Piper Searfoss is an Arizona mom whose days are filled with homeschooling and therapies for her kids. Thanks to the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) program, she has been able to get resources to provide her children with the custom education they need and deserve. But because of the Arizona Department of Education’s mismanagement of the ESA program, she has hit a roadblock in trying to educate her children—and was wrongly forced to pay over $1,000 to the state.

The Goldwater Institute is stepping in to fight for Piper and other families who benefit from ESAs and who are suffering from the state’s mismanagement of the program.

A Lifeline for Special Needs Kids in Arizona

Arizona’s ESA program has been a lifeline and a game-changer for thousands of kids who need educational support the most—special needs kids, children of military families, children on Native American reservations, and kids in failing and near-failing school districts.

The program takes a portion of the funding that would have been spent on these children in public school and instead puts it in a private account for that child to support teaching tools, tutoring, tuition, and other education-related expenses. Today, nearly 7,000 families participate in this program, giving them a shot at a brighter future. But then the Arizona Department of Education began withholding funds from families, threatening to remove them from the program, and constantly changing its own rules. The Goldwater Institute sued the state to defend these parents’ rights in court.

Poor Administration is Hurting This Beneficial Program

While the ESA program benefits many Arizona kids, it’s threatened by mismanagement and arbitrary and confusing rules. Many of Arizona’s ESA parents have horror stories about dealing with the state Department of Education—having an educational expense approved one time and denied the next, or having to pull a child out of a class because the promised ESA funds weren’t provided in time. Piper’s story is a case in point.

“We usually have a day full of homeschooling lessons and therapy,” Piper said. “But once we hear of something or find something that would help our children, we have to go wait weeks to get it approved [by the Department], and if it’s not approved, then we’re stuck.”

“We were forced to pay back over $1,000 in what was labeled as ‘misspending,’ and most of those items I had verbal approvals for,” Piper explained. “We’re not purchasing random things just because we feel like it. Everything is educational or has a purpose within education. That affects our day-to-day, trying to figure out how to deal with that and stressing over it.”

Goldwater is Stepping in to Help ESA Families

The Goldwater Institute is proud to stand beside Arizona’s ESA families and fight for their ability to provide their kids with an education that matches their learning style, fits their pace, and gives them the best chance for success.

In January 2020, Goldwater filed a lawsuit against the Arizona Department of Education challenging its mishandling of the ESA program. Not even a month later, the program’s mismanagement came into even starker focus when a massive breach of privacy by the state Department of Education resulted in the release of private personal information relating to all of the families who participate in the state’s ESA program.

Unfortunately, it’s just the latest evidence that this helpful program is being bungled by the state’s educational bureaucracy. Arizona’s ESA families deserve better. You can watch more of their stories at http://esafamilies.com.

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