School Choice Program’s Executive Director, Operations Director Resign

July 27, 2023

By Corinne Murdock |

Both the executive director and operations director of Arizona’s school choice program resigned on Monday.

In a statement, former executive director Christine Accurso said she accomplished her goal of getting the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program “back on track and functioning well.” Accurso indicated that she would be taking on other opportunities in school choice activism. 

“I hired, trained, and implemented a full staff of competent, professional people who love the program and will carry it forward,” said Accurso. “I achieved much of what I set out to accomplish, but it is time for me to move on and pursue opportunities to engage citizens, especially parents, to fight for school choice and the other issues they believe in, for the future of our state and of our nation.”

In a statement, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) announced John Ward as Accurso’s replacement. Ward served as an ADE internal auditor and previously worked within the Auditor General’s Office. 

Former operations director and vendor liaison, Linda Rizzo, also resigned. Rizzo also served as a regional director for the Arizona Federation of Republican Women. 

ADE loosely echoed Accurso’s reasoning for her departure in their explanation of her resignation, crediting her for “unprecedented growth” within the ESA Program.

Superintendent Tom Horne appointed Accurso to the position last November. Horne selected Accurso for her knowledge and experience with the ESA Program, as well as her advocacy to universalize its opportunities. As a member of the ESA Program herself, she was a constant advocate for Horne’s election.

Last year, Accurso led the Decline to Sign movement: a counter-movement to the Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ) ballot initiative to overturn legislation that universalized school choice. As part of her advocacy, Accurso discovered that SOSAZ overreported the number of signatures they collected for the ballot initiative. Accurso’s publicization of this discovery prompted an expedited review of the signature count.

Over the last few years, Accurso also raised awareness of the unresponsive ESA Program helpline.

In January, Accurso told AZ Free News about issues inherited from the prior superintendent’s administration indicating neglect of the ESA Program. 

Over 60,500 students now participate in the ESA Program as of Monday. Ward has estimated that the ESA Program will reach 100,000 applicants by next July.


With the double departure from the ESA Program, Democratic leaders highlighted weaknesses of the program.

On Monday, Attorney General Kris Mayes announced a renewed focus on investigating ESA Program fraud and loss of federal discrimination protections concerning disabilities and educational records. Mayes encouraged members of the public to report cases of fraud by ESA vendors or private schools. 

On Tuesday, Gov. Katie Hobbs’ Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting (OSPB) released a report projecting a budget deficit of $319.8 million next fiscal year with the ESA Program costing about $943.8 million annually by the next fiscal year. Hobbs alleged the ESA Program would “bankrupt” the state.

“[T]his program is unsustainable and does not save taxpayers money,” said Hobbs. “We must bring transparency and accountability to this program to ensure school vouchers don’t bankrupt our state.”

The OSPB disputed ADE’s claim that the ESA Program costs less to taxpayers since it pulls children from public schools, noting that about 40,400 non-public school students would receive funding where before they hadn’t. The OSPB also claimed that individual student payouts for the ESA Program are more costly than what public schools pay. 

“The ESA program is unaccountable and overfunded,” stated the OSPB. 

The governor’s team asked for ADE to implement academic testing requirements and audits for schools accepting ESA funding, requiring staff to be fingerprinted, and requiring students to attend a public school prior to enrollment.

The ESA Program admittance requires at least 45 days of attendance at a public school.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to

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