balances of every ESA account in the state, along with the names, email addresses, and other personal information of the nearly 7,000 parents with ESA accounts. Not only was the spreadsheet containing the sensitive information sent to the Yellow Sheet Report, but it was also shared with Save Our Schools, a group that has been an outspoken opponent of ESAs.

Beienburg explained that the Department’s latest epic fail fits into a larger pattern of its mismanagement of the ESA program.

“If this were an isolated incident, that would be one thing, but this is really part of a systematic pattern,” Beienburg noted. Earlier in January, Goldwater filed a lawsuit against the Department challenging its long delays in supplying needed funds to which ESA families are entitled—delays long enough to force parents to pay out of pocket for tutoring and teaching tools that their ESA should cover without the possibility of reimbursement. While requiring families to follow its ESA rules to the letter, the Department of Education’s handling of the ESA program has still resulted in unpredictable and arbitrary outcomes for families—for instance, some families have been rejected for certain ESA expenses while others have been approved for the very same expenses.

“For the Department to have treated these families this way saying ‘we have zero tolerance for any misstep’ and to then make a massive blunder like this is really revealing,” Beienburg said. You can listen to Beienburg’s full segment on “The Show” here.

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