Military Family Denied ESA By Arizona Department Of Education

Saquawia Pennington
Saquawia and Jace Pennington. [Photo from American Federation for Children]

Josh and Saquawia Pennington were stunned when their young son was denied an Empowerment Scholarship Account by the Arizona Department of Education. The military family was notified by the Department that Saquawia, who is currently active military serving at Fort Huachuca, was not recognized as 5-year-old Jace’s legal guardian.

The Department notified Josh, a veteran, in a letter dated June 18, 2019 that the family’s request for an Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) scholarship was denied. The Department claimed that as per A.R.S. 15-2401 7(a)(vi), Jace did not qualify because only students whose legal guardian is an active military member can receive the benefit.

“I am mom,” said Saquawia in a video that in a short time has been shared hundreds of times.

Not only does Saquawia see herself as Jace’s mom, the military recognizes Jace as her dependent according to Jace’s DD Form 1172.

Josh and Saquawia reached out to the Arizona Department of Education in the hopes of talking to Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman. They believed that if Hoffman saw the love and care Saquawia provides to her stepson there could be no mistake that she was, for all intents and purposes, not only his legal guardian, but his mom.

The fact that Hoffman hasn’t returned their call comes as no surprise to many. Hoffman bragged on the campaign trail that she was running against then-Superintendent Diane Douglas just to eliminate ESAs. Hoffman and other opponents claim ESAs rob traditional public schools of young bodies and the money that follows them.

In the state of Arizona, schools are paid in part on a per child basis. In other words, the public funding follows the child.

“Ms. Hoffman showed her contempt for our constitution, laws and citizens of Arizona when she took her oath of office on a children’s fiction book. So why are we surprised that Hoffman’s crew would misinterpret the law in order to deny a beautiful mom the right to give her child the best available education? It is disappointing at best.”

“I say a prayer for every family in the program while it is under Ms. Hoffman’s oversight, no family is safe” concluded Douglas.

In a memo, Legislative Counsel agreed that Hoffman’s team has “misinterpreted” the law and believes that Jace does qualify for the ESA program.

Whether or not Hoffman is out to end the program, it feels that way to more than one person. “It just seems to me it seems as though – and this is a personal note – it just seems as though there might be somebody that doesn’t like the program. That doesn’t want the program in existence, or into the future, and if they discourage more people, less people apply and eventually the program will just kind of end,” Joshua say in the video.

Earlier this year, Hoffman went after Navajo Nation parents living near the Arizona New Mexico border who used ESAs to send their children to the nearest private school, which happened to be in New Mexico.

Hoffman acknowledged that the families innocently spent the money, but it didn’t stop the Department from using the issue as further evidence to condemn the program.

There have been abuses of the program, but it is hoped that newly developed oversight should eliminate fraud and misspending.