Days after the Goldwater Institute demanded the Arizona Department of Education comply with state law and stop taking away families’ education options, the agency has reopened its Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) portal.
ESAs, which Goldwater pioneered in Arizona more than a decade ago, put money that would otherwise go toward a given student’s public education into an account that parents can use to customize their child’s education experience. The money can be used for a wide variety of education options like private schools, tutoring, textbooks, and homeschool curricula, and it can even be rolled over from one year into the next. Arizona’s ESA program has offered a vital educational option for students for whom traditional government-run schooling is ineffective.
But last week, the Department announced that it had closed applications for program for the fourth quarter, leaving in the lurch countless families wanting to obtain a better education for their kids. That action came despite a legal ruling last year that declared that the Department had violated state law when it closed down applications in February 2021.
Arizona law, the administrative law judge noted, requires the Department to accept applications year-round. Yet Department officials have repeatedly claimed that they have to close the application window for weeks or months at a time because it takes a while to process applications. But nothing in the law allows such a thing, and there is no reason the Department could not process applications for more than one quarter at a time.
Fortunately, after Goldwater sent a letter to the agency last week demanding it follow the law, the Department on Thursday reopened applications for the fourth quarter. Parents who applied in the interim can notify the Department and obtain the funding to which they were entitled. We’re glad the Department has reversed course—and hope that it will continue complying with the law going forward.
Timothy Sandefur is the Vice President for Litigation at the Goldwater Institute.