Christine Accurso and her son Dominic stood in front of Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Hoffman hoping that she would see their anguish and hear their plea for help. The Gilbert mom had come before Hoffman at the June Arizona State Board of Education meeting and still has not received a call.
Hundreds of Arizona families who applied for a state-run education program appear to be getting illegally boxed out of the opportunity by Hoffman.
Parent emails sent over the last few weeks to the department, reveal the stress and agony the parents are going through. Their pain is clear as they beg the Arizona Department of Education for updates and receive no return emails or phone calls.
All of the families applied for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) for their children, who have to be disadvantaged or challenged in some way to qualify. The majority of children who use the accounts have special needs, are Native American, come from failing public schools, are from military families, or are in the foster care system.
Arizona State Law requires newly applying families to be notified on whether or not they are approved within 45 days of their application submission. Apparently, hundreds of the families who applied are past that 45-day mark, some have been waiting over 60 days and beyond for an answer. This is a clear violation of statutory law, an issue which was seems to be intentionally evaded in a statement released by the Superintendent this evening.
“Unfortunately, many families in Arizona are becoming accustomed to what certainly appears as mismanagement of the ESA program by Superintendent Kathy Hoffman” said Steve Smith, Arizona State Director for the American Federation for Children. “First it was her insensitive and callous treatment of Native Americans where many felt that she was extorting families on the Navajo Nation until thankfully Governor Ducey and the Legislature intervened, then it was her disrespect towards military members and her illegally redefining what a step-parent is effectively saying they were not ‘real parents’, and now this. I think families would appreciate if she spent less time and resources trying to kick people off of the ESA program and instead spend her time trying to help them by following the law and getting them their information in a timely manner. The worst part is that now because of this there are dozens if not hundreds of families who have no idea where their children will be attending school when the new school year starts in just a few days.”
Hoffman’s treatment of these families was brought to light by the pro-parent, school choice advocacy non-profit American Federation for Children when they released a social media video this week telling the outrageous story of Gilbert mother Christine Accurso, She has spent hours each week for over 2 months on the phone – on hold trying to reach the ESA office.
In the video, Accurso notes that she drove all the way to California on hold and no one ever picked up.
When Accurso testified in front of a packed room at the June 24th State Board of Education meeting, hundreds of parents and legislators, listened as the Arizona mother talked directly to Hoffman letting her know that their ESA office’s phone and email system “isn’t working!” She also told Hoffman that she had been keeping a log and it was up to 18 and a half hours so far. She asked Hoffman for a call back.
“I thought for sure the ESA office would call me, but even after the video was released, and thousands of people are seeing it, still nothing.” says, Accurso.
When asked about Hoffman’s official statement which blames the Legislature and calls for more funding to her department, Accurso says she doesn’t want to be used as “a pawn to get Hoffman more money.”
“As it was pointed out in the video, Hoffman is getting more than $1.3 million, and as a parent who has been in the ESA program for going on 5 years, I can tell you that there has never been this level of mismanagement of the program where parents have suffered like this,” adds Christine. “I’m completely offended at her statement; she talks about everyone else and completely skirts my family’s story and my son’s needs.”
Sen. Sylvia Allen, who is the Chair of the Senate Education committee, said, “I just don’t know what excuse there is for that, I really don’t. I would be looking at sitting down with my staff and talking about public service and how to serve the public in a timely manner.”
As far as Hoffman’s claim that her department is underfunded, it seems that previous superintendents did not have this problem like she is having, but the Department of Education receives approximately $1.3 million dollars to run the ESA office specifically.
Also, Superintendent Hoffman publicly opposed Sen. Allen’s bill last legislative session that would have given millions of dollars more to run the ESA office, on top of the 1.3 million she is currently receiving.
“She does have money to administer. $1.3 million is a lot of money. She should be able to have enough people to answer the phone and send a phone call back.” Allen who went on to stated, “The opposition, SOS (Save Our Schools) was trying to say “oh this is expanding the ESA program.” and I sat down with SOS as well as the Superintendent and went through that bill, “what is it that you think expands the program?” and I took out every bit of language I felt expanded the program that was a problem to them. But I could not get the support of the Department of Education the Superintendent in particular.”