February 21, 2020

The Arizona Department of Education’s confusing and arbitrary handling of the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program is hurting thousands of families—and ESA moms are speaking out.

“I am the mother of four children, two of whom participate in Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program,” writes Kayla Svedin in a recent Arizona Capitol Times op-ed. “That means I am one of nearly 7,000 parents whose personal information was inadvertently disclosed by the Arizona Department of Education. And because of the department’s utter failure to properly manage this program, my children and thousands of children across the state are not getting the education they deserve.”

Svedin’s family was one of the nearly 7,000 ESA-using families whose personal information was compromised in an Arizona Department of Education privacy breach announced in late January. “The department’s blunder is especially worrisome because our sensitive information has made its way into the hands of Save Our Schools, a group that is openly antagonistic to the ESA program,” Svedin writes. “Thanks to the department’s mismanagement, ESA opponents now know exactly whom to target.”

In a separate op-ed for the Capitol Times, ESA mom Christine Accurso outlines the many ways that the Department has fallen down on the job in administering the ESA program, including poor customer service, staffing problems, the bullying of ESA families, a confusing ESA Handbook, and of course, privacy violations. “The gross incompetence and negligence of the Arizona Department of Education, in the one year that this administration has been managing the ESAs, is abhorrent. The litany of problems just keeps getting longer and something needs to be done.”

This mismanagement is especially sad because the ESA program benefits so many children across Arizona, helping them to get an education that is tailored to meet their own unique needs. Among the children who benefit from Arizona’s ESA program are special needs kids, children in military families, and children on Native American reservations, and kids in D- or F-rated school districts. There’s no doubt that ESAs have made a positive difference in many lives. “I didn’t make the choice to enroll my children in the ESA program lightly, but the public school system simply could not meet my children’s special needs, and the ESA program empowered me to customize an education that addresses their individual circumstances,” Svedin writes in her op-ed.

The Goldwater Institute is challenging the Department’s mishandling of the ESA program in a recently launched lawsuit—you can read more about that case here. (Kayla Svedin is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.) The suit was filed in early January, before the announcement of the Department’s breach in privacy that affected the nearly 7,000 ESA families across the state of Arizona. News of that breach is yet another example that the program’s poor management is negatively affecting ESA families—and we’re going to court to put a stop to that.

Svedin sums up the frustration felt by the many Arizona ESA families: “It’s time to knock it off and do what the ESA program was created to do—provide each child with a real chance at educational success. It’s time to stop bullying the families who participate. And it’s time to do what’s right for our kids.”

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