ESA


Published: Published: July 19th, 2019

Supt. Hoffman Asks Legislature to Release Funds for ESA Program

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman asks the legislature to release funds for ESA program and addresses Representative Mark Finchem’s call on the Attorney General to investigate the Arizona Department of Education’s Empowerment Scholarship Program:

“It has been and remains my administration’s intent to run the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) program effectively to serve enrolled students and families. With the ESA program’s exponential growth in recent years, the legislature’s failure to adequately fund the program’s management has resulted in an increased burden for families. Parents should rightfully be upset by long hold times, and they should 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.

The statute governing the ESA program allows for 4 percent of program funding to be allocated to cover program administration. Currently, our ESA Department receives less than half that amount – 1.62 percent. It is hypocritical for members of the legislature to attack the department on this issue when they have failed to fully fund the administration of this program year after year.

As of today, there are nearly 6,500 students on the ESA program, with more than 1,300 new applications waiting to be processed. We employ 10 full-time ESA specialists who are responsible for taking calls, processing applications and contracts, reviewing expense accounts, investigating misspent funds, and more. This equates to a caseload of roughly 650 ESA students to one specialist, which is unacceptable for workload realities.

Despite these challenges, my administration is actively working on solutions that will allow us to better serve those relying on this program. These solutions include moving to a new payment system which will be easier for parents to use, ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately, and reducing the need for parents to call the department with questions on expenditures. We plan to transition to this new system in the coming months. It is an incredibly busy time of year for our ESA department, and we have approved overtime for members of our ESA staff to work this weekend and we are also working to reallocate other department resources to help answer phones to reduce hold times. The bottom line is that the department is working diligently to administer this program, despite the lack of resources allocated by the legislature.

I have made it a priority since taking office to build working relationships with members of both parties in order to best serve students and families. Arizonans deserve government officials who will work together to solve problems and find solutions — especially when it comes to our children. I am disappointed that any lawmaker would participate in efforts that only serve to damage the relationship between the department and the legislature. We have already spoken with Attorney General Brnovich’s office about our shared commitment to transparency and ways we can work collaboratively to support students and families. I appreciate his office’s willingness to work with my administration.

I urge lawmakers to provide the full amount of allowable administrative funding, so the department can effectively implement and manage this program. To do any less does a disservice to students and families.”

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Published: Published: February 12th, 2019

Superintendent Hoffman Announces New ESA Director

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman today announced the hiring of Karla Escobar as the Arizona Department of Education’s (ADE’s) new Director of the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program. Escobar has worked at ADE for the last seven years, having previously served in the role as ESA Director from February 2015 until April 2016, and most recently as a Dispute Resolution Compliant Investigator.

“I am excited to work with Karla to ensure that the department manages this program with full transparency and accountability,” said Superintendent Hoffman. “This has been a very visible program over the past few years, which is why we have been particularly deliberate and especially thorough with our approach towards the program and the hiring process. We interviewed several external and internal candidates before deciding on Karla, who will not only provide both historical knowledge, but also seize upon this opportunity to restore confidence in the delivery of this program.”

Escobar brings with her a detailed understanding of how the agency needs to adhere to all relevant state and federal regulations, as well as an ability to coordinate payments with the treasurer’s office and accurately process applications in a timely manner. She will work closely with ADE leadership to recommend policy and legislative changes to better improve program outcomes.

In addition to her duties as ESA Director, Escobar will assist Superintendent Hoffman in leading a new ESA Task Force. The purpose of the task force is to engage stakeholders and examine all methods for improving program management.

The education stakeholders involved in this task force include the governor’s office, the treasurer’s office, American Federation for Children, Save Our Schools and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce. The task force’s aim is to seek bipartisan cooperation, an array of perspectives and a variety of solutions in order to determine the best course of action for the ESA program.

Escobar will lead a staff of 11 other full-time employees, managing a program that dispersed roughly $58.7 million to approximately 5,000 students this past school year. The new ESA Director, who is fluent in Spanish and has a master’s degree in education, will bring a breadth of expertise to the position.

More information on the ESA program is available at www.azed.gov/esa.

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Published: Published: August 8th, 2017

Empowerment Scholarship Changes Pending Until Further Notice

Several expected changes to the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program at the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) are on hold pending the results of a referendum filed late today. The changes outlined in Senate Bill 1431 included an updated application for Arizona students who were not previously eligible for the program. The new legislation was passed by the State House and Senate and signed by the Governor, earlier this year.

ADE and ESA staff will await further information from the Secretary of State’s Office as to the final validation of petitions related to the referendum. If the number of signatures submitted is eventually deemed insufficient, ADE will enact the changes as originally planned. If the measure is referred to the ballot, ADE will plan to await the results of the election before taking any action related to Senate Bill 1431.

For more information about the ESA program or the online application, parents can visit www.azed.gov/esa. The current application is available at https://esa.azed.gov/esa.

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