On Friday, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman pushed back on criticism of her management of the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) program. While Hoffman’s complaint that the program is woefully under-funded is true, it turns out money might not be the only problem.
Hoffman came under fire after a video was released this week exposing the plight of parents and children trying to navigate the Arizona Department of Education’s (ADE) ESA department. In that video, Christine Accurso and her son Dominic discuss their disappointment with Hoffman’s failure to have someone from the Department call them in response to their appearance before Hoffman and the State Board of Education in June. Out of frustration, they came to the Board after attempting to reach anyone at ADE.
In the video, Accurso said that “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.”
In her press release, Hoffman blamed “the legislature’s failure to adequately fund the program’s management..” Hoffman claimed to sympathize with parents and said they “should rightfully be upset by long hold times,” but instructed them to “call their legislators and demand to know why there is over $3 million in dedicated ESA administrative funding sitting in an account, unavailable for use by the Arizona Department of Education to manage the ESA program.”
Critics say that the legislature does bear some of the blame, but they also note that Hoffman has received slightly more money for ESA administration than her predecessor, former-Superintendent Diane Douglas.
This isn’t the first time Hoffman’s management of the ESA program has been questioned. In late June, Josh and Saquawia Pennington appeared in another video to discuss the ADE’s denial of an ESA for their son Jace. In an interview on KFYI’s James T. Harris radio show, Josh implied that there was more to their denial that met the eye.
“It does seem from my point of view that they are trying to discourage families from using the program,” Josh told Harris. “There was no extra attention towards my situation, and I feel like we are in a situation with children and their education that is a very important part of American family values.” Josh questioned why no one at the ADE would want to “keep the family strong,” and “take the extra time to listen to a black and white issue.”
[Related article: Military Family Denied ESA By Arizona Department Of Education]
The military family has initially been informed that Jace did not qualify as a dependent of Saquawia, who is currently active military serving at Fort Huachuca. After blistering publicity, the ADE quickly pivoted and promised the family acceptance.
ADE insiders point out that Hoffman, who ran in 2018 as an opponent of the ESA program, has taken steps that might confirm Josh’s suspicions. In February 2018, Hoffman announced her decision to name Karla Escobar as the new Director of the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program. Escobar had previously served as the director, but was moved to another position by Douglas due to Escobar’s “obvious disdain” for the program according to an ADE insider.
While running for the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s Office, Hoffman campaigned against Proposition 305, which would have expanded the ESA program as well: