January 30, 2020
By Timothy Sandefur
The Goldwater Institute this afternoon sent a letter to the United States Attorney’s office asking federal officials to take action against the Arizona Department of Education for its recent release of private personal and financial information of 7,000 parents who participate in the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program. That information is protected under the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which prohibits the Department from handing out “personally identifiable information” about students and parents “to any individual, agency, or organization.” But parents aren’t allowed to file lawsuits under that Act; that must be done by government attorneys. So we’ve asked the Department of Justice to look into the matter.
The information was handed out not just to reporters, but to the directors of Save Our Schools, an anti-choice organization with a well-deserved reputation for lawlessness and the harassment of parents who participate in the ESA program. And just as remarkably, despite the fact that news broke Monday about the Department’s released confidential information about all parents who participate in the ESA program—information that included their names, email addresses, account balances, and even the special needs status of their children—the Department itself did not inform parents of its wrongful actions until a day after the parents read about it in the papers. Then, it sent them a galling email saying that the Department is “not require[d]” to “notif[y] the parents that the records were compromised.”
This data breach is just the latest example of the systematic mismanagement of the ESA program—a pattern of illegal and obstructionist actions that forms the basis of the lawsuit we filed a month ago on behalf of several ESA parents. Department bureaucrats regularly fail to answer parents’ questions, honor promises made to them, or follow the law that governs the ESA system—all at the cost of special needs kids who rely on their ESAs to get them the educational services they need.
You can learn more about our work to defend the rights of parents here.
Timothy Sandefur is the Vice President for Litigation at the Goldwater Institute.