Delayed ESA money prompts ‘baseless’ legal claim, education officials say

By: - November 14, 2019 4:52 pm
education funding

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Libertarian legal advocacy groups say they’ve filed a formal intent to sue the Arizona Department of Education because it has failed to make timely payments to dozens of parents whose children use the state’s school voucher program. But state officials say the parent at the center of the claim received her funding a full week before making her legal claim.

“The claims are baseless. We view this as nothing more than a political stunt,” agency spokesman Richie Taylor told Arizona Mirror

The Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute and the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center have teamed up in the case, and said in a press release Thursday that the Department of Education is breaking state law by delaying payments for some Empowerment Scholarship Account, or ESA, participants. They filed a notice of claim with the state, a required precursor to a lawsuit.

“The Department’s failure to follow through on its legal obligation in a timely manner is a real burden for families, which depend on these scholarships,” the organizations wrote in the press release, adding that it “is unclear” why there has been a delay.

Requests for comment from spokespeople for both Goldwater Institute and Liberty Justice Center were not returned.

In the notice of claim, attorney Aaron Martin wrote that an unidentified parent had submitted her child’s expense report for the first quarter of the 2019-20 school year on time and it was approved by education department officials on Oct. 29. He blamed the agency for failing to ensure it has adequate staff to process expense reports quickly.

Martin’s letter also says the parent had not received her child’s funding for the second quarter as of Nov. 12.

However, Taylor said the money was deposited into her account on Nov. 5. He said the parent submitted an initial report on Oct. 28 that was rejected for errors. A revised report was submitted Oct. 29 and was approved that same day, and the department requested funds be deposited on Oct. 30.

He said the funds were not deposited until Nov. 5 because of typical banking delays.

Goldwater Institute and Liberty Justice Center also claimed that roughly 120 other families also had not yet received the latest round of funding. However, John Carruth, chief of staff for the state education department, wrote in an official response to the notice of claim that every ESA participant who has received approval of their first-quarter expense report has already gotten their money.

Those with deficient expense reports haven’t yet been paid, he added.

“It is my understanding that some ESA recipients may still be in the process of resubmitting previously rejected second quarter reports. ESA staff is currently working with these families to make the necessary corrections for payment on these reports,” Carruth wrote.

School-choice advocates have spent much of 2019 criticizing Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, a Democrat, for what they say are her failures to properly administer the ESA program, and accuse her of trying to undermine it because she opposes school choice.

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Jim Small
Jim Small

Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications. He has also served as the editor and executive director of the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting.