By Daniel Stefanski |
Arizona’s Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction and Democrat Attorney General are again at opposite ends of the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program.
On Monday, Superintendent Tom Horne responded to Attorney General Mayes’ recent comments about the ESA program, setting his department’s record straight.
Earlier in the day, Mayes issued a press release to “provide information about rights forfeited leaving the public school system.” The Attorney General first addressed parents of children with disabilities, stating, “Families should not be denied admission or kicked out of private schools because of a child’s disabilities. To make matters worse, private schools often refuse to share the educational records behind those decisions Because Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) don’t apply to private schools, families have no recourse under federal law. It’s important for Arizona families to be aware of the rights they give up when they leave the public school system.”
Horne pushed back on the Attorney General’s notice, saying, “(Mayes) raised several issues, one of which centers on special education students. Under the ESA program, special education students receive the same funding as they would attending a public school.”
Mayes broached another issue on her consumer alert – this one about the ESA program and its vendors as a whole. The Attorney General’s Office wrote, “If using ESA funds for private school or schooling at home is the preferred educational choice, families should make sure they choose reputable schools and vendors. Even still, families should know that when they accept an ESA, they lose protections from discrimination related to a child’s learning abilities, religion and sexual orientation.”
The Attorney General said, “As a mom, I know how important a child’s education is and I know that, as parents, we all want what is best for our children. I want families to know that if vendors or private schools take advantage of this, the Attorney General’s Office will investigate to the fullest extent of our authority.”
Horne didn’t leave this part of Mayes’ release alone either, making sure onlookers understood his administration is dedicated to following the law. Horne stated, “In regards to the other concerns raised, under my Democrat predecessor as schools chief, the law was not strictly followed and ESA funds were used for non-educational purposes. One of my first acts when I took office was to hire from the Arizona Auditor General an internal auditor for the Department of Education. This person makes sure that every ESA transaction is conducted according to the law and all funding is used appropriately. There have been significant protests against me from people who were used to the old lax system, but I am insisting that every law is strictly followed and that every penny of these funds is used for valid educational purposes.”
The state’s top prosecutor received accolades for her statements from at least one Democrat legislator, Representative Nancy Gutierrez, who tweeted, “Thank you Attorney General Mayes for making it clear that private schools do not give students and families the same rights as public schools.”
The Arizona school chief’s response to Mayes follows two other significant battles between the two since they entered office this past January. Just last week, Horne called a recent formal opinion from Attorney General Mayes on a Structured English Immersion law “ideologically driven.” He also pushed back against Mayes when she went on television to say that “there are no controls” on the ESA program, “no accountability,” that “they” (presumably parents) are “spending hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money,” that this “needs to be looked at,” and that it’s (her) “responsibility to do that” as Arizona’s “top law enforcement officer.”
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.